BACK before every second bloke in Newcastle went around sporting his own version of a bushranger's beard and drinking a pint of Homer's Epic Hop Odyssey IPA, or similar, The Grain Store saw the craft beer revolution arriving in Newcastle. It was about three years before anyone else.
Located in the city's historic East End, The Grain Store set up shop in the old Toohey's grain and keg store, hence the name, but don't expect to find a single schooner of Toohey's on any of the 21 taps, all on regular rotation, behind the bar.
After the beer and the chips, the design of The Grain Store space is probably my favourite bit about it. It looks likes it was the blueprint for just about every other dining place that's opened up in Newcastle within the last 12 months. Wide-open warehouse vibes are subdivided by the clever use of old timber sleepers that stand upon worn timber floors, which are marked and scratched by the stomp and drag of this building's former glories.
Black and white chequered tiles set the bar apart from the dining space, where a mix of wooden and cane chairs, long timber tables, and wrap-around chesterfield-style booth seats provide traditional dining comfort at one end, with a more relaxed space at the other, courtesy of your grandmother's eclectic collection of old couches and settees.
The beer menu is changing all the time, the wines are all exclusively from the Hunter Valley, the spirits and whisky list is impressive, and there are soft drinks as a standard. But it's the recent changes to the food menu that's brought me and my dining associate back to Newy's blueprint craft beer joint.
It doesn't really matter what you order off the food menu, so long as you order at the bar, and you get some chips ... or fries, as they're written on the menu; salty, crunchy, and rough on the outside, pillowy, soft and fluffy on the inside. Just about every meal comes with them, including the burgers, steaks, and ribs, but obviously not the salad, so just check to make sure. If it doesn't, order them, and dip them in the tasty lime aioli sauce.
In addition to the fries, we order a basket of Fire Starter and lime and cracked pepper buffalo wings, a Grain burger, and a half rack of pork ribs to share.
The buffalo wings are served in a black plastic weave basket, like the one's they used to use at Big Al's, back in the day. The Fire Starter wings were hot, although not so outrageously hot that you can't feel your face after eating just one. Moist and soaking in visible flavour, the lime and cracked pepper was strangely refreshing for a deep-fried morsel of bird.
Arriving close behind the basket of bird wings, and not too long after finishing my first beer, another basket was set down on the table containing a Grain burger, served with fries and aioli, followed by a deep porcelain dish filled with a half rack of pork ribs basting in house-made, beer-infused barbecue sauce.
The Grain burger is a tower of famine subversion, teeming with loads of fresh ingredients including a thick wagyu beef patty, lettuce, tomato, cheese, pickles, mustard and house-made sauce. You can add bacon for an extra buck. If you'd prefer to eat all this between a gluten-free bun, that's available too, for an extra $3.
If the half rack of pork ribs is really what came out, then I'd be keen to see the pig that supplied the bones for the full rack! Soaking in Hop Hog BBQ sauce and weighing down a bed of more crunchy fries, with a nice bit of slaw on the side, the pork ribs are a saucy, meaty, and fine mess-making experience that I thoroughly recommend. You should be prepared with extra napkins, and a small washbowl wouldn't go astray, either. I also wouldn't recommend that you wear white. And, if you're still persisting with the bushranger beard, you might like to borrow your man-bun-wearing-mate's spare hair tie to keep your facial hair safely away from the beautiful carnage below.
What: The Grain Store.
Where: 64-66 Scott Street, Newcastle East, phone 40232707, grainstorenewcastle.com.au.
Owner: Kristy and Corey Crooks.
Drinks: Beer, wine, soft drinks, whiskey and spirits.
Hours: Tuesday-Friday, 11.30am until late, Saturday-Sunday, 10.30am until late.
Bottom line: $60 for two + drinks.
Wheelchair access: No.
Do try: Fries, wings, ribs, pint of ale from the Hand Pump.