When a place advertises that even their hamburger buns are made in-house, you know you’re probably going to get an above average dining experience. Brew-pubs are really hit or miss, at least the ones I’ve been to. There are places that just throw a menu of average food together to get you in and showcase their beers, and then there are those which truly could stand along as gourmet eateries with or without handcrafted beer. City Steam Brewery is one of those places. My friend and I totally pigged out during our visit, because the menu had so many good choices. The brewery itself is located in a building from 1877. The interior is hard to describe. It does not look like a brewery. There are three floors of seating, and each floor has a different layout. Some dining areas are wide open, while others are smaller and more private. There are tiny nooks, some of which hold between only one table of two to a few tables of four. The atmosphere, which I rarely remark about, is incredible.
It was a busy Saturday night, capping off the tail end of a day that included Hartford’s St. Patrick’s Day parade and a Wolfpack game. The city was buzzing. Waiters and waitresses were scrambling around like mad, up and down three flights of stairs depending on where the tables were. Kudos to all who carried full trays of food up to the third floor, which was where we were sitting. The room was small. We were against a side wall with only four other tables. The ceiling was stained glass while our view was an arch window overlooking the street.
I had to try their most well-known beer, the “Naughty Nurse” Amber. It was very good, even better than my beloved Victoria Golden Ale at J.J Bitting’s Brewery which I used to frequent in Woodbridge, New Jersey. A pint was priced at $5.50, so not bad. He had a cocktail, also served in a pint glass, called the Butter Pecan Fizz. It contained pecan whiskey, butterscotch schnapps, and the beer I ordered. He didn’t like it, and after trying it myself, I concurred. It was too sweet and way too pungent. The appetizers we would order, though, made up for it. Win some, lose some.
The first was the Irish nachos (pictured at top). These were “sidewinder” fries, as they named them. It could be compared to a slice of potato shaped like a chip but thicker, lightly battered, and then deep-fried. They came on a pizza tray and smothered in cheese, bacon, and scallions. It was a total win. Today we both agreed that this dish was one of the best things we ordered on the entire trip. We also tried the homemade pretzels. These came soft and warm, brushed with butter and lightly salted, served with a beer-cheese sauce and spicy mustard. Again, it was fantastic.
On the verge of exploding, then came our meals. Wanting something remotely healthy, I ordered a white pizza which came with prosciutto, arugula, asparagus, zucchini, and a fig glaze. At $16, it could have served two. I thought it was slightly above average, The crust was thin and crispy, but there was not much flavor to it. The pizza was not bad at all, but didn’t stand out in any way. My friend had the fish tacos; fried, crusted fillets served over a mango salsa with a cilantro crema. He said they were great.
People that know me know that when I take people out to dinner back in Jersey, Bittings’ Brewery used to be my place for a while. It’s a shame, but the food there has become so average over the last two years that I can barely get myself to go again. Having such a great experience at City Steam made this fact even more evident. I’m going to give it 4 out of 5 stars. It was a real joy, and I would go back in a heartbeat. Our waitress was very friendly and attentive, despite being swamped with tables. She didn’t push drinks, and kindly enough, when asked her opinion on two dishes and which she would recommend, she went with the cheaper option. Whether intentional or not, those are the little things I remember. Definitely check this place out, but be prepared to wait. Even with apparently hundreds of tables, we still waited about 45 minutes.
This review was originally posted here. City Steam Brewery is located at 942 Main Street in Hartford, Connecticut.