More than 70 tap handles stare back at me. What each pours is listed on a giant chalkboard behind the bar; another list of 16 bottled beers rotates on the TV to my right. Each option seems beautiful in its own way.
I am but one among dozens pondering this and life’s other great mysteries at the Grain, a new beer haven inside The Main hotel on Granby Street with a fifth-floor view of downtown Norfolk and the Elizabeth River.
It seems everyone is here. I worry if I don’t order as the bartender approaches, I’ll miss my chance. But at least one of us, a man a few seats to my left, doesn’t have such concerns. This man of action knows what he wants without so much as glancing at the chalkboard: a Bud Light ($5).
Unsure who is in the wrong place, I choose a beer I think will pair with the warm, sticky air – a Smartmouth Sommer Fling ($7) – and peruse the menu. Hamburgers, pizza, a quesadilla, chicken wings, deviled eggs all jump out.
I begin to wonder: Is this new restaurant, with its floor-to-ceiling windows, indoor trees festooned with Christmas lights, and wood paneling that makes you feel like you’re overlooking the city from Narnia, more Michelin star or Michelin Man?
It’s hard to tell at first glance. Paul Fraim, former Norfolk mayor, walks by me; so does a strange bearded man in a tank top.
That’s no accident. The chef overseeing The Main’s three restaurants, Fabio Capparelli, tells me the Grain wants to grab a hodgepodge of hobnobbers with its menu. But it also targets a self-evident demographic: beer lovers.
Capparelli, who spent more than three years as Park Central Hotel’s executive chef in New York before becoming a corporate executive chef in Chicago and then opening his own restaurant in Georgia, has crafted beer-forward dishes that could make even the strictest teetotaler drool.
Among them: IPA-poached shrimp with preserved lemons ($8) that are fine by their citrusy selves, but make you whinny — and your nostrils flare — when dipped in the house-made horsey ketchup. I like them. A lot.
There’s also an ale-braised quesadilla ($9) smothered in an ancho chili jam that is so chocolatey (portery?) it tastes like Miracle Max from “The Princess Bride” whisked it up to make a pill more palatable — not that I needed it to persuade me to finish off the savory, beery pork. Even the bratwurst comes with brown ale sauerkraut and hefeweizen mustard.
Chef Capparelli tells me the ever-evolving menu will always offer dishes like these, utilizing the rotating ales, lagers, porters, and stouts on tap.
“The beer is the focus here,” he says.
And for that one friend who for some reason wishes it wasn’t, there’s non-beer food — salad and pizza — and three ciders and a mead on tap, plus a bottled poire (fermented pear liquor) and plenty of liquor and wine options.
So, yeah, I guess I’m leaning toward Michelin star, or at least something altogether unique — especially after looking closer at the beer list. It’s full of local staples, national stalwarts, and imported indulgences. But, perhaps most curious to me, is the price of one little gem listed as being from Baltimore — for those who didn’t already know — called National Bohemian.
It will set you back $4.50.
At that price, you may be tempted to try to win your next beer in a friendly wager. If so, you’d be in luck. The Grain has free-to-play pool, shuffleboard and foosball tables. But I suggest a feat that tests both strength and cunning to determine who’s buying the next round: oversized chess. The Grain’s board is so large you may need Harry, Hermione, and Ron to help you play (or conjure up) the next round.
Where: The Main hotel, fifth floor, 100 E. Main St. Norfolk
When: 5 p.m.-midnight, Mon.-Thurs.; 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Fri.; 2 p.m.-2 a.m. Sat.
More info: (757) 763-6279, www.grainnorfolk.com