These Mac & Cheese Nachos Just Won the Comfort Food Game
Hood River, Oregon
Hood River, OR -- right the middle of the Columbia River Gorge, at the foothills of Mount Hood -- is a gorgeous little town holding a big secret… it's one of the most unexpectedly great beer towns in the nation, a tiny city of about 7,000 people with four breweries within walking distance (and more if you leave the city limits). One of those breweries, Double Mountain, holds the distinction of serving one of Oregon's best pizzas with some of its best beers. The joint goes New Haven-ish, with a ciabatta bounce that's great with seasonal heirloom tomatoes, but perfect with the year-round combo of hot capicola and hot peppers, paired up with beers like the IRA and the explosive Hop Lava, plus a small selection of sours you can only get at the brewery. Portlanders, who know a thing or two about pizza and beer, make frequent pilgrimages. With a new location coming in Stumptown, they won't have to for long. But they should. It really is a nice town.
Rehoboth Beach, DE
Everybody knows about Dogfish Head, its effortlessly charming founder Sam Calagione, and its crowd-pleasing fleet of "off-centered ales for off-centered people." But does everyone also know just how amazing its pizza is? If not, they definitely should. The Rehoboth Beach, Delaware brewpub is actually Dogfish Head's original location and pairing innovative, boundary-pushing beer with seasonally inspired, rustic pizza was always central to Calagione's vision. Dogfish Head's short but oh-so-sweet toppings list focuses on regional flavors and eccentric, unique ingredients like lump crabmeat, lemon cream cheese, homemade mozzarella, and unctuous 60 Minute IPA-braised mushrooms. The seaside restaurant also cranks out a line of specialty liquors along with limited-run and brewpub-exclusive beers and might just become the centerpiece of your next summer vacation.
Afton, Virginia's Blue Mountain Brewery is a veritable oasis tucked deep inside the Blue Ridge Mountains. It makes impressive use of its rural enclave, growing 1,000 different varieties of hops in and around Afton and setting up a wrap-around patio and outdoor bar at its completely chilled-out brewpub. On that very deck, of course, visitors gulp down award-winning beers (most of which are brewed with hyper-local ingredients) and bite into crackery slices of hand-rolled, herb-infused pizza. This ain't no Domino's -- we're talking delicate pies topped with only the best and freshest. The bratwurst pie, for instance, comes smothered in piping-hot Nelson County bratwurst, caramelized onions, warm apples, mozzarella, homemade marinara, and a drizzle of balsamic reduction. And as luck (or, you know, planning) would have it, Blue Mountain's solid craft lineup skews heavily towards the lager-y side of things, making almost every draft well suited for pizza-pairing bliss.
Santa Rosa, California
One of these days, we'll be able to put together a list that doesn't include Santa Rosa's favorite boozy son, which, in addition to something called Pliny, also offers up one of the best sour programs in the country. But the pizza, well, dammit… crispy, doughy, hit with the freshest herbs (probably the same ones that go in some of the beer), and locally farmed meats. It's just a remarkably good take on the classic pizzeria that every other brewery strives to make. Perhaps if we did a list of breweries that don't make beer…
Operating out of a historic, post-industrial loft space since early 2014, Day Block is one of those special little neighborhood gems that Minneapolis is famous for -- a laid-back, inviting atmosphere, a passionate, friendly staff, lots of approachable, lovingly brewed craft beer, an amazing live music roster, and a menu of belly-filling eats. Yet there's one key element that sets this brewpub far, far apart from the rest of the Mini Apple's best and brightest beer dens: pizza. Forget pepperoni and cheese, at Day Block you're in for some of the strangest, most ingenious, and tastiest pies you'll ever experience. Highlights include the bánh mì-inspired Banh Mizza, an eyebrow-raising blend of gochujang mayo, Vietnamese pork, scallion, pickled slaw, cilantro & maple-soy glaze, and the out-of-hand-spicy Leviathan, which comes piled high with harissa, pulverized ghost pepper, jalapeño, jerk chicken, onions, pepper Jack cheese, and a heavy-handed smear of Sriracha mayo. Go ahead and pair that puppy with a citrusy, hopped-up Leonard Day IPA and you've got a truly unforgettable experience (especially come the next morning).
In the chicken/egg scenario that is pizza and beer, usually beer comes first. But Old Town Pizza has long been an institution in Portland, popping out garlicky, pizzeria-style pies (the kind you might categorize as "just really good pizza" rather than some foreign term) in a haunted old-school Downtown building. The new-ish brewery -- which resembles an upscale hunting lodge and is big enough to hold 100 hungry Little League teams -- meanwhile, has slowly but steadily started churning out beers that actually surpass the already-beloved pizza, netting gold at the GABF for its fresh-hopped Cents & Centsibility and, more amazingly, the Shanghai'd IPA, a beer that flew under hops-heavy Portland's radar until everybody realized, holy shit, maybe Old Town's got something going on here beyond the ghosts and great pies.
Mountain Sun Brewery is a beloved, beery treasure in the Denver/Boulder area, and it explains why all of its five brewpubs never seem to be empty. It's also the only place to drink Mountain Sun beers, as the brewpub has resisted the urge to bottle and can, unlike most of its CO-based brewing brethren. The brand upped its food game significantly when it opened up Under the Sun (named because it's directly located underneath its brewpub Southern Sun -- clever, eh?) with its Forno Bravo oven and nine wood-fired pizzas that spring from within, some of which change based on the season. Right now, the eggplant Parm, with its healthy sprinkling of toasted panko over the entire pie, and the Buffalo chicken, with fried chicken and blue cheese creme fraiche, are standouts, but all of the offerings pair nicely with a Mountain Sun beer -- any of the 21 house taps will do. Pro tip: get anything poured from its multiple nitro taps for a creamy companion to your pizza.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
One of the finest breweries in the Great Lakes State also has some of the finest pizzas, which start with a 100-year-old sourdough and a concrete slab and end with locally sourced, farmers market-driven toppings… in fact, if you wanna play Russian roulette with your palate, get The Market, which comes with whatever the hell they find at the market that day. You should trust them. If you don't, there's smoked chicken with smoked mozz and charred sweet peppers to be had on one pie, and another that approximates a baked potato, minus the illusion of health that comes with eating that much cheese and bacon. Pair it all up with drafts of the famed Bam Biere farmhouse and bottles like the spicy Oro de Calabaza, which you can take home with the leftovers and allow to age on the shelf. The beer, that is. The pizza won't last very long.
How could we make a list about pizza-fied brewpubs and not include Pizza Boy? It would be a crime not to mention the critically acclaimed pizza-themed brewing project stashed away in a nondescript town just outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Al's of Hampden, Pizza Boy’s longtime home, offers approx. a zillion different types of the good stuff, from decked-out specialty pies and hand-tossed thin crusts to gut-busting, calzone-like stuffed numbers bursting with gooey molten cheese. In terms of beer, there are plenty to choose from -- a cool 100+ different taps, in fact, a little over a third of which are house-brewed at any given time. Al's may be a two-hour drive from Philly, but if the ridiculous tap list isn't enough to get your ass on the road, the Italian stuffed pie (ham, salami, capicola, cheese, classic red sauce) just might be.
Asheville, North Carolina
Any great beer town has to have a hoppin' pizza joint, and Asheville Pizza & Brewing Co. goes waaaaay beyond the call of duty with its insanely delicious pizza and damn fine brews. These guys have been slinging pies and pints since 1998, which makes them an honest-to-God craft beer institution in these parts. At the Downtown Asheville location, beer is piped in directly from the bright tanks, guaranteeing only the freshest of the fresh fills your glass, and the gourmet pizza menu includes the absolutely bananas "Cheeseburger in Paradise" (hamburger meat, bacon, red onion, diced dill pickles, topped with lettuce and tomato). And wait -- the OG Merrimon Ave brewpub has a legit $3 MOVIE THEATER INSIDE. I think we all can agree that there's nothing better than casually enjoying a film on the big screen while simultaneously indulging in some excellent food and drink.
The amount of ambivalence Chicagoans have for the state of Connecticut is directly proportionate to the overwhelming passion they have for pizza. But the adoration for Piece's New Haven-style slices from the likes of Anthony Bourdain and Dave Grohl is not without merit. These pizza-makers have just the right amount of lunacy when it comes to toppings: previous special pies have had Honey Butter Fried Chicken on top, they've integrated atomic sausage from the late, great Hot Doug's into both their pizzas and Bloody Marys, and the latest brunch menu has a white pizza with eggs, thick-cut bacon, arugula, and Sriracha cream cheese. The brewery routinely holds its own in international competition, as can be tasted in its Great American Beer Festival gold-medal brew, the Top Heavy hefeweizen. It also hosts live-band karaoke on Saturdays for when you want to rock down to Electric Avenue (actually, Milwaukee Ave, but you get it).
Philly's Dock Street Brewing has a ton of things going for it. For starters, it's located in a former firehouse and its red brick facade and giant front-facing windows make it feel like you're stepping inside a sweet '90s Real World house. The 30-year-old brewery was also Philly's first all-grain brewpub -- meaning it uses real grains instead of prepackaged malt -- which makes it a true pioneer. And yes, it just happens to make some of PA's best pizza as well as a bounty of bomb-ass, multi-award-winning beer (including the recent, controversy-stirring Friends Don't Let Friends Vote Drumpf, a Drumple IPA and last year's Wu-Tang-inspired golden saison dubbed Dock Street Beer Ain't Nothing to Funk With). The legendary West Philadelphia hotspot is known for its pleasantly chewy, lightly charred, hard wood-fired pies, each of which hosts a plethora of top-shelf toppings (think: crème fraiche, fontina, sunny eggs, applewood-smoked bacon, fig jam). Dock Street's beer might be cleverly named, but it's definitely not fucking around when it comes to culinary prowess.
Located in an old Dodge dealership (thus the name), this newly minted Bay jewel includes the entire Drake's beer lineup -- including standards like the APA and hefe, plus headier one-offs and experiments from the brewery's barrel-aging program -- plus a massive, fire pit-equipped, 350-seat patio out back, where the removed roof makes it feel like you're chilling in some sort of beautiful post-Apocalyptic zen garden. The pizza -- apizza, to use the parlance -- is of the New Haven variety in name, though we're pretty sure Frank Pepe would lose his clams if he saw a Cubano-inspired pie, or one loaded up with bacon fondue or harissa sausage (don't worry, Frank and Sally, you can get regular old pizzas too). Get it Draked, which sounds like a dubious sex act by a certain Canadian rapper, but really just means they plop a poached duck egg on your pie. It's beyond a neat trick: it's transformative.
At the risk of making the most obvious Twin Peaks reference when referring to a brewery located in the show's filming location… there are some damn fine pies. The Summer Beer -- an easy-drinking Pilsner -- is great paired with simpler pizzas, but simpler pizzas aren't what you're here for. Instead, temper the heat of the Wildcats -- carnitas, jalapeños, peanut slaw -- with a thick hefe, or get insane with a taco pie hit with a black bean sauce. If that all sounds weirder than a fish in a percolator, well, the regular old Italian-style pie is pretty damned good, too.
Lennie's is a trailblazer, to say the least. First, it introduced quality gourmet pizza to the freewheeling college town of Bloomington, Indiana back in 1989, then followed it up five years with another instant hit: Bloomington Brewing Co. Monroe County's very first commercial brewery also holds the claim as the first brewpub in all of Southern Indiana, answering the prayers of hungry students and townies alike with its distinctly Midwestern pies (twice-baked, crispy, medium-thick crust, lots of gooey mozz and provolone), four different sauce options, a giant list of locally sourced toppings and extra-creative signature combos, and rotating tap list of original and guest beers (the mellow, malty Ruby Bloom amber is a local fave). And if you're looking for the perfect brew to accompany your pizza, just ask a server -- beer and food pairings are the heart and soul of Lennie's ethos.
Carlsbad, California (various locations)
Any SoCal beer lover worth their salt is no stranger to Pizza Port, a chain of sudsy pizzerias spread throughout the San Diego area. First opened as a pizza joint in 1987, Pizza Port got into the brewing game five years later, hawking some much-needed original "grogg" alongside its beloved "grub." Pizza-wise, the Port is big on variety, offering fluffy, super-satisfying versions of both classic gourmet (fresh margherita, garlic veggie, tangy BBQ chicken) and original pies, like the Pizza Solana (shrimp, clams, onions, olives, bell peppers, mushrooms) and the Pizza San Clemente, an only-in-Cali blend of black bean sauce, tomato, olives, red onions, cheddar, mozz, cilantro, and spices. True to form, beer plays a huge part in every aspect of the Pizza Port experience, from constantly rotating, never-ever boring drafts to signature whole-grain beer crusts. Now that's what I'd call a meal.
Raleigh, North Carolina
Trophy Brewing Co. has been dishing out incredibly pillowy brick-oven pizza to a growing fleet of loyal North Carolinians since 2013, carving out a well-respected space amongst the Triangle's increasingly crowded culinary scene. The pies themselves are a platform for showcasing Trophy's refreshingly diverse handcrafted lineup -- thick but not overly filling, with a doughy, fluffy crust and a variety of farm-fresh toppings. No visit is complete without sampling the Daredevil (if you dare), a red-hot combo of ghost chili pepper salami, fire-roasted red sauce, mozzarella, fresh jalapeños, and caramelized onions, finished with a swirl of tangy Sriracha. Trust me, you'll definitely need the assistance of a crisp, dry Lager Royale or two to help get through a slice of that spicy sucker.