Friday, May 1, 2009

Lancaster Brewing Company - Stick with the beer

I didn’t realize Lancaster was steeped in such a rich heritage in beer brewing. So when I read about it on the Lancaster Brewing Company website, I had to visit. Today, The Lancaster Brewing Company is the only brewery in Lancaster city, and it’s a great place to have those brews, what with the rustic décor and beer vats that make you feel like you’re actually in the middle of all the brewing action. I liked the atmosphere. I liked the beer. But that’s mostly all I liked at the Lancaster Brewing Company on the Friday night we visited.

I was looking forward to tossing back some brews to end a great week. I ordered a pint of the Milk Stout ($4.50). Rich and dark, with a hint of sweetness, it’s the kind of beer that leaves a milk mustache, and it’s so good, you lick it off. Sadly, it was to be my favorite item of the night.

Upon reviewing the menu, I was a bit taken aback by the gourmet twist of their offerings. I always feel reticent in ordering such fare at a brew pub and usually stick with the tried and true. This time, we ordered both. For appetizers, the French Onion soup ($4.99), Buffalo and “Creepin’ Dog” Wings ($6.99), and Garlic & Sea Salted Encrusted Shrimp ($9.49). For entrees, the Pittsburgh Steak Salad ($11.99) and the Hickory Smoked Half Chicken ($15.95).

My husband loves French Onion soup, and he gets it anytime it’s offered, meaning we’ve had plenty for comparison sake. Cheese bubbling on top of a hot crock of sweet onions and croutons; it was a solid beginning. But then the wings and the shrimp came. We ordered half Buffalo and half “Creepin’ Dog,” a habanero chili sauce, one of the hottest around. While the wings were nicely crispy, they were out-of-this-city spicy and flavorless. There’s no point to wings that are just HOT. I ate one of each and left the rest. Shocking, but true.

Then the Garlic & Sea Salted Shrimp. Three deep-fried jumbo shrimp came atop a “putanesca” dipping sauce. What garlic? What sea salt? What puttanesca sauce? Made right, puttanesca is pungent, tangy, and tart, with olives, anchovies, and capers all contributing to the fantastic burst of flavor that comes forth. This? I was dismayed to find that they were trying to pass off marinara sauce with four olives tossed on the side as puttanesca. Add that the shrimp was overcooked, we were left with tasteless rubbery jumbo shrimp laying in bland marinara sauce. At $3.16 per shrimp, I felt totally duped. It was an awful dish. In fact, it irritates me now as I write this.

Thankfully, the worst had passed. The Pittsburgh Steak Salad was good. The steak, ordered medium rare, was cooked thusly and was tender. Then again, it’s hard to screw up a salad, and once the blue cheese dressing was poured over the top, it masked a myriad of potential sins.

The menu cited that the Half Chicken was rubbed in 13 spices and slow smoked. It was served with a spicy citrus chipotle barbeque sauce with smoked paprika fries on the side. The slow smoked part was done well. Slowly smoking something with the skin still on it, allows for the fat to drip away, and you’re left with a fantastic crispy skin and moist meat. The chicken was, indeed, moist, and I enjoyed the crispy skin. But I’m not sure where the 13 spices came in, because it tasted as if it were very simply seasoned. As for the accompanying sauce, it was good on its own, but it overwhelmed the simplicity of the chicken. I left it alone. The real travesty of this dish, though, resided with the fries. They looked really good – the kind where it’s crispy on the outside, and like mashed potatoes on the inside. I eagerly bit into one, and what was crispy and delectable-looking on the outside revealed a dryness on the inside that sucked all the moisture out of my mouth. Surely, it’s just that one, right? I kept trying, picking from various parts of the plate. My husband, who also had fries on top of his Pittsburgh salad said, “Petrifries. Yours, too, huh?” Frozen for too long? Under the heat lamp too long? Whatever the case, these were not good fries.

I ended up pushing everything away in disappointment and turned to my Milk Stout. At least the beer was good.

Lancaster Brewing Company
302 N. Plum Street
Lancaster, PA
(717) 391-6258

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