Thursday, September 6, 2007

Penn Brewery, Pittsburgh

Penn Brewery
German food and microbrews in Pittsburgh's Deutschtown

Visiting friends in Pittsburgh, we tried to find some restaurants that would be fun to visit while there. In the Bay, it's hard to find good German food, but western Pennsylvania is right near the German-descended Pennsylvania Dutch, and has a much larger German population. So it seemed like a German restaurant would be a good option, plus there was the chance to try some local brews for Mark and our other friends.

We didn't know that the Brewery is, fittingly, found in Deutschtown, an area of Pittsburgh settled by German immigrants in the later half of the 19th century (parts of which look like not so great neighborhoods now; fortunately there is covered parking behind the restaurant). While dining at one of their long tables, we were seated next to a man who'd emigrated from Germany in the mid-1900s and married into a local family. He used to live in the area but had moved away to California and was back with some other Pittsburgh natives (including a woman who'd gone to the same college my mother did).

The friendly, convivial atmosphere is just one of the attractions of this place. They're accommodating to infants, happily for our friends and their ten-month-old daughter. In all respects, it seems like a family brew pub, if that designation makes any sense. And the menu is very German.

Our party tried the WURSTPLATTE (sausage sampler), the SAUERBRATEN (pot roast), and a grilled chicken with red pepper/white wine sauce (not on the online menu), as entrées. But first, the BROTZEITTELLER (German meat sampler) and KARTOFFELPUFFER (potato pancakes) for appetizers, which everyone loved. The applesauce and sour cream went perfectly with the crisp-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside pancakes, and all the meats and cheeses were big hits, not to mention the small sour pickles, the thick, tasty bread (rye, not brown bread), and the mustard that came with it. The entrées themselves were good, though Mark commented that our chicken breast wasn't really German. Still, it was excellent all around. I didn't try any of the beers, but nobody seemed to have any complaints (also nobody said "wow," so take that as you will).

The waitstaff were friendly and helpful, but in keeping with our experience of German restaurants, there was a very prolonged gap between the appetizers and the entrées. A good restaurant will have the entrées out right around the time you start to wonder where they are; we had a good twenty minutes of wondering before the food appeared. However, as I said, that seems to be the norm for European restaurants in general and German restaurants in particular. The idea is that you take your time over a meal, let the previous course settle before moving on to the next one.

Somehow, even after all that food, we had to order dessert. The Black Forest cake and the carrot cake came out quickly, and we were impressed by the restraint in the size of the slices. Each slice was only a little over an inch high and was a smallish wedge, at least by big restaurant chain standards. That's to take nothing away from the quality, which was outstanding--one of the best carrot cakes I've had, and though I don't have a lot of experience of Black Forest cakes, the Brewery's made me wish I hadn't eaten so much dinner.

They also have an outdoor patio with live music, which we walked through. Looked like a nice place to sit on a summer night. All in all, we'd definitely recommend the Penn Brewery, as long as you make sure you have enough time for a good, long evening out.

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