by Lou Mancinelli
Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill area residents who favor gourmet pizza, green living and home-brewed beer have been flocking like seagulls at the Jersey shore to Earth Bread + Brewery. The restaurant and brewpub at 7136 Germantown Ave. (at Durham Street) in Mt. Airy has cultivated a legion of fans, thanks to their brewing of new beer flavors on-site each week and cooking the area’s best flatbreads in their own homemade brick oven.
Earth Bread + Brewery opened two years ago when Peggy Zwerver and her husband, Tom Baker, renovated a former Mt. Airy bar with sustainability, culture and family in mind.
They offer a selection of gourmet flatbread pizzas from the traditional, with homemade mozzarella prepared daily, to the “Hunter” — with its hearty spicy turkey sausage, blackened chicken and pepperoni asiago. And for those who love their veggies, there’s the “Gatherer” with garlic oil, mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers, artichoke hearts and fresh mozzarella with a pesto finish.
If you’re just looking for appetizers, there’s also edamame, roasted red pepper hummus, an artisan cheese plate (local when available) and artichoke dip. And there’s fruit and veggies with peanut butter for the kids. But if you just want to slake a thirst, in addition to the homebrews there’s the “world class” wine and beer selection.
Zwerver, 56, and Baker, 53, were computer programmers who were ready to do something different. It all started just over 20 years ago, when Baker got a home-brewing kit for Christmas. He experimented with different flavors and recipes. One thing led to the next, and at the turn of the century the couple opened Heavyweight Brewing, a production brewery in New Jersey.
“We sold a lot of beer to Philadelphia, so we decided that when we opened a restaurant, we would open one here,” said Zwerver last Wednesday evening at the brewpub. By 8:30 p.m. the upstairs bar and seating area, which features local artists’ work on its walls, was beehive busy. “There’s all kinds of cultures and mixed marriages and an open-minded community here,” said Zwerver. “A lot of young families have been very supportive.”
Perhaps it was Zwerver’s and Baker’s vision for Earth Bread to put respect for the earth and their guests at the top of their priorities that resonates among the younger families in the area. They also chose to purchase meat from local (within 75 miles) purveyors and farms. Produce comes from Weaver’s Way Co-op. Their coffee beans are roasted in Norristown, and their compost procedures bring “everything full circle,” said Zwerver. “The food is broken down, and it can be used to plant crops.”
And not just the food and paper waste are recycled. The pine floor on the lower level had been on the walls of a warehouse in Maine before the couple bought it through Craigslist. And in a nod to a semi-local brewery, they bought old tables from Victory Brewing Company in Downingtown. Even the soap products are made by Sun & Earth, a green cleaning product.
“It’s just the right thing to do,” said Zwerver. “I’m not introducing toxic elements into the waste stream with my soap products.” And composting cuts down on the cost of waste removal and increases the aesthetic, for there is no need for a dumpster.
A fine complement to its green vision and to the brick-oven pizza is the homemade beer brewed by Baker, but if you like a specific brew, you better drink it when it’s on tap, because Baker only brews it once. Since they opened, he’s developed 77 flavors.
Last week the west coast-style Romulus IPA and Second Degree (an English-style mild ale) were available. The dark Cuvee de Clivden, a Russian Imperial Stout, is on deck. But for those accustomed to the familiar, there are also your popular microbrews like the Troegs Dreamweaver Wheat and the Allagash White.
“There are too many beers to make,” said Baker, who develops his recipes by experimenting with different amounts of herbs and spices. “I don’t want to be stuck with doing the same one all the time.”
Baker also built the brick-oven at the restaurant using directions he found the internet. “I’ve never done anything with masonry,” said Baker. “It wasn’t until I was finished that I sat back and said ‘I hope this thing doesn’t fall.’ It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I always wanted a brick oven at home.”
Well, now he has one in Mt. Airy. And while the flatbread shape and style of pizza make it difficult to eat the traditional way, with one’s hands, the flavor and look of the brick oven-heated dough and melted cheese are enough to make you forget about your ‘earthly’ cares. And while Earth Bread + Brewery goes beyond the offerings of your traditional neighborhood pizzeria, it has the potential to become your favorite traditional neighborhood gourmet brick oven brewpub.
For more information, call 215-242-6666 or visit www.earthbreadbrewery.com