Many pleasures to be had at Derive Brewing Company

The Clintonville brewpub’s charms outweigh some occasional service hiccups

G.A. Benton
Chicken wings, Baltic Porter and Smash Burger at Derive Brewing Company in Clintonville

The third time was a charm when it came to dining at Derive Brewing Company. So were the fourth and fifth times. 

That’s not to suggest that my earlier visits to Derive Brewing were charmless. When I’d previously popped into the trendy Clintonville brewpub just for kicks — and its excellent Baltic porter (disconcertingly called "Cowboy Cologne"; $4 for a half-pour) and crispy wings enlivened by Derive’s tangy, mustard-based "Carolina Gold" barbecue sauce ($14) — things went swimmingly. 

But a couple of meals were hampered by grimace-inducing service glitches. That I continued to frequent the place afterward speaks to my optimism about Derive. 

Segue to the months-ago glitches. On one occasion, my table endured a painful wait for a pizza after our pie was delivered to the wrong table. During our next meal there, when we’d nearly finished the entrees, we were presented with celery and blue cheese for an appetizer of wings that never arrived. The unintentional sight gag accompanying that blunder was almost funny.      

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Positives easily outweighed negatives, though. Firstly, Derive corrected those mistakes properly with sincere apologies and comped menu items. Secondly (thirdly, fourthly and fifthly), from a pleasant setting to impressive house beers to crowd-pleasing dishes to recent examples of efficient service, everything else about Derive points to a fine neighborhood hangout.

Derive’s owners have wisely retained much of what made Sip Local, the previous brewpub that occupied the site, a popular spot. This includes the largely intact decor, which celebrates art, nature and irony in a manner that fits Clintonville to (or like) a T-shirt designed by Homage. 

Such furnishings help create an entertaining space where patrons — more than a few sporting bike helmets — settle into wooden tables among forest-evoking green accents, oversize, pinecone-shaped lampshades and a huge metal tree. The cheeky room also features decorative hatchets, fanciful signage, branded merchandise, a concrete floor, exposed ductwork and plenty of muted TVs (appropriately once tuned to “Seinfeld” reruns, ESPN and the Cooking Channel).   

Hot chicken sandwich with Cowboy Cologne Baltic Porter at Derive Brewing Company in Clintonville

If an attention-grabbing snack is calling, those aforementioned chicken wings or Derive’s likewise recommended cauliflower wings ($9) — soft florets beneath a flaky, crackly crust — can be ignited by the aptly titled spicy garlic sauce.

More spiciness arrived with the sriracha-marinated hot chicken sandwich ($12). Though its overlapping slabs of delightfully extra-crispy (if dark-brown crusted) juicy meat made it somewhat unwieldy, this messy assembly with a glossy bun, pickles and a rich, jalapeno-spiked slaw was fun to eat.

Ditto for the smashed burger ($12), whose texturally appealing, crinkly patty had likewise benefited from high-heat cooking. Lettuce, Big Mac-like “Smack” sauce and a pickle garnish complete the irresistible package.

Both sandwiches partner well with Derive’s on-target fries (big, crisp, golden brown) and wedge salad ($6). The latter — a hefty dish with crisp bacon bits, tomato, red onion, hunks of blue cheese and a good blue cheese dressing — is among Derive’s best values. 

Wedge salad and chicken wings at Derive Brewing Company in Clintonville

Wallet-watchers (my arm’s up) and indecisive types will be glad that four bucks buys a six-ounce sample of most on-site-produced beers. Whether a rice-lightened lager, New England IPA or imperial stout, the brews tend to have lengthy titles, paragraph-long menu descriptions and flavoring agents that, frankly, belie their focused flavors and accessibility.

Tip: Ordering half-pours makes it easier to afford playing a dining game of matching the right beer with the right pizza ($13 to $15). Also making this game easy: Derive offers likable, hand-tossed, wedge-sliced pies with thin crusts that were crisp on the edge and floppy in the best-eaten-with-a-fork center. 

Toppings include the standout "organic shroom blend," duly esteemed Ezzo pepperoni and fennel-seeded, zesty Italian sausage. All three come on Luke’s Trio, a highly recommended pizza shining with pepperoni grease that tastes even better when the pie arrives in a timely fashion.    

Luke Trio pizza with Chicken wings, Smash burger with fries, wedge salad and hot chicken sandwich at Derive Brewing Company in Clintonville

Derive Brewing Company

2808 N. High St., Clintonville