W hen Mike Fox answered a job posting on Craigslist calling for a chef at a new restaurant in Hamden, he interviewed at a bare-bones space in a plaza on Route 10, sawdust covering every surface.
Still, he had a grand vision for creating a gastropub menu. The owner, Mike Farber, formerly of Prime 16, hired Fox to join forces with general manager and beer guru Jonathan Edwards. The two planned seasonal menus to ensure that the food complemented extensive, carefully selected craft brews. Their mission was simple but ambitious. “We wanted to be the standout beer bar in the area,” Fox says.
True to that purpose, MiKro distinguishes itself with 18 draft lines running at a given time, changing almost daily. Flights let you sample four five-ounce portions of different beers on tap for $13, from Altbiers (German ales from the city of Dusseldorf) to Weizenbocks (robust wheat beers heavy on the malt—by the way, the bar has an informative beer glossary on their website for those new to craft brews). Add between 40 and 45 bottles available on top of the draft options and you have a mind-boggling array of choices.
Edwards spends about two hours each Monday poring over details for his order each week, taking into account MiKro’s many special events. In April 2012 the bar hosted brewmaster Garret Oliver and paired his Brooklyn Brewery beers with a five-course menu traversing every part of the pig from snout to tail, starting with chicarones (fried pork rinds) all the way to a parsnip cake dessert showcasing morsels of candied bacon.
That beer dinner was planned in the reverse order, because Fox got to build the menu first, and then Oliver picked beers to match each course. “After that dinner we realized we had to step it up a notch,” Fox says, explaining that early beer events came with a simple cheese plate. “Times are tight and we want people to feel they are really getting $80 worth for their ticket.” Cigars are the theme for the Oct. 23 dinner, when they will team up with Caseus and the Owl Shop to offer cigar smoked salmon, tobacco fried onions and smoked pork belly.
“Tap takeover” nights present beer themes with more choices and less structure than a full-blown five-course dinner. On these occasions, Edwards dedicates most of the draft lines to one specific brewery or style of beer, such as Mischief Night on Oct. 30, which will highlight 14 pumpkin types of beer on tap. Fox, of course, is planning attendant pumpkin-y food concoctions.
For me, the regular menu alone is enough of a draw. The Confit Chicken Wings, one of their best sellers, are marinated in salt, pepper, thyme, garlic, and shallots for an hour, then sit in rendered pork fat for a few days, and are finally slowed cooked in a sriracha hot sauce for two hours. They surpass the shake test—the meat falls off the bone.
Even so, Edwards says the PEI Mussels are the reason he comes in for dinner on his nights off. Fox uses a Belgian wheat ale, as opposed to the more traditional white wine, then adds orange slices, thyme, red pepper flakes, garlic and shallot to the broth, which is accompanied by toast points drizzled in olive oil.
The House Made Pretzel pays homage to Fox’s favorite mall stand—Pretzel Time—with a soft, buttery approach. He makes his own hop salt and bakes it into the pretzel, releasing oils that lend an almost IPA flavor to the bread. Meanwhile, a taste of the Fried Chickpeas, covered in fragrant and sweet spices with a nudge of heat, transports you to Morocco for a moment. On the other hand, MiKro’s cheese and charcuterie boards, using ingredients from Bon Appetit, the specialty food shop in the plaza across the street, make you feel local again.
If you’re interested in one of their grilled flatbreads, the decision can be tricky. Choosing between the Yukon Gold Potato with bacon and cheddar; the Fig and Prosciutto with balsamic; and the Mushroom with goat cheese and truffle oil is like having to pick a favorite child: it’s too hard to decide, each one lovable in its own way. And the MiKro Burger is so moist you get rivulets running down your fingers with every bite.
There are daily specials, too. Served with a side salad of duck confit, hazelnuts, frisee, and aged balsamic, the warm brioche bread pudding I tried was eggy and stuffed with melted leeks, blue cheese and black mission figs. Regular or special, not one item failed to satisfy; I only wished for a larger appetite to prolong the journey.
It’s good reason to think their new weekly Sunday brunch, the details of which change each time, is also worth checking out. A recent menu played with Southern favorites like fried chicken and waffles, shrimp and grits and a bourbon and apple cider cocktail. (Fox suggests that theme may have been influenced by his time working at Bobby Flay restaurants Mesa Grill and Bar Americain in New York.) Brunch staples often include eggs Benedict with brown butter sauce, French toast with Belgian white ale sauce and a short rib hash with horseradish cream and poached eggs.
MiKro’s high-ceilinged, wood-beamed atmosphere now is a far cry from its sawdust days, but it isn’t stuffy. Indeed, every waiter and bar staff member wears a gas station attendant shirt. “At a lot of breweries the staff is wearing Dickie’s work shirts, for the same reason mechanics do I imagine,” Edwards says. “They’re durable, they take a beating, and they don’t stain easily.”
Meanwhile, Fox and Edwards say it’s never a question as to whether or not the place will be busy; it will be—enough to make the plaza spot feel limited in size and in kitchen space. Still, there’s no plan to relocate or expand at the moment.
“We don’t want too big a place to lose the social, intimate feel this place has,” Edwards says. “We get regulars who come in four times a week. It’s become a neighborhood establishment.”
Mikro Beer Bar
3000 Whitney Ave, Hamden (map)
Mon-Thurs 4-10pm, Fri-Sat 4-11pm, Sun 11:30am-2:30pm & 4pm-close
Written and photographed by Jane Rushmore.