Reincarnated Penn Brewery seeks its spot back at the table
In 1986, Tom Pastorius was a craft brew pioneer when he founded Penn Brewery in the former Eberhardt and Ober brewery. His goal was to brew authentic German-style beers with equipment he had imported from Germany. He added the restaurant in 1989, making it Pennsylvania's first "tied house" -- a brewery operated in conjunction with a restaurant -- since Prohibition.
In 2003, looking toward retirement, Pastorius sold his majority interest in what had grown into an interstate operation with revenues of more than $4 million. He maintained a minority interest and continued to operate the restaurant until he theoretically retired in the fall of 2008. The restaurant closed in August 2009.
Retirement didn't take.
By November 2009, Pastorius and a group of investors bought the restaurant back, resumed beer-making and added an American pale ale to their list of brews.
The restaurant reopened May 5. Plans are going ahead to reinstate Penn Brewery's popular themed events that include Oktoberfest, Mardi Gras and the Christmas-time release of St. Nicholas Bock beer. No decision has yet been made on the return of live band entertainment on weekends. Other events being discussed are beer tastings and cooking classes.
Whether you're tucking into a plate of bratwurst and warm German-style potato salad in the beer hall dining room or bending your elbow at one of the tables in the open-air courtyard, Penn Brewery provides a laid-back and casual locale for friends and families looking for a place to socialize.
Flags hang from the wooden rafters. Drinkers and diners congregate at the well-worn wooden tables flanked by benches. A glass wall offers a full view of the huge copper fermenting and aging tanks at one end of the room.
Service is attentive and enthusiastic. Our waiter was happy to offer suggestions, opinions and information to help us make informed choices about beer or food or beer and food.
Food arrives swiftly.
"Our goal is to have wonderful homemade foods and to serve the customer quickly," says Mary Beth Pastorius, who is the restaurant's general manager and is married to Tom Pastorius.
When executive chef Greg Schrett learned that Pastorius was returning to Penn Brewery, he called and asked if her could have his job back.
"He had worked for us from 2004 to 2006 and was the best chef we ever had. He's very talented and he loves beer," says Mary Beth Pastorius, Tom's wife.
Together, Mary Beth Pastorius and Schrett brainstormed the new menu that would retain long-time favorites but also expand the concept to reflect changes in dining trends.
There was no question that the Original Penn Brewery Beer Cheese ($4.95), whichMary Beth Pastorius claims was invented at Penn Brewery would remain on the menu. A mixture of sharp cheddar, cream cheese and Penn Pilsner, the cheese spread was and remains a customer favorite.
But they also added Buffalo Chicken Pierogies ($6.95), an addictive invention that wraps Schrett's special pierogie pastry, made from his grandmother's recipe, around ground chicken enlivened with hot sauce, blue cheese and sour cream. It's like eating hot wings without the bones or messy fingers.
You'll find crispy, hearty potato pancakes under the name of Kartoffelpuffer ($4.95 for two, $7.95 for four) and served with large dollops of sour cream and fresh-tasting applesauce.
Don't pass on ordering the Konigsberger Klopse ($5.95), even if you can't wrap your tongue around the words. Just tell the waiter you want to try the pork and beef meatballs from northern Germany. Moist and soft, they're covered with gravy and sitting on a bed of toasted bread.
France isn't the only country that makes a good onion soup, says Mary Beth Pastorius. If you drop by on Tuesdays, Zweibel Soup ($2.50 cup, $3.95 bowl) is the soup of the day. It's made without cheese and very popular in Germany, she says.
The new menu reflects the fact that there's more to German cuisine than the foods of Bavaria, says Mary Beth Pastorius. She and Schrett also added foods of neighboring countries such as Austria and Hungary.
Dinner entrees include traditional, soul-satisfying Schweinbraten ($17.95), a large piece of tender, juicy, slow-cooked pork loin served with rich pan gravy, mashed potatoes and sharply tangy sauerkraut.
You also can find Viennese-style Schnitzel ($16.95), a pork cutlet pounded thin, then breaded and sauteed in butter or Hungarian Goulash ($15.95), an oversized bowl of big chunks of beef in a dark, rich sauce that's served over homemade egg noodles.
As they reopened the restaurant, Schrett and Mary Beth Pastorius vowed to buy local whenever possible. Cuts of pork and beef come from farms in Butler. The German sausages on the Wurst Platte ($13.95), as well as the kielbasa on the Polish Hill Platte ($14.95), are made at Silver Star Meats in McKees Rocks.
Vegetarians can order the Wurst Platte with a vegetarian smoked bratwurst that Schrett invented. Another option for those who prefer something without meat is the Kasespatzle ($10.95), the tiny spatzle dumplings served in a creamy cheese sauce that's served with a house salad.
Right now there's only two dessert options. The Kase Platte ($7.95) offers a sampling of three locally made cheeses that vary according to what's available and served with fruit.
We opted for the Apfel Strudel ($4.95), a house-made puffy triangle of crisp pastry. Seemingly straight from the oven, it was filled with warm chunks of nicely tart apple and served with an over-large-but-fragrant pool of vanilla sauce.Additional Information:
Penn Brewery Restaurant
Cuisine: German and Eastern European food and German-style brews
Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays and 11 a.m.-midnight Fridays and Saturdays. Kitchen closes one hour earlier.
Entree price range: $10.95-$17.95
Notes: The restaurant is hosting the Pennsylvania Microbrewers Fest 2010 this Saturday in sessions at 3 and 7 p.m. Sample beers from 28 craft breweries, $40. Accepts all major credit cards
Location: 800 Vinal St., North Side
Details: 412-237-9400 or website
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