The newest, hottest spot in the ‘Cuse is the uniquely named Beer Belly Deli & Pub. It’s the first authentic gastropub featuring truly gourmet sandwiches, homemade soups and a highly curated, revolving beer and wine list. When it comes to genuinely great, homemade food on Westcott, or anywhere in ‘Cuse for that matter, Beer Belly is a game-changer. It’s a warm, welcoming, and modern departure from what you might expect from another sandwich shop. The Guru had an opportunity to meet with the owners this week and find out more. Here’s why it’s the best thing to hit Syracuse in a long time!
Beer Belly Deli & Pub (BBD) co-owners (and longtime friends) Brandon Roe and Lauren Monforte came together on the project over a year ago and it’s now finally coming to fruition. Lauren is a graduate of the SU College of Law, a former lawyer of five years, a major foodie, and a lover of baking. Even as a lawyer she was thinking about Beer Belly Deli and her brief career was marked by a longing for something more. Of this period she said, “I used to sit in my office and doodle menu ideas and logos.” At age sixteen, as if by some early revelation of her future, the name “Beer Belly Deli” popped up in her mind. Brandon is a hardcore Syracuse restaurant veteran who’s had every job from kitchen to front of house. At age nineteen he started in Pastabilities’ kitchen. Aside from the inspiration of the Polish and German home cooking of his childhood, he worked under extremely creative folks at Pasta’s. He credits these formative food experiences for his current path. Brandon also worked at Empire Brewing Company, learning about the deep complexities of beer, its flavors, and its interplay with food. He was GM of Pasta’s and Papa Galo as well. Brandon and Lauren had the urge to do more and to work for themselves. “After 15 years in a restaurant doing things for somebody else, that’s the ultimate goal,” said Brandon. Well, now they’re making it happen in a very real and unique way.
Walking into BBD’s hallway-esque, modern space with its interesting appointments (mason jar lighting, exposed brick, etc) is an experience in itself. The plaster floors and walls stretch out before you in a triangle shape, coming to a halt at the large, diagonal bar. The space pulls you in as soon as you open the door. Warm interior lighting brings attention to original exposed brick and the locally handmade wall-length wooden benches. Little details like the bear-themed salt and pepper shakers, framed daily special boards, vintage beer trays, hanging clusters of mason jar lights, and much more tie the space together. It’s at once sparse and welcoming, as the music of The Shins, Animal Collective, and others plays at a slightly-above-ambient level. You may wonder who did the interior design, a question Lauren answered with a “both of us.” Most of what you’ll see is sourced from estate sales, flea markets, and even the co-owners’ homes. The first time Brandon stepped into the “pie slice-shaped space” with its plaster, dirt, and general disrepair he envisioned Beer Belly’s future. The curated feel of the space is much more than skin deep, as you’ll find out.
A commitment to using high-quality ingredients exists on every level of Beer Belly’s food concept. Whether you’re biting into the twenty-four hour wine marinated turkey, beef roasted in the IPA of the moment, delicious home cooked Miller High Life and brown sugar glazed ham, or even beer battered eggplant, you will taste the difference. When it comes to condiments and sauces Beer Belly has no competition. Spicy beer and horseradish infused ketchup, from-scratch aioli, and house tarragon ale mustard are just a few. Many of the sauces are specifically made for each sandwich’s unique blend or flavors and ingredients. Same goes for the cheeses; we’re talking McAdam’s New York State sharp cheddar, Tillamook smoked cheddar, and more. Because there are absolutely “no cheapo substitutions” you end up with a sandwich far more flavorful, complex, and delicious. As Brandon said, “It’s not too far from what you’re used to, just a better version of your sandwich.” The commitment was obvious as I bit into the three flagship sandwiches. I’ve had the ham, turkey, beef, and the turkey club and I can’t pick my favorite.
To Brandon and Lauren, these are just some of the things that make Beer Belly Pub Syracuse’s first gastropub. Cooking in excellent, rotating selections of wine and beer is another example. Also, in Lauren’s words, ” Taking traditional comfort food and rethinking it.” BBD features salt potatoes of the day, which are as you know a Syracuse classic. The classic part ends when you try the corned beef salt potatoes, the Philly cheese steak salt potatoes, and many other daily-changing options. Another delicious highlight of the Beer Belly menu is the cheddar and Pabst Blue Ribbon soup with potato and crisp ham. On the sweet side of things, the Rice Krispie treat topped with chocolate ganache is to die for. No one else has come close to this in ‘Cuse. The insistence on starting with classic American food but spending that extra time and/or adding that one extra ingredient is perhaps a stubborn, expensive way of doing things–but it is what truly matters in a town so often culinarily static. Any local restaurant could take a page out of BBD’s book, and all they make are sandwiches (for now). Prices are around $8-12 for a sandwich and each comes with a homemade side of your choice. For $1 you can sub out your side for a cup of soup but I recommend just getting all three. And dessert.
As far as buying local goes, that’s also a commitment Beer Belly Deli has made. You’ll find beer from Good Nature Brewing and Middle Ages, local wines, local cheese, and local coffee courtesy of the small local roasters Recess Coffee House & Roastery. These are sometimes overlooked by the general public, but buying local, demanding the best ingredients, and putting actual time into creating truly homemade cuisine is one way to create change, inspire creativity, and reinvigorate the love of and interest in Syracuse. I’m a believer in all of these things and it’s so great to see inspired people like Lauren Monforte and Brandon Roe at the helm of an exciting, brand new local restaurant. Just know that Beer Belly Deli isn’t out to challenge anyone for the top spot but as Lauren said, “I like to think were adding something to Westcott [and Syracuse] but at the same time complimenting everything that’s already here.”
Stop in soon and tell us what you think of the Guru’s new favorite restaurant!
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Photo Credit: JRotella Photography.
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