The large steel structure and floor-to-ceiling windows exposing the innards of Backpocket Brewery make it hard to miss, even in its location off First Avenue in Coralville, tucked away near the Marriott and Iowa River Landing. At night, the flames dancing in the outdoor fire pits are also equally eye catching. More of a brewery than a restaurant, Backpocket is a place to enjoy a beer and a bite while taking in all of the sights and sounds of a brewery at work.
I visited late on a foggy night, one of just a few curious diners and some dedicated beer drinkers. Having never sampled any of the Backpocket brews before, we decided to start with a flight. The flight offered a small sampling of all of the brewery’s classic beers — Gold Coin, Penny Whistle, Slingshot, Wooden Nickel and Jackknife. For two people who don’t necessarily agree on a favorite type of beer, it was the perfect way to start. Our waiter also gave us a sip of the root beer to sample with our flight. The root beer, brewed with cane sugar and less fizz than other root beers I’ve had, was soft with a caramel sweetness that was a great tee off to the meal.
Sadly, we didn’t beat the crowd to the seasonal brew, an Oatmeal Stout, but the variety of our flight — which we drank from light to dark — was enough to last us through our three courses.
We started with a beer cheese dip that came accompanied with crispy seasoned flatbread. Instead of a fondue, it was a cold, creamy spread — like you might find at a deli — of shredded cheese with flecks of scallions.
I’d heard good things of the fresh fare used on the Produce Pie, but we went another route and ordered the Barbecue Chicken Pizza. The toppings were standard, but the crust — a thin, crispy seasoned flatbread — was not. Cilantro, healthy chunks of well-prepared chicken and provolone cheese married well. The only thing that could have made it better was if the barbecue sauce had been prepared with one of the beers.
We decided to close the night on a sweeter note with the same crispy flatbread covered in Nutella, powdered sugar and fatty, spirals of bacon. Washing down the dessert with the last remains of the Jackknife and Wooden Nickel, it was a great balance of savory and sweet without going over the edge.
Before my visit, I had heard complaints from other patrons of the loud machinery. At first, I was confused by the choice — or lack thereof — of menu items. The longer I thought about it, though, I realized that Backpocket is a brewery first and a restaurant second.
It’s fair that those familiar with Backpocket’s history might expect more. The brewery grew out of its original home at the Old Man River Brewing Company in McGregor, where the restaurant serves a full menu of soups, salads, sandwiches, and at dinner, steaks and seafood, pasta and burgers.
In Coralville, though, given the location, layout, structure and limited menu, Backpocket is about the beer first and foremost. The menu was not expansive, but each dish was good. The real experience here is to taste the beers, learn about the process, soak in the setting, and, if you have a delicious nibble while you are there, all the better.