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Saturday, June 16, 2007

First Day at Allentown Brew Works

Friday was the first 'official' day that Allentown Brew Works opened. There have been some soft opening days in the past week, and a media event Thursday night, but Friday was the day they opened the doors and let anyone and everyone in...even me and the kids.

Nora's last day of school was Thursday, and both kids did very well this year; they always do well, and I'm proud of them. Nora got Distinguished Honors, Thomas got First Honors, so I took them up to the Moravian Book Shop in Bethlehem (which claims to be the world's oldest bookseller, since 1745), gave them each some cash and told them to go nuts. After the book-buying frenzy subsided, we got in the Passat and drove over to Allentown for lunch at the new Brew Works.

It's a big place, very open, and less industrial than the Bethlehem store: a lot of light wood and dark metal, high ceilings, nice lighting, and a less prominent bar area. We were seated upstairs, and quickly ordered drinks; sodas for the kids, and a sampler for me, six 5.5 oz. beers for $8.50, not a bad deal. The beers were pleasing. I'll run them for you. Berliner Weiss was refreshing, lightly cloudy, and although it could have been a bit more piercingly sour, I liked it, and it was SBP-approved at 3.0% ABV. The Steelgaarden Wit might have been the best beer on tap that day, quite damned good, delicious, brisk, maybe a bit heavy on the coriander side, but a very nice example of the style. The Pawn Shop Porter was also good, pintable but with a nice rich side to it (the first one I finished, and that almost immediately; it just kind of evaporated...). The Pig Pen Pilsner was by far the weakest of the lot, muddled, with notes of ashes and diacetyl (and if I'm getting D, it's got a lot; I have a high threshold), just not pilsner-crisp at all. Might have needed more tank-time. The Copper Kettle Pale Ale was a good standard Cascade-hopped APA, clean, no problems. And the big boy, the Hop Explosion, teetered on the edge of DIPA: lots of Tomahawk hops, solid malt body, great fruity ale nose, and just tons of grapefruit hop aroma, a solid beer of the style. Fix up the pilsner, and this is a real good slate of beers.

The food was mostly good, although the nachos were a disappointment. There were a lot of very salty chips, mostly dry, not a lot of cheese (we did eventually find some more that had gone to the bottom, but it didn't seem likely that it was the promised 3/4 lb.), none of the sour cream and salsa promised in the menu, and they weren't hot. I was apprehensive about the meal after the nacho experience, but they were an anomaly. I had the bratwurst sandwich, a good locally-made brat with good kraut, tasty and crisp fries (although I'd ordered cole slaw...see below). Thomas had meatloaf, which was maybe a bit soft in texture, but delicious, and the garlic mashed spuds and fresh vegetables (broccoli, snap peas, and carrots, none of it over-cooked) were both excellent. Nora got the hoagie, which was good, and not skimpy, but it was a bit simplistic: stuff stacked on a ciabatta roll. Kinda boring, needed something to jazz it up. Overall, I'd say 3 points out of 5 on the food. The check wasn't bad for three lunches, though I doubt it's the cheapest place in Allentown (and why should it be?).

On the downside, the service was distinctly sub-par. To begin with, the place was fairly noisy, which wouldn't have been a problem, except that our waitress was extremely soft-spoken; we had trouble figuring out what she was saying. Then the beers on the sampler were not in the right order (in a big way: only one was in the right place), the sampler tray was dripping heavily with beer (and we couldn't get more napkins), my lunch order got screwed up twice, the meals came about three minutes after the large plate of nachos came out, we didn't get the "Is everything okay?" check-up till we were done eating, and the wait for the check was too long...but it was the first day. It's going to get better, and I wasn't really that concerned.

The only thing that did bother me...the head waitress came over, apologized, and told me that while the sampler was six beers, they had seven on, and which one did I not want? Okay, I said quickly, not a problem, drop the Amber Lager...and she argued with me. She wanted me to drop the pilsner instead, "It's really the lightest." What the hell? "Is the Amber Lager on tap?" I asked. Yes, she said, apprehensively. "Then that's the one I don't want." She nodded and retreated. Don't ask a customer to make a decision and then argue that decision!

Would I go back? You bet. Parking was...well, kind of weird, and if Allentown wants more people in their downtown, they've got to make it easier to find (wouldn't hurt if people learned how to parallel park, either; some cars were almost two feet from the curb on Hamilton Ave.). But the place is great, the beer's good, the food's probably going to shape up quite nicely (the nachos have been better at Bethlehem, and I'm sure they'll be better in Allentown soon), and service is just a matter of more days open. I don't usually like to write about brewpubs until they've been open for a few months, but I'd say these guys were ready to roll now. Give a visit!


Matt said...

I don't want to defend the waitress for arguing your beer choice, but the thought did come to me that maybe she was aware of how bad the pilsner was and was trying to push you off it.

Lew Bryson said...

It occurred to me, too! Maybe I should have gone with the feeling. But I can't help wanting to taste a pilsner!

Stonch said...

Are Nachos ever anything but disappointing? Aren't they just warmed up crisps served with cheese and condiments?

You lot need to be introduced to pork scratchings and pickled eggs...

Lew Bryson said...

Sir, I am a Pennsylvania Dutchman. I do not need to be introduced to any kind of pickled egg; I have an advanced knowledge of the divine orbs. Please recall the reference to "Big Dick's Famous Pickled Egg" in my California Homebrew Excursion post!

But these "pork scratchings" of which you speak...what the hell's that, because it sounds good. If it's just fried pork rinds, though, you can keep 'em.

And I've had some very good nachos, usually involving as much scratch-made stuff as possible. These weren't. They were a cut above the stadium 'nachos' you'll pay $5 for, which are the crappy crisps and squeeze cheese you allude to, but they weren't good nachos.

Anonymous said...

What a weird um...experience that exchange must have been. In my observation, Allentown folks do seem a bit odd, which can be cool, but in this case puzzled me. I was pouring at the Allentown beer fest recently, and witnessed many strange occurrences there: strippers in inflatable pools/dancing on poles; scary Allentown roller girls; people dressed like David Lee Roth/Axl Rose circa 1985, sporting pleather, plastic and scarves! Pretty notable for a beer fest I thought.