Birroteca first caught my eye after Baltimore Magazine’s included it on its 2015 Best Restaurant list, and again when its pizza was named one of the ‘things to eat in Baltimore before you die.’ Birroteca lures its visitors with its extensive craft beer list—often featuring more than 60 beers with 24 on draft—and keeps their patrons seated by offering an eclectic Italian fare. At an above average price, their menu options range from light and fresh crudo and tartars, platters of pasta, and pizzas featuring both traditional and obscure toppings.
After viewing Birroteca’s bright and modern website, I was surprised to find their Balimore location (the other in Bel Air, Maryland) wasn’t one of a row of hipster restaurants in a foot-traffic heavy part of town. Instead, Birroteca is tucked away in a corner of Clipper’s Mill nearly under the highway overpass. Occupying an old stone mill, the restaurant is a bleak two-story brick building that once you step inside has a warm, English pub vibe.
When we arrived, there was plenty of parking as it had its own gravel lot that surrounded the building. We walked into what was presumably the entrance and for a moment stood at a loss, as there was no hostess stand or clear indication we came through the right door. Soon after, a less than obvious employee came down the stairwell and asked if we were coming or going, before taking us up the stairs to our table. Since the restaurant was full of small parties, voices bounced off the stonewalls and made it feel alive. We were very excited to partake.
Birroteca’s drink menu is not a stagnant one. Their draft selection appears to rotate weekly, while their cocktail menu keeps a several crowd favorites, such as mules mixed and bottled in-house, occasionally featuring new mixes. The beer menu was an ideal layout for a drinker that didn’t know what they wanted, or wanted to know what they were getting without having to ask. Separated into categories based on hop-level or light and darkness, the menu lists the beers’ style, origination, and ABV%.
Zach started the evening with Evolution’s Exile Red—a red ale that was thinner and sweeter than expected—and ended it with Founders’ Red’s Rye IPA which gave the smooth, caramel finish he was hoping to get with the first. For myself, I tried to order a cocktail that could still pack some flavor sans-alcohol. I requested through our server their Nuevo-Rita without tequila (leaving triple sec, lime juice, muddled jalapenos, and passion fruit ‘foam’ to work with). Unfortunately, the bartender dismissed my order (something about it not being good as I hoped) and instead had me served a glass of their made-in-house ginger beer. It tasted much like Maine Root.
We started our meal with two plates, the Calamari alla Plancha off their Appetizers selection, and Fava Beans from Vegetables. Alla pancha meaning grilled, so to speak, the calamari came out unbreaded, dressed in lemon juice and capers. The portion was big enough for two to share, however, there wasn’t enough lemon and capers to go around. The calamari itself had a pasta-like consistency and taste. The dish desperately needed cocktail sauce or more capers to give it some life.
The Fava Bean dish featured large, plump beans, served warm with roasted pearl onions and chunks of pancetta. Compared to the calamari, they were packed with rich flavor and on the borderline of too salty. This dish too was plenty for two, maybe three depending on hunger level.
Our main entrée was their Duck Duck Goose pizza. On crisp, thin crust it was topped with a generous portion of duck confit, fig-onion jam, and a balsamic reduction, featuring a nicely fried duck egg as its center star. It was better than expected and convinced us that Birroteca at least knew what they were doing in the pizza department. The pizza size was relative to a medium-sized delivery pizza, offering 6-8 decent slices depending on your idea of decent. On surrounding tables, pizza sitting on tall bases looked just as good as ours. It would be worth it to come back for a pint and another pizza (we had our eye on the Pistachio Pesto).
We finished our evening with a slice of their lemon sponge cake—their dessert menu too tends to rotate. Unappealing as restaurant dessert displays go, the spiraled sponge filled with a raspberry mouse served with a sweet cream was a surprisingly refreshing and light finish to our rich and salty meal.
Birroteca will be a restaurant we visit again if for nothing else but the pizza. It seemed to be a great location for small groups into sharing rich food over a few beers.
Oh, did I mention they serve half pints of duck fat to-go?