Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Iron Hill Maple Shade - First Impressions

I'm a 'beer guy.'  I like a good brew and I enjoy having beers that are made locally if at all possible.  I'm not saying I pound the beverages back - I prefer quality over quantity, and brewpubs are the best place to get a good variety of fresh beer.  I live in South Jersey now and one of the things this area has lacked is a brewpub.  Picture 051There's one in AC,and one in Princeton, but nothing in the meaty part of South Jersey. 

Thus, I've been looking forward to the opening of Iron Hill's new location on King's Highway in Maple Shade, not far from Another Delco Guy's HQ.  I've been watching the construction and was happy to read recently that the brewery end of things was already working.  Last night, we saw the 'Now Open' sign and stopped by for a tour and dinner with the family.


On first glance, it's pretty similar to the other Iron Hill spots, with the reddish wood dominating the palette, and wrought-iron accents and big, square windows throughout.  On closer inspection though, you see that the Iron Hill boys have spent some serious coin on this place.  The finishes are a cut above the Pennsylvania and Delaware locations.  Behind the bar, there is a growler-filling machine, flat screen TV and the mug club already had 20 members last night.  The bar's mahogany is beautifully done and the high ceilings are coffered and baffled, quieting the usual bar din.

The dining areas to the rear of the bar are divided into 3 separate spaces, two square areas that look into a semi-open kitchen and a row of booths that lead you back to the brewhouse and restrooms.  The tables are a bit close together, but that was with a full house and a very heavy staff presence.  When things are a bit  more normal, I think the rooms will feel spacious.

So we missed opening night and somehow Iron Hill must have lost my invitation  to the soft openings, but the second night would just have to do.  (On another note, my buddy Carlo and I once crashed a John Harvard's Brewpub soft opening, at their now-closed Wayne, PA location by just walking in off the street and acting like we belonged there.  One eagle-eyed waitress was a student of mine, but didn't blow the whistle.)

Anyway, back to the review ... I got a chance to sample the Black IPA and the Kellerbound, a nitro-push version of the Ironbound Ale.  Both were very well done, but the India Black Ale was a superstar.  It's an interesting twist on the traditional hoppy IPA, with a ton of dark malt of setting the bitterness.  It's worth the drive.  The Kellerbound is unfiltered, but the nitro push smooths out the edges and really adds a great deal to the Ironbound Ale flagship brew.  

Dinner was very good, though there were a few off-notes.  We started with pommes frites that were nicely crisp and soggy at the same time, sided with rosemary mayo that I though was a pretty darn good twist on the standard Belgian mayo.  I enjoyed my turkey burger with guacamole, though the ancho-honey mayo was mysteriously missing.  My better half took server Dana's recommendation on the portobello mushroom sandwich and enjoyed it, though her mayo was also missing.

The kid's menus at Iron Hill are well-thought out and generous.  For $6.50, the little ones get a choice of nine entrees or six sandwiches, one of nine sides AND ice cream for dessert.  This family friendly approach will have the 30 something beer guys dragging the wife and kids from as far away as Vineland saying, "Hey look at this kids' menu dear!"  I can hear the mini-van tires squealing already.  My son John plowed though the 12" pizza while his sister Emma had an excellent fish and chips mini-entree.

Our server was nice and very friendly, but struggled a bit with her table load and remembering things like ice water and the like.  It took a LONG time in between our appetizer and our entrees.  30 minutes is too long.  On the other hand, the folks at the bar really know their beer.  I overheard some very solid descriptions of the various styles and they asked the non-brewpub-savvy patrons good questions to help them choose the right brews.

Picture 057 The highlight of my evening was when brewer Chris LaPierre invited me into the tight, but well-done brewhouse when he saw me peering though the windows.  He gave me a full tour, including a walk though his cold box stuffed to the gills with tanks and kegs of the freshest beer in South Jersey.  The box is chilled to 44 degrees, ensuring that the beer gets to the table at exactly the right temperature. 

LaPierre knows his beer, having done five years as brewer at the chain's West Chester location.  He has also scouted the local competition.  He chatted knowledgeably about the beer and food offerings at PJ's and Pizzeria Uno, both within a stone's throw of his new spot and listened with interest when I mentioned a few other beer haunts nearby.

Picture 058All in all, the night was marked by the great kid's meals and the very good beer.  I hope the waitstaff and kitchen time issues are a function of this being only the second night open, but something tells me our server might not last long.  The bar staff though, were keepers and I think that's the reason most folks will stop by this week.  I'd recommend that you stop in and say hi to Chris in the brewhouse too.  He's a nice guy and clearly enjoys interacting with the customers.

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