(New York, NY) — Last March, during our springtime visit to Manhattan, we decided to explore Eataly, Mario Batali’s recently opened Italian market in the Flatiron district near Madison Square Park. Unfortunately, it was a less than thrilling experience on a Sunday afternoon, as we battled a throng of people crammed into the hot space. We lunched elsewhere that day, but we knew we’d return when the planned rooftop beer garden finally opened. That day finally came and we planned our Saturday lunch at Birreria...

He Fed:

We cab it the 20 blocks from our hotel to Eataly. I expect it to be just as crowded as the last time we visited. It is a beautiful Saturday afternoon, after all. To our delight, however, there is no mob of visitors pushing us this way and that; we are able to browse the different sections of the market. The few other people who stayed in the city to brave Patriot Day shenanigans—including police car corridors in Times Square and mobile command centers—actually seem to be enjoying themselves at Eataly, wandering around with glasses of wine, shopping for freshly-butchered meat.

Just as we are about to ask someone how to get to the roof, I spy the unmistakable Birreria logo on the far side of the store. We check in at the host stand and are told to take the elevator up. From there, we follow the signs up a staircase to where another host stand guards the entrance to the beer garden. Our reservations are confirmed and we are ushered to a small, wobbly table with slightly pinched, uncomfortable metal chairs. Overhead, the sliding ceiling panels are closed against the unsure skies and fans are aggressively circulating the muggy air. Our friendly waitress immediately notices the table and adjusts the levelers within seconds. Blam! No more wobble. We order a bottle of sparkling water, then hunker down to examine the menu.

And what a menu! Developed by brewmasters Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head, Leonardo Di Vincenso of Del Borgo, and Teo Musso of Baladin, the food offerings have been developed with the beer in mind. All the house brews are cask conditioned, but there are other unique draft and bottled beers. Additionally, they also make their own wines! The drinks take up the entire back side of the folded paper menu. The other side is formaggi (cheese), salumi (meat), insalate (salad), funghi (mushrooms), house made sausage, pork shoulder, contorni (sides or toppings), and alla griglia (from the grill).

It is a bit overwhelming, so we decide to take our time with some charcuterie—thin slices of coppa; ricotta fresca from Connecticut; robiola bosina from Piemonte; and asiago fresco from Veneto. I start my beer discovery with “Gina” (all the house brews are named after women), a pale ale infused with thyme harvested from the hills of Borgorose, Italy. The style is true Dogfish Head: hefty, a little hoppy but not too demonstrative, and the thyme adds a deeper dimension of green-ness. It goes particularly well with the chestnut honey served with the cheese.

This first course only piques Juliet’s interest, so she decides to order the shitake fritti con salvia: deep fried mushrooms. After some consideration, I get “Wanda” to pair. She’s a mild ale made with roasted chestnuts, dark in color yet effervescent and creamy. Eminently quaffable, with a dry finish. By about the halfway mark, I am ready to try Juliet’s mushies. They are fantastic! The deep fried coating is crunchy and salty, while the fungus inside has been rendered flat, meaty, and moist but not slimy.

Finally, the skies clear up and the Birreria staff opens the ceiling panels to let in fresh September air. We are suddenly refreshed, vowing to never leave our table. (There is a short period where they have to close the panels again, briefly, to appease a whiny customer at the next table who felt a drop of moisture touch her delicate skin, but once they leave the air flows freely again.)

My earlier commitment to trying the house made sausage is shaken when the waitress announces today’s special: Italian pork ribs. They arrive, unsauced and salted, flesh pulling slightly away from the bone. In my first chew, I taste zingy lemon and mint used in the marinade. With the ribs comes a nice mustard potato salad. My “Sofia”—a Belgian Wit brewed with peppercorns selected by the brewmasters, Joe Bastianich, and Mario Batali—is the perfect citrusy, spicy complement to the pork.

Honestly, things get a little fuzzy after this. I am in meat nirvana, floating on a cloud of pork ether and well-crafted beer. According to our receipt, I enjoyed “tastes” of Southern Tier Harvest ale, Captain Lawrence Liquid Gold Belgian blond, and Greenport Harbor Anniversary lager...and I can only report that they taste great under warm blue skies on a rooftop in Manhattan. Birreria is reason enough to warrant perhaps more than two trips to NYC a year.
She Fed:

I must be a wet blanket on this trip because this is another restaurant I have zero hopes for. We stopped by Eataly for lunch one day this past spring and it was complete chaos. A very unpleasant shopping experience and so crowded we couldn't get through the throngs of people to even get to a restaurant. We bailed and hit a little bistro off of Madison Avenue, which turned out to be a lovely surprise. I have never forgotten the negative experience at Eataly and even though we have reservations for lunch at the rooftop beer garden, I suspect long lines and loud crowds are in our future.

Sometimes it's wonderful to be completely wrong! What unfolds is a delightful lunch and leisurely afternoon in sunny New York. We arrive to find no crowds in the lower level of Eataly, quickly find the check-in spot for the rooftop and are shown to our elevator. Two short flights of stairs after a fast elevator ride and we are greeted by the friendly hostess (she's from Michigan, what do you expect from a fellow Midwesterner?) who seats us immediately. I have to say, I'm surprised this all transpired so quickly; I am truly amazed we are sitting at a table in under five minutes.

Our server is a cutie pie who very patiently runs through the Bastianich white wines with me. I opt for the 2009 Friulano, which turns out to be slightly sweeter than I expected. Coupled with the high heat and humidity, the wine quickly warms up and it's impossible to finish. (I know! You never thought you'd hear that from me, right?)

The beer garden is open air, but has a retractable roof (watch the video accompanying this review) which they decide to open up after this morning's showers have passed. As soon as they retract the roof, a cool breeze floats through and you can literally feel the collective mood of the restaurant open up and liven. Unfortunately, after about 15 minutes of breezy air, sunshine and laughter, the gal at the table next to us complains because water droplets from the roof are randomly blowing in and falling on her head. We're not talking rain or even drizzle; she freely admits it's "a few drops." I was willing to let it go that she's tall and thin with perfectly arched brows and luminous skin, but this request is pushing it. She pleads with our server to have the roof closed and even though every surrounding table is shaking their heads and giving Miss Wethead Prissypants "the look", the restaurant complies and closes the roof. Boooooo!

By this time I've switched to the Flor Prosecco which I'm hoping will be drier and easier to drink as it slightly warms. We opt to start with some charcuterie; we select three cheeses: ricotta fresca, ribiola bosina, asiago fresco, and one meat—coppa. They're served with fresh warm bread, honey, and olive oil drizzled with balsamic. We polish it all off far too quickly.

I decide it's time to change things up a bit and I order the "shiitake fritti con salvia" or fried shiitake mushrooms with sage. The batter is light and thin with a hint of beer; the mushrooms are deep and earthy, and the flecks of sage and parsley add an extra dimension to it all. I could easily eat the entire platter of these, but decide to play nice and share with Jeremy!

Maybe it's the third glass of prosecco talking, but I am grooving on the mushrooms and decide to skip an entree and instead order another mushroom app—the whole-roasted Maitake (hen of the woods) mushrooms with a pecorino cream sauce, asparagus, and pea shoots. Normally it's served with green peas, which I despise. But our server explains it's served with pea shoots today...hooray! The Maitakes arrive and I can't believe how huge they are. Jeremy's been commenting all afternoon about the artichokes passing by and we realize this dish is what he was seeing. The meaty, roasted mushrooms and some bright shaved asparagus spears are nestled in the very rich and thick Pecorino sauce. The earthiness of the 'shrooms, the crisp asparagus, and the cheese sauce all play well together. It's simply delicious.

We end the afternoon by splitting the tiramasu, which is authentically divine. (Don't look for it in the video because we were overserved and unable to operate machinery by dessert-time.) My misgivings were unfounded, Birreria is well worth a visit. And that's not the prosecco talking!

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