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Riverwest’s new brewery-restaurant comes from the very heart of DIY ingenuity.

New restaurant owners bring their own, singular “how did I get here?” history.

The story of Company Brewing’s George Bregar is such: coffee guy for 14 years at Alterra-now-Colectivo. Homebrewer. Creator of Colectivo’s beer program in 2013.

His career plan was more complicated than opening a craft brewery. The key was his partnership with Bavette La Boucherie owner/chef Karen Bell. Their plan was to kick off a nose-to-tail dining establishment that took advantage of Bell’s butchering background. But as the saying goes, things don’t always go according to plans. A conflict over the liquor license forced Bell to pull out – just weeks shy of Company’s opening in a remodeled space on the Riverwest corner of Center and Fratney streets. Bregar made the logical move – find a new chef and forge ahead.

With the summer peaking, and Bregar’s fermented contributions flowing, Company Brewing is settling into a routine. Chef Rosy Rodriguez, in her first head chef position, stepped in assertively with a menu that reflects the marriage of her cultural background (Puerto Rican), cooking training (classical French, under the tutelage of Bartolotta Restaurants) and personal tastes. Writing a menu to complement the owner’s beers wasn’t a challenge, she says, since the drinking options are “all balanced,” food-friendly brews.

The building’s predecessor, Stonefly (also a brewery-restaurant), left a floor plan to which Company doesn’t stray far from, although aesthetically, it’s refreshingly different. The warehouse feel is fresher and warmer (helped by assorted hanging plants above the room’s communal tables). Local woodworker-musician Nathaniel Heuer designed and built the focal point in the rear of the space: a curving kitchen counter opposite a wall of white subway tile.

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The front door is propped open, and the spindly leaves on the fern plants inside the restaurant react to the breeze. Our forks move, too – working at a pile of fried plantain patties (tostones, $6).

The mild, starchy starter is easy (to the point of bland) on garlic, vinegar and cilantro. Subtlety works better for the grilled octopus ($12), sprinkled with crumbled feta, chorizo and mint. Flavor triumph comes from the menu corner of unusual names – “Snacks on Snacks on Snacks” ($6). This appetizer – offering three oft-changing bites – is a cool sharing plate for two diners. As distinct as each component is, the combination of crispy fried seasoned chickpeas, deviled eggs (nailed by their topping of fried capers), and cocktail-size sliced rye bread spread with grass-fed beef tartare is the antithesis of patterns clashing. This is what you want to be eating with a Sazerac, glass of pinot gris, or Bregar’s own rye porter, Brewing Night Rye’d.

One flaky forkful of whole roasted branzino ($21) is enough to see what makes it rise to the top of the main course heap. The creamy white fish – with the skin a shell of coppery crispness and the head and tail attached – effortlessly parts from the bone, offering rich, tender meat, delicately seasoned and served with grilled fennel and lots of green olives. The bavette steak ($19) is the other scene-stealer. Similar to flank steak, this meat can be chewy and fibrous if not cooked carefully. Grilled medium-rare and sliced thin, its assets are on display, enhanced by the chimichurri (a garlicky Argentinian relish) and tarragon-laced béarnaise sauce served with it. The chef is getting good return on the farro fried rice ($14), the mix of shiitake mushrooms, spring peas, kimchee and a fried egg standing in (and erasing the need for) meat. My quibble is that the kimchee is overly vinegary.

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The immediate future will see Rodriguez honing the menu, Bregar releasing new beers, and Company Brewing settling into Riverwest. Not exactly the way the owner had planned, but it’s a promising start nonetheless.

Grain Exchange

Beer variety is never a bad thing at a new brewery. Although George Bregar has started with a solid menu of options at Company Brewing, you can expect that list to keep growing. A small brewhouse means that Bregar can – and plans to – experiment with his brews and change up the beer menu. Early on, the Pomp & Pamplemousse Imperial IPA is a clear favorite. The brew is made with grapefruit peels, which give it a citrus kick to combat the moderately bitter hops. Also terrific, the Handshake Patersbier is a Belgian that, when on nitro, is enticingly creamy and has the banana hints of a good weiss beer. Looking for uncommon? Try the Oaky Doke White Oak Red Ale. The distinct flavor is nutty, earthy and even slightly fruity. Three distinct styles done well is a good sign for this upstart brewery. – Dan Murphy

‘In Good Company’ appears in the August 2015 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.
The August 2015 issue is on newsstands August 3.
Purchase a copy on newsstands at one of 400+ locations throughout Wisconsin.

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