Sunday, June 10, 2012

Review: Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant, West Chester PA

On a warm Saturday in June, we decided to have a relaxing and rewarding dinner in downtown West Chester after a long day of manual labor at home. Ordinarily, it's about impossible to get into a good restaurant in West Chester on a Saturday night without reservations, but summer presents an opportunity to dine without planning. The college kids are mostly gone from town, and lots of people are on vacation or at the shore.
Click any picture to enlarge

It was a pleasant evening as we walked to Iron Hill Brewery, on Gay Street at the corner of High Street. Iron Hill, a small local chain with ten restaurants in PA, NJ, and DE, is known for its beer, of course. Their website notes that they offer "distinctive, full-flavored handcrafted beers, accompanied by fresh–from–scratch New American cuisine."  Those are pretty high standards for a chain restaurant to uphold. But, based on some previous visits to this Iron Hill location, and also the advice of other food/beer lovers, we entered with high expectations. Despite the nice weather, we chose to dine inside. The dining room was busy, but not packed, mostly with younger (20s, 30s) groups of friends. The noise level was high but not intrusive.

From the choices of hand-crafted beers, I tried a sample of a good Belgian white (always a favorite) but instead opted for something called "Mahalo Apollo" which was a great summertime beer, with elements of spice and fruit . EPBAC (Eats Pizza But Avoids Cheese) does not have beer often, but she sampled the Hefeweizen, which is a "traditional, unfiltered Bavarian wheat beer... light and effervescent thirst quencher. Starts with a refreshing tanginess. Finishes with a distinct yeast character of bananas and cloves."  It was very good, and only 4.2% alcohol. Iron Hill brews its own root beer and lemonade too; VACK (vegetable-avoiding college kid) chose the lemonade.
EPBAC and Hefeweizen

For appetizers, I chose a half-dozen oysters for $13. I forget where they came in from, but they were ice cold and fresh. Ate them in a hurry!  EPBAC selected the seafood bisque, which was served with a nice square of puffy bread that looked like cornbread (more for its shape/color) but tasted like light focaccia. She enjoyed it; I tasted it and found it unremarkable, but I've never been fond of seafood bisque; it may be the sherry that ruins it for me.

Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant (West Chester) on Urbanspoon 

 VACK began with an oversized appetizer (big enough for a meal) of Braised Beef Brisket and Frites, which was a huge plate of wonderful dark-and-crispy fries, drenched in the beef and a very tasty gravy.
VACK digs in

For the main course, VACK continued to address his beef deficit by ordering a hamburger with pepper jack cheese. It came with yet more fries (these were good, but not cooked so deliciously dark as his first round of frites), a small cup of above-average cole slaw, and a crunchy but very sour pickle. I got a bite of it and it was quite good. EPBAC chose the tuna ceviche. If you are not yet familiar, "ceviche" is a fish prep method whereby the seafood is "cooked" not by heat, but by marinating in lime juice.  This version included big chunks of red tuna, mixed in with avocado and tomato, served with fresh tortilla chips. It was a well-balanced dish, great flavors and textures.
Tuna Ceviche

There are a lot of great menu choices, but I needed to try the pizza. I thought about the "regular" margherita pie, but instead opted for the goat cheese pizza. This personal size pie was $13. The crust was Neapolitan in its approach -- puffy, like good Italian bread, but somehow firm enough to support the generous layer of high-moisture goat cheese without becoming soggy. The milky white goat cheese provided a nice palette for the bright splash of the chunky tomatoes. Not a traditional pie, but all the elements were in balance. 

I'm going to rate the crust an 7.5, the cheese a 9, and the tomatoes a 9. This was excellent pizza, easily the best in West Chester and it can stand alongside Ron's Original (Exton) as tops in the region. It was not quite as good as Anthony's Coal-Fired Pizza in nearby Wayne, which for now is King of the Western Burbs.
Flavorful crust, even without much char

All told, Iron Hill was a great destination. Excellent pizza, great job on the other entrees and appetizers, superb beer, good atmosphere and service. Our bill came to $99 before tip, and that was a great value for three hungry people.


  1. Garcia Pizza at Iron Hill is the best cause of the mushrooms. When I get it I just ask for the tomato sauce that comes with traditional as well

    1. also upside down pizza at limoncello is good