Ribs are dry-rubbed and served “naked” with a choice of four house sauces to add.
There’s suddenly a slew of pubs with names that echo each other and may rattle around in your head if you are not paying close attention — the Flying Hound, the Parched Eagle and now, the Thirsty Goat. They are unrelated to each other; they just sound like they should be.
Cheat sheet: The Parched Eagle is a nanobrewery in the town of Westport, the Flying Hound is an alehouse in Fitchburg, and the Thirsty Goat is a pub in the revamped former Casa del Sol, just off South Fish Hatchery Road (also in Fitchburg).
Our topic today is the Thirsty Goat. It was originally conceived of as a brewpub, but onsite brewing is not yet up and running. Instead there are 32 taps, leaning to familiar craft brews. The list ranges from macros Bud Light, Miller Lite and Guinness Stout to state classics Spotted Cow, Fantasy Factory, Bedlam and Warped Speed. For the true brewhound, there are a few lesser-seen picks, like Sea Dog Wild Blueberry from Maine.
It’s good news to see this rather large building occupied again, drawing crowds. You might think the area already had the beer/food thing covered, as the Fitchburg location of the Great Dane is just a block south. But the Goat is developing as more of a sports bar. There’s a large bar area and a smaller dining area off to one side, and everywhere you look there’s a television screen. The food menu here is much smaller than the Great Dane’s, and focuses on meats from the smokehouse.
When in Rome, do as the Romans, and when you go to a place that specializes in smoked meats, get the smoked meats. Here the meat is flavored with a dry rub and served, as they say, “naked.” The dry rub works very well at imparting deep flavor to the meat, and if you wanted to enjoy the brisket or the baby back ribs naked, that would be an understandable choice. The half-rack of baby back ribs was rich, meaty, smoky, not terribly fatty and in no need of sauce.
That said, any of the four housemade sauces (sweet and tangy, house, bourbon, and spicy chipotle, found on the table in squeeze bottles) are fun additions to the sliced brisket or pulled pork sandwiches or the trio of sliders (pork, beef and chicken) served as appetizers. The sauces don’t taste that different from each other, although the chipotle is spicier and the bourbon has the deepest flavor.
Vegetarians will be hard-pressed to find much on the menu. If they eat fish, though, a surprise hit is the salmon fillet, a properly cooked piece of fish that had a bit of grill crisp on the exterior but was tender within. Our server said I was the first person in her experience to order the salmon; it’s good, if a bit overpriced at $17. It comes with seasonal vegetables (on that night fresh brussels sprouts, cooked to that hard-to-achieve moment between chewy and mushy) and a salt-crusted baked potato. Yes, there are big flakes of kosher salt on the jacket, and it’s advisable to eat the skin. Other entrees are a petite filet, rib-eye and an Iowa pork chop.
Less successful is the broasted chicken. “Broasted” just means a process of frying chicken under pressure, so this is fried chicken. It reminded me of Chester’s fried chicken, a national franchise found in gas stations and convenience stores. The real problem isn’t the batter, or the cooking method — it’s the nature of mass-market chicken in this country, tending to rubbery and greasy and flavorless no matter what a kitchen does to it.
Sides vary in quality. The coleslaw is bland; housemade chips are crisp and salty and easy to like; mac and cheese is creamy but mild; chipotle corn is spicy but also chewy. At this point, the Thirsty Goat is a sports bar with good barbecue and lots of taps. I’m not sure if it even needs to brew its own beer. The place is hopping, a fun atmosphere to watch a game. But if you’re just looking to eat, it’s hard to escape the noise. Even the dining room has screens, including one that covers most of one wall. It’s very, very loud in the Thirsty Goat, even when it’s not full. On a recent Saturday evening with college football on, conversation at a table for four was almost impossible. It wasn’t even a Badgers game. But who knows, maybe the quality of the barbecue makes conversation unnecessary. When in Rome....
The Thirsty Goat
3040 Cahill Main, Fitchburg, 608-422-5500,Thirstygoatbrew.com, $8-$26
11 am-1 am Mon.-Thurs., 11 am-2 am Fri.-Sat., 11 am-10 pm Sun.