High-quality locally brewed beer meets with one-of-a-kind locally sourced dishes at this best-kept-secret in downtown Cary.
Cary’s first licensed saloon, originally called Wascher Tavern, has lived a long and storied life.
Chris Panagakis and Dustin Davies opened the tavern’s latest iteration, The Cary Ale House & Brewing Co., 208 W. Main St., this past April. In doing so, they established a modern gastropub that pays homage to an enterprise dating back to the 1890s.
Artisanal beer devotees Panagakis and Davies became fast friends after a chance meeting at a home brewer’s supply store. Soon afterward, they decided to fulfill their mutual dream of starting a brewpub.
“When we assumed ownership, we closed down Cary Public House, a business that was primarily a craft beer bar with very little food on its menu, and spent the next eight months renovating the premises and rebuilding the kitchen,” says Panagakis.
It was a more ambitious project than initially anticipated and called for installing new plumbing, upgrading the electrical feed, replacing the wood-paneled walls and updating the ceiling. Refinishing the wooden bar top alone required more than 150 man-hours.
Inside the newly restored tavern, vintage photos from the Village of Cary are on display, alongside a half-dozen pictures of 19th-century Midwestern breweries and images of Chicago sports teams from the 1920s to ‘40s. A seasonal patio is expected to open in 2016.
Cary Ale House’s full-service bar is stocked with wine, specialty cocktails and a number of locally produced spirits. But its real strength comes from a selection of more than 84 beers, including 12 drafts. The ever-changing draft lineup is dominated by craft beers, many of them produced by local independents such as Two Brothers (in Aurora), Revolution (in Chicago) and Solemn Oath (in Naperville).
“Today’s consumer is more knowledgeable about craft beer and willing to try new brands,” says Panagakis. “If someone’s unfamiliar with a particular style of beer, we’ll give them a taste of something on draft that’s based on the flavor they enjoy. We’ve been successful in converting craft-beer novices to the craft-beer realm.”
Panagakis and Davies are just beginning to create custom brews, for now relying on a local brewery to “guest brew” two small batches for Cary Ale House. In October, the pair launched a Kickstarter campaign to attract funding for brewing equipment.
Tap takeovers, where a craft brewer’s products are featured on four to six taps, remain a popular event with customers and a prime opportunity to sample artisan brews. Panagakis hopes to someday host beer dinners, where Chef Tom McCleary can pair four courses with appropriate beers.
In keeping with the gastropub concept – a bar that serves artisanal food and high-quality beverages – the 64-seat Cary Ale House tries to source vegetables, fruits and meat locally, in some cases buying at area farmers markets.
The most popular appetizer is the Wisconsin cheddar cheese curds, which are fried in a stout batter and served with an accompanying jalapeno jelly.
“All of our sauces are produced in-house, including ketchup,” says Panagakis. “That’s what makes our food taste so good and elevates it to a notch above the rest.”
Also much in demand is the Pub Burger, a 7-ounce certified Black Angus patty with pork belly and sharp cheddar, topped with diced red onion and a signature pub sauce. A gluten-free bun is also available. The bread pudding dessert has won customer raves, too.
“We also serve a lot of pulled barbecue chicken flatbread and pulled pork sliders,” says Panagakis. “And, once customers overcome an initial hesitancy, they love our duck sliders.”
Cary Ale House is open daily for lunch and dinner. Hours are Mon.-Thu. 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Fri.-Sat. to 2 a.m., and Sun. to 10 p.m.