If you don’t think you’re a beer person, I dare you to let Steve Finnie prove you wrong.
Just go to Rochester’s newest restaurant, Grand Rounds Brewpub, belly up to the bar and order a Hawaii 507 Coconut Stout. (Trust me.) More on that later.
If you weren’t at the grand opening of Grand Rounds yesterday with the rest of Rochester, I’ll give you a sneak preview here with my first bite (and sip).
Fans of Sontes will barely recognize the new brewpub space. It’s the same historic building (with even more of its character revealed), but it’s sporting fresh paint, reclaimed wood from nearby downtown buildings and a completely different layout. The bar has been expanded to the length of the space; the rest of the seating wraps around the bar area. Behind the bar is the heart and soul of the brewpub: the brewery, where the magic happens.
Antique light fixtures from old gas stations and churches fill in more character, and just ask owner Tessa Leung about the other touches — such as the guest ticket holders, which are chopped up pieces from the old bar at Sontes.
“We just want to be a community-based, neighborhood restaurant,” Leung told me. “We want to show off great food and great local beer, and a great old building that’s part of Rochester’s history.”
The final chef at Sontes, Chef Alex Sjoberg, stayed on to open Grand Rounds as executive chef and was able to create a menu around his specialty — comfort food.
“Alex’s style is very approachable, but he puts his own spin on things,” says Leung. “He adds a depth and a richness to his flavors, but nothing that makes you feel at all intimidated.”
This approach is evidenced in the meal I chose for my first bite, called Beef and the bird. This sandwich combines sliced steak with fried eggs, sauteed onions, tomatoes, mozzarella and truffle aioli on a toasted crusty roll. The egg explodes on the impact of your first bite, soaking the sandwich in yolk and daring you not to lick your fingers every couple of bites. (No judgment here.)
The menu is simple and straightforward, with several appetizers, and then three to four different salads, the same number of burgers as well as sandwiches. A few “big plates” will satisfy the hungriest diner, and desserts range from donut hole churros to a healthy(ish) sugary cloud of berries and cream.
I highly recommend trying something served with flavor-packed Sjoberg’s bacon jam. Other interesting menu tidbits include confit duck nachos, Scottish egg (to go with your Scottish ale), thai chicken salad and a lox and bagel salad.
I’ve saved the best for last.
I told you before, I’m no beer aficionado, though I can have maybe half a pint every once in a while. Well, all that is about to change. Because I just had Grand Rounds master brewer Steve Finnie’s Hawaii 507 coconut stout.
This specialty stout is brewed with pale malt, flaked oats and several malts. Toasted coconut and bourbon vanilla beans are added to the conditioning tank, and then the finished product is served on nitrogen, which creates lots of very tiny bubbles in the glass — this enhances flavor and makes the finish super creamy.
You guys, I don’t even like beer. (Much. I’m trying!) But I love this stout.
Finnie’s other brews for opening day include a hop bollocks session IPA and a Freedom Scotch ale. The brewpub is also committed to featuring brew varieties from Minnesota breweries that you can’t find elsewhere in Rochester. On opening day, they’re featuring Bauhaus Brewlabs, Sociaable Ciderwerks and Hammerheart Brewery.
Grand Rounds opened yesterday, so cut the staff some slack and get prepared to wait a while for a table to open up. It’s located at 4 Third St. SW in downtown Rochester, and it’s open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday; and 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sundays. For reservations, call the restaurant at 507-292-8936.