In cities across AMERICA, the craft beer scene has been fermenting now for years, each region providing its respective locals with its own unique variety of beer options. Northeast Florida is no different. And as the first wave of local breweries moves from infancy to adolescence, there is bound to be more variety on the horizon.
Zeta Brewing Company is at the corner of First Avenue North and Second Street, a short bike ride from anywhere in Jax Beach. The brewery and foodery often hosts live music and, when coupled with the giant bar that takes up most of the center, one can imagine its alter ego as a weekend hotspot.
Zeta has been filling hungry stomachs for more than two years, but the shift to brewing happened just last year, thanks to brewmaster Chris Prevatt. Beer is the name of the game for Prevatt, a former chef who’s now a brewmaster.
On one side of the restaurant, the cogs of the brewery itself are visible through glass windows. I chose a seat on the patio, which gives diners a view of beachgoers and the impending apocalypse that is a summer thunderstorm. The patio has a more rustic feel than its beachy exterior would suggest, with a wood-beamed ceiling and minty-hued walls.
At Zeta, diners have the option to incorporate beer into every aspect of their meal, which is exactly what I did. First came the hummus ($7). “Beer-flavored hummus?” you’re thinking. Think again. Zeta found a way to reuse beer grains and, as a result, created the best starter hummus I’ve had. The hummus was piled around Zeta’s spent-beer-grain tabbouleh, and served with pesto flatbread pita chips. The mildly flavored hummus was subtle enough to allow the spicy tabbouleh to be the hero of the dish.
Next on the beer-food menu was beer cheese dip, accompanied by soft, salty, and buttery pretzel sticks ($5). One can live on bread alone at Zeta – the pretzels by themselves were enough to keep me licking my fingers. The beer cheese dip was, naturally, made with Zeta’s craft beer, and only made the pretzel sticks better.
So, how about that beer? I couldn’t leave a brewery without trying at least one, so I ordered two. Oliver, our helpful waiter, suggested Zeta’s Power to the Porter and American Garage, a brown porter and an IPA. Power to the Porter had delicious coffee and chocolate notes that made it hard not to gulp. American Garage was smooth for an IPA, absent the bitter, hoppy intensity I’ve experienced with many IPAs.
Zeta’s entrées proved that this brewery is wise about much more than just beer. The specialty Zeta Total Carne pizza ($12) was, as the name hinted, totally meaty, with bacon, chorizo, pepperoni, ground beef, and Italian sausage. Best of all, the dough also had spent beer grains.
The cavatappi and bratwurst pasta ($13) was creamy and savory, with local sausage, tomato, basil, and garlic in a Creole sauce. Next, I ordered a beef tenderloin taco ($3.50) with horseradish. Unfortunately, there was no beer infusion with the pasta and taco, but the dishes were fabulous enough I didn’t miss it.
This satisfying meal culminated in bread pudding ($5) made with Zeta’s Ruby Beach raspberry wheat ale. This bowl of warm gooeyness was topped with pieces of bacon and … wait for it … caramel bourbon cream sauce. Beer, bacon, bourbon, and bread, all in one dish? Yes.
I’ll be honest – the word “beer” doesn’t fill me with the same giddiness as it does others. Still, I felt right at home, what with Oliver’s help and the salty breeze from the open window. Zeta’s versatile menu ensures that, beer-lover or hardened cynic, any diner can be satisfied.
Where’s Rebecca going next? You can catch up with her at Somewhere in the City Jax and check folioweekly.com each Wednesday for new reviews.