222 West St., Keene, N.H.I felt bad when we arrived at Elm City Brewing Company on Saturday night, because only then did I realize that we had poached a potential review target from our colleagues who, in last week’s Our Gourmet, mentioned their quest to check out all the brew pubs in the state.
Thankfully, guilt gripped me only until we tried Elm City’s food and beer, which were good enough to make me forget all about it.
Elm City Brewing takes up a good chunk of the first floor of the Colony Mill Marketplace, a cool but underutilized retail complex in an old brick textile mill west of downtown Keene. The restaurant’s restored mill space is terrific, decorated with antique brewery crates, vessels and implements.
We were seated quickly in one of two dining areas branching off in a “V” from the hostess lobby. Our table was in a comfortably private booth against a tall divider in the middle of the room.
The menu features a full complement of pub-style dishes, as well as a selection of interesting entrees in the comfort-food vein. It was the entrees that caught The Dining Companion’s attention and brought us to Keene.
We started with appetizers familiar and unusual. TDC ordered the Fried Calamari ($8.99), a good-sized plate of rings and tentacles, fried to a dark golden brown and served with warm marinara. The calamari was heavily coated and crunchy, yet the squid itself was tender and not overcooked. We thought it needed more seasoning; salt and several squeezes of lemon helped brighten the flavor, but it was still a bit heavy and dull.
My appetizer was a cup of Sweet Potato & Jalapeno Corn Chowder ($4, bowl $6.49). Thick and bright orange in color, this is more sweet-potato soup than corn chowder. But the jalapeno component requires caution: With my first spoonful, all I tasted was hot pepper. TDC sampled it and had no pepper overload, and my subsequent spoonfuls were much milder. But that first one had been so spicy it was hard to taste much of the soup the rest of the way. The combination is attractive and I would try it again, but I would approach more cautiously.
We were fairly decisive when it came to ordering our main courses, but once the dishes arrived, entree envy set in.
TDC ordered Chicken Senaglese ($19.99), a sauteed chicken breast deglazed with sherry, apple juice and curry, and finished with cream. I ordered Walnut Crusted Pork Loin with Maple Cream Sauce ($18.99).
The pork loin, with its walnut and brown sugar coating and maple-based sauce, was quite sweet. There was a savory component to the pork (and the accompanying chive mashed potatoes), but maple sugar was the dominant flavor, and a bit too sweet for my taste. TDC thought it was wonderful.The Chicken Senaglese also had a touch of sweetness, but the dominant flavors were apple and curry. It was fragrant and flavorful, served with rice pilaf.
We always sample each other’s dishes to help talk out the details. In this case, each of us immediately decided we liked the other’s order better. After a few bites and a few shares, we decided to drop the pretense and just switch plates. Before the switch, we liked our meals. After the switch, we loved them.
For dessert, I chose the peanut butter chocolate torte ($6)— a small wedge with chocolate crumb crust on the bottom, a light peanut butter filling and topped with a quarter-inch or so of chocolate fudge ganache. I think I’d have preferred a lighter chocolate topping, but this was too good to quibble about the details.
TDC ordered the Chocolate Stout Mousse ($5.75) —a wine goblet brimming with an airy, rich chocolate delight (yes, there’s Irish stout in it) topped with a generous dollop of whipped cream. The top and plate were drizzled with a stream of rich dark chocolate sauce. The smooth chocolate taste was the perfect ending to please a sweet tooth, while light enough not to feel guilty about indulging.
Elm City being a brew pub, the list of beer selections is long and impressive. I avoided some pressure by choosing a flight of four 4-ounce pours for $5 (from lightest to heaviest): Raspberry Wheat, Keene Kolsch, Peachy Keene Kolsch, and one of the India pale ales.
The IPA was great; the Raspberry Wheat was refreshing with a smooth, light berry (almost grape) flavor; I liked the Keene Kolsch, though it was a little light for my taste, but there was no escaping the fruit in the peach version — I was glad I only ordered a 4-ounce sample.
The food and the beer were great, the service fast and friendly (on a busy Saturday evening) and the prices reasonable. Put it all together, and Elm City Brewing Company is another great reason to visit what’s become one of our favorite towns in New Hampshire. Our brewpub-touring friends would have loved it.