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Iron Hill Brewery
130 East Bridge Street
Phoenixville, Pennsylvania
(610) 983-9333

As a professional food critic - "Hired Belly," as we say euphemistically in the trade - I have always made it a point not to review chain restaurants. For two very good reasons: First, independently owned eateries, in many cases, local "Mom & Pop" establishments, deserve all the support and good press they can get; and, secondly, chains rarely if ever deliver the quality of food and service to be found within independent restaurant precincts.

However, as Iron Hill Brewery is a small, locally-based chain (Phoenixville is its sixth outlet in the Southeastern Pennsylvania/Northern Delaware area) and just around the corner from where we live, I decided to temporarily lay aside my usual rule of thumb and let the chips fall, as they say...

Iron Hill is a microbrewery and, as such, always features a nice assortment of house beers and special brews that change with the seasons. You can go for individual 4-ounce tasters at $1.00 each or check out a sampler of 4-ounces each of their current selection ($6.00). But even if you're not a beer fan, the restaurant also sports a fairly decent list of vintages available by the bottle or glass. The Laguria Pinot Grigio ($7.95/$30.00) is eminently quaffable, as is the Pierre Sparr Pinot Blanc ($8.95)/$34.00). In the red wine department, the Kunde Zinfandel ($8.75/$33.00) has body and alcohol to spare.

Like most establishments of similar ilk, the menu reads like a "Today's Tuesday, it must be Belgium," 'round the world gastronomic getaway, hitting every possible port of call. And if you're thinking that the kitchen can't possibly be this diverse and still hit the mark, you're absolutely right. When ordering, a bit of circumspection is certainly called for. Actually, though, the food is fairly good... with appetizers holding a decided edge over main courses.

Salads, especially the "Iron Hill Wedge" ($6.50) - iceberg lettuce, diced tomato, crumbled bacon, and earthy blue cheese dressing - make satisfying starters. Also highly recommended are the smoked chicken quesadilla ($8.50), cheesesteak egg rolls ($9.99), and house nachos ($6.99/$9.99).

Entrees, though, are more problematic; and, in many cases, the kitchen's reach clearly exceeds its grasp. Keep matters as simple as possible and you probably won't be disappointed. The house-smoked pork barbeque sandwich ($8.99) is very good, as is the Southwestern turkey burger adorned with guacamole, bacon, tomato, pepper jack cheese and ancho-honey mayo ($8.50).

The char-grilled steaks - flat iron ($18.99), New York strip ($23.99), and filet mignon ($26.99) are all a good bet, although the accompanying cheddar-horseradish smashed potatoes are both gummy and gloppy. You also can't go wrong with the wood oven pizzas... Whatever you do, however, steer clear of the meatloaf ($14.95), which is, quite literally, beneath contempt. .

For dessert, the double Chocolate Hill chocolate cake ($8.50) is cloyingly sweet and eminently forgettable; the Key lime cheesecake ($5.95), on the other hand, is right on the money.

Just be advised... given the constant influx of invading hordes (the restaurant is wildly popular), the quality of service is pretty much the luck of the draw.

The Artful Diner
April 2007

The Artful Diner is an independent, freelance food writer.  His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.

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