On my first visit to Scarborough’s Nonesuch River Brewing, I took a wrong turn and ended up on a dead-end road. Cursing my phone’s GPS under my breath, I reversed out of a driveway, then waited at a stop sign as a pedestrian crossed the road in front of me. She strode purposefully, heading in the direction I should have gone.

A few minutes later, as I stood waiting to be seated, I saw her again. “Hi Carol!” one of the hosts called out as she walked in the door. “Can we get you a table?” “Not yet,” she replied, checking her watch. “Just trying to see how long it takes me to walk here from home. I’m going to try out a shortcut on the way back, and then I’ll be in later with my family.” She barely finished her answer before she was out the door again.

I asked the host if the woman was a regular. “Oh yeah. Lots of people in the area come here at least once a week. A few probably should pay us rent,” she laughed.

That Nonesuch River Brewing is becoming a fixture in the neighborhood suits executive chef and co-owner Jeff Gambardella just fine. When he, brewer Michael Schuler and builder/operations manager Tim Boardman opened the business together in mid-2017, one of their goals was, “to really become part of this community where we live and to listen to what people want us to serve,” Gambardella said.

On the drinks side of the menu, that means a few slightly tweaked versions of classic cocktails, a wine list comprising just six pours and naturally, a range of eight craft beers brewed at the back of the barn-like post-and-beam building. Most beers on the list are session-style brews that are low in alcohol (or at least, moderately low), “so that you can have a couple of them and still be able to walk out of here,” Gambardella said.

Of the three varieties I sampled recently (all $2/$4/$6 for sizes ranging from 5 oz. to 16 oz.), the best was the frothy stout, percolating with dark flavors like cocoa and roasted coffee beans. I found the blonde ale to be solid, if a little too effervescent and bitter, with flavors that reminded me of a diluted Italian chinotto soda. Most disappointing was the Summer Wheat ale, which tasted of melon and bubble gum, both over-esterification defects likely caused by a too-hot fermentation. I stuck to the stout, which turned out to be an excellent counterbalance to grease and cheese.

Plenty of both feature on the food menu. You’ll find them together in the lobster macaroni and cheese ($15), made with beautifully cooked claw meat, al dente cellentani and a Mornay sauce enriched with shreds of Swiss, Parmesan and smoked cheddar cheeses. It’s a decent dish that would have been great if it weren’t so waterlogged that my dinner guest mistook it for a bowl of soup.

The shaved asparagus salad, with goat cheese, snap peas, torn mint leaves, pistachios and edamame, was the critic’s choice.

Then there’s the scallion-sprinkled tangle of skinny onion rings with spicy aioli ($6), a snack perfect to share among a group of diners who don’t mind getting messy as they pull the Wondra-battered strands apart with forks, knives and fingers. I loved the persistent buzz of peppery heat from the chipotle and squirt of Sriracha, even though the mess of crispy onions was oversalted.

A heavy hand with flavorings is a recurring issue at Nonesuch, as I discovered when I tasted the crisp-tender french fries that accompanied my Maine crab sandwich ($16). They were easily the saltiest I have ever eaten. And that’s a shame because the sandwich itself, from the house-pickled jalapeños and grilled mango, to the sweet, lightly dressed Peekytoe crabmeat, was something I would happily order again.

In the strawberry shortcake ($8), the problem was sugar, not salt. Here, the whipped cream was oversweetened, and the chopped strawberries macerated in Gran Gala liqueur were overwhelmingly sugary. With nothing to cut the sweetness except a fat-free slice of angel food cake, I ate a few bites, then laid my spoon down on the table. “Everything OK with that?” our warm and knowledgeable server asked when she saw I had stopped eating. When I told her the dish was too sweet for me, she replied, “I understand. The kids love it though.” At 5, I would have, too. Closer to 50, I want to be able to taste the fruit in my dessert. And that goes double in June.

I imagine the house-made pappardelle with pulled pork sugo ($14) is a bit less popular with children, thanks to the tickles of black pepper and cumin that punctuate every bite. Gambardella and his team use pork shoulder braised in tart citrus and garlic as the base of this dish; it’s the same protein they use in the poutine ($12) and Cubano sandwich ($14). Here though, they turn it into a savory, well-seasoned sauce for the sticky pappardelle by sauteeing it with San Marzano tomatoes, red wine and pasta water… a ladleful too much pasta water. This sugo’s flavors deserve to be dense and concentrated, not diluted.

Pork shoulder braised in citrus and garlic forms the base for pappardelle with pulled pork sugo.

If you had asked me before I walked in the door what my favorite dish at Nonesuch River Brewing was likely to be, I almost certainly would not have guessed the shaved asparagus salad with goat cheese, snap peas and torn mint leaves ($11). Sprinkled with crunchy pistachios and tossed with slippery edamame, the salad is at once delicate and hearty, a wonderful green-hued snapshot of the season.

As I left, I saw two servings of that same salad on a table on the outdoor deck on the second floor of the A-frame structure. There sat Carol, the local pedestrian I had seen earlier, with a glass of the stout and three hungry pre-teens. Everyone was, understandably, eating their greens with gusto. All heads at the table turned when one of the children pointed over the railing toward the woods and the narrow tributary of the Nonesuch River running nearby. I had to smile as I imagined them working together to plot a new, post-prandial route home.

Andrew Ross has written about food in the United Kingdom and in New York, where he co-founded NYCnosh, a food website. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. Contact him at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @AndrewRossME

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