Bella Vista beer believers are bracing themselves for debut of Growlers, the bar longtime Stephen Starr front-of-houser Jay Willard and partner Jason Evenchik (Vintage, Time, Bar) are installing in the old Vesuvio at Eighth and Fitzwater. “We’ll be physically ready by the end of this month,” says Willard, who adds that staff training will likely push the neighborhood pub, which’ll specialize in craft beer, into early September.
While the owners have already shared their preliminary plans for Growlers’ beverage program — six beers on tap (with plans to expand), a bunch of bottles/cans and the titular 64-ounce vessels available both tableside and to go — we’re just beginning to hear about what’ll come out of the kitchen. The team has hired Jerry Donohue, who last cooked at Conshohocken’s Spamps and Spampinatos, as its head chef.
Working with bar, sushi, Asian fusion and traditional Italian menus at Conshy’s popular multi-concept after-work stop, Donohue was pulled numerous culinary directions, and looks forward to locking in on one thing instead of one million. “I wanted to get into focusing on good food and good beer to pair along with it,” says the chef, who’s also worked at large-scale operations like Normandy Farms and the Bala Golf Club.
“Good food,” to Donohue, means comfort food — braised meats, multi-traditional small plates — plus a personal specialty: barbecue. The North Wales native, along with his brother Kenny Donohue (he cooks at The Princeton in Avalon) and friend William Rutter, has a competitive barbecue team called The Masterbasters that already boasts serious local slow-‘n’-low cred — they won last year’s Smoke ‘Em If Yous Got ‘Em BBQ competition at Yards Brewing Co. with their twice-smoked Jamison pork ribs. (The crew will defend the title at this year’s event, scheduled for September 23.)
Donohue will have his own dedicated barbecue setup in the Growlers kitchen and plans on producing a line of weekly specials, meat and fish alike. “One week, we might feature pulled pork. The next week, pork ribs or beef brisket,” says Donohue. With the brand-new Blue Belly BBQ just a few blocks away and persistently popular Percy Street nearby, as well, this east-of-Broad enclave is becoming increasingly smoke-soaked, in a good way.