Plenty of restaurants tout celebrity chefs, but when Cranston’s first brewpub opened this spring, it was with a celebrity brewer. Sean Larkin has been brewing for Trinity Brewhouse for over a decade, developed some of Narragansett’s seasonal beers like Fest and Porter and started the acclaimed Revival Brewing Co. in 2010. I’m not sure how he found the time for another venture, but this small state is happy to drink more of his beer.
Brutopia Brewery & Kitchen is only a 15 minute drive to Cranston’s Atwood Avenue, though it may seem like uncharted territory to city-bound Providence residents. The building is non-descript, so look for the nicely designed sign featuring an adorable flying pig. When you walk in, the huge stainless steel tanks will be on your left; compared to many brewpubs, Brutopia has quite a substantial brewing facility. The remarkably large interior has a number of seating areas and an appropriately industrial décor.
We started with three appetizers: Hush Puppies ($8), Fried Pickle Chips ($7) and the House Smoked Wings ($9). The hush puppies were golf-ball sized with a nice sweetness and fluffiness, and the Creole mayo had just the right kick. The pickle chips were lightly dusted with cornmeal and not at all soggy. The smoked wings were then fried and topped with a choice of sauce (we went for the spicier Fire Starter).
On our last trip to Brutopia, the beer list was considerably shorter. This time, we ordered flights ($5 for four beer samples) so we could make our way through the entire roster of the six year-round and five seasonal beers. My favorites were the First Coast Belgian Double IPA (nice hops), Valhalla (more interesting than a typical amber) and Hello Darkness (a strong stout made with White Electric coffee). I was also surprised by The Patch, a spiced blend of the Oktoberfest, Blossom, Bonfire, Munk and Dark Marvel beers. Blending may sound unconventional, but it’s actually an accepted practice.The beer averse can find solace in Brutopia’s Southern-inspired cocktail list.
The BBQ Combo Plate ($25) included all four of Brutopia’s barbeque meats with a side – we chose baked beans – and cornbread. To turn this into dinner for two, we added two additional sides (Cole Slaw and Mac and Cheese, each $4 à la carte) and an appetizer-sized special, the Home-Style Biscuits ($6). The baked beans and cole slaw were typical versions of these classic barbeque sides, the kind you’d happily eat at a summer family picnic. The cornbread was cakey and sweet, almost like cake mix. Our mac and cheese had a good, tangy flavor and was made with ruffled fisarmoniche pasta, but the texture was a bit grainy. Our biscuit special was served in a deep bowl, biscuits slathered in a delicious white gravy with bits of brisket.
We were grateful that our server, Zane, had some extra time to take care of us on a quiet weeknight. We asked a lot of questions about the sauces, and he brought us a few samples to satisfy our curiosity. My favorite was the Fire Starter, made with Scotch Bonnet peppers, molasses and the Dark Marvel stout. The others were appealing too, especially the mustard-based Gold Edition and the vinegary Carolina Style, both just thick enough to cling to the meat.
Since Brutopia bills itself as a barbecue restaurant and proudly displays a hickory smoker outside the restaurant, I was eager to try the meat. Brisket is difficult and often dry; this version was mostly moist and tender with a nice crust, though it lacked the common red smoke ring. The pulled pork was the weakest part of our combo platter. Our baby back ribs were dry rubbed with nice flavor. Pulled chicken usually isn’t noteworthy, but I thought this one had a pleasant cumin-y rub.
Our waiter, perhaps humored by our enthusiastic quest to try all the beers and sauces, kindly bought us dessert. He had no trouble convincing us to try the oreo cheesecake in a jar, even though we were at the limit of our appetite.
Barbecue is such contentious food, loaded with personal and regional preference. Still, Brutopia is definitely worth a visit for the barbecue-curious and fans of beer and bar food, a combination that pairs perfectly with a game on one of the restaurant’s many televisions.
Brutopia Brewery & Kitchen
505 Atwood Ave., Cranston
ONE MORE BITE: On Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays during football season, Brutopia is offering a $10 beer and smoked turkey leg special.