Reflections on Americana: Eating and Drinking at Iron Hill Brewery
The American Eating Experience
One Saturday night, we ventured out to a spot we have been wanting to try for quite some time: Iron Hill Brewery. It was an extremely snowy day in the burbs of Philadelphia, so of course everyone was trying to go out to eat. We arrived at 7:00 P.M., the prime time to go out to dinner, especially on a Saturday night. Since we had never been to Iron Hill before, we didn't really know the atmosphere and what to expect. As we walked to the front door, we could see the groups of people waiting to be seated.
A manager greeted us when we came through the door, saying it would be about a 45-55 minute wait for a table. He also confirmed that the bar (and tables around it) were first-come-first-serve seating. Jackpot! We like to sit at the bar anyway. A quick look at situation indicated we would be waiting no matter what. The NFL Wildcard Playoffs was on every one of their five flat screens, and people seemed pretty cozy. We agreed that everywhere would be packed, so we decided to wait it out. My husband went to check out the beer list on the back wall.
Of all the things to do in the evening, people love to go out to eat. I've always found it amazing that we all go out to eat at the same time. If you go earlier or later, there isn't a big wait. Sure, it's "dinnertime," but it must mean humans somehow value keeping our dinnertime over the time spent having to wait in line. In other words, we value keeping our schedule over saving time.
The Stuff That's Often Worth the Wait
After seeing the selection, I turned around to find two people leaving the bar. They said no one had asked them for their seats, so I secured them for us. That meant, because we forfeited table service and a booth, within 10 minutes of walking through the door, we already had our drinks in front of us. That was a far cry from the 45-55 minutes we'd been told, so already we saw it as a victory.
It appeared as if the majority of people were only getting a drink or waiting on a table to become available, which made the bar a great place to get a seat for just the two of us because people came and left pretty frequently.
Anyway, now seated, it was on to what we came for. Their draft beer selection was pretty extensive for a brewery with over a dozen on tap. The average price for a seasonal pint was just over $6 while a their continual drafts were just under $6. We both decided on an IPA flight with 4-4 oz. beers (IPA, Citrus IPA, Scrooge IPA, and a West Coast IPA). Seemed like a fair price for the quality of beers and the fact they were 16 oz. and not 12 oz. We perused the food menu, but decided to wait until we had finished our flights before continuing. Each of the IPAs were smooth, and not what I like to call "chewy". The citrus blend wasn't as aromatic as I thought it would be, but overall the sample is with the $6.
This brings me to another thought about the American eating experience, and maybe the experience in restaurants all over the world. We value dollar-to-value ration. We'll pay for something nicer, but many people will also more willingly get something that is cheap even if they like something else. In the long run, I often wonder how much of a difference it really makes in our wallets. If I buy the fancy $10 beer, I might only get one and I might savor it, but if I get the $6 special, I might get two. It's fun to think about which logic wins out: more volume per dollar or more quality for less money?
The Brewery Difference
When it was time for food, the menu options were typical bar fare (not bar food—this wasn't deep-fried everything—but it was American Brewery cuisine; i.e., burgers, chicken, nachos, with a diverse dinner menu). We decided to share one of their (cleverly named) "Shareable" plate options, the Nachos al Pastor; which was a wise choice for the portion size. It was loaded with glazed pork, three cheeses, guacamole, pickled jalapeños, Mexican crema, sweet pineapples, and the all-important pickled red onions.
Try as we might, we didn't finish while we enjoyed two more beers off the menu (we'd forgotten completely about the dollar-to-volume ratio and simply focused on the fun names and interesting flavors). We took what was left of the nachos home for lunch the next day.
It made me think about a night out in Ireland when two people at our table had not finished their meals. We wanted take-away boxes for our leftovers, and asked for them before remembering that having leftovers wasn't normal everywhere else. The lovely kitchen staff scrounged around for tin foil and made leftover boxes for us before we realized what they were doing. That changed the way we ordered over there and made me realize how often my husband and I rely on leftovers for the following day's lunch or a snack.
After two hours of delectable appetizers and drafts, we decided to call it a night at Iron Hill. During our time there, the restaurant cleared out rather quickly between 8:30 and 9 and a staff of three bartenders was cut to one in that time frame. There was no more wait and people who moseyed in had no idea how crowded it had been just one hour prior.
Drinks finished, we left for home with the answer to the often-asked question: Would we go back? And I would say, of course. There were at least ten six-dollar beers I didn't try and plenty of food options that looked appealing (you can't have a Zeus Burger on the menu without piquing my interest).
And that's the important thing about picking a restaurant: is it a repeatable experience? Would you want to spend your precious time and money there again? Would you want to share it? We loved Iron Hill and miss it now that we no longer live in the area.
Do you have favorite breweries or restaurants near your home town?