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Allentown Brew Works now serves up music

August 8th, 2007 |

By Susan Gottshall | Special to The Morning Call – July 19, 2007 As first impressions go, one word immediately came to mind as I followed the hostess to our table at the Allentown Brew Works recently — and that was ”large.”

Now, as the name implies, this restaurant is also a brewery, and making beer requires sizeable tanks that take up part of the vast space that used to be Harold’s Furniture on Hamilton Street. Still, there’s lots of room left over, considering the four-floor brew pub — which includes a basement lounge and top-floor, private-event banquet room — seats 400 people.

So it was easy to feel a bit lost in space here, since most tables were empty on the Saturday night I visited, but that didn’t detract from the smart, urbane decor or the food, which was fine.

The empty tables were surprising, though, considering this casual eatery — which opened barely a month ago — is a repeat performance, for the most part, of the successful Bethlehem Brew Works. Those tables were also disappointing, considering the hope hedged on this downtown venture for bringing people back to the city throughout the week, rather than just 9 to 5 Monday through Friday.

Since it’s a manufacturing operation of sorts (”manufacturing” beer, even if in ”micro” lots), the industrial feel of the restaurant seems appropriate. High, high ceilings showcase open duct work and accommodate the occasional piece of well-placed, large-scale contemporary art. Exposed brick, shiny golden wooden floors and trendy lighting add character and style.

Allentown Brew Works’ menu, while not a mirror image of the Bethlehem location’s fare, offers the same style and range of foods, although many selections have been created or renamed to reflect the new restaurant’s location — for instance, William Allen bratwurst, Max Hess sirloin filet, Mack scallops and PPL fettuccini. Also like its Christmas City counterpart, the restaurant features foods enhanced with its own brews.

The variety of food — steaks, seafood, pasta, burgers, salads and sandwiches — reflects current tastes and trends: Cranberry aioli dresses up a turkey sandwich; rosemary ”bleu” cheese sauce adds class to a ribeye steak sandwich. Three cheers for the Brew Work’s inclusion of whole wheat pasta and ”all natural” beef, raised humanely and without hormones, antibiotics, steroids or stress (I should be so lucky).

There’s fun bar fare here, too, from Buffalo wings and onion rings (both incorporating beer) to ”loaded nachos” with more than a half-pound of warm crisp tortilla chips topped with close to a pound of shredded cheddar and jack cheeses along with the usual accoutrements.

There’s comfort food — classic linguine topped with ”Momma’s homemade marinara gravy” and beer-enhanced ”145 meat loaf” with mustard beer gravy — and there’s more ”gourmet” fare as well: Think pan-seared sesame tuna steak coated with sesame seeds, served with wasabi lime coulis and ginger cilantro chutney.

From the list of starters, we settled on backfin crab dip and ”brewschetta.” The former — cream cheese, sour cream and spices mixed with crab meat — was silken in texture, as promised, but light on crab flavor, and the seasoning was out of balance.

”Brewschetta,” on the other hand, hit a home run. I’ll never know if it was the Duchess Red Flemish Ale that marinated the tomatoes or the garlic, onions, basil and roasted peppers flavoring them that gave this garlic-toast topping such stunning taste. What I do know, however, is that I coveted the leftovers for another day and struggled with separation anxiety when they were gone.

The Brew Work’s own ”Pilsener” was used to flavor ”drunken clams,” which featured a full pound of North Atlantic littlenecks steeped in the brew with garlic butter and fresh herbs. Poured with the broth over penne, these briny bivalves were garnished with diced tomato, red onion and Parmesan cheese that added welcome and savory texture to the al dente pasta.

”The ultimate steak” was ultimately intriguing. This 10-ounce ribeye of the Kobe brand, graded way above prime, seemed a bargain at $29.50, since the reputation of this beef that hails from Japan — infamous for its tales of massaged cows nurtured with beer and sake — includes steaks priced upwards of $100 a pound.

The Brew Works’ unadorned, thin Kobe specimen was meltingly tender and grilled to medium rare, as ordered. Asparagus spears, still firm with flavor, were excellent accompaniment, along with standard-fare garlic mashed potatoes that could have been hotter.

Desserts were a feast for a sweet tooth. Perfect for a summer’s night, even though we missed dining on the al fresco courtyard, mango passion fruit cheesecake was richly refreshing with its creamy passion fruit topping and glistening slices of fresh mango. I tried really hard not to eat the whole thing, but only managed to leave one bite — it was that good.

Also fair-weather fare was ”Little Italy”: Strawberries macerated in sugar and Limoncello, the Italian lemon liqueur, topped tart Philadelphia lemon ice. Almond biscotti contributed crunch and substantial flavor to the cool combination, a sultry summer satisfier.

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