Food & Drink

Mystery Brewing adding kitchen as it celebrates 5 years

Mystery Brewing is Hillsborough’s first microbrewery and will celebrate five years Saturday, Feb. 25, when it unveils its expanded seating and new menu.
Mystery Brewing is Hillsborough’s first microbrewery and will celebrate five years Saturday, Feb. 25, when it unveils its expanded seating and new menu.

For five years, Mystery Brewing has made a name for itself with an ever-evolving menu of beers that make the most of the season’s ingredients.

With the exception of the Golden Hind, a golden pale ale served year-round, the pub’s 24 taps rarely are the same. The brewery might go through 50 to 65 beers in the course of a year.

As the brewery celebrates its fifth year, founder Erik Lars Myers hopes to replicate that philosophy with a new kitchen and a new menu of food. The menu and the expanded dining area – which doubles the public house’s seating – will be unveiled Saturday, Feb. 25.

“Beer tends to evoke seasonal brewing,” said Myers, 40. “That’s what we try to make. It seems like a natural evolution to tell that story with our own food.”

Chef Michael Malek was still fine-tuning the menu of small plates and entrees last week. But he said he plans to incorporate ingredients that can be found at local farms and farmers markets, which means the dishes will rotate frequently like the beers.

“I’m really just trying to focus on keeping the community together with the food and what’s available at the time,” he said.

He also plans to use beer as an ingredient and craft dishes that pair well with what’s on tap. So far, he has experimented with a carrot squash beer soup and a root vegetable tartare. A sweet potato plate – with a maple ginger glaze, goat cheese and greens – is a likely contender as a small plate. So is a sandwich with prosciutto, apple and a spring onion slaw.

The menu may start off small, Malek said, but he hopes it will grow and will include a brunch menu in the future.

Malek, 30, has enjoyed crafting a menu from scratch for the first time. Malek, who has been a bartender at Mystery, has worked as a line cook in the kitchens of acclaimed Raleigh chef Scott Crawford and Kinston chef Vivian Howard. He moved to Kinston in 2015 to work for Howard at Chef and the Farmer. He then moved to Raleigh and worked for Crawford when he was at Standard Foods. (Crawford now owns Crawford & Son.)

He was first introduced to Mystery when his bluegrass band, Counterclockwise String Band, played a gig at the brewery. Malek, a banjo player, said it was one of the best experiences the band had ever had.

Later, he saw Mystery’s ad for a chef last year and applied. The kitchen wasn’t set up yet, so he was hired as a bartender. He started talking with Myers about his ideas and his background growing up near farms in Wisconsin.

“I finally cooked for him,” he said. “We’ve been hanging out since.”

While the menu might be more elevated than typical pub fare, Malek said the brewery will remain casual.

“When I look at at food, I don’t think people need to get dressed up to have good food,” he said.

For Myers, now seemed like the right time to expand beyond beer. Visitors often will bring in food from Hillsborough BBQ Company next door, but unlike other breweries, the logistics aren’t conducive for food trucks.

He reflected on his five years with Mystery, a venture that was launched after 10 years of home brewing. At the time, it was Hillsborough’s only craft brewer. As Myers spoke on the phone, he said he was watching some of Mystery’s beer get canned; he recalled when growlers had to be filled by hand.

He said brewing beer shows the intersection of art and science, which is a lot like cooking.

“To be a good brewer, you need to understand science,” he said. “To be a really great brewery, you have to be a great artist. Good flavors come together in an artful way.”

Info: The fifth anniversary party is from noon to midnight at the Public House at 230 S. Nash St., Hillsborough. Music will be provided by Swedish Wood Patrol and the Berlin Brothers.

Jessica Banov: 919-829-4831, @JessicaBanov