by Len Lear
“Farm to table” has become a virtual mantra among many Philadelphia area restaurants in recent years, stressing the claim that they use fresh ingredients from local vendors and farmers instead of relying on processed foods, canned and boxed foods, etc. Well, unless the food is grown in the restaurant’s backyard, it doesn’t get any more local than the “Philly Grown, Philly Raised” dinners currently being held at Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant, 8400 Germantown Ave., using fresh produce from Weavers Way farms at Saul Agricultural High School in Roxborough and Awbury Arboretum in Germantown, both just a few miles from the restaurant.
On the first Wednesdays in July and August, Iron Hill offered a series of “Philly Grown, Philly Raised” menu additions highlighting the just-picked produce from Weavers Way Farms. There will be another one of the dinners on Wednesday, Sept. 3. The same thing was done last year, but there was virtually no promotion then. Dishes focus on locally raised ingredients, meant to pair with Iron Hill’s beers, and are available a la carte in addition to their full menu from 5 to 10 p.m.
“Working closely with our neighboring farms allows us to offer our guests the freshest, most delicious produce around,” said head chef Jared Cannon, 28, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. “We strive to serve local ingredients wherever possible, but these special menu additions are truly as seasonal as it gets, bringing the day’s harvest right to the plate.”
How did last Wednesday’s “Philly Grown, Philly Raised” dinner go? “I would say without a doubt, it was definitely a success!,” insisted Cannon. “I noticed something from the special (Weavers Way) menu — an appetizer, soup, entree or dessert — on 80% of the tickets all night. About 25% of all customers ordered their entire meals solely from our special offering of the Weavers Way products.”
Menu additions included Weavers Way spring mix salad with sweet pepper, plum tomato, onion, cucumber, carrot and fresh herb vinaigrette; pan-seared halibut with braised Swiss chard, pea shoots and roasted shallot cream (ours was divine); crispy kale chips with lemon-yogurt sauce; and braised chicken and kale, a half-chicken braised in lemon-herb broth with kale, onions, fennel and cherry tomatoes (ours was undercooked); Some of dishes in the Sept. 3 dinner will most likely be: cauliflower grilled octopus, marinated and served with braised kale, tomato and beans; pan-seared Chilean sea bass with glazed hakueri turnips, baby bok choy, pea shoots and miso-ginger broth; and pan-roasted salmon with braised collard greens, roasted fingerling potatoes and radish raita sauce. Dishes range in price from $5.50 to $24.50.
Founded by home brewers Kevin Finn and Mark Edelson and restaurateur Kevin Davies in Newark, DE in 1996, Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant has blossomed from one restaurant and brewery to 10 locations across the mid-Atlantic, with several more planned for the next three to five years. The Iron Hill restaurants are named after a Revolutionary War landmark in Delaware.
Recently a competition was held between the chefs of all 10 Iron Hill restaurants, in which the chefs were given a group of ingredients (unknown in advance) and told to make a three-course dinner within 60 minutes. Jared Cannon and his Chestnut Hill team came in first place and won a free dinner at Vetri in center city, where a fixed price dinner is $135 per person.
I would certainly never claim to be a beer expert or even a beer aficionado, but one thing that has mystified me for years is how any human being with a palate could routinely drink some of these terrible liquid products on the market masquerading as beer, such as Bud Light or Coors Light. After all, would you go to a restaurant and order instant potatoes or instant coffee? Does this stuff even qualify as food?
Beer tastes best when it’s fresh, not infiltrated with multi-syllabic Latin chemical names and not when it sits for months in a warehouse or on a shelf 2,000 or 3,000 miles away from where it was made. This is the reason for the explosive popularity of brewpubs, which generally sell beer they have made from scratch on the premises. And one of the best is undoubtedly Iron Hill.
My own favorites at Iron Hill have been the Pig Iron porter, a fabulous, robust, medium-bodied dark ale with a roasted flavor; Raspberry wheat, a sweet Belgian-style beer with a touch of raspberry aroma and flavor; and Heffe weizen, a spectacular medium-bodied, unfiltered Bavarian wheat beer with flavors of banana and clove.
Pairing drinks and food is a time-honored tradition that is routinely practiced by wine connoisseurs, but in today’s world of more sophisticated and demanding customers, this ritual is also becoming commonplace with beer.
For example, Iron Hill is having a special six-course beer-and-cheese pairing dinner with some other goodies on Tuesday, Aug. 19, for $45 per person, which even includes the tip. My wife and I wanted to be there so badly that I cancelled an appointment I had arranged for the following day, Aug. 20, for a colonoscopy. (You’re not allowed to eat any food the night before a colonoscopy.)
That’s dedication to beer and cheese, gentle readers. I was tempted to call the medical office and tell them I was canceling the appointment because my colon had a previous engagement. (I will admit, though, that if the appointment had been for open heart surgery, I would have probably kept it.)
Iron Hill Chestnut Hill is open seven days a week. Every day until 11 p.m., guests can choose any two Iron Hill pizzas and a growler of house beer for just $25, available for take-out only. Happy Hour is offered Monday through Friday from 4 to 6 p.m., and includes reduced prices on house and seasonal beers, house wines, specialty cocktails and shared plates.
So beers to you!