Craft beer, pizza beckon at Brewport

BRIDGEPORT — It’s easy getting caught up in Bruce Barrett’s enthusiasm, especially when sitting in his new restaurant, Brewport, surrounded by a crowd of people eating pizza and drinking beers most people have never heard of.

“This city is great,” exclaimed Barrett.

Barrett, the co-owner of Barrett Outdoor Communications, the company that has put up billboards all over the area, is not known for doing anything small, and Brewport, which held its grand opening Monday night, is the largest brew pub in the state, he said.

It also apparently has the largest pizza oven, a steel behemoth that takes up the center of the restaurant, dozens of steaming pies escaping from its fiery maw.

“The oven weighs 10,000 pounds,” Barrett volunteered. “They had to open the wall to get it in here and it still stuck. It took six guys to push it in here on giant casters.”

The restaurant is at 363 Warren St. in Bridgeport, directly off exit 27 on Interstate 95 and underneath the curving overhead ramp that connects I-95 to Route 8/25.

So what does a guy in the billboard business know about opening a restaurant? Turns out very little, but he does have that enthusiasm and this dream.

For more than a decade, the former Fairfield County News newspaper warehouse had sat mostly vacant. A one-time paperboy, Barrett said he had feeling of nostalgia for the large, single-story brick building, and in 2000 he bought it.

“I really believed in the site and I marketed it very hard as a restaurant site,” he said. He even went so far as to have a mural painted on the side depicting people dining at tables.

But there were no takers. “I think people were afraid of Bridgeport.”

Jeff Browning had been Barrett’s best friend growing up, but they had lost touch until two years ago.

“I heard Jeff had been working at Bar in New Haven as their brew master, and we got together and hit it right off again,” related Barrett as Browning appeared from the stainless steel jungle gym of tanks and tubing that fills the back of the restaurant, a couple glasses of beer in his hands.

Browning has spent the better part of his life, dreaming about, making and drinking beer. He is a beer historian and has what he called the largest Connecticut beer memorabilia collection in the state.

He has busily been researching and collecting hundreds of beer recipes some going back to the 1800s, which he vows will eventually show up on the menu.

The two men, armed with now a mutual dream of a brew pub in Bridgeport, formed a partnership, but it still took another two years to get it off the ground.

Chris Danas, of Topline Consultants, has helped a lot of would-be restaurant owners to realize their dreams, but he said Barrett and Browning were different.

“A lot of my clients have ideas but want to stay in the box,” Danas explained. “But these guys right from our first meeting were talking outside the box and stayed outside the box. When it came to staffing, they wanted every race and gender represented. They were very clear they wanted the staff to represent the city.”

Of the initial 700 job applicants they hired 75, with 70 percent city residents.

“That’s the way they wanted it,” added Danas.

With its cavernous surroundings, open ceiling and rows of tables and booths Brewport, is like nothing seen in the Park City before.

Specialty pizzas run the gamut of “The Tree Hugger,” a vegetarian pie, to “The Barrett,” a combo of Korean barbecue pulled pork and fermented kimchi. All are thin crust in what Barrett refers to as “Bridgeport style.”

There are also a number of salads offered including a huge antipasto.

Brewport has 16 beers on tap from craft breweries around the state and region. There is also a large wine list and house cocktails.

And beginning in September, eight of Browning’s unique brews, ranging from pale ales to chocolaty stouts, will be ready. “I think that anyone who comes here will find a beer they will like,” he said.