In the early 1990s, brewpubs were an anomaly in Delaware—hard as that is to believe.
Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant was the tortoise in the local race, owing to the lack of available space.
The three founders gave up on finding a historic building and chose new construction on Newark’s Main Street.
If volume is a measure of success, the brewpub is now top of the heap.
Since 1996, Iron Hill has grown to 21 sites, including three in Delaware (the maximum the state allows) and helped launch the careers of Doug Ruley, now vice president of culinary operations at SoDel Concepts, and Mike Stiglitz of Two Stones Pub fame.
Is Iron Hill a chain? Yes. But like Capriotti’s, it is a chain born in Delaware, so it’s colored with Blue Hen pride.
Over the years, Iron Hill’s menu has expanded, contracted and expanded again as the restaurant group experienced rapid growth.
Recently, Iron Hill’s menu received the largest revamping in its history, and given there are locations in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia and South Carolina, the overhaul was no easy feat.
“We included many representatives and cross-functional teams in our process to ensure that we cover all locations,” explained Chris Wescott, CEO and a trained chef. “One of the thoughts behind the menu revamp was expanding the flavors and cuisines—being able to offer something for everyone.”
A recent tasting demonstrated that the new menu met his goals.
All about Iron Hill beer
Let’s face it. Iron Hill wins awards for its beers; the taps are the primary draw.
Items that pair well with beer or include it as an ingredient now have tiny beer glasses next to them on the menu.
For instance, mussels are bathed in a Homestead Ale cream with green onion, citrus and garlic, while fried calamari comes with a sriracha IPA ranch dip.
The beer-braised short rib is the star of the stroganoff, and the porterhouse pork chop is brined in porter. Meanwhile, the salmon’s pretzel crust contains IPA-infused mustard.
While Iron Hill feels comfortable crossing culinary boundaries, there are still the usual brewpub must-haves: beer-battered fish and chips, bangers and mash and pork schnitzel.
While the Bavarian pretzel sticks aren’t surprising, croissants with whipped orange and honey might raise an eyebrow or two.
South of the border
There are numerous Southern selections—beer-battered fried green tomatoes, chicken gumbo, and shrimp and grits.
Are the Iron Hill locations Atlanta, Greenville and Columbia the reason for the dishes?
“Many of these Southern-inspired dishes are extremely popular at our locations in the North, too,” Wescott said. “We put our own spin on popular dishes. Our fried green tomatoes have panko instead of traditional cornmeal.”
The crispy slices wear a dollop of pimento cheese and pepper jelly and a sweet corn garnish. It’s a pretty dish that’s ideal for sharing.
Peel-and-eat shrimp in a Vienna Red Lager-Old Bay broth is reminiscent of New Orleans “barbecued” shrimp, which aren’t barbecued at all—the shrimp nest together in a spicy, buttery sauce that leaves you with slick fingers. In the Big Easy, diners wear bibs.
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Iron Hill’s version includes andouille sausage and, interestingly, potatoes—a low country boil approach. Tip: Ask for napkins.
Wescott said that R&D and sales reports indicate that shrimp sells well, which explains the shrimp and grits, coconut shrimp, grilled shrimp cobb salad, shrimp bucatini and red chili shrimp.
The fiery shrimp aren’t the only dish with Latin style.
Mexican street corn, served as a dip, is settling in nicely as a standard appetizer.
There is a Southwestern grilled chicken salad and a section for tacos, albeit the choices are creative takes such as Korean short rib and pulled pork.
Like many large chains, Iron Hill offers caloric information, which might bum you out if you want the pretzel sticks or croissants.
The beer menu notes the alcohol by volume, not the calorie count, so you might want to close the Weight Watchers app for the day.
Nevertheless, there is a healthy category with items such as the Left Coast turkey burger, which gets a flavor boost from guacamole, bacon, IPA sriracha ranch, Monterey Jack and arugula.
It’s a respectable turkey burger, although the topping portion was a tad stingy.
The fisherman’s seafood stew was another healthy entrée at 628 calories. Shrimp, mussels and cod floated in the Vienna Lager-laced broth. (There’s that shrimp again!)
Longtime Delaware customers will be happy to see a crab cake, Philly cheesesteak egg rolls and Kennett mushroom soup on the menu.
But they may notice that the salmon spring rolls are missing.
A hit when the eatery opened, the spring rolls would disappear and come back again due to customer demand.
Don’t give up hope.
“We occasionally bring back former menu items as Chef’s Table specials, so you may find them offered at your local Iron Hill,” Wescott said.
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