click to enlarge bartlettimage-2867.jpg

photo by Rob Bartlett

Neapolitan pies and hot-smoked wings set Orange County Brewery apart from the rest 

Where there's smoke, there's beer

There's nothing novel about seeing the weighty trio of pizza, wings and beer converge under one roof, but when all three are fashioned with exacting care and spirited zeal, then the space under said roof is certainly worth a visit. That space: the old Fiat dealership at the corner of Orange Avenue and Jefferson Street downtown, now home to Orange County Brewers and the Orlando Pizza & Wing Co.

Brewmaster Amanda Roberts, who runs OCB with her husband, Jeremy, and restaurateur Travis Barr, has garnered quite a following for her expertly crafted beers, and this after only two years of brewing (and an apprenticeship at Sea Dog Brewing in Clearwater). First-timers ought to order a flight of five 4-ounce pours ($12) for a representative offering. The Pumpkin King porter is quite popular this time of year, plus the flight holders are kinda cute – they're shaped like the state of Florida with sinkhole cutouts for the wee glasses strategically placed in the vicinities of Tallahassee, Daytona Beach, Orlando, Kissimmee and Miami.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
  • photo by Rob Bartlett

While your beer is being poured, head over to the pizza counter and behold the Forno Bravo wood-burning oven, fitted with a gas assist. The gas option allows pizzaiolo Josh Goerke to keep up the pace during busier times, which is often. The 10-inch Neapolitan pizzas he fires up may not conform to the standards set by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, but you don't need Antimo Caputo Tipo "00" flour, a live active yeast, or the dough-stretching skills of Zero Ottantuno's Gianni Gallucci to make a fine pizza, and Goerke knows that. Sure, the crust could do with more salt (on the rims of plates is where bland crust goes to die) but I, along with the Neapolitan pizza snobs in my party, heartily devoured Goerke's classic margherita ($8.98) and the off-menu Cuban ($11.96) with ham, mustard, pickles, and pork roasted in a Mack Daddy cabinet smoker.

That Mack Daddy, which sits on the back patio and resembles a transformer box, is also used to smoke some of the finest jumbo chicken wings ($9.98 for eight; $18.98 for 16) I've had in a while. They're finished off in the Forno Bravo, resulting in a lovely char, and served naked with dipping sauces ($0.98) like ghost, jerk and garlic-Parmesan offered for purchase. There are also sandwiches – folded pizza-dough sandwiches reminiscent of pizza al portafoglio – like the "Southern Tako" ($9.98) blending smoked barbecued chicken, pickles, onions and cheddar cheese – that are just as gratifying as the pizzas. That chicken, by the way, is also smoked in the Mack Daddy and finished in the Forno Bravo. In fact, very little is spared the fire of that wood-burning oven, including desserts – soft, doughy cinnamon rolls with icing ($4.98) are a toothsome pleasure, even more so when paired with the Perculator Milk Stout's chocolatey notes.

I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you to crane your neck and scan the cool mural on the ceiling depicting the brewing process from start to finish. It makes for eye-catching artwork, but the carefully drawn steps also serve to edify patrons about beer-making in as unpretentious a way possible. For the casual beer drinker, that's definitely a step up.

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