So I told my husband I was going to check out J Ryans on East Water Street, next to the Erie Canal Museum and across from City Hall. This place is known for its beer. He wanted to come. I told him this was a work thing. So then he carried on like a big baby and I had to bring him. This establishment might be named for the owner’s daughter, but it’s all about the beer. Apparently my husband had figured this out.
Bob Carvotta took over this pub in November 2009 and has established a neighborhood place that is comfortable, relaxed and friendly. And he wants to know if anybody doesn’t find it friendly, which is why he hired a quirky, outgoing staff. So you should expect a quirky, warm kind of reception.
Carvotta’s previous gig was as a beer wholesaler. Now he travels to New York City to bring back the latest brews from around the country and overseas, long before they might make their way up to Central New York. As he pointed out, if the price of gas keeps heading in the direction it’s been going, it will be harder to afford beers from very far away, which is why it is important to find and cultivate beers closer to home. Think of him as the beer ambassador to Central New York.
There are 69 brews on tap and two are pumped by beer engines out of firkins. The beer is put in a sealed cask, or firkin, before fermentation is complete. The gas produced by the fermentation is then absorbed into the beer, producing a gentle, natural carbonation that my husband described as “sublime.” This, of course, led to the questionable comment, “Let me see your firkin,” but as I have more class than that it all ended there, although Carvotta thought he might put it on a T-shirt some day.
The pub carries India Pale Ales, ales, stouts, porters, pilsners, Belgian-styles, fruit beers and Hefeweizens with names like Hop Warrior, Big Daddy, Penetration Porter, Dead Guy, Mother’s Milk and Dirty Bastard. One is described as having a “nice banana bread sweetness flavor up front with a clove/herbal spice in the backside.”
Did I mention it’s all about the beer? Still, if you don’t care for beer, J Ryans also serves a credible selection of wines by the glass as well as hard cider from Angry Orchard.
As for eats, we tried the most popular entrees as recommended: wings and burgers. Do sample the Cajun Gold wings. There is a sweetness to these followed by a mild heat that was finger-licking good. I could not place the flavor, but Carvotta says it comes from a “secret recipe” that includes Guinness Stout. The Buffalo-style wings tasted spot-on. Burgers are noticeably hand-formed patties and they do not skimp on the bacon.
One of the goals of this restaurant is to source as much OR MANY? of the ingredients locally and to keep a neighborhood, upstate feel to the place. That is why you’ll find beef on weck, chicken spiedies and the Bubba Plate, a local interpretation of the famous Rochester garbage plate. They serve corned beef, hand-cut and cooked in-house, using a “secret Irish recipe.” Again, I am pretty sure this involves beer.
J Ryans’ fish fry changes things up a bit by using panko breadcrumbs. Now that spring is upon us, the menu will expand to include more salads and lighter fare, including J Ryans’ version of bang-bang shrimp. Soups are homemade every day.
Once we were finished, our server came up and asked with a giggle if we wanted dessert. Dessert? How about a pint of Young’s Double Chocolate Stout. Did I mention it’s all about the beer here?
Inside you are going to find a pub atmosphere: checkerboard floors, pool tables and large-screen televisions. Once it gets warm enough, you’ll be sure to enjoy the outdoor seating for 50 people. Carvotta went out and bought his own pool tables and games so that he can offer all games free on Mondays and Tuesdays. Growlers are for sale and beers by the bottle are located in a cooler to-go.
Mark your calendars for the second annual Real Ale Fest. From May 11 to 13, beer lovers can pay one price (Friday $30, Saturday $35, Sunday $25) and enjoy samples from the 30 breweries that will be represented. And if you want to see Carvotta smile, talk to him about beer or ask him about his grandson.
J Ryans, located on 253 E. Water St., is open Mondays to Saturdays, 11 to 2 a.m., and Sundays, noon to 11 p.m. For information, call 399-5533.
Local Flavor runs biweekly in the Syracuse New Times.