Photo | Shane Rice
I remember a time when we had a downtown brewery. I also remember a time when you were not allowed to open a brewery in any location that had not been a brewery historically. It was a chicken or the egg situation that I did not understand, nor did I care to understand, the logic behind it. It’s fortunate now, no matter how weird our laws still may be, that Mobile is becoming a brewpub town. While we are still behind other cities of our size, at least we are gaining traction. At most, we are catching up.
There was a time in my life when beer was my absolute favorite drink. I loved it too much. Beer and I had a working relationship, you might say. I ended up having to push it away, to create a bit of distance between us when we took our relationship to the next level. Now we just see each other casually, and the world is a better place. When I got this assignment, I figured I had better bring a beer lover with a big appetite. Thumbing through my Rolodex, I knew the man for this job was David Rasp.
With a couple of sports bars and a fine dining/semi-casual restaurant under his belt, you could say Dave is familiar with food and beer. The suds and wings at Heroes are one thing, but the beef and fish dishes and beverages from The Royal Scam are another level. Whether we are having burgers or pregaming for an opera, I know that David Rasp is deep down a beer man.
I dragged ol’ Dave out of his downtown sports bar and hung a left on Conception. It was our first time going to Iron Hand Brewery and we found it on State Street easily. I was familiar with the building, as I lived spitting distance from it during my second year as a Mobilian and knew it as the former Waterfront Rescue Mission.
It was trivia night, but rather than sitting at a table, we made our way to the bar, knowing that’s where the real action lies. It was there we met our fast-talking bartender, Jessica. She led us through the beer menu, explaining that they have one of their own brews and a few guest taps. Dave dove into an IPA while I enjoyed some kind of cream ale. But this isn’t a drinking column. This is about food, and I was about to go off the rails of a months-long exercise in avoiding carbs. Today was a cheat day, and I was going to take advantage of my talent for overcoming this type of guilt.
I explained my situation to Jessica, and we decided my pining for potatoes was an itch that was about to be scratched. I could be having a $300 meal, and if there are French fries on the menu, I will be getting them. I haven’t had fries since before Mardi Gras, so they were a must. When I ordered French fries ($3.50), Jessica suggested maybe chili or beer cheese ($1) as an addition. I bit on the cheese.
As you can imagine, they were heavenly. Salty enough, I added black pepper and enjoyed the cheese as Dave helped himself to his share, perhaps noticing toward the end that I was becoming more expeditious as I used my fork to submerge the smaller fries. He smartly backed off. I ordered a cup of black bean chili ($4) and completed the circle of deconstructed chili cheese fries.
As far as the chili went, I’d say it wasn’t over-spiced in any way. Perhaps it could’ve used a dash of cumin and a bit more chili powder and onion, but when Jessica produced a giant bottle of hot sauce, I loaded it up and all the world was right.
I’ve already painted Dave as a beer lover. If there is something more precious to him than beer, I would guess it’s Asian food. Tonight’s special was Ben’s Japanese-style curry ($10), and David predictably ordered it. This Restaurant Week item came with a choice of protein, but Jessica said chicken was the only way to go. Served over rice, the chicken cutlet was fried and sliced crossways. Smothered in a curry sauce that was more sweet than spicy, it was a dish that was a nice departure from typical curry dishes. I would have loved to have seen some vegetables mixed in, but this is bar food, and it was good.
I wasn’t done. I had to go for the shepherd’s pie ($13). This wasn’t some school cafeteria version made with ground beef. The base of this pie was ground leg of lamb — the way the real shepherds did it. Russet potatoes bound together the carrots, onions and green peas. A bit of Parmesan cheese topped the crock, fresh out of the oven. I will say it was a very enjoyable experience.
I had to try one of their beers (the only one available) so I ordered their Wee Heavy ($5.50). It was delightfully sweet, yet sturdy. But I could not have pounded three or four of this nod to the Scots. It was good to know they’re making some quality beer here, though.
I began to notice a very European trend to the menu. In addition to shepherd’s pie and Scottish beer, there is corned beef, bratwurst, bangers and mash, as well as fish and chips (on Fridays while supplies last). There are also burgers (even a vegetarian black bean burger) and a couple of sandwiches. A slice of house-made cheesecake ($6) with berry sauce was a grand dessert to share with Katie when I got home.
This place is new and on the right track, and I expect even better things from an already good menu in the future. The location is great. Go check them out and let’s support Mobile’s aspiration to become a beer destination.
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