Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Pink Boots at American Flatbread/Zero Gravity

“When you make a world tolerable for yourself, you make a world tolerable for others.” ~Anais Nin

August 3: Arrived at Brewmaster/Owner Paul Sayler’s place at about 9:30 am. The place has three names and I’ll list them all here to avoid confusion: American Flatbread, Burlington Hearth, and Zero Gravity Brewing Co. I’ll call the place American Flatbread, as that is the main sign out front. Paul tells me the Zero Gravity name may go away at some point.

Burlington’s American Flatbread is modeled after the famous farmhouse restaurant of that name in Waitsfield, Vermont. In fact, Paul and his partner Rob are licensees of that original American Flatbread. Try to avoid calling it pizza as the flatbreads are hand-thrown and are never round.

Upon entering Burlington’s American Flatbread, the first thing you notice is the huge antique back bar on your right with antique thick-filament bulbs hanging from it. If you turn left into the main dining room, the huge mud and native stone hardwood-fired oven showcases high-temperature flame baking at its finest. Looking around the corner to the right, the oversized kitchen’s wooden cabinets remind you of home. However if you are there for lunch, you’ll see a giant cauldron with hardwood flaming beneath it at the back of the kitchen. That’s where American Flatbread cooks up its chunky organic tomato sauce, Italian sausage, and other flatbread ingredients.

But where is the brewery you ask? You’d be right to ask, as neither the American Flatbread sign nor the Burlington Hearth sign out front even hint that this is a brewpub. Perusing the chalkboard you may notice Zero Gravity Brewery’s beers listed along with a host of other beers, and unless you knew better, Zero Gravity Brewing Company could be anywhere in New England. But the brewery is right here! You won’t see it unless you use the bathrooms. There’s a big picture window right across from the bathroom doors. Even Paul’s business cards give no clue that this is a brewpub as his title is not listed, and it only says American Flatbread Burlington Hearth!

Paul says his invisible brewery is by design. Paul and Rob opened their American Flatbread restaurant first, and so as not to upset the local breweries with direct competition, they set it up as a multi-tap first, and a multi-tap it will continue to stay. Subsequently Paul’s Zero Gravity beers intentionally end up with second billing. In my opinion this is a strange philosophy considering the high-quality of Paul’s Euro-focused beers. However, if you are into a long night of beer tasting, Burlington’s American Flatbread would be an excellent choice. After giving Paul’s beers their due, continue on to explore the rest of the extensive beer list; the longest beer list in Burlington I am told.
As mentioned, I arrived at 9:30 am but Paul was busy with “owner stuff” and couldn’t mash in until nearly noon. That gave me plenty of time to explore the premises, admire the wood flame oven, meet the staff, read the menu and monthly menu dedications to various worthy causes, and drool over the extensive beer list.

Photo at left is of the wood-fired cauldron where the kitchen staff cooks up their chunky pizza sauce from organic tomatos and spices. Yum! (See August 17 post for a photo of their primitive wood-fired flatbread/pizza oven.)

Today’s brew was a traditional German-style Oktoberfest made with all imported malt. Paul is a traditionalist, so the mash had several temperature steps and the brew stretched into the evening. During mash rests we were visited by Greg Noonan, his partner Steve Polewacyk, Scott Martin of Magic Hat Brewery, and Garrett Oliver who was in Burlington for the American Cheese Association’s national conference. Paul is the consummate host and we tried all of his beers including a few that were not on tap. Garrett brought a few bottles of his non-style “Local One” Belgian beer and we had a very nice visit.

Photo at top of page, L to R: Scott, Paul, Garrett, Teri, Steve and Greg.

At 8:30 pm Paul finished up his day and took me to Lamonte, a nice upscale Italian restaurant for dinner. Got to the trailer about 10:45 pm. That was a long day!

In the photo at right I tried to capture some of Zero Gravity's handle-themed tap handles. On the left is the hack-saw handle. The wooden dowel to the right of that is actually a wheelbarrow handle. Farther down the line are a car shift handle, a hammer, a farm water pump handle, and other tools of various trades.

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