Saturday, June 25, 2022

Flying Machine Brewing Co. prepares to open first taproom and cookery in Wrightsville Beach

Grant Steadman, co-founder of Flying Machine Brewing Company, Molly Brodbeck, general manager of Flying Machine at WB, and Jamie Sola, executive chef of Flying Machine at WB sit in on a meeting about launching the restaurant by Independence Day. (Port City Daily/Photo by Matthew Ray)

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH –– Flying Machine Brewing Co. is getting into the restaurant game. Co-founders Grant Steadman and David Sweigart are a few weeks away from launching location number two: Flying Machine at Wrightsville Beach Taproom + Kitchen. It will boast a special cocktail program featuring its beers, as well as coastal cuisine. 

“We thought at a remote taproom, specifically on the beach, that it would be really cool to have a food option,” Steadman said last week, as he settled into one of the restaurant’s leather-bound bar stools, situated at a live-edge wooden bar. Both stools and bar were designed by Andrew Graven of Kerf & Burled. 

“He cut the tree himself,” Steadman said, “which is pretty cool.”

Graven created the aesthetic of Flying Machine’s 17,000-square-foot flagship facility on Randall Parkway that opened in 2018. He also designed the new space on Causeway Drive — previously Banks Channel Pub and Grille. The 6,500 square-foot restaurant sports concrete floors and warm gray walls, accented by charred wood features and exposed Edison bulbs. 

“We didn’t really do anything to the actual structure of the space,” Steadman said. “It has good bones.”

The modern eatery will seat 150 diners, including 30 on its outdoor patio. It has a separate room, which can be closed off from the main dining room, for overflow seating or even to book business meetings. There is also “a hangout area” near the front bar.

Wrightsville Beach’s Flying Machine won’t be brewing beer on site; it will only pull from its production facility. Ten beers will be served on tap, including some of its more popular varieties, like Electronic Fog IPA and Dreamy Eyes, a tangerine cream ale. Bar manager Brian Pratt is crafting the cocktail menu — the location is outfitted with full ABC permits — which incorporates the beers within the specialty drinks or served solo. 

Steadman said to date there are over 177 flavors in the Flying Machine portfolio, as beers rotate in and out monthly. The brewery plans to make specialized styles for the Wrightsville location — “some that are meant to be more approachable for people who are just hanging out when the weather’s hot,” Steadman explained.

Executive chef Jamie Sola was hired to create the food menu to complement the brews; in fact, he uses Flying Machine’s Vimana kolsch in the beer cheese that tops a bacon burger. He said it’s an easy sipper that adds flavor to many menu items without overbearing the palate.

Sola has moved around the nation, cooking under chefs that inspired his style — from learning about sushi under Andy Matsuda in L.A. to refining discipline under Scott Crawford at Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, North Carolina. Sola spent the last 10 years in Pittsburgh working at the fine-dining establishment Revival on Lincoln; he even received James Beard recognition in 2019 and 2020. Flying Machine will be the ninth restaurant Sola has helped open. 

Steadman calls the 39-year-old chef’s experience a good fit. “We’re certainly not going to be fine dining; we want to have a loose atmosphere,” Steadman said. “We’re going to fall somewhere in between, with a coastal modern menu.” 

“I’ve incorporated a lot of different techniques, from French cooking and Western European to American cuisine,” Sola explained. 

He also taps into Southern staples, as tasted in the pimiento deviled eggs. His trick: adding whiskey.

“We’re actually reducing the whiskey down into a syrup and basting the interior of the deviled eggs, so it provides a certain level of sweetness, then you’ll get your pimiento aspect, and paprika will add smokiness.”

Every element of the dishes on Flying Machine’s menu, he said, are carefully thought out — down to the breadcrumbs toasted in bacon fat that come on the baked oysters, also served with country ham. “No part of the animal gets wasted,” Sola said.

Even Sola’s sandwich menu will be elevated by meats and cheeses, not to mention subtle differences that polish the final product. A hot pastrami handheld will be served with brined beef, 2,000 Island dressing (“essentially, homemade 1,000 Island with ranch and relish — like if McDonald’s knew how to make a good sauce”), and homemade kraut that’s more like a “cabbage jam,” according to Sola, with sweet and sour notes.

He’s working with local farmers and fisheries to procure fresh ingredients. The fish in the fish ‘n’ chips will change according to what’s in season and will be battered in Flying Machine’s kolsch as well. 

“I will never serve frozen fish,” Sola promised.

French-style mussels will swim in a bath of butter, cream and chorizo. Come fall, when Sola changes the menu with the season, the dish could get an upgrade to his specialty orange-cream-tarragon sauce. “It’s really nice and bright and floral,” he explained. It also will be punctuated by Flying Machine’s new line of sippers: ciders.

Steadman said the company is ready to fill a hole in the industry along the eastern part of the state. Not a lot of cideries exist here yet. 

“There’s been quite a few in the western part, in Charlotte, some in the Triangle,” he said. “So it’s something that I think the market’s been kind of missing out on.”

Paperwork has been filed for Flying Machine to launch Big Ocean Cider Co. any day.

Flying Machine’s head brewmaster Carl Cross has been concocting recipes and tinkering with flavors for a while now, researching whether to use wine, beer or cider yeast. Cross said he will release two flavors at the onset — a sweet and dry cider. First, he’s trying to decide whether to juice the apples himself at the brewery or just order the juice — also, he hasn’t settled on which apples to use.

“Apples are the most important element of cider,” Cross detailed. “There are certain apples that, when they ferment, they really give complexity.”

He said the cider-making process is similar to brewing beer; it’s just a matter of dialing in fermentation to prevent the cider from being bitter. “The biggest difference is you don’t really want to boil apple juice,” Cross explained. “You want to heat it up, to pasteurize it.”

Steadman is waiting for the green light to start selling ciders via retail and wholesale. 

They, of course, will be added to the pours at Wrightsville Beach Flying Machine, which will be run by general manager Molly Brodbeck. Steadman and Sweigart brought Brodbeck into the fold in March. She has industry experience after managing the Bridgetender for years before heading over to the wine business with Tryon Distributing. Once Covid hit, Brodbeck found herself back in the job search and longing for a return into the industry she found she had missed.

“I love the Wrightsville Beach restaurant pace because it’s do or die,” Brodbeck quipped. “Also, I don’t think there’s anything else like this on the island.”

Steadman, a resident of Wrightsville Beach, concurs. Specifically, there isn’t a craft brewery or taproom island-side — just the nearby resident bottle shop. 

“That’s one of the benefits as a North Carolina brewer: We can open retail locations,” he said, something Covid stalled. Steadman and Sweigart bought the Banks Channel business from Ashley Adams and Doug Baker last June, while the company was honing in on distribution. Steadman said progress surpassed expectations. In fact, the brewery was able to keep most of its full-time crew (Flying Machine pays benefits to full-time employees) because of increased production of its canning line. It was the only way the brewery could operate during the shutdown, when the Randall taproom wasn’t serving the public on site last March through the beginning of June. 

“I think the entire company was working significantly harder just for survival,” he said. 

Flying Machine moved into 80% or 90% wholesale.

“All of a sudden, everybody in our industry is canning products,” Steadman explained. “So we went from not doing a ton of canning to hundreds of thousands — [it] was a goal in more of a long-term picture, but we kind of got thrown into that.”

The production facility on Randall is equipped to churn out 20,000 barrels a year. It recently added distribution to the western part of the state with Artisan Beverage Group. It already self-distributes locally and into Raleigh, as well as the Outer Banks through Atlantic Craft Beer and Specialty Wine Distributors, and into South Carolina via Advintage Distributing. 

Steadman said expanding further and growing the business is part of the Flying Machine plan. It could even come in the launch of more taprooms and cookeries; Wrightsville Beach will be the litmus. 

“We want to serve a product that we’re really proud of,” Steadman said, “and show the way we feel our beer should be experienced. That’s what we are really trying to build.”

Flying Machine at Wrightsville Beach Taproom + Kitchen is slated to open by Independence Day. Hours will be 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and will extend until 11:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturdays. Brunch will be served Sunday only, and operations are 10 a.m – 10 p.m. 

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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