Brock Wagner almost can’t believe what he’s seeing. As he sits down for lunch at Saint Arnold Brewing Company’s newly opened restaurant and beer garden in Houston, Wagner, who founded the brewery in 1994, recognizes how far he’s come.
“This is sort of a culmination of a pipe dream I had a long time ago but never thought it would be a reality,” Wagner says.
As Wagner notes, the new restaurant represents the next evolution of a process that’s been going on since he founded Saint Arnold. First, he held tours in the brewery’s original location. Then it moved to its current location with air conditioning and a kitchen.
A change in Texas law that allowed breweries to sell beer for on-premise consumption spurred the growth of numerous tap rooms around the Houston area that offered both indoor and outdoor space, which was something Saint Arnold couldn’t do with the tap room at its brewery. So once again, Saint Arnold has stepped up with its most ambitious offering to date.
“With all the breweries opening up, I really felt like we were starting to be at a disadvantage in the experience we could deliver to our visitors,” Wagner says. “It didn’t have all the elements that people wanted.”
Problem solved. Now people can dine in air-conditioned comfort in a newly constructed building that sits next to the Saint Arnold brewery. The “disappearing” design by Natalye Appel + Associates transitions from a fully enclosed restaurant to a covered patio to open-air seating with a first-rate view of the downtown skyline.
Inside, the design puts the “saint” in Saint Arnold with a church-inspired design that features six mini “chapels” featuring custom designs from Houston artists GONZO247, Carlos Hernandez, Nick Papas, Robynn Sanders, Matthew Schott, and Jeff Szymanski.
“I really imagined this immersive thing. When they came in, I told each artist, ‘Here’s your chapel. Do something with it,’” Wagner says. “In my wildest dreams, this is what I imagined, but I didn’t really believe it would happen like this ... It turns out that nobody ever says to them, ‘Do whatever you want.’ With artists, when you do that, they go to town.”
Whether inside or out, diners choose from full menu of pizzas, sandwiches, shareable items, and entrees created by Saint Arnold executive chef Ryan Savoie and his team — everything from fried, pickled green tomatoes (Wagner’s early favorite) to a 16-ounce ribeye and a twin-patty cheeseburger with all the trimmings.
After four years of serving a limited lunch menu from a tiny kitchen in the brewery’s tap room, the restaurant's offerings represent a step up in terms of quality and ambition. Savoie also has a couple of ringers helping him execute the food with chefs Jason “Big Sexy” Hill (H-Town StrEATs, Luv Me Tenders) and Jason Tedford, who has spent the past few years as Wayne Mueller’s right hand at Louie Mueller Barbecue. Savoie tells CultureMap that the kitchen does have a smoker, which means that Tedford could start turning out at least a little barbecue sometime soon.
“I want our kitchen to be competing with our beer for what’s the best thing here. It doesn’t mean we bring the beer down. It means the food has to come up,” Wagner says. “I think the food that Ryan did next-door was amazing, especially given that tiny kitchen. When it was time to come here, we want food, when people come in, I want them to say ‘I was not expecting that.’”
While the food is the big news, Wagner still wants people to feel comfortable just coming in for a pint. The restaurant offers all 12 of Saint Arnold’s year-round beers as well as its seasonal specials and a few that will only be served there. Non-drinkers have options like iced tea and the brewery’s root beer.
Members of the Saint Arnold Society may enjoy one free pint daily served in an engraved pewter mug. Wagner says about 170 people have paid the $1,000 membership fee, and the demand has been sufficient to open it up to new applicants. While that’s certainly appealing to beer lovers, Wagner has even grander ambitions for his new creation.
“If I’ve really, truly succeeded in this, people around the country and around the world will say the Saint Arnold beer garden is a place you’ve got to go visit,” Wagner says. “I want people in Houston to be proud of it and when their visitors come, rather than taking them to the Galleria or NASA, want to come here.”