PIES AND SUDS:

You know what, let’s cut to the chase. The food at Vino’s Brewpub is great.
The place — it’s not gorgeous. The building’s stability and the interior’s sanitation are iffy. The clientele, while diverse (a U.S. congressman is a frequent guest), can make a middle-aged person wanting for facial or body metal, someone who’s not a walking lightning rod, feel old and out of place. Cigarette smoke billows out of the jumping joint at the rear, from respiratory tracts so young that dying doesn’t yet register. It’s a scene, a 21st century Southern CBGB’s.
But at Vino’s you can get scratch New York-style pizzas and calzones the size of footballs and wash them down with ale brewed on the spot. When the temperature is tolerable — say, below 85 — you can take your bounty to a courtyard in the back and sit at shaded picnic tables. When it’s not, a big smoke-free room off the main bar will do, or a table in the front corner that looks out on the doings at the Weekend Theater across Chester Street.
The Margherita ($15 for a large) is this old unpierced fan’s favorite pizza. Topped with mozzarella, chopped garlic, fresh tomato slices, crushed basil, parmesan and olive oil, it’s your common man’s caprese — big.
But our favorite dish, the one we always get, the one we wish we could duplicate, is the spinach calzone. The hot mozzarella and ricotta are great; add spinach (or sausage or pepperoni or broccoli) and the side of marinara, and you’ve got a standout dish, one worth leaving home for.
That’s saying a lot, right?
Pizza is also sold by the slice, but unlike most pizzerias that offer this option, Vino’s doesn’t cook up whole pies and then sell them piece by piece. Rather, whole plain pizzas are cooked, then each slice is custom-loaded with the desired ingredients. The by-the-slice choice is a convenience, but the quality is not up to the whole-pie alternative. Yet at $1.10 for cheese (45 cents per ingredient added), $2.12 for Margherita and $3.25 for the fully loaded Vino’s Special, it’s a good deal for the lunch bunch with different tastes.
Now, some folks — the younger set — go to Vino’s to hear (or play in) bands like The Bastards or the HorrorPops or Jungle Rot, to thrash away in the wee hours of the night, long past our bedtime. But it’s fair to say that, besides the food, the big draw to Vino’s is the beer, available by the glass, the pitcher or the half-gallon growler for taking home.
Vino’s was the city’s first brew pub, and it’s kept its good name through the years as a purveyor of well-crafted ales. There’s a regular three always on tap, and they represent the baby bear, mama bear and papa bear approach: Six Bridges Cream Ale, a light brew that’s a good jumping-off point for brew-pub newbies; Firehouse Pale Ale, the best-seller with a big taste but not too heavy; and Lazyboy Stout, which is dark, well-roasted but not motor-oil thick, with a whang that some will liken to chocolate and others to ashtray.
Then there are the part-timers — always a bitter and two seasonal brews — which last month were, in order, India pale ale, wheat and pilsner. The pale ale is everything you’d want a bitter to be: sharp, full-flavored and with just the right kick of an aftertaste. The wheat is typical of the style: cloudy, light and yeasty, served with a lemon to accentuate the citrus undertone; the pilsner was our favorite of the lighter beers — crisp, refreshing but with plenty of flavor, not at all watery.
All Vino’s home brews are $2.80 a pint ($1.75 at happy hour: 4-6 p.m. Monday through Friday, then on until close on Wednesday; and noon-6 Saturday) or $7.75 a pitcher. And you can get a generous sampler of all six for $3.75.
Vino’s
Four stars
923 W. 7th St.
375-8466
Quick bite
Don’t go in and sit down and wait for someone in starched white shirt to come take your order. You stand in line at the front and order there; you pay at the register as you leave. Besides good food, you can find out all the latest punk news by reading the stuff pasted to the windows.
Hours
11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight Friday, 11:30 a.m.-midnight
Other information
You can buy by the slice, the most expensive one is $3. Credit cards accepted. Beer and wine available.

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