The back room of The Garlic Poet has turned into a top-notch spot for pizza and beer
Grain + Verse is not your typical bottle shop. Yeah, they have more than 220 bottles on hand at any time. But the entire operation is infused with beer.
They put beer (or the ingredients necessary to make beer) in every pizza slice, stromboli, and panini. The mustard is even made with Tröegs Perpetual IPA. Plus, they have a Portlandia-esque obsession with pickling, serving a healthy pile of homemade pickles on every plate.
Executive chef and mastermind Kurt Wewer of Hummelstown wanted to turn the giant back room of The Garlic Poet into the kind of place he would want to hang out with his friends. It’s a place built on small business principles with big personality and just enough attitude and mystery to keep you intrigued. And it’s something different than The Garlic Poet – without sacrificing quality.
“Everything is handmade or repurposed from local sources,” Wewer says. “The playlist is even hand-curated to fit the concept and atmosphere of Grain + Verse.”
It’s a casual counter service kind of place that focuses on craft bottles rather than drafts and craft pizzas with local ingredients rather than just cheese slices. The bottle selection includes a great representation of Central PA breweries like Troegs, Liquid Hero and St. Boniface as well as heavy hitters from around the rest of the country and the world. There’s also a hand-pumped cask and a custom-order firkin always in the rotation.
What’s a firkin? Normally, a firkin is a hand-tapped (with a wooden plug and rubber mallet), specially flavored gravity-fed cask. It has to sell within a day or two so it doesn’t go flat. Wewer designed the draft system behind the counter and modified his firkin with a CO2 valve that replaces the air inside the cask with a consistent blanket of CO2 that keeps the beer fresh.
“It’s a beer geek thing,” Wewer says.
That evening, Bube’s Brewery Speakeasy Pale Ale with additional citrus, oak and hops was in the firkin.
When I arrived at Grain + Verse, Wewer and chef Dan Stasiak already had pizza in the oven for me. Partway through the interview, Stasiak presented Wewer, general manager Matt Treven and me with a pizza featuring garlic roasted broccoli rabe with prosciutto de Parma, fresh oregano pesto and aged mozzarella on a crispy thin crust.
They also served a gigantic boli (because “stromboli” is an “American bastardization”) with house-made spicy Cascade hop sausage. There was an arugula salad with Finnociona dry-cured sausage, Lanchego cheese made from goats milk from Deagley Farms in Lancaster, seasonal fruits and a white balsamic dressing infused with Cascade hops.
A jar of house-made pickles, including peeled baby carrots, cauliflower and banana peppers pickled with a sour beer, was also presented. And finally, there were house-made pretzels with their very own Tröegs Perpetual IPA mustard and malt syrup.
The beer-centric means the pizza and boli dough is infused with beer. There is a traditional round pizza available, but I recommend the thinner, crispy, triple-baked square crust. The sauce is as authentic as Wewer and Stasiak can create it – made with hand-crushed San Marzano tomatoes.
Every dish was presented on a hand-made wooden plank. Everything (even the pickle jar) was both aesthetically attractive and delicious.
My favorite part of tasting all of the food, though, was that almost everyone who was working at Grain + Verse that evening grabbed a basket and dug in. We sat at a community table and talked about everything from hunting to music. These dudes were the most personable and inviting group of beer and pizza enthusiasts I’ve ever (randomly) dined with.
Before we dug in, I asked what beer I should pair with our dinner.
“Sour beer goes the best with pizza,” Wewer recommended. “Try the Yards ESA or the firkin, because the citrus will cut through the bitterness of the broccoli rabe.”
Treven also pushed the idea of a sour beer. “You’re looking for all of the flavor profiles to be in every single bite,” he says. “Drinking a sour beer helps blend the flavors together.”
Stasiak – after all his experience with craft beers – still recommends Pabst or “anything Wewer suggests.”
I tried both the firkin and the regular cask beer while we ate. The firkin had a stronger base of pale ale that would normally be enjoyed last so as to not fry the taste buds. The blend of additional flavors in the firkin left just enough bite while retaining the same mellow flavor profile through the entire pint.
The hand-pumped cask containing Yards ESA (extra special ale) was a smooth follow-up. It’s hard to be disappointed by their old English style-ale.
Grain + Verse provides a rewarding and entertaining experience, as Wewer and Treven have a firm grasp of the concept they’re shooting for. Thursday evenings they even feature live acoustic sets from local artists.
Oh, and if you were wondering, that’s what the name refers to – the “grain” is beer and pizza, and the “verse” is the music or poetry that rounds out the experience.
• 148 Sheraton Drive, New Cumberland
• 774-2721 (ext. 589)
• Monday-Thursday, 4-10 p.m. and Friday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.