SOMERVILLE, NJ - Reminiscent of a Civil War general, Mike Proske wears a long beard that distinguishes him from the rest of the crowd, not unlike the handcrafted beer made in small batches at micro breweries across the country.
The 32-year-old's beard mimics the deep colors of the burnished wood trim that surrounds the vintage brick and mortar walls on the first floor of the Civil War-era building Proske has transformed over the past two years into Project P.U.B - a sophisticated tavern and restaurant that celebrates the independence, guile, character and whimsy of the nation’s micro breweries.
Just like the specialty beers featured at the bar and on the menu, the emergence of Project P.U.B – an acronym for “Pop Up Brewery” – has been carefully nurtured by Proske, who poured himself in to all phases of the business plan and renovation, from the concept and handcrafted lighting fixtures to the menu and cut down bourbon barrels that line the baseboards beneath the tables made of re-purposed barn wood.
The rustic sign outside the three-story architectural gem was hand carved by Proske and his sister from re-purposed barn wood. His two sisters and mother are a part of the Project P.U.B. team.
Each month, Project P.U.B will feature a micro brewery and its beers, up to 12 varieties on draft and a custom designed menu paired to the brewery's products.
At the beginning of the ensuing month, a new micro brewery will be featured along with a new brew pub menu. The rotation will continue ad infinitum. Just who will be featured next will remain a closely-guarded secret, according to Proske, hoping to build some anticipation with followers.
Somerville’s newest restaurant will open officially in the landmark building across the street from the Somerset County Administration Building at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 1 featuring a variety of beers crafted in small batches by Founders Brewery of Grand Rapids, MI.
“I wanted to start out with something that had enough of a name and a following so that it would attract people,” Proske said. “Founders has its own following, it has some of the most sought after special releases; to get our hands on some of that we have to get our numbers up with the brewery,” he added. Fans of micro brews favor the limited edition, special releases which command premium prices and which are highly prized by taverns because of their uniqueness and rarity.
“So, I picked Founders because they have great name recognition and they also make awesome beers,” Proske said.
Last year Founders produced 193,000 barrels of beer, according to the Brewers Association, a national trade group based in Colorado that represents craft brewers.
By comparison, Budweiser, one of the largest macro brewers, produced 125 million barrels of beer at 32 breweries in 2015.
Nationwide, micro breweries were responsible for $22 billion in sales last year, representing 20 percent of all beer sales, according to the Brewers Association.
Project P.U.B has been serving Founders beer and a limited menu during its “soft opening” the past two weeks.
Project P.U.B mimics much of the coziness and sophistication of what brew pub aficionados have long acknowledged as “the coolest basement in town,” - downstairs and around the corner – in the same building.
Tapastre, which reflects Proske’s predilection for craft beers, has 22 different craft beers on tap, supplemented by another 30 in bottles. The Tapastre menu is designed around the Spanish tradition of tapas, eating small appetizers accompanied by a favorite wine, beer or cocktail.
A long-time destination for fans of craft beers, Tapastre’s success is based on a strict adherence to a winning combination of micro brewery craft beers, specialty drinks, attentive service, and the menu designed around a variety of tapas shared by friends, according to Proske.
The success of Tapastre convinced Proske to go upstairs and reclaim the empty space that had been vacant for several years after Il Pomodoro, an Italian restaurant formerly in that space had closed.
The pleasant aroma of those tapas, and the ambience of the cozy neighborhood lounge has begun to seep through the floorboards of the mid-19th century building at 41 North Bridge St.
Though there are similarities with Tapastre, Project P.U.B veers off in a different direction.
Executive chef Carlton Greenawalt has begun to work his magic in the kitchen, crafting entrees that will be paired with several popular beers brewed by Founders.
Wednesday’s opening will feature:
“Dirty Bastard” Vegetable Pot Pie with cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, onions, celery, Dirty Bastard sauce and puff pastry crust; paired with Founder's Dirty Bastard, Porter;
Yellow Curry Local Monkfish Stew with mussels, baby bok choy, pickled yellow habanero and rice noodles; paired with Founder’s All Day IPA, Centennial IPA;
Crispy Long Island Duck Breast with wild mushroom barley risotto and reduction sauce; paired with Founder’s Curmudgeon, Dirty Bastard, and Frootwood;
Porter Braised Pork Shank, mashed potatoes, pearl onions and porter jus; paired with Founder’s Porter, Dirty Bastard, Imperial Stout.
The menu also features snacks, soup & salads and a selection of pickled items in the tradition of the tapas, along with brewer’s boards that feature a variety of cheeses and meats.
Proske and Greenawalt strive to use local, organically-grown vegetables and locally cured meats and cheeses. Proske uses a Mercer County distributor that works with small New Jersey farmers. Some of the vegetables on the menu were grown by a farmer in Hillsborough, with cheese from a Lawrenceville dairy and beef from a Hopewell farm.
Everything that comes out of the kitchen – with the exception of the bread and ice cream – is made in house.
The home made, small batch ice cream comes from the nearby Summerville Ice Cream Company on East Main Street.
Proske has doubled the number of employees to 30 to adequately staff Tapastre and Project PUB.
Project PUB will be open Tuesdays-Thursdays 4-10 p.m. and Fridays-Saturdays 4-11 p.m. and will be closed Sunday and Monday.
Further information is available online at https://www.projectpubnj.com or by calling (908) 393-5211. Reservations accepted for parties of 6 or more.