Lack of pretense can go a long way. Established in a former creamery — and boasting the tiled walls, slanted floors, and oddly divided interior space to prove it — Superior, WI’s Thirsty Pagan Brewing is a brewpub / pizza parlor that offers straight-down-the-middle Midwestern grub with little fuss. There are similar brewpubs in similar towns that overreach with curried mussels and calamari and other crap that doesn’t particularly fit the situation; TPB, if nothing else, has put together a menu of dishes that perfectly fit the atmosphere, attitude, and price range of the place.
There are some cute and soulful touches to the restaurant’s interior: old Fitger’s and Hamm’s signs on the walls, for example, and a distinctive approach to serving pizza. It comes out in circular, beaten-up, high-edged pans, which help keep the deep pies coherent. The pans come out hot, so they’re put down on framed cork boards that act as giant pizza coasters. If the pizza of Thirsty Pagan had been cut into squares (rather than wedges), it would be a dead-ringer for a high-end version of Rocky Rococo — thick cheese with nice deep browning on top, a doughy but adequately cooked crust, and a bright but not overly thickly applied nor overly sweet sauce. This is Midwestern soul-food pizza, not East Coast stuff, nor Neapolitan, nor Chicago “deep-pool-of-pizza-soup.”
Price is good — a 13″ and a 10″ pizza together were sufficient to (slightly overfeed) five people, at a total cost of about $27. This was supplemented by a TPB cheese bread ($8) which was a round 10-inch flat loaf of soft, cheesy garlic bread meant to be dipped in an accompanying warm marinara sauce. The marinara gets particular plaudits for being a bit spicy and not over-sweet. A number of $8 subs, including a veggie incarnation, line the menu for those not wanting to share a pizza.
Beer on offer was respectable, if not spectacular. North Coast Amber was clean and easy to drink, tasting pleasantly of malt and caramel; the hopped up, 8.6% ABV Guten Hopfen IWA (India Weiss Ale, whatever that means) was astringent and tasted strongly of grapefruit juice. A Yellow Jacket honey beer (named for the UW-Superior Yellow Jackets) tasted like a wheatier, sharper, more mature version of Leinie’s Honey Weiss. There’s no question that TPB is an ambitious brewpub, with a constantly changing rotation of offerings, a hand pump system for dispensing fresh brew, and a number of varieties inspired directly by the brewmaster’s German brew-school days.
Thirsty Pagan Brewing
1623 Broadway St
Superior, WI 54880
OWNERS: Steve and Susan Knauss
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
AVERAGE ENTREE: $8-$12