Newcomer Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant adds some balance to
This is the third big opening, following Townhouse Kitchen and Bar and Ouzo Bay, on this stretch of Lancaster Street, where the border between
Gordon Biersch is an attractive option for visitors, families, office workers and just plain folks. It is arguably the most recognizable brand on the block. The first restaurant opened in 1988 in Palo Alto, Calif.; there are now 33 across the United States.
Now owned by the Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Big River Brewing Co., Gordon Biersch is working hard to make itself a good neighbor in Baltimore. Although brewed-on-premises Gordon Biersch's own German lagers are spotlighted, the offering of "guest beers" on draft is an all-star regional lineup of Heavy Seas, Brewer's Art and Dogfish Head.
Gordon Biersch has also done a nice job of exploiting its waterfront location, beginning with a front patio that accommodates diners and mingling drinkers. Patrons at the lower-level bar and the stepped-up dining areas get nice views of the street and the sky. The atmosphere is lively but not raucous. It's an approachable place.
Gordon Biersch has brought positive things to Harbor East, but its menu is lame. The fare, you end up thinking, is designed to appeal to diners in Dallas, Phoenix, Seattle and Las Vegas, all of whom, you'd have thought by now, would have had their fill of Tuscan Creole Cajun Mediterranean Kobe Harvest Teriyaki Double Chocolate Flatbreads.
The trouble isn't only with content but also with interpretation. The food is mostly heavy and boring. The people working in the Baltimore kitchen aren't to blame; it's whoever decided that diners want food to be seasoned with garlic, salt or nothing at all and for sauces to taste like ranch dressing.
I can recommend an appetizer of flash-fried artichoke hearts, which staved off my appetite when I was waiting at the bar for friends. They're breaded and fried simply and show up lava hot with a weakish lemon aioli. And I liked the snack of homemade potato chips, good and oily, that Gordon Biersch tops with blue cheese sauce, smoked bacon and scallions.
Southwestern egg rolls, part of the Brewhouse appetizer platter, had greasy shells and a bland filling. Kobe burgers are pre-formed whether they're served full size or as sliders.
Among the entrees, there was some good flavor in crab and lobster cakes, but they looked small on a plate piled too high with cole slaw and Gordon Biersch's signature garlic fries. The Brewhouse chicken hid a rubbery breast under a mammoth pile of garlic mashed potatoes, greasy fried onion strings and gravy made from Gordon Biersch's Marzen, a malty lager you wouldn't think would work as the base for a gravy. You'd be right.
Marzen does work well enough as a marinade for a flatiron steak, part of a steak frites entree. But the tough meat is drizzled with a sweet and tangy sauce that overpowers the steak's flavor.
Most things are average. The CBLT, a greasy BLT with a flavorless grilled chicken breast, was the only downright terrible thing we tried.
Desserts are things like strawberry cheesecake, apple bread pudding and double chocolate cake, all of which can be ordered in miniature "taster" versions. The chocolate cake, spooned out of a small, thin glass, is satisfying.
The staff at Gordon Biersch is friendly, outgoing and quick with information about Gordon Biersch's beer program. The beers are made on the premises — not the novelty it once was but still good to know. Try the five-beer sampler for $5.75. Gordon Biersch specializes in German-style lagers, which amount to a niche filler in Baltimore. The Hefeweizen is said to have subtle notes of banana and cloves. It does.
The staff is doing a nice job of introducing Gordon Biersch to new patrons. They shouldn't also have to hawk Gordon Biersch rewards cards at the table.
If you were tasked with finding a place for a group of 25 to hang out for drinks and a light dinner, polished enough for business entertaining but accessible enough for country cousins, Gordon Biersch would fit the bill.
The food could, and should, be much better.
Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant
Where: 1000 Lancaster St., Harbor East
Contact: 410-230-9501, gordonbiersch.com
Open: Open daily for lunch and dinner
Prices: Appetizers $6.50-$18.95; entrees $18.95-$27.95
Food: All-American pub food
Service: Opening staff is friendly and attentive
Best dishes: Blue cheese chips, Brewhouse platter, lobster and crab cakes
Children: A children's menu is presented to tables with kids
Parking: Valet parking is offered for $7
Noise level: Comfortable, even with constant music
[Key: Superlative: ¿¿¿¿¿; Excellent: ¿¿¿¿; Very Good: ¿¿¿; Good: ¿¿; Promising:¿ ]