And so, because your Phantom always has your best interest at heart, I turn to a seasonal treat for those who equate the oft-oppressive heat of a Central Pennsylvania summer with the chill thrill of different, delicious beer.
I do this largely because, in the words of one of our state’s most famous citizens (and a founding father of our nation), Benjamin Franklin, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
Therefore, welcome to Al’s of Hampden, on Harrisburg’s West Shore, home of Pizza Boy Brewing where their motto is “Pizza. Beer. Happy.”
They’ve clearly read up on Franklin. And, foodwise, they offer more than pizza.
Plus, when the venerable Food & Wine Magazine last August wrote about Pennsylvania craft beer, noting that “Pennsylvania is one of the preeminent brewing states in the nation,” it singled out Al’s for special attention.
It listed 10 breweries to visit in the state. First was Forest & Main Brewing Company in Ambler. Second was East End Brewing Company, Pittsburgh. And third was Central Pennsylvania’s very own Al’s of Hampden.
Seemed to me a reason to visit.
If you’re familiar with breweries, you know they tend to have a similar look and feel: crowded, loud, industrial, flat-screen TVs, bar seating, common seating at long tables, other tables, some picnic like, plus a couple of high-tops and some outdoor seating.
And, of course, a big board with far more numbered beers to choose from than really anyone needs, enough to easily overwhelm even the most earnest rookie.
I’m talking, literally, like 100 beers.
As for food, Al’s strikes me as offering better food than most breweries I’ve been to, since really the emphasis is on, well, beer; and most such places seem to have food as afterthought, or to challenge patrons to find the best-matched brew for whatever they chose to eat.
Also, even though Al’s was crowded when I was there on a weeknight, it was very well run, staff was friendly and helpful, service was prompt, and the food I ate (as a choosey eater) was much tastier than I expected.
But before I get to the food, let’s talk beer.
I figured I’d try a draft dark beer and a draft light beer, simplicity being, in my view, always a test of character.
The light beer, Citywide Love ($5.00), was simplicity itself. Just lovely. One craft beer website calls it, “No frills, all love. A refreshingly crushable beer flavored to pair with your favorite shot or to simply slack your thirst after a long day.”
My dark choice was Bean Dream ($5.50), a creamy milk porter aged on fresh vanilla beans that Beer Advocate rates “very good,” and that I rate as excellent.
It was like having a little dessert along with your food of choice.
I don’t have space (and didn’t have capacity; I was driving) to go deep into the list. But Al’s own beer (they also serve beer from many other breweries, as well as wine) include an IPA called Taste the Struggle, a pale ale called Some Kinda Kick, an oatmeal stout called Together Weather Stout and a fruit beer called Boysenberries Are My Jam.
Trust me, the variety’s astounding.
Same with the food.
You take a number on a metal holder, place an order, and a server brings your food when ready.
Choices range across the beer-go-with world. Apps, from $6.00 to $10.00, include fries with cheddar cheese, fried mushrooms, curly or waffle fries, chicken fingers, steak tots and shrimp and fries with cocktail sauce.
Of course, there are wings (in orders of 12, 30 or 50), fresh salads such as a tuna salad, chef salad, Caesar salad (each $10). Plus, homemade soup of the day or chili.
There are all kinds of pizza in multiple sizes – stuffed pizza, white pizza, specialty pizza, create-your-own – including bacon cheeseburger pizza, Buffalo chicken pizza with bleu cheese, veggie pizza, even French bread pizza.
Oh, and calzones, Stromboli, burgers, a kids’ menu, a few dinner entrees, deli subs and subs from the grill.
Breads and dough are made on the premises. That added to the goodness of large cheesesteak sub ($11) with mushrooms, sauce, green peppers and onions. Mine was so fresh and tasty, my dining partner ordered one, too.
There are plenty of breweries in the state. Food & Wine says at least 250. There a several in Central Pennsylvania, including Zeroday, Appalachian Brewing, Lancaster Brewing and Troegs.
But if you haven’t tried Al’s of Hampden, there’s no better time than summer, a.k.a. the season of suds, to check it out. I think Ben Franklin would approve.