It’s easy to get carried away at Earth Bread + Brewery. You arrive at the restaurant, set in a cheery storefront on Germantown Avenue, and immediately catch a glimpse of the draught list hanging on the wall. That’s the first chink in the armor. The problem, if you can call it that, is that they all sound like brews you want to drink immediately, and possibly all at once. “Aromatic” IPA, all sessionable and crisp? The “Up in Smoke” saison, like a passing whiff of fireplace on a cool night? The “Tea for Tillerman,” an amber ale sweetened with local honey and green tea? Yes, please, to all of them.
This is all to say that you should go in with the expectations that your defenses will be weakened right off the bat. My advice: Don’t fight it. This is a deceptively simple concept—essentially, beer brewed on the premises (with others thrown in for good measure) and a flatbread-focused menu underpinned by the always laudable local-is-better philosophy—that’s executed well and with a distinct lack of pretense.
Among the highlights, of course, are those beers, which reflect a brewing program as competent with the classics as it is with more creative flights of fancy. The selection of craft beers from other producers is also well thought out and appropriately chosen with the food here in mind. Even if you’re a teetotaler, you’ll even feel the proverbial love, with a range of home-crafted sodas on offer. Check out the sarsaparilla, the ginger ale, the mint and lime “nojito.”
Once you have that first beer in front of you, it will be time to order up your meal, which is where the trouble continues: Too many of the options are appealing, which makes restraint an elusive aspect of the Earth Bread + Brewery experience.
I visited recently with a small group, the better to experience the range of flatbreads. Among them were my three nephews, two of whom, at 4 and 6 years old, are among the most pizza-passionate and opinionated connoisseurs I know. Serving them a sub-par flatbread or pizza results in a reaction you do not want to witness.
After a dramatic reading of the options, we faced a battle to keep them from ordering them all. We settled on what seemed to be a representative range. In general, they lived up to expectations. The “White + Black” was a highlight and typical of the sort of pie that the team here turns out so well. A base of roasted garlic sauce provided the palette for a balancing act of salty and sweet, of bacon and figs, both of these kissed with the sneaky savoriness of parmesan and asiago, brightened with the peppery bite of arugula. What could have been overly complicated turned out instead to be a pie of real complexity and charm. The “Seed” flatbread used roasted garlic sauce to frame a nuttier expression, the sesame and pumpkin seeds given depth with the occasional and well-placed snap of pine nuts. Homemade mozzarella softened it all up, wrapping each mouthful in a creamy, somehow even more comforting blanket.
A special huevos rancheros flatbread boasted all the explosive flavor and vibrant freshness of that beloved hangover-annihilating brunchtime classic. You could almost convince yourself it was in your best interest to eat it all in one heroic sitting. (Advice: Don’t do that.) The one flatbread that remained more intact than the others, that stayed frustratingly less popular throughout—even on the plates of my nephews—was the sausage. Unfortunately, while the classic combination read well on the menu, it lacked punch, or even much flavor beyond the pleasant nubs of spicy turkey sausage, as a result of underseasoning. No matter how well-sourced or lovingly prepared the mushrooms, bell peppers, roasted onions, homemade mozzarella and the rest are, underseasoning is a problem that’s difficult to overcome.
That was also an issue with the Caesar salad, though certainly not with the house salad; the candied pecans and goat cheese played particularly well off one another. Likewise, with the hummus trio, each one was a highly successful embodiment of its own unique flavor profile: the spinach hearty and soulful; the tomato all tangy with the concentration of quality sun-dried reds; the garlic pungent enough to menace even a particularly recalcitrant vampire but delicious nonetheless.
And Earth Bread + Brewery gets the mood just right, too: Laidback and friendly are too rarely joined by this level of knowledge and passion. Our server, Elisabeth, was particularly excellent.
When I visit a restaurant for professional purposes, it’s often necessary to order more than a typical guest might. I accept that as a part of the job. My concern is that, when I return to Earth Bread + Brewery next time—in other words, when I’m off the clock—I’ll do the same. I’m just not sure I’ll be able to help myself. No matter: It’s the best sort of problem to have to face. I’ll do so happily, and with a real sense of anticipation, thirst and hunger for too much more.
Earth Bread + Brewery
7136 Germantown Ave. (Mt. Airy)
215-242-6666 | earthbreadbrewery.com
Photography by Rob Hall