When it's hot outside, we tend to look for a relaxed, shady place where we can leisurely sip on a frosty beverage. A spot that, while perhaps lively, isn't a pain in the ass to get to (fussing over traffic in a hot car is no way to spend precious summertime hours).
If you haven't already checked out Griffin Claw Brewing Co., you may want to do so. It's got what you're looking for in a warm weather brewpub. Situated in a mostly residential corner of Birmingham, this establishment is where you'll find all manner of locally produced beer, plus a variety of tasty bar bites.
In the three years the brewery and biergarten has been in operation, it's become known as a posh dining and drinking space, complete with lounge-y outdoor seating that surrounds an inviting fire pit, in addition to a sprawling indoor dining area with walls that retract when weather permits and an exposed ceiling that gives the place a slightly industrial feel.
Guests find their own seating at long, communal tables or high tops. Though it can take a bit of navigation to claim dibs on a seat, during our recent visit, we had little trouble finding seats within moments of walking in. Servers are friendly, if not a bit harried, and offer honest recommendations and insights about the offerings (they'll cut to the chase, for example, when trying to figure out your beer preferences).
Obviously the heart of the menu is in the brews, with more than a dozen selections on tap. Brewmaster Dan Rogers has spent more than two decades honing his craft. Since opening the brewpub, Griffin Claw has been able to keep the awards flowing, with at last count, include nine gold medals, six silvers, and four bronzes.
While brews like the hoppy Norm's Raggedy Ass India Pale Ale and the autumn Screamin' Pumpkin Ale (like a pumpkin pie in a glass) are popular classics, we opted for a lighter, smooth Clubhouse Cream Ale, made this spring for baseball season.
Griffin Claw sticks to its pub food ideals, with a number of burgers, small bites, sandwiches, and stick-to-your-ribs entrees.
We started with a warm basket of soft pretzel sticks, served with a locally produced, sweet and tangy Mucky Duck mustard. They come out slightly buttery and with not too much salt — a comforting staple to go with our suds. Next up came a Brussel sprouts salad, prepared with a mix of arugula, flash-fried Brussels sprouts, chickpeas, dried cherries, crumbled blue cheese, and a house-made peach vinaigrette — making for an interesting variation on the regional Michigan salad. During future visits, we just might opt for the pickle fries, which we're told come out crispy and battered and are served with a barbecue aioli.
As for entrees, our dining partner went with a Claw Burger, a half-pound, proprietary blend of chopped black Angus, short rib, and chuck served on a toasted brioche bun, and served with fries. He found that while it came out flavorful, it had the feel of having been pre-formed long before being grilled.
Our pulled duck confit sandwich was an extravagant alternative to typical bar food fare. Also served on a brioche roll, the duck was nice and succulent, accompanied by an ale mustard, arugula, pickled red onions, and mango/peach chutney (also served with fries). A popular beer can chicken plate was on a previous menu but discontinued months ago; our server told us that was one of the most in-demand menu items and its absence is to the dismay of many a patron.
Had we had room for dessert, it most assuredly would have been the ice cream sandwich, made with vanilla bean ice cream between two chocolate chip cookies.
Michigan is fast becoming one of the most important craft beer states in the country, and to stay competitive, breweries are having to come up with ever-more inventive ways of creating loyalists. Griffin Claw, which is working on a second location in Rochester Hills, has managed to leave a lasting imprint in the local scene, and its beautiful brewpub has only served to help.