Phantom Diner

Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant – The Phantom Diner, August 2010

Written by The Phantom Diner | Jul 22, 2010 7:02 PM

It's hard not to like a place serving award-winning, handcrafted beers and basic, sometimes with a twist, American cuisine at reasonable prices in a casual setting.

So Iron Hill Brewery in Lancaster, one of a regional chain of restaurants in Pennsylvania, Jersey and Delaware, is a likeable place.

The beer is excellent and worth a visit, and the food at my table, despite an extra-large, ambitious chainlike menu, was mostly tasty, though we probably should have ordered something else.

Keep in mind this a brewpub. Be prepared for crowds and noise and a freewheeling atmosphere conducive to a good time but not to a quiet night out.

During a Saturday evening visit, I found the place packed and hopping and had a short wait, reservations notwithstanding (you get one of those little pager things). I mention this not as criticism but as an informational tip.

Also, the place is kid-friendly (lots of kids were there), with seating options. There's a nice, separate and quieter bar area with a large flat-screen TV or large dining rooms with booths and tables. Lots of dark wood and glass are used in this big, modern blocklike building abutting the campus of Franklin & Marshall College.

Iron Hill has full bar service, but come on — one goes to a brewery for brews.

There are fresh house brews, ever-changing monthly releases and more than a dozen large-bottled reserved beers. The beer "menu" explains the qualities of each beer, and servers are happy to make suggestions.

The house brews alone are enough to cover most tastes. They come by the pint glass or the pitcher and include a crisp light lager, an Austrian red lager, a full-bodied porter, a hoppy American pale ale called Ironbound and a seasonal Belgian ale. They run $4.75 to $5.25 per pint.

The food menu is enormous. I did not expect gourmet, and neither should you.

There are house-made soups and salad starters, appetizers, "shared plates," dinner salads, pizzas, burgers and sandwiches, healthy-choice entrees, regular entrees, a gluten-free menu, a kids' menu, a kids' gluten-free menu and a dessert menu. Variety, thy name is Iron Hill.

The problem is, Iron Hill is a brewery. Such food variety isn't necessary. Diners would be better served with fewer choices better prepared. There's no need for so many entrees when a good burger, creative sandwich or well-made pizza would be perfect. And while Iron Hill offers those, one wonders about the level of quality control when also offering so much else.

I'd skip, for example, the soup, unless you let some beer kick in.

Salad starters are another matter. They are large enough to share, are in the $8 to $9 range, and include a lovely mesclun with pistachios, Granny Smith apples and Vermont cheddar, and a very good chopped salad with shredded lettuces, tomato, crumbled bacon and a light, creamy blue cheese dressing.

Appetizers, in the $8 to $12 range, include spring rolls, cheese-steak egg rolls, Asian lettuce wraps, spicy shrimp with white rice and crab quesadillas.

So-called shared plates run from $5 to $15 and include tempting hand-cut French fries served in a paper cone with garlic-rosemary mayo; wings; nachos; and a sampler of a Tex-Mex spring roll, a salmon spring roll and a cheese-steak egg roll. The sampler is $12, comes with sauces and, of course, goes well with beer.

Dinner salads are $13 to $15, but you're in a beer place. A salad for dinner with beer? Not for me.

There are, however, burgers: eight-ounce Angus burgers in the $11 to $12 range, as well as half a dozen pizzas, both of which, of course, go very well with beer.

"Brewhouse favorites" include seafood pot pie, macaroni and cheese, fish and chips, St. Louis ribs and meatloaf, all priced around $15.

Speaking of which, there's more: "Healthy selections" include Moroccan spiced salmon and "fisherman's stew," made with shrimp, scallops, mussels and pollock (nothing to do with Jackson or Sydney; it's a large cod relative found in the North Atlantic). "Healthy" entrees are $16 or $17.

Regular entrees run from $16 for cheese tortellini to $23 for beef medallions with sautéed spinach and smashed Yukon potatoes. But the best-bet course here is to stick to tavern-type food.

My table should have done so. Instead, we ordered pan-seared North Atlantic salmon ($20.50) with a Thai red curry sauce served with basmati rice, roasted peanuts and a vegetable medley. And another of us had a "healthy" char-grilled sirloin ($16.50) with dark Belgian ale sauce served with roasted fingerling potatoes and asparagus. These entrees fought to a draw: The latter was pedestrian, the former praised as tangy and tasty.

Two lesser-liked dishes were meatloaf ($15), deemed too covered in too-thick gravy, and chicken pot pie ($14.50), which comes in a bowl with a "pie" lid. It was largely without taste; just not the same as the good old Central PA classic.

Desserts include a $9 "double chocolate hill," $1.50 of which goes to the National Childhood Cancer Foundation. It's cake with a warm peanut butter center and vanilla ice cream.

Beer lovers will love Iron Hill, and just about everybody else — who orders right — will like it.

IRON HILL BREWERY

781 Harrisburg Pike, Lancaster; open seven days a week for lunch and dinner; lots of nearby lot parking; full bar; kids' menu; reservations recommended; 717-291-9800; ironhillbrewery.com/lancaster

Published in Phantom Diner

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