BATTERY PARK - The food renaissance in downtown Dartmouth continues
A couple weeks prior to Battery Park Beer Bar and Eatery opening in downtown Dartmouth, I asked owner George Christakos what he thought the energy would be like inside once they launched. “You build a space, you build an environment, but the customers build the atmosphere,” he said. Battery Park has done just that — let the community in, invited them to be a part of it, allowed them to shape what it is. The idea of a craft beer bar alone was enough for the community to rejoice. People have followed the project closely and waited patiently for it to come to fruition. Those who have contributed to the crowd-funding campaign have invested money — and confidence — in Battery Park. And for that, Battery Park has been welcomed with open arms in the community of downtown Dartmouth.
Battery Park is truly the accumulative efforts of four highly talented individuals listening to the feedback from their community and their peers. The journey started with Peter Burbridge, owner of North Brewing, approaching George, the younger half of the father-son team behind Brooklyn Warehouse and Ace Burger, with his idea of creating some kind of craft beer experience with a food component in downtown Dartmouth. George and his father, Leo Christakos, brought in Mark Gray, the chef from Brooklyn Warehouse, giving him what George describes as “creative buy-in,” meaning veritable free reign on menu development.
When I pull the door open on a chilly December evening, one week after Battery Park opens to the public, the first thing I notice is Peter with his toque on, ready to head home to his family nearby. The second thing I notice is the noise of the crowd from upstairs. The place is packed, and it’s barely 5 pm. Since launching on December 10 to the public, locals have been streaming in. Mark had suggested I arrive at this time, before it was “too busy,” so we could chat about the food and concept and what had evolved within the first week.
As I cozy into an amazing corner seat at the bar with my pint, Mark comes over to greet me. “We’ve changed up a few things,” he explains. “As you can see, the tasting menu concept would have never worked. We really have turned into a bar.” He gestures at the u-shaped high-top table in the middle of room, packed full of happy and loud customers — sitting, standing, talking and drinking — really enjoying the space. This conversation with Mark is a follow-up to one we had a week prior, before opening the doors to the public.
“I want it to be a little bit more refined food. Smaller plates. Contrasts of textures. Things like that. It’s all one menu — no courses. You’re encouraged to order a few things,” says Mark. The 55-seat space is perfectly set up to share plates, drink beer and socialize. The original hope was to offer a five-course tasting menu during dinner service, but that idea quickly fizzled once the clientele came in and helped shape the atmosphere and pace.Mark added — last minute — a burger, fried chicken, and his take on fish and chips to round out the offering and match the concept. About 80 per cent of the food at Battery Park is sourced locally. The menu has bar snacks like oysters, house-made potato chips and roasted mixed nuts. There are two desserts plus ten plates in the $10 to $14 range. Some dishes are great for sharing, like the beef tartare; some are not, like the soul-warming venison broth, or the confit pork belly that’s accompanied by a dainty square of potato pavé and smear of celery root purée. Either way, the price point and portion sizes are meant to encourage diners to order a few things. “I want you to try the smorgasbord, the nuts and the chips,” says Mark on this particular night.
A few moments later, Mark emerges from the kitchen. I try my best to finish the smorgasbord that is typically meant for two people. All the charcuterie is made in-house by Mark and his team, and on my board this evening there is beef carpaccio, chicken rillette, head cheese, rabbit and pickled cranberry pâté, as well as a confit duck wing coated in a sriracha-honey hot sauce. I am blown away by this duck wing; it is essentially a giant hot wing, but the fatty-salty confit treatment paired with the sweet-hot combination of the sauce is over-the-top indulgent and delicious. The head cheese is unbelievable, fatty and rich — it just melts in your mouth. There is Urban Blue cheese and applewood smoked cheddar. The creative accoutrements (like fermented spruce tips and fried reindeer moss) plus artful presentation elevate the smorgasbord far above your run-of-the-mill cheese and charcuterie plate. Mark has a serious fermentation program going at Battery Park. The fermented cauliflower stems are delicious, my favourite, and the pickled cranberries are mellow and sweet. The fried reindeer moss is a pleasant surprise; it’s crispy but then quickly dissolves on your tongue, offering a mild earthy flavour. My favourite bite is a comforting combination of chicken rillette, pumpkin jam and pickled cranberry on a house-made rye crisp — like a bite-sized Christmas dinner. The potato chips are wonderfully salty and have an umami punch from a porcini mushroom powder with curry and red pepper. Just greasy enough to make you want to drink more beer.
Two weeks before Battery Park opened, I stopped by to talk beer with Peter. “[North Brewing] started super small, with the idea of bringing Belgian beers to the mainstream in Halifax,” he said of the business he launched three years ago. “We were super tiny when we started, brewing about 300 litres at a time.” Now, they’re brewing between 2,400 and 3,600 litres per week at their north end Halifax location, where Peter’s business partner, Josh Herbin, is the head brewmaster. (The equipment at Battery Park has added 600 more litres to capacity; out of that location Peter hopes to do creative, small batch brews.) “Things have been going really well, and we were considering how we were going to grow, what the next move for us was,” said Peter. With no interest in buying a bottling machine and trying to get into the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation stores, Peter started thinking about a way to replicate his successful retail concept in the north end, but in a new community — his new neighbourhood of downtown Dartmouth. “When we moved here is when I really saw the community here is growing quickly and is really under served with amenities.”
“I’d known George for a long time from my previous job at Java Blend. He was our first customer, he put [North Brewing] on tap before we were even open.” Peter approached George in August of 2014 and they spoke about the idea. “He was immediately super pumped about it, super excited about it, said [he and his father Leo] had been thinking about doing a beer bar in downtown Dartmouth for years.” The planning stages came together quickly. They started looking for a location and settled on 62 Ochterloney Street, the former home of Nectar Social House, and took over that space in June 2015 — less than a year after he floated the idea with George. Then, they needed some help.
“We knew that the next project we were going to do, we were going to use a crowd-funding component with it,” says George. “We’re not a faceless restaurant group that has oodles of money to throw around. We need the average person’s help to get this place opened up.” Donating to Battery Park’s crowd-funding campaign doesn’t come without its advantages. It was important for the operators of Battery Park to give something back, first by holding exclusive opening receptions just for the crowd-funders prior to the launch. “It brings that end user to a more personal level with us. We need help doing this. It makes it a little more relatable,” says George. They plan on offering ongoing perks to their crowd-funders, like having first dibs on special events.
At North Brewing’s beer store, just inside the entrance on the lower level of Battery Park, you can fill growlers with your choice of four beers on tap. Typically there will be a saison (a changing seasonal beer), Belgian IPA, Farmhouse Ale and sometimes the Strong Dark Belgian. Other North Brewing beers will rotate through. “We’re going to bring back our Belgian Milk Stout. We’ve got a one-off we’re going to do here; it’s a dark lager infused with cold brew from Anchored Coffee,” says Peter. There will also be a refrigerator stocked with full 750-millilitre refillable bottles.
Beyond North Brewing operating a retail space, Peter personally installed Battery Park’s entire draft system using state-of-the-art, highly engineered stainless steel tubing with a mirror finish, which affects the taste of the beer: “It’s super clean, and the beer that you get in the glass will be exactly as it left the brewery,” says Peter. His involvement also extends into the development of the bar’s tap list. “It’s going to be a regular beer bar in terms of rotating a whole bunch of different taps. It’s going to be mostly Nova Scotia craft beers on tap here, and then the bottle list will be a little more of the imported stuff.” With the overarching goal of supporting the Nova Scotia craft beer industry, it is a priority for Peter to showcase beers from our province.
Battery Park is open six days a week, closing on Tuesdays. They open at 2 pm and close at midnight on weekdays, 1 am on Friday and Saturday nights. While North Brewing will be testing out what hours work best for their customers, they’ll be starting off with Sunday through Thursday noon to 9 pm, and Friday and Saturday noon to midnight. Downtown Dartmouth — you’ve got beer.