As amateur beer connoisseurs we are well aware that the popular Portsmouth Brewery in downtown Portsmouth is a great place to get a great brew, but we trekked to the Seacoast recently to see how the food measures up to the beer.
While we have had mixed experiences in the past at local brewpubs, we are happy to report that Portsmouth Brewery did not disappoint. The restaurant elevates traditional pub fare and the result is some tasty dishes, many of which include their own beers as ingredients.
We were pleasantly surprised by the variety of appetizers. Yes, they do serve nachos and chicken tenders, which we expected, but they also offer such items as Black Bean Dip ($6.95) and a Ploughman's Platter, a sampling of artisanal cured meat and local cheese served with mustard, pickles and a pretzel roll ($6.95).
We decided to share an order of Beer Battered Fried Chicken Tenders ($8.95) and order of Crispy Fried Calamari ($7.95), beer-battered, fried and tossed with fresh parsley, chili flakes and asiago cheese, served with homemade marinara and fresh lemon.
You can order the chicken tenders in a few different styles, including hot ale mustard, Buffalo, "volcano," or what The Dining Companion chose, barbecue. The barbecue sauce is house made with the brewery's own Old Brown Dog Ale and has a pleasantly sweet taste. The tenders' breading was softened a bit by being tossed in sauce, though not to the point of being soggy, and the chicken was meaty and tender.
The heaping portion of calamari was slightly less successful than the sweet and spicy tenders. The calamari was indeed crispy and I especially enjoyed the sensation of heat provided by the chili flakes, but the dish itself was cold. It seemed to have sat a bit before being served, which is puzzling because the chicken was served at a perfect temperature.
When you have ventured to the Seacoast it is hard not to order seafood, which we both did for our entrees. I opted for the Malt Grilled Salmon ($18.95), fresh Atlantic salmon grilled and finished with their own mustard-malt glaze, served over ale-braised greens and roasted garlic pearl pasta.
The salmon was cooked perfectly and was nicely seasoned. The slight bitterness of mustard-malt glaze cut through the fattiness of the fish, making for a delightful bite. The ale-braised greens were a good accompaniment to the dish. The pearl pasta, which I have never had before, was a bit mushy, but I liked the garlic flavor. The only thing the dish was missing was a textural component, but I can overlook that because the salmon was just that good.
TDC had the Fish & Chips ($17.95). On the menu it says it is served with a choice of tartar sauce or chipotle mayonnaise. TDC realized after placing the order that he wasn't asked which he wanted, so he was glad when they brought out both dipping sauces so he could try the chipotle. He said the mayonnaise cut down on the spiciness of the chipotle a bit, making the combination a little bland, but it still added a nice variety to the dipping selection. The fish was flaky white and the batter was nice and crisp.
When we went to order dessert, we were told that the kitchen had just closed (it was after 11) and the server wasn't sure he'd be able to fulfill our request. But after several minutes, the server surprised us by bringing us our orders, apparently having pulled a few strings out back. We appreciated that he went the extra mile for us, especially after we dug into our selections.
TDC had The Big Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie ($2.95), which was topped with vanilla gelato. The cookie was heated before being served so the sensation was of hot cookie dough and melted chocolate chips underneath the frozen gelato. TDC claimed to be full after only a few bites, but he didn't leave any bites behind.
I had the Lemon Blueberry Semifreddo, two layers of fluffy frozen mousse layered in cookie crumbs served with Raspberry-Blonde Ale compote. ($5.95) This isn't something I'd usually choose, but I don't often encounter semifreddo, which is a partially frozen creamy dessert (think softened ice cream or really firm mousse). If you are looking to satisfy a sweet tooth, this tart, somewhat savory dessert isn't for you, but I liked the combination of fresh lemon and blueberry flavors. The raspberry compote was the exclamation point on the dish.
We would be remiss if we didn't mention the beers. If we were disappointed by anything on this trip, it is that they had just run out of the Hefeweizen, a German-style wheat ale, by far our favorite brew. It's usually found in the summer but we drink it year round. We opted for the Saison instead, a light, but spicier concoction. The beer selection changes regularly; if you want to see what is on tap you can check the website before you go. Just don't be surprised if they run out of your favorite.
The brewpub is deceptively large given the small downtown storefront. You can choose to sit at the bar or in their lounge area, which can get noisy and crowed late on a weekend night, or you can sit in the quieter dining area, which is what we did.
Good service is sometimes hard to come by on a busy weekend night, but not at Portsmouth Brewery. Our server attended us well, even though he was handling a number of tables.
Overall, between the food, service and atmosphere, it was a great experience. We will be making our way back to the brewery, and it won't just be for the beer.