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Beer Bettered

Food Review: Duck fat, chowder and sausages put tap-heavy Postbellum on the food map.



Surely I'm not the only one feeling like Richmond is being overrun with gastropubs competing to prove who has the biggest beer list. Pub owners flaunt tome-sized beer lists like fishermen brag about their biggest catch. But with so many restaurants emphasizing an endless number of craft beers, it only makes sense to consider what else they're offering besides the latest sour beer or stout made with local honey.

Enter Postbellum in the heart of the Fan, the latest beer boaster but one clever enough to do a variation on a theme. The former Mulligan's has been transformed into a trio of spaces. The dining room still isn't ideal. It's big and high-ceilinged with brick walls and tile floors so it gets loud. Noise reduces the music to an occasional bass thump most of the time, which detracts from any sense of ambiance.

Upstairs, a large deck is destined to be a hot spot on balmy days and even on wintry evenings when the "weather curtain" of heavy-gauge plastic is up. The supply room, accessible through the main dining room or the street, is open till 10 p.m. and offers six boutique drafts on tap and a selection of beer for retail sale.

Besides suds, Postbellum does right by wine lovers with four wines on tap ($8-$10), meaning they taste as fresh as if a new bottle were opened for every pour. A succinct wine list ($6-$10 glass, $20-$36 bottle) is surprising in that it offers not a single Virginia wine despite a menu touting local food and several Virginia beers.

But let's talk food. This isn't chef Jen Mindell's first rodeo. Having made a name for herself with creative vegetarian fare at Café Gutenberg, Rooster cart and briefly Avalon, here she's designed a menu of meatless and meaty choices worthy of a visit even if you eschew beer. Snacks ($4 each, $2 at happy hour) of pork cracklings, shrimp cracklings, fried hominy, rosemary smoked peanuts and malt vinegar chips provide a satisfyingly salty start, the latter two being especially addicting.

Expect to be wowed by the fried Brussels sprouts with pecans and blue cheese, which are taken to the next level by being rolled in brown butter ($8). The crispy sprouts and candied nuts are so beautifully complementary that I can't help but order them on two visits. Vibrantly spiced potted meat ($8) of duck and pork slathered on sourdough bread tastes incredibly fresh. Chicken wings ($10) are smoked and offered with a choice of five sauces from hot buffalo to mild coriander lime. Kimchi is the perfect midrange compromise.

Try salmon belly and watercress clam chowder ($8) for a new take on a classic. Curious about why it's called a grown-up spinach salad ($8), I see that it isn't because of the roasted beets, goat cheese or pecans. It's because it's made with flat leaf spinach, a chewier and more flavorful variety than the ubiquitous baby spinach.

The Postbellum burger ($12), with charred onions, turnip greens and truffle mayo, is killer because of its ducky mushrooms, also available as a side ($5), which you can be sure I got on my next visit. Mushrooms cooked in duck fat? Yes, please. Good as the pickled radish and cucumber of a duck banh mi ($9) are, it's the chewy roll that makes it. Supporting local products, the Sausage Craft mixed grill ($16) uses two kinds — one sriracha and one Gruyère — along with grits and braised greens, a large and satisfying combination.

Three visits in and I see the reasons that server alumnae from Amuse, Ipanema, Avalon and Secco have migrated to Postbellum. A place where you can get a growler filled, enjoy a moonrise on the deck or savor a confit chicken leg with smoked clams and watercress isn't just about the number of beers on a list. But if size is what matters to you, there are 26. S

1323 W. Main St.
Daily 3:30 p.m.-2 a.m.

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