Published August 25. 2011 4:00AM
These pages are normally reserved for waxing eloquent about a variety of appetizers, entrees and desserts in a meal, but this time we're keeping it simple: Pretzels. Beer. That's it.
That's what makes up the menu at The Malted Barley in Westerly, but that's not really it. Opened by local couple Colin and Stephanie Bennett earlier this year, The Malted Barley offers such a great variety of beer and gourmet soft pretzels that you really don't miss the typical bar food that seems like just space-filler on the menus of its counterparts.
In the former home of The Revival House in downtown Westerly, the bar seems to balance modern and New England-rustic features, with a long wooden bar central to the room, exposed brick walls, wood floors and track lighting. Besides bar seating, there are a limited number of tables on the main floor and downstairs, but in good weather, the outdoor patio really adds to the space. The patio is on the Pawcatuck River, though the water is somewhat obscured in the dark, with a few more high tables, barstool seating and lights strung overhead (and a bonus: bug spray is provided).
The bar seems to have established a good following, as it's been busy on a few recent late-night visits, but during dinner hours, getting a table wasn't a problem. Don't mind the comings and goings of patrons of the martial arts studio across the street or the yoga studio upstairs. Should you be working out instead of drinking beer? No. Beer has plenty of health benefits, such as improving heart health, increasing bone density, and even helping people lose weight, according to one Spanish study (you gotta love the Spaniards).
The Malted Barley has a beautifully long row of 35 taps behind the bar, from which flow a whole spectrum of golden to brown hued craft and micro brews.
Our favorite option was the flights - four 4-ounce samples of beer - since it's so hard to choose one beer.
You can also get beer by the barrel, a cool alternative to a pitcher, for the table to share. The menu tells you the alcohol percentage in each, and though wait staff was helpful with questions, I wouldn't have minded a bit more description of some of the beers on the menu.
I won't go into detailed tasting notes, but a few of our favorites were the Berkshire Brewing Company's Shabadoo black and tan ale, Southern Tier's 2XIPA, and Ommegang Abbey Ale. There are also some seasonal additions to the menu, such as Harpoon's Island Creek Oyster Stout, a dark beer that doesn't exactly taste like oysters but apparently gets a subtle brininess from being brewed with them.
There's also plenty of bottled beer, and if, for some reason, you need a beer break, the cocktail menu has some nice Westerly inspired drinks, like summer POPS, made with vodka, prosecco, and lemonade with a pop rocks rim.
And now, on to the pretzels. Pretzels so often sit under those awful heat lamps at movie theaters or baseball games, overly dense and too hard. Malted Barley's pretzels are soft and not too thick, with just a bit of chewiness. What makes them more fun, however, are the stuffing and dipping sauces, which range from mustards and marinaras to cream cheese frosting.
We tried a plain salted pretzel ($3) with the spinach and artichoke dip, which was happily heavy on the veggies, as opposed to cheese or cream.
The jalapeno and cheddar stuffed pretzel ($5) was not overloaded by its filling, offering a bit of heat, and nicely balanced with the creamy bite of blue cheese dip.
We also sampled two of the three sandwiches served on a soft pretzel bread. The roast beef ($8) was made up of a good amount of tender meat with a crispness from a slightly sweet cabbage slaw, shaved red onion and a garlic aioli that didn't overpower the sandwich. The vegetarian option ($8) looked almost like a chicken salad, except made with cannellini beans, cranberry and goat cheese pate, with a nice crunch from walnuts, sliced pear and arugula.
If you're not too full from savory pretzels, you might like one of the dessert options: a sugar and cinnamon pretzel or a waffle pretzel with nutella and vanilla ice cream, perfect with a nice chocolate stout. You didn't forget about the beer already, did you?