Well, after a four day weekend in Lower, Slower Delaware, it was time for us to head home. However, heading home meant heading back to the Philadelphia Airport, so we used the opportunity to try a few places on the way back. The first was Helen’s Sausage House in Smyrna, DE, but it turned out they were only open through lunch, and we got there about 15 minutes too late. So we headed on up to the greater Philly area, and decided to check out Victory Brewing Company’s brewpub in Downingtown, PA.
I’m always a little hesitant when it comes to brewpubs run by up and coming breweries, because it’s hard to have both the brewery and a brewpub and do both right. Most (but not all) of the places I’ve been only manage to have enough focus to keep the brewery going, and what usually seems to happen is that really high ambitions are set for the brewpub, but there’s just not enough effort to make the brewpub as good as the beer. I’ve run into this a lot of times, having experiences some particularly disappointing meals at other brewery brewpubs (like Stone and Harpoon, to name two). There are some exceptions, but mostly those are places like Long Trail in Vermont that don’t really try to be fancy: they set a reasonable goal (“we’re selling burgers and fries“) and do that well, instead of getting fancy.
Things started off pretty decently. The first challenge with Victory is getting there in the first place. With our goal being to get there around happy hour, we had quite a bit of traffic facing us coming up from Delaware. Once we got to Downingtown, however, it was relatively easy to find the industrial park where the brewery and brewpub are located. However, the signage in the park isn’t the greatest, so expect to spend a bit of time wandering around the area looking for the brewpub (a note to other seekers: it’s in the southwest corner of the area).
Once we got in, we discovered that Victory has a fairly nice brewpub going, with a nice bar area and plenty of seating, and a rather healthy after-work crowd that was taking up about half of the seating. However, this is where things started to fall apart. Since we missed out on our planned lunch in Smyrna, DE, we decided dinner might be a good idea (although we didn’t have a lot of time before we had to leave for the airport).
But once the waitstaff found out that we were planning on having dinner instead of just beer, they decided oddly to banish us to the far reaches of the restaurant, on a small wing off the entrance. This wasn’t a good start, since where they parked us (shown here) was out of sight of the main staff, and apparently nobody was even assigned back there. So for our first fifteen minutes at Victory, they mostly ignored us, a pattern that was going to linger the rest of our visit.
Despite the service irregularity, we did manage to eventually flag someone down and get them to bring by some menus, and after some more effort, actually let us order our food, and some beer. The beer is where Victory redeemed themselves a bit. We started with my getting a Strangeways Ale, while Carol started with a Weiss. Both were quite good, actually. The Strangeways is an English Pale Mild Ale, and was actually nicely done, with some niec mild malt notes, noticeable but not overpowering hops, and a pleasant body. I’d call it quite a good session beer, and probably would have had more if I was lingering longer. Carol’s Mad King Weiss was pretty much a spot-on rendition of a good Bavarian Weiss, and both of us were pleased by it. I followed that up later with a Donnybrook Stout, which was a pleasant Irish dry Stout, with nice, deep malty notes but not an overly heavy body. The result was basically reminiscent of Guinness, but with a bit more malt and flair.
Things continued on a good note when our pretzels arrived. Substantial in size, nicely cooked, and served up with both a strong German mustard and a nicely done cheese sauce, these were exactly what I’m looking for in a good pub pretzel. The bread was nicely cooked with a firm, chewy crust, and the mustard was bold. The cheese sauce was slightly tangy, and make for a good dipping sauce as well.
Alas, things took a turn for the south after that. Looking over the menu, I had decided on the Mad King Boiled Weisswurst, which was described as “boiled weisswurst sausages with choucroute potato cakes, served with whole grain mustard weissbier butter”. The waitress said they were quite good, and very filling, so I pulled the trigger on this. What I got shown here, bugged me on a few levels:
- one sausage sliced lengthwise does not constitute the plural “sausages”
- the sausage was obviously grilled instead of boiled (and in fact, almost overgrilled). The given excuse was “well, the cook likes to grill them.” I’d be okay with that for many sausages, but weisswurst is supposed to be boiled, not grilled. Instead of having a pleasant, juicy sausage, I had something burnt and leathery.
- The “whole grain mustard weissbier butter” was deep-frozen and impossible to eat or spread.
- I think this is pretty stingy for $13
That said, the choucroute cakes were good, but this meal highly disappointed me, and when I talked to the manager about it, he basically shrugged. Carol did a bit better with her “Butternut Squash and Arugula Fettuccini with Cashews.” Carol thought the dish was pretty good, and the pasta was obviously house made (which is a good touch), but the sauce had one of those slightly gluey alfredo things going on. In the end, we were both a bit underwhelmed.
I’m mostly going to write off Victory as a disappointment. I’ve always liked their beer, and I was rather impressed with it this time as well. But the rest of the experience really fell apart, primarily with service, secondarily with food. Honestly, while the food was decent enough (nothing I had was bad, just disappointing), between the prices and the service that seems to be going out of their way to ignore us, I think next time I’ll just fine a nice nearby pub that has Victory on tap.
Or heck, I drove by two different Iron Hill locations, and Jimmy John’s Pipin’ Hot Sandwiches on the way to Victory, both of which probably would have done better by me.