Among the most anticipated restaurant openings of 2012 was Burnet Road's Pinthouse Pizza. Neighborhood chat lists bubbled with speculation, fed by regular status updates from the embryonic restaurant's Facebook account. Microbrews and pizza: What could be more appealing for the urban families of North Central Austin? And when it finally opened in October, crowds clamored to try out the goods.
Austin is still having a honeymoon with Pinthouse Pizza because it is definitely a friends-and-family kind of place. It's noisy (maybe a little too noisy), casual to the extreme, and equipped with plenty of televisions to catch whatever game happens to strike your fancy. Do bring plenty of quarters, because your kids, if you have them, will spend most of their time at the arcade games, playing Donkey Kong or pinball.
The ordering is a little awkward. Pinthouse operates more like a bar than a restaurant. You order food from one line and beer from another. It's almost as if the owners, who are clearly more interested in brewing than cooking, still haven't quite committed to the restaurant side of the business – or it could be that one hand is not talking to the other. Whatever the logic behind the dual cashiers, dining is better in groups that divide and conquer.
Pinthouse's shaggy-headed brewer, Joe Mohrfeld, is usually on hand to talk about beer, the brewing process, or each beer's colorful backstory. With five or six different beers of their own, plus a voluminous roster from other microbreweries, choosing just one glass of suds can be daunting. I recommend a flight, which allows you to sample four or five different beers at a time. I liked Pinthouse's Fallen Cask IPA, a high-alcohol beer with a little more malt than one typically expects from an IPA. And the chocolaty Admiral Stout pairs well with a yeasty pizza pie. Hop heads won't be disappointed: the Calma Muerta Session Ale has plenty of bite.
As for the food, I won't say it's the best pizza in town, but I think it is good. And paired with a pint of homebrew, I find little not to like. Pinthouse's friendly din makes it an easy place to settle into some good ol' American comfort food. Pizzas come in three sizes, with the smallest (generally in the $7 range) designed for a solo diner. The crusts here are thicker than I typically like, but nonetheless have a pleasant yeasty flavor. Pies can be custom-designed to suit a variety of tastes or ordered from the Specialty Pies menu.
I was excited by the sound of the Armadillo Pie, with sausage, ricotta, poblano peppers, and cilantro ($14.50 medium). But in the end, the peppers were just not spicy enough and the sausage just not sharp enough. Pizza should have big flavors; this one did not. On the other hand, the Cannonball ($14 medium), an all-meat pizza with Italian sausage, ham, bacon, and pepperoni, had plenty of gravitas. The biggest surprise, however, was the macaroni-and-cheese pizza. I admit, I thought this sounded gross, but I tried it and I found it startlingly tasty – essentially a cheddary macaroni and cheese with a side of crusty bread, only the bread is served underneath it.
They also offer a nice selection of salads ($5-$8) and a few appetizers, such as ale-infused queso ($3.75) and soft pretzels ($3) to satisfy peripheral urges. But Pinthouse is first and foremost a microbrewery. Go for the beer; food is optional.
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