Kent and Greg Dawson have been answering the question "Is there beer yet?" frequently of late — and for many months. The brothers first signed on to open a brewery and restaurant at 2298 Clay Street in Jefferson Park some two and a half years ago, but permitting, zoning changes and construction delays have pushed out the opening well past their initial expectations. But Briar Common Brewery + Eatery will finally open to the public tomorrow at 4 p.m. in a funky, corner building built from what was a neighborhood grocery store for much of the last century.
Architect and owner of the building David Berton (and his company, Real Architecture) helped convert the rambling space, which was once at least two separate buildings attached together by a warren of breezeways and crawl spaces, into a modern restaurant and brewery with a new rooftop bar and patio, a state-of-the-art kitchen and a seven-barrel brew house. Kent Dawson explains that the property had to be rezoned because the old grocery store was designated as a commercial building but the attached space was actually a residence. "It was difficult dissecting it in a way that it wouldn't just fall down — and then putting it back together again," he notes.
The brothers do not have previous restaurant experience, but have been home-brewing together for more than twenty years. Greg is the brewmaster of the operation, and he's come up with a list of four opening beers designed with simplicity and food-friendliness in mind: an American pale, a Belgian saison, an IPA and an American porter. There's also a Belgian dubbel in the fermenting tank that will be available in the coming weeks. Briar Common's bar sports ten tap handles, one of which will be reserved for cider. The remaining handles will be occupied by guest beers for now, but the Dawsons hope to fill most of them with their own beers before too long.
"We're here because of the beer," Kent states. " But having a kitchen to put food on the table seemed like a good opportunity. Greg makes dry, balanced, drinkable beer that complements the food. We're bringing the craft of brewing great beers and the craft of creating great food together on the same table."
To that end, the brothers brought on executive chef Joshua Goodsell, who arrives from Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, with a menu that, while certainly dotted with Southern influences, also reaches far beyond the American South. So you'll find fried chicken thigh pieces served with sweet-potato hash, plenty of pickled veggies, and a grit cake with pork shoulder, but that shoulder is actually served as a ragout, and those pickled things are as likely to boast bread-and-butter sweetness as they are sharp hits of ginger. The best descriptors are eclectic and international, with hip, modern ingredients from pork belly to octopus (braised in the house IPA) to watermelon radishes making appearances. "The beer is designed to pair well with food, and the menu is designed to go with beer," is Kent's overarching explanation.
Although beer is the obvious motif, a full liquor license means that wine and spirits are also available at the bars — one on the ground floor and one on the rooftop, which encompasses an indoor-outdoor space with views of Jefferson Park to the west.
Briar Common will be open from 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, staying open an extra hour on Saturdays and Sundays. Beginning the weekend of October 15, brunch will be served from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.