Review: Pinthouse Pizza
4729 Burnet Road. 512-436-9605, www.pinthousepizza.com.
Hours: 11am-11pm Sun-Wed. 11am-midnight Thu-Sat.
Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 05.17.13
It’s easy to look at a place like Pinthouse Pizza and declare that Austin is going through a brewpub boom. Its tidy barrelhouse storefront rose last year from the sun-bleached bones of the old A&A Appliance building on Burnet Road, just a few miles from Black Star Co-op, another full-tilt mashup of brewhouse and bistro.
Put those together with the Whip In, Uncle Billy’s, North by Northwest and further out to Bastrop Brewhouse or the Barber Shop in Dripping Springs, and you might think we’re in an unprecedented brewpub bonanza that tracks neatly with the surge of Austin craft breweries.
But we’re not. Austin had about as many brewpubs in the ‘90s: Copper Tank, Armadillo Brewing, Waterloo Brewing Co., the Bitter End and North by Northwest. More if you counted Lovejoy’s and the Draught House. NXNW is still around, but when’s the last time you saw house beer at the Draught House? The others are just suds in yesterday’s glass.
There’s a reason for that. Running a restaurant and brewing beer are hard enough on their own. Doing both is for dreamers and madmen. Because while we expect a lot from our food in these overexamined diner days, that’s nothing compared to the bearded hardassery we reserve for beer.
Pinthouse Pizza handles the second part with respectable beer from brewer Joe Mohrfeld. The website describes it as a “hop-forward, American-fusion style ... without the traditional bitterness associated with hoppy beers.” That sounds like my experience with the house beers here, a steady expression of laid-back styles.
A sampler tells the story, five little glasses for $8 in a tidy box with the names written in chalk. Man O’ War IPA is hoppy and sharp; Iron Genny pale ale is drier, with a clean finish; Calma Muerta session ale is smooth and citrusy. On the darker side, Bearded Seal dry Irish stout is roasty and opaque with a cottony finish, and Old Beluga amber is the most classically “beery”: malty sweet with a lingering, thick finish and a nice bronze cast. The first four are the house standards. Everything else comes and goes as part of the Seasonal, Exploration, Fallen Cask and Pilot Ship programs.
Outside the box, Ramming Speed barleywine lets its voice be heard over the subtle craft of the others, with big, flowery hops and sweetness. DOA (Dark Oatmeal Ale) is like a breakfast beer, maybe just by name association, but it tastes like coffee and cream. The Fallen Cask choice one night was a lab experiment, of sorts, an IPA dry-hopped for seven days with Cascade and Hop Breeding Co.’s 342 high alpha aroma hops. Surely the beer-geekiest beer on the playground.
The tap wall is clean, both in design and hygiene, and the chalked-up name tiles tell you everything you need to know: brewer, style, alcohol content, glass size and price. There are 35 guest taps, including a handful from Firestone Walker, the decorated California brewery that made a splash in the Austin market this spring. Its Union Jack IPA is as crisp and clean as pack ice from a hopfield.
The food is enough to get you from Pint A to Pint B. Nothing more, nothing less. Pizzas with big, bulgy collars like Sports Center guys trying to ride the men’s fashion curve. It’s not a ridge, but an indistinct bubble along the edges where the toppings play out. You’ve seen pizza like this in boxes from Papa John’s and Gatti’s, with a bready crust and a few Cap’N Crunch sharp edges marketed as Pan Perfect or hand-tossed.
Some of the pizza works just fine. The Milano is a gold-tone buffet of olive oil, artichokes, kalamata olives, prosciutto and an aromatic shower of fresh oregano. It’s the more subtle cousin to the Cannonball, a glowing red carnivore’s crumble of sausage, bacon, pepperoni and Canadian bacon. A Pinthouse salad freshens things up, big enough to share even at $5 for the small, with baby spinach, dried cranberries, blue cheese and candied pecans.
Some of it doesn’t work. The traditional margherita pizza I like so well at other places for its simplicity — tomato, mozzarella, basil — gets almost all its personality here from basil laid over it like a paper shredder, smothering little halves of grocery-store plum tomatoes. The Works is a please-all, satisfy-few mess of garlic, Canadian bacon, sausage, red onions, green peppers, mushrooms and pepperoni. Does anybody really have a good time when red onions come to the party? They always show up with that hot, funky breath and turn the music up too loud. Beer Mates are a weak answer to the garlic knot, just thin strips of pizza dough baked flat with parmesan, garlic and oregano, served with thick marinara or a housemade queso as out of place in a pizzeria as marinara would be with a basket of chips.
Food is ordered at the pizza counter; beer is ordered at the bar. It’s an unwieldy set-up until you find out the bar will take your food order if you want all the evidence on one receipt. The prices fit the food: Snacks and salads $3-$8, pizzas from $6.75 for a personal-size to around $17 for a large that feeds three. Then it’s off to a table in the big garage barn of a building, where sound bounces off clean wooden floors and communal tables.
With a steady program of brewery events and projects like the French-press steeping of hops for a Hops & Grain experimental tasting, Pinthouse Pizza is a player in Austin’s hypercharged beer brotherhood. If Black Star Co-op is the marble-eyed revolutionary of Austin brewpubs, then Pinthouse is that dude’s brother passing the dutchie on the left-hand side. Beer can change the world, sure, but sometimes it’s OK just to drink it.
(Correction: This article has been updated to say Burnet Road instead of North Lamar in the first paragraph, and to correct the distance from Black Star Co-op.)
(TOP: A sampler of five Pinthouse Pizza beers. FIRST INSET: From left: The Milano pizza; the beer bar; the Works and Margherita pizzas. SECOND INSET: From left: Pinthouse salad and Beer Mates; the new brick exterior of the old A&A Appliance building; the Cannonball pizza. Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)