City’s new brewpub offers a mixed experience
I want to love the new Charleston Brewing Company. But they're not making it easy.
The beer is good, better than the food. Service is hit or miss, but mostly lacking, sometimes woefully so. The ambiance is cold and stark, not warm and inviting. Prices are too high for the quality and experience currently delivered.
I'm still rooting for this place, truly I am. I've visited nearly 10 times to date, hoping each experience would be better.
But the brewpub has been a bit of a letdown, and I'm not alone in my disappointment. Negative comments are outnumbering supportive ones for all who have voiced their thoughts to me.
Fair or not, expectations leading up to Charleston Brewing Company's much-anticipated opening were high. So far, they're not being met.
On the bright side ...
Charleston finally has its own brewpub! As in, beer is brewing on Quarrier Street (underneath the Summers Street parking garage next to the old Cafe de Paris) right this very minute. This is a very big deal that is not lost on me. It's been a long time coming and I'm glad to see it.
As such, owner Ann Saville of Taylor Books fame deserves a little slack when it comes to folks passing judgment on her new place. She succeeded in accomplishing something many before her weren't able to see through.
And although the beer isn't as high quality as what's coming from the tanks of Bridge Brew Works in Fayetteville or Mountain State Brewing in Thomas, it's not bad. I especially appreciate the different styles offered, although if you find something you like, you'd better savor every sip. It may not be there during your next visit.
But here are a few you might find, in my order of preference:
* The Raj: The flagship, in my opinion, this is a hopped-up West Coast-style India Pale with flavors of pine, citrus and light malt. A real microbrew drinker's beer. (7.1 percent alcohol by volume)
* 70 Bob Ale: A Scottish-style ale featuring British malts and hops creating a subtle blend of caramel, chocolate and toasted yeast. A nice, easy-drinking beer you'll really dig. (4 percent alcohol)
* Quarrier Wheat: A "riff" on American wheat beers, this one blends light hops with a hint of fruit and malt for a wheat (slighter "thicker") texture, but with a lighter, refreshing taste. The wife and I disagree on this one. I'm a fan; she is not. (4.8 percent alcohol)
* Big Ugly Stout: A traditional, dry stout with notes of coffee, chocolate and toasted nuts. Think of it as Guinness Light, although with that thinner texture comes thinner flavor. (3.1 percent)
* 1919: A take on a pre-Prohibition-style cream ale, this is a really light-tasting beer with a deceptively high alcohol content compared to most others brewed on-site. (5.8 percent)
* Taylor Blonde: A light, malty German pilsner, this is the closest thing to "Bud Light" non-microbrew drinkers will find here. (5.1 percent)
Besides serving up beers brewed on site, Charleston Brewing Company also taps gems from Bridge Brew Works (like Black Diamond Lager, Long Point Lager, Krux Kolsh) and Cleveland's Great Lakes Brewery (like Commodore Perry IPA).
There are eight taps, so you're always going to find something good. Unfortunately, beer is the only star here so far. The food needs help.
Based on Saville's heritage, the menu is heavy on English and European fare, with a few international dishes tossed in.
The traditional Scotch eggs (hard-boiled eggs wrapped in housemade sausage and fried until crispy) are pretty dry and tasteless, although the stout ale mustard served for dipping helps. The housemade lamb and pork sausages served over smashed potatoes (a la "bangers and mash") were also dry and under-seasoned, as were the taters themselves.
I get that it's British food, a cuisine not known for its flavor. But a little salt, garlic or a few herbs would have worked wonders on both dishes.
In addition to under-seasoned food, dry and overcooked meat is a recurring problem.
The braised short ribs were coated in a flavorful stout-based sauce, but the meat itself was tough and dry. The smoked thick pork chop came on a bed of nice sweet-and-sour kraut, but the chop itself was dreadfully chewy and dry.
Now, the highlights ...
The Moroccan Curry Lamb Tagine (spicy lamb stew layered with saffron couscous, caramelized raisins, onions and pistachios) is easily the best thing on the menu. A really nice dish.
The Pilsner-battered fish and chips - served as an entree at night or a sandwich at lunch - is good, although it needed a sprinkling of salt as well. The smashed peas served with it are surprisingly good. I can't think of a more tragically named dish, yet these are not merely mushed peas, but rather fresh peas that are finely chopped into a really light, delightful side dish.
The ale cheese soup isn't bad, but it's not really a soup. It's so thick and rich, a bowl of it would take you out. As a dip for the fresh-baked pretzels that come with it, however, it's pretty tasty.
The Scottish smoked salmon mousse is nice, and the flat lavosh crackers that come with it (and in the bread basket that accompanies your entree) are phenomenal. It's actually made from the spent grains scooped from the bottom of the tanks after the beer-making process, but don't let that scare you. You want these leftovers.
The green chili empanadas are fine, although not unlike an appetizer you would find at a local Applebee's or the like.
And there are still several items I want to try.
I've heard the housemade pate is good and how could the house-cured pastrami reuben or the house-ground pub burger with Cheshire cheddar or Stilton bleu cheese not be? I'd also like to sample the Shepherd's Pie, along with the grilled ham and Cheshire cheese or the grilled Cheshire cheese and tomato on pumpernickel sandwiches.
The problem is, I had similar excitement about trying each of the items I described earlier, only to be disappointed more often than not. Yet I keep trying, really hoping Charleston Brewing Company will soon turn a corner to become the hot spot it could be.
Only time will tell.
Contact writer Steven Keith at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1721. You can also follow him on Facebook and Pinterest as "DailyMail FoodGuy," on Twitter as "DMFoodGuy" or read his blog at http://blogs.dailymail.com/foodguy/.