The beer tasted like apricots and the sandwich was top-notch. Restaurant critic Kim Knight sips summer at the new brewpub at the top of Dominion Rd.
There was no Nashville hot pork katsu, no warm pretzel with pimento cheese dip and only one of us could have had the chur-burger because only one portion remained.
Churly's bills itself as a brewpub and eatery. On the first Thursday of January just half of that descriptor was operating at full capacity - but if the food menu was truncated, the beer list was a behemoth with a capital "B".
In the past seven or so years, Behemoth Brewing Company has produced more than 240 beers. The extended and extraordinary story is on its website. Fast-forward to 2019: A crowd-funding campaign raises enough cash for brewer Andrew and partner Hannah (aka The Lady Butcher) to turn a muffler shop at the top of Dominion Rd into a production brewery featuring 24 pouring taps and food that begs to be eaten with a beer.
The ambience creeps up on you. It's nothing flash, and then you realise those bar stools are probably the most comfortable you've encountered, the distressed wood bar-top is beautifully solid and the concrete block walls directly reference the building's motor industry heritage. Light fittings you might dismiss as ubiquitous "industrial-chic" turn out to be repurposed beer kegs; cloth (not paper) napkins emphasise the deliberateness of every detail.
Churly's is smart but not smarmy. It probably did well at university but on the weekends it lit fires at the beach and played Fat Freddy's on repeat.
There is a wine list, but why would you? When we visited, they were pouring 20 Behemoth-branded beers, a Bohemian cider and two visiting pilsners (Waipū and Dunedin). Staff will put together a "best of" flight of five for $25, or take a punt and create your own ($30) from two giant menu boards.
I don't often drink beer, and I picked a half-pint of "Stay-cation" like I'd pick a racehorse (good name). It tasted of apricots. When an actual beer drinker told me Hazy IPAs sit firmly in the stonefruit flavour family, I felt cleverer than I ever have at a wine tasting.
Mostly the beer is extremely drinkable, which I know is the whole point, but it was also being ably aided and abetted by salty-spicy food. Hannah Miller Childs is a proponent of nose-to-tail butchering, with a penchant for charcuterie. We started with pig fat turned into thin air; salt-and-vinegar pork skin puffed to crackling perfection ($9.75). The flavour was more delicate than I expected, but that crunch was addictive.
At the other end of the porky texture spectrum, chunks of soft, yielding head meat had been compressed into a terrine ($14). It's served with parchment-thin toasts (that melt into a splendid, slightly oily puddle on the tongue), sweet-spicy beetroot-stained mustard and pickled fennel. The components looked gorgeous and, taken together, were a triumph.
Little rounds of beer-breaded and deep-fried McClure's pickles should have been better - the batter was dry and thick. I felt like someone was making me eat my crusts (and charging me $13 for them). Perhaps it was the humidity, but there was a definite absence of zing.
You can, of course, have too much of a good zing. The "mince" in the mushroom and pecan corn tacos was excellently dense and savoury; the habanero hot sauce tongue-numbingly loud. I couldn't taste anything afterwards (I did need more beer - go figure).
James' pepper-crusted roast beef sandwich ($18) was more my pace. A tonne of thinly sliced and folded meat might have got boring, but then you hit the whipped goat cheese and a whiff of horseradish and you wish your dad was dining with you, because this really supports his theory that it is probably possible to live on sandwiches alone.
In fact, I think my dad would have liked most things about this place. I suspect the more often you visit, the more likely you are to grow a beard and to refer to a glass as "glassware", but to this first-timer, Churly's appeared ripe for all-comers - mates, first dates, and even family from out of town who are suspicious of Ponsonby and beers with fancy names.
Churly's Brewpub and Eatery, 1A Charles St, Mount Eden, 09 218 3521. We spent: $120.75 for two.