Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Iron Hill: Location is all it's got. Well, the beer is good.

In my last article, I explained that Oktoberfest starts in September and ends the first weekend in October. At Iron Hill Brewery, they didn’t get the memo, and their Oktoberfest dinner promotion goes until October 31. But hey, I like German food and all things pig.

Lancaster’s Iron Hill Brewery is the company’s seventh location. It’s an upscale micro-brewery, and like most upscale micro-breweries, everything’s just a little pricier than it should be. I don’t mind, though, if the food justifies it. But I don’t consider it justified here.

The space is nicely partitioned, so that although it’s a rather large restaurant, you don’t feel lost in it. We started with the Nachos ($10.95), added ground beef (+$3) and guacamole (+$3 – an egregiously expensive cup of guac!), and ended up with a seventeen dollar platter of mediocrity. When I get nachos and I’ve ordered the works, I expect enough tomatoes, cheese, salsa, ground beef and other “stuff” to accompany the amount of chips underneath. When the nachos came, there wasn’t enough “stuff,” but boy, did we have a lot of chips.

We also ordered the Sweet Potato Fries ($8.50). Stellar. Enormously thick cuts were lightly crisp on the outside, and soft and mushy on the inside. With just a dusting of salt, the natural sweetness was allowed to shine.

And of course, at a microbrewery, we had to have beer – two pitchers of their seasonal brews. The first was the Oktoberfest ($16/pitcher) – a smooth lager that was amber in color and had a great richness to it. The second was the Saison ($13.50/pitcher) – their Belgian-style farmhouse ale. The ale was a little too light and bitter for me, and I opted to stick with the Oktoberfest the rest of the evening.

Their Oktoberfest entrée ($19.99) came in two courses – the sausage first and the pork loin second. Bratwurst and knockwurst were beautifully grilled so that they were just charred on the outside. They were served with just a bit of stone ground mustard and fresh watercress. I was fairly pleased with the first course – the sausages were flavorful and moist. The uncooked watercress placed on the side was confused by some at the table as garnish, but I like watercress and its peppery flavor. I ate everything off my plate. Other companions complained that the first course was comprised of “little food” – you got three halves of a sausage. And truly, by the time I was starting in on my second half-sausage, there were some who were done and eyeing the rest of mine. I suddenly felt very protective.

The pork loin was moist and tender. Presented in medallions bathed in a savory brown gravy, it was quite delightful. The medallions were set atop a mound of mashed potatoes, and the table quickly started in on the discussion of the origins of mashed potatoes. I’ll admit that I wasn’t listening. I was too focused on why they were so average. I’ve definitely had better, creamier, buttery-er, tastier, etc.

The dish also came with braised red cabbage. Now, I love braised red cabbage because it has a great intensity of flavor, and I’ve enjoyed many a variation. I didn’t love it at Iron Hill, though. It was surprisingly and disappointingly bland.

Then I dug into my friend’s chicken quesadilla ($9.50). This is typically a homerun at these upscale joints, so I was hopeful. Alas, the tortilla was soggy in the center, only retaining its crispiness at the very outer circumference, and it was bland, bland, bland. How does this happen? Especially when you have cheese involved?

So, cutting down to the chase, the food is average and the beer is really good.  But you'll really have to pay for it.

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