Soon, you’ll be able to sidle up to one of the 45 bar stools at the Random Row Brewing Co. on Preston Avenue and say, “Bartender, I’ll have a random row, please.”
The bartender will choose four different beers for you—a “random row”—but those beers have one essential commonality: They’ve all been made in the big metal tanks you can see on the other side of the bar.
And at Random Row, it’s likely you’ll also see who made what’s in your glass. The brewery is a fairly small operation, run by brewer Kevin McElroy, operations manager Matt Monson and Bradley Kipp, a beer fan who handles the business end of things. When they’re not brewing, they’ll be pulling pints and answering customers’ questions about beer and the brewing process.
Both McElroy and Monson began brewing beer at home, with kitchen equipment in their bathtubs, and Random Row Brewing Co. is the result of many years of testing recipes and learning the best craft-brewing methods. McElroy, who has taken craft brewing courses at PVCC, brewed an imperial stout that placed second overall in the 2013 Dominion Cup.
McElroy and Monson have created 14 Random Row beers so far; 10 of them will be available during opening weekend, including the Method IPA, which is one of their signature beers, plus a Munich dunkel dark lager, a session IPA and a pale ale. A few weeks later, they’ll start to roll out The Hill Lager (the second signature beer), a black IPA an IPL (India pale lager), a rye IPA and a bock.
“We’re almost encouraged to have extreme continual variety,” says Monson, noting that they’ll decide which beers to brew and how much to brew based on customer taste. Their goal is to make and serve about 400 barrels—one barrel is 31 gallons; most kegs are about half a barrel—in their first year. They also plan to experiment with different yeasts and ingredients in some small, one-barrel fermenters to make, say, a small-batch grapefruit IPA.
Named for the Random Row neighborhood it borders (Vinegar Hill was initially called “Random Row”), Random Row Brewing Co. aims to become a neighborhood spot. “We want the people right in this area to come and enjoy the beer,” McElroy says. “We’re not looking for the entire East Coast to drink our beers”—at least not yet. For now, the brewery is the only place you can sip a pint of Random Row beer.
Random Row will open at 4:30pm on Friday, September 16, with food trucks parked outside throughout the weekend. Hours are 4:30pm to midnight Fridays, noon to midnight Saturdays, noon to 8pm Sundays, and 4:30-10pm Mondays through Thursdays. Customers can sit inside at the bar, a small table or in a more communal coffee shop-style area; or they can sit outside on the patio. Most beers will cost $5-6, and you never really know what’s going to be on tap in a given week.
The mix of artistry and science is what keeps the brewing—and beer-drinking—process exciting, Monson says. “We can meticulously plan our recipes, but then you give it to the yeast…yeast makes beer, not people.”
About six months ago, Marco & Luca Dumpling Store owners Dragana Katalina-Sun and Sun Da decided to expand the menu at their Downtown Mall location. They added steamed dumplings, curry dishes and, most recently, jianbing—a savory crêpe that has long been an inexpensive breakfast street food staple in China.
Sun ate a lot of jianbing when he was growing up in Beijing, where the hand-held crêpes are especially popular in the winter months.
To make jianbing, Sun spreads a thin layer of cornflower, wheat and mung flour batter on a crêpe maker and lets it crisp slowly. He breaks an egg over the dough as it crisps, then sprinkles cilantro and green onions on top, drizzling on hoisin sauce and a sriracha-esque spicy sauce and adds sticks of savory fried dough and a filling—either bean sprouts, pork, chicken or beef—before folding the crêpe disc into a sizable, pillowy packet of flavor and texture.
Sun is still trying to perfect his recipe—he’s aiming for crunchiness and flavor—and Katalina-Sun says they’re hoping to make the jianbing batter and fried dough strips gluten-free. And, in keeping with Marco and Luca tradition, jianbing is a fairly affordable meal—$5.50 for vegetarian and $6.50 for a meat option.
Contact Erin O’Hare at firstname.lastname@example.org.