At Bethlehem Brew Works, beer is a recurring theme. Not only available as a beverage, it's also an ingredient in a number of dishes that range from appetizers to desserts yes, even dessert, but more on that later.
It's not surprising that beer should be center stage here, since the restaurant is also a microbrewery. What may be surprising, however, is the number of different ways the kitchen has put the ubiquitous beverage to work in its food.
When I visited the Brew Works recently, I sampled many selections prepared with beer, and found the fare interesting and worthy of a return trip to this eatery on historic Main Street in the Christmas City.
It was a busy Saturday night, and the restaurant was buzzing with weekend revelers, so we waited a half hour for a table because we didn't have a reservation. The energy and conversations of the crowd, bouncing between the high ceilings and hardwood floor, created a noisy, charged atmosphere OK if you're in a partying mood, not so good if you're looking to have a quiet, peaceful dinner.
Service seemed to slip under the strain of full tables: Water glasses didn't get attention; I had to ask for a beverage refill; and the bill of fare was delivered with nary a word about dessert or coffee.
Bethlehem Brew Works is the kind of place I'd expect to be busy on a Saturday night. Prices are certainly reasonable, and the menu offers sandwiches, wraps and salads as well as entrees, so there's something for everyone. Plus, the casual bar atmosphere makes it a fine destination for whooping it up in jeans or khakis to let off the week's steam.
Its contemporary and trendy decor has an industrial edge, a legacy of the city's history, so intertwined with Bethlehem Steel. Galvanized pipe and diamond deck plate steel form booths with upholstered backs and seats, and steel-making paraphernalia decorates the walls. Ten floor-to-ceiling stainless steel tanks (four for fermenting beer and six for serving) dominate the dining room.
The Brew Works' menu balances standards like chicken fingers, onion rings, burgers and New York strip steak with trendier and more worldly selections such as potato pancakes with smoked salmon, a Mediterranean veggie wrap, sesame crusted tuna steak (served with wasabi lime coulis and ginger cilantro chutney), and a meze hummus assortment (garlic ale hummus, black bean hummus and black olive tapenade with beer-soaked tomatoes and pita wedges).
There's beer in the Brew City onion rings (beer-battered) and Brew City fries (also beer-battered), along with chili (spiced with steelworkers' stout) and the pig iron pulled pork sandwich (slow-roasted, hand-pulled meat mixed with spices and homemade stout barbecue sauce served on a steak roll).
Entrees that utilize brew include diamond plate pork (grilled pork medallions marinated in beer and spices, served over warm scalloped apples) and Caribbean grilled chicken (boneless breasts marinated in beer and Jamaican jerk spices, topped with fresh mango salsa).
To start, we shared ''brewschetta'' and beer and cheese soup; both were excellent. Warm garlic toast gave the ''brewschetta'' crunch, and the topping beer-soaked tomatoes, lots of garlic, onions, basil, roasted red peppers and shaved parmesan gave it layers of deep flavor.
Despite its extra sharp cheddar cheese, the beer and cheese soup was not heavy and rich. Instead, the subtly flavored potage perhaps thanks to the balance provided by the Brew Works own Valley Golden Ale was thinner, rather than thicker, and soothing and satisfying without being overly filling.
The restaurant's rendition of the traditional German Wiener schnitzel offered clear, yet balanced, caper flavor. Sauteed as well with garlic, tomatoes and white wine, the thick and tender veal slices were served with Bavarian-style red cabbage and deep-fried potato pancakes. Both were enjoyable.
''Slag pot meatloaf'' was comfort food at its finest: Ground beef blended with spices and Fegley's ESB (one of the Brew Works' flagship beers) along with mustard beer gravy topping yielded up a loaf that tasted just like the loaf Mom used to make. Mashed potatoes were quite good; a vegetable medley of broccoli, green beans, carrots and red pepper was standard fare.
When it came time for last call, creme brulee cheesecake, presidential pecan pie and homemade apple crisp each held their own temptation, but I couldn't resist the intrigue of chocolate-chocolate stout ice cream. What was wrong with that picture?
As it turned out, everything was just right: The ice cream, made especially for the Brew Works by a local ice cream maker, was a dream of chocolate deep and dark in color and flavor, and delicious, too.
Dinner for two including tax, tip and nonalcoholic beverages totaled $50.
Susan Gottshall is a freelance restaurant reviewer for Go Guide. Gottshall, who tells it like it is, attempts to remain anonymous during restaurant visits. All meals are paid for by The Morning Call.
Features Editor Linda O'Connell