We’ve just been seated in the dining room at Oak & Dagger Public House, the new brewpub in Seaboard Station. It’s a cavernous space in a converted warehouse – most recently home to Tyler’s Taproom – with the pub requisite TV screens, a couple of dart boards, and a bar that opens to a patio and a view towards downtown. Otherwise, adornments are minimal.
Unless you count the gleaming stainless steel fermentation tanks and other brewing apparatus towering all around us. Or the ranks of oak barrels on an overhead platform.
Along with the menu, we’re handed a list of Oak & Dagger beers on tap. It’s the most extensive and varied offering I’ve seen in these parts: 16 house brews, covering the spectrum from American light lager to Baltic porter. There’s a cask-conditioned English-style old ale brewed with sour cherries, and an oatmeal stout on nitro.
I ask our server about those oak barrels, and he explains that they’re used wine and bourbon barrels, for imparting their flavors to special and experimental brews. He adds that the results of these experiments are sometimes available in the pub or in the bottle shop out back, where the attractions also include a dozen or so guest beers on tap, scores by the bottle, and a research library of literature on the craft of brewing.
I haven’t yet had so much as a sip, but one thing is clear: These guys are serious about beer.
“These guys” are a group of five partners headed by brewmaster Pete McCabe, who hails from Wisconsin (where they know a thing or two about beer) and who, along with fellow brewer Tim Clapper, boast a combined 18 years of experience. That experience is abundantly evident, as we’re happily able to confirm by sampling a variety of Oak & Dagger brews (a task made more manageable by the fact that most are available in 10-ounce and 4-ounce pours in addition to the usual pint).
But, I remind myself, my primary mission is to check out the food. It comes as no surprise, given all that liquid treasure so close at hand, that beer finds its way into several dishes.
That’s Crystal Dagger, a crisp weizen beer, in the translucent tempura-light batter wrapped around fat, tender asparagus stalks – one of eight options on an eclectic appetizer list that runs the gamut from black bean IPA hummus to half shell oysters (raw or grilled).
Fried cheese curds, another culinary memento of McCabe’s former home, are another worthy starter option, and as any Wisconsin native will tell you, they’re a natural beer-quaffing companion. So are charred Brussels sprouts, here a refreshingly different take on the trendy vegetable with house-pickled jalapeños and dried cranberries.
The Crystal Dagger batter turns in another winning performance in Oak & Dagger’s take on the pub classic fish and chips: cod filets, paired with thick slices of skin-on potato called “truffled potato crisps” (not to be confused with the English term “crisps,” which refers to potato chips. Got that?).
And if you think “beer butter mahi” is a typo, think again. The mahi is grilled, and it’s glazed with a butter sauce enriched with weizen beer, whose wheat backbone gives the sauce a gratifying nutty taste while keeping it light. Served over cauliflower puree and grilled asparagus on a plate garnished with dots of romesco sauce (feel free to dab your finger and lick when nobody’s looking), it’s one of a handful of options on the current menu.
Others include stout-braised short ribs, which I haven’t yet tried, and a delightful twist on a Southern classic: shrimp and grit cake. Similar to a polenta cake, the lightly browned grit cake is enriched with ale (a Dutch koyt called Van Gogh’s Left Beer, for you cognoscenti), and it’s smothered beneath an avalanche of jumbo shrimp and andouille sausage in a jalapeño honey glaze, topped with candied bacon and scallions.
The menu devotes a section to a small selection of tacos, with options ranging from vegetarian (sweet potato, black bean, cilantro and sriracha sour cream) to short rib (hoisin glaze, cucumber, grilled yellow squash and poblano). They’re fine for the most part but they’re pricy, with à la carte prices of $4 to $5 each.
Sandwiches, served with skin-on fries, will give you more bang for your buck. The pulled duck, for one, which piles juicy shreds of duck braised in oatmeal stout, and a skein of beer-pickled onions, on a brioche bun with a light schmear of orange marmalade.
Or a burger. The Oak & Dagger Burger, topped with a slab of fried gouda, onion-bacon-beer jam and sriracha aioli, is rightly popular. But purists won’t be disappointed in the Classic, with nothing more than lettuce, tomato and onion (cheese or bacon if you insist) standing between you and a half pound of well-seasoned and accurately grilled sirloin.
Kitchen miscues are infrequent and generally minor — slightly overcooked mahi, a surprisingly dry vegetarian taco. Service, on the other hand, can be hit or miss, depending on how busy the place is and who is assigned to your table. With any luck, you’ll get one of the enthusiastic and knowledgeable servers who are happy to help you broaden your beer horizons.
Like the one who informed me that one of those bourbon barrels contains a batch of Coole Beans, a brown ale brewed with beans from Oak City Coffee Roasters. They’re aging it to create a special “Irish coffee” brew to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.
What, you surely didn’t think these guys would be serving green beer, did you?
Oak & Dagger Public House
18 Seaboard Ave., Suite 150, Raleigh, 919-945-9382
Atmosphere: utilitarian brewpub
Noise level: moderate to high
Recommended: beer-battered asparagus, cheese curds, Brussels sprouts, burgers, shrimp & grit cake
Open: Lunch and dinner daily, brunch Sunday.
Other: full bar; accommodates children; modest vegetarian selection; patio; parking in lot and on street.
The N&O’s critic dines anonymously; the newspaper pays for all meals. We rank restaurants in five categories: ☆☆☆☆☆ Extraordinary ☆☆☆☆ Excellent. ☆☆☆ Above average. ☆☆Average. ☆ Fair.
The dollar signs defined: $ Entrees average less than $10. $$ Entrees $11 to $16. $$$ Entrees $17 to $25. $$$$ Entrees more than $25.