I slipped into the new Brandywine Brewing Company Tavern and Grill last Friday night, just to get a glimpse. My first surprise was that I found a parking spot in front of the restaurant. The second surprise was it was the last one open as far as the eye could see. But, that really shouldn't have been a surprise. This is, after all, the most anticipated restaurant opening this year in Delaware.
I love a full, bustling restaurant, and this place was both. To say it was loud both understates the truth and makes me seem like an old codger. But, it was deafening loud. I immediately looked up and then down to see what steps had been taken to combat the noise. Sound panels are installed throughout the restaurant, yet there are no floor coverings. With all that wood paneling, hard wood floors and no table cloths- OUCH. First impression.
It was just around 8:40pm when I arrived, and I was told it would be a 40 minute wait for a table for one. I was given a vibrating shell, like they have on the Price is Right, and went to the bar for a beer. The bar was two people deep, some had been camped for awhile, some were eating. There were no visible menus or chalkboards listing the fabulous selection of beers I had seen on the website. I recognized the bartender, Ed, and asked him to give me a good beer. He did; a Smithwick's Ale, from the maker's of Guinness. Good flavor, not filling, nice balance, poured right: good start.I did some people watching and some Phillies watching, when suddenly (and I mean, 5 minutes later), my cinnabon started to vibrate. I chuckled and went to the front with my vibra-mollusk; "Thanks for your patience!", the cheery hostess said (it was the same one who said I would have to wait). I said, "You're welcome, but it was only five minutes." She didn't seem to have any recollection that we had ever spoken. But, she took me to the dining room off the main entrance and seated me at a deuce, and left me with reading materials.
Normally, I start to do the "who's my server" scan, so I can get a drink to look the menu over, but since I had one already, I was content to browse with no sense of urgency. The room was full of all walks of life; families with kids, couples, triple dates, young, old and, after all it is Greenville, a local big-wig (one member of BPG). Jessica, my server, arrived very promptly and asked if I needed anything right away. I declined and she left me to my menu selection.
This is where big points were scored. I'm not a high-maintenance diner. I just want to get the same attention everyone else does. If a place is weeded, and everyone is craning their neck to get service, I don't get worked up. I take it in stride, and so should you. But, if I look around and tables are being fawned over and I'm doing the WTF, I wanna know why my dollar is different than theirs. And, I came with low expectations, not for any reason other than I did arrive on a Friday night during peak service the first weekend after opening. But, Jessica was on it.
I ordered the Prince Edward Island mussels steamed in beer and garlic as an appetizer, and I decided to try the meatloaf sandwich, described as "Home-made Meatloaf, with a sweet Thai chili cream sauce, crispy noodles and sesame French loaf".
The mussels arrived so fast, I thought a mistake had been made. Surely, these couldn't have been mine? But, Jesssica strolled over with a brimming bowl of colossal mussels and toasted crostini and took my order for a Clipper City Heavy Seas Loose Cannon Ale. Upon looking at the mussels, I realized they were a variety known as Mediterranean mussels. They actually come from Washington state. They are the meatiest mussels (along with Kiwi) you can buy, and though they have a short shelf-life, they are juicy and succulent when fresh. But, here is where I figured out that they were indeed my mussels. Most cooks think that when the shells of mussels open, they're finished cooking. And with puny varieties, they'd be right. By the time you get them out of a pan and into a bowl, they are indeed cooked through. But, as I mentioned before, these mussels are huge- two and three bite mussels. And half of them arrived a shade above raw. They had opened, but they hadn't cooked all the way. The flavor was great, and there had to be a pound and a half in the bowl. But- I left a good third of them, and even pulled a couple out and set them on the side in case anyone was auditing returns. Why didn't I say anything? I'll get to that later.
My sandwich arrived five minutes after my appetizer. It consisted of two huge pieces of meatloaf on the aforementioned sesame French bread. But the chili cream was a chili sauce right out of the bottle, often used to coat chicken nuggets. There were no crispy noodles to speak of. The greens were your standard "spring mix". I ordered another Clipper City Ale from Baltimore, and I was ready to hunker down with some comfort grub.
The sandwich was both satisfying and filling. More suited for a fork and knife than double-handing. People continued to come in and sit for dinner. The Phils were putting their fans through another heart-attack 9th inning with Lidge as closer, and the buzz continued throughout the tavern. Jessica had checked back twice to see if I was okay. I giggled as I thought how rare it is to have such an unexpectedly pleasant first visit within the first week of a restaurant opening. But, Dave Dietz is no newbie in the business. Credit is given, because credit is due.
I debated whether I would write about my visit so soon after they opened, but then I figured, why not? Most people who like to dine out regularly are planning on stopping in for a beer or a meal. Why shouldn't I write about it? I began my post right after my visit, but...as they say, you live by the sword, and you die by the sword. Because, they next night, my wife and a group had the exact opposite experience.
They arrived at about the same time, 8:30ish. There were six in the group, and 40 minutes was the wait. Except, for them, it actually was 40 minutes. J ordered a Hefe-Weizen that she went nuts for. And the report was the same on the noise. Like piggy banks in a dryer.
Whereas I had courteous service, hot food and no wait, their group waited 15 minutes after placing drink orders to get them. They waited 35 minutes to have their order taken, even though they had plenty of time to browse the menu while waiting. And they reported painfully slow arrival of food, even while the chef was seen standing and conversing with a table for 20-plus minutes at the peak of the rush. Whether they had a full line on or not, it's bad form to be standing in the eye of the storm as the captain of the ship, and the ship is sinking. Notice I didn't mention the food. Neither did they. It seems, and I've been on both ends of this, good food doesn't always make up for other areas of a dining experience. The server appeared to be harried and annoyed. Which certainly didn't bode well for a first impression to friends looking for a fun night out.
So, back to my point earlier: I didn't mention the details about my food to anyone because they were details I could overlook. I had eaten enough of the huge mussels that I didn't need to call it to their attention. I wasn't crestfallen I didn't have crispy noodles, whatever they are, on my sandwich. It was good anyway. Chili cream didn't sound appetizing anyway. And, I appeared to luck out on getting a good server and timely service. Some of this touches on a post I have coming up, "Culinary Myths: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of a Chef's Opinion". But, that's another post.
I've no doubt that last week and in the coming weeks at BBC, people are going to have experiences just like the two I described. It's part of when a new restaurant opens, folks. The question you should be asking yourself is, "What are my expectations?" You can let stuff go when you have an open mind, and subsequently, you can be let down when you set yourself up for an experience a restaurant might not be able to deliver (yet). But, if you are considering going to BBC, do it. I'll be going back to try more beer and more food.
As I will be posting other dining experiences in the future, please keep in mind, blogs are the white noise of the internet. Sometimes you listen, and sometimes you tune it out. I write this blog for anyone who wants to listen.
Thanks for listening.