WanderLinger Brewing opened three years ago, pouring hand-crafted beers with clever names and serving a few bites on a limited menu. But the Southside-area beer bar upped the ante on pub fare when it hired a trained chef. Carolyn Foley's new menu includes a number of farm-to-table dishes and items that go well beyond the average chicken wings and tater skins found in many beer bars.
Here's what you'll find among the appetizers: black bean dip; a charcuterie plate; a three-cheese dip with smoked gouda, white cheddar, provolone and fresh rosemary; and, since this is a place for beer, a big Bavarian pretzel with house-made beer-cheese dip and whole-grain mustard with a distinctive bite.
It isn't a huge array of choices, but what it may lack in numbers, it certainly makes up for in substance. Nothing is from a box pulled from the freezer. Foley gets her pretzels from the bakery at Bluff View, she makes the beer-cheese from scratch and stirs up the black bean dip with lots of tahini, roasted garlic and other flavors.
She offers a different grilled cheese sandwich every month, selecting favorites from the WanderLinger crew, as well as some of her own, such as a grilled cheese with roasted garlic pesto, tomato, bacon and mozzarella and muenster cheeses on flatbread. Or you can create your own from a list of choices, sauces and add-ons.
Street tacos with chicken or beef are a house favorite, along with a Reuben that may convince you to come back again just for that — along with a cold brew.
I went with a flight of beers, a Bavarian pretzel and a Reuben.
WanderLinger's list of beers is a fun read: Joose Caboose, Litespeed, Fuggle Bus, Incognito Mode. The names may be funny, but the pub is serious about its brews. Descriptions of each brew tell you exactly what you're drinking — an IPA, India pale lager, American lager and the like.
Not a beer aficionado? Join the club. I'm not either, so order a flight and sample four before committing to a full glass. My flight featured Blackberry Hug; Oaktoberfest, a seasonal beer brewed in oak casks; WanderLinger Lager, a Munich Helles (you beer experts will know what that is, but I don't); and Fuggle Bus, just because I like the name. When I was finished with dinner, the Blackberry Hug was empty — apparently my favorite. But all were good for someone who doesn't even drink beer more than once a year.
Can you go to a brew pub and not have a warm, salty soft pretzel? Probably, but why? The warm pretzel and a cold beer hit a comforting spot on a cool windy evening.
The Reuben was amazing. I love Reubens, but not all are made where you can take a clean bite into the corned beef. That means it's too tough or cut too thick. Or both.
WanderLinger's Reuben had that Goldilocks effect on me. Not too thick. Not too tough. Just right.
Foley makes her own corning spices, a blend she's perfected over the past year while she's been in the brew pub's kitchen. The result is a very tender, flavorful cut of meat topped with sauerkraut and Swiss cheese, then grilled to a nice crispy finish.
I've had bigger Reubens that were simply too much, but this one had everything going for it — a nice balance of textures and lots of flavor. A good Reuben is a thing of beauty, and this Reuben was beautiful. Most all breads are locally baked at Bluff View, including the pumpernickel used on this sandwich.
If you go
— Where: WanderLinger Brewing Co., 1208 King St.
— Hours: 4-11 p.m. Monday, 4-10 p.m. Tuesday, 4-11 p.m. Wednesday, 4 p.m.-midnight Thursday-Friday, noon-midnight Saturday, noon-10 p.m. Sunday
— Entree price range: $3-$12
— Alcohol: Beer and wine.
— Phone: 423-269-7979
— Online: wanderlinger.com
WanderLinger is located off King Street in a relatively newly constructed complex tucked behind Moxy, one of the Southside's boutique hotels. The walls are lined with colorful, bold original works of art to give the pub a vibrant look against a backdrop of industrial decor with exposed pipes and ductwork.
The dining area is filled with traditional seating — tables with comfortable padded chairs — in front of a stage where live music is played every night except Tuesday. Get your blues fix on Monday nights. Other nights are a mixed bag of local musicians.
Tall wooden tables with stools are off to one side, allowing for views into the room where the beer magic happens. The fermentation process takes place in the big, stainless-steel tanks, sometimes for more than a year. For an upcoming variety, beermaster Jarrod Szydlowski brought in 300 pounds of muscadines earlier this year. It won't be ready until sometime in 2022, he says.
Service at WanderLinger is semi-self-serve. Order at the bar, get your table number from the bartender so the server will know who's who, then your food will be brought to your table. You order and pick up your own drinks at the bar, however. Since I was dining solo, I sat at the bar and everything went smoothly.
WanderLinger Brewing Co. is the kind of pub that's small enough to give it the kind of vibe found in a neighborhood bar/restaurant. You can't see it from the road — just turn into the parking lot and snake your way to the back. You'll find it, and be glad you did.