Old Black Bear Brewing may be a taproom, but unlike many where patrons rely on food trucks and delivery for meals, they are also a full-service restaurant. My husband and I headed in for lunch one Friday with empty stomachs and lots of anticipation.
There was a brief wait for a table which we spent on a couch in the front room, next to a coffee bar made from round cross sections of logs. We were then shown into the middle (and main) room of the restaurant where high top tables clustered around the bar. The tabletops were richly lacquered wood and the bar was backed with reclaimed wood and exposed brick. Seats at the bar were half backed stools, but at the tables all of the stools were backless. That’s not my favorite seating, but it was more comfortable than I expected. Although the middle room appeared to be the only one open for lunch, we could also see a third, outer room with a mix of four up tables with chairs and high-tops made of barrels with wood tops and more stools. Beyond even that was an outdoor patio with long benches and more barrels turned tables.
Immediately upon being seated, our server appeared with an old-school glass milk bottle filled with water and two glasses. I was sorely tempted by the root beer on draft (!) but being that I need all the caffeine I can get these days I opted for a tea instead. My husband ordered a diet Pepsi and we settled on a Potato Tornado appetizer to share, an Adult Mac and Cheese for me, and a Pimento Burger for my hubby.
We chatted as we waited for our food and I found myself staring up at a branch mounted to the wall above our table and the stuffed black bear lounging on it.
I was soon distracted by the arrival of our Potato Tornado.
Spiral cut and loaded down with large parmesan flakes, thick cut bacon and green onion slices, cheese sauce oozing out the bottom, it was a beautiful sight. The potato was held together by a skewer, but the slices were easy to pull free. The dish leaned a bit crispy because of the skins but the body of the potato held together enough to be handled. The seasoning added color and a bit of flavor, as did the bacon. The beer cheese sauce featured a prominent beer flavor and tingle. Slightly spicy, it danced on the back of my tongue. It’s difficult to make a cheese sauce without Velveeta or or other processed “cheese foods” which remains smooth, the cheese particles want desperately to cling together and make your sauce grainy. Those same forces were at work here, though the graininess was slight enough to be unobtrusive.
Our appetizer was served with sides of ranch and ketchup, both of which tasted housemade. The ketchup was creamy and sweet, but it was the ranch which captured my full attention. Thin enough to run and with a deliciously sharp flavor, it put bottled dressing to shame.
As we waited for our entrees a train ran by outside, while noticeable, it was not obnoxious. The pause between our appetizer and entrees seemed to stretch on and on, leaving me to wonder if they were a bit short on staff for the lunch seating.
Once our meals arrived, they looked delicious.
My macaroni and cheese was made with penne pasta bathed in a thin, creamy beer cheese sauce and topped with a crispy panko crust. Tucked under the crust was bits of bacon, cooked soft, leaving it with a bit of chewiness. Parmesan shavings topped off the dish.
The accompanying broccoli was steamed, tossed with a bit of butter and sprinkled with pepper. It was a nice light contrast to the heavier macaroni and cheese and pepper added a bit of pep.
My husband greatly enjoyed his burger (shown at the top of this post) describing it as flavorful and “pretty darn good”.
When our server brought our check I was tickled to discover that the flowers decorating our table were actually the pens to sign the checks. My husband and I enjoyed our meal and would happily return with friends as a place to hang out and catch up. In the future, I think I’ll stick to evening hours however, unless I have a day where I can easily take a long lunch.
Total for the meal: $31.16 (included two entrees, two fountain drinks, and one appetizer)