Moerlein Lager House Review
Cincinnati has a brewing history that dates back to 1811. There are brewery tours (and underground tunnels used by these breweries) by foot, car/limo, or a strange bike-mobile that I can’t quite explain. There has been a resurgence of local brewing as of late, and no resurgence is bigger than Christian Moerlein’s.
When The Banks (the entertainment district between Great American Ballpark and Paul Brown Stadium, homes of the Reds and Bengals, respectively) project finally got traction, there was talk of a large “anchor” bar/restaurant to bring the people to the district. Lots of chains were mentioned, which honestly scared me. One of the things I like about Cincinnati is the identity. Even though it’s not a huge city (2.2 million in the metropolitan area), it’s not “Anytown USA” like so many smaller and mid-sized cities become, with chains defining their downtowns. Sure, you have to have some chains to get the people from the ‘burbs sometimes, but I don’t believe they should ever be the focus. Thankfully, a surprise announcement was made that a brew pub, to be called the Moerlein Lager House (http://www.moerleinlagerhouse.com/), would be the anchor of The Banks and it sure has not disappointed. Gregory Hardmon, a Greater Cincinnati resident, purchased the Moerlen brand in 2004 and is the managing partner in this foray. The Lager House was featured on G4, as Weston Scott stops by on his quest to drink his way through America (http://www.g4tv.com/videos/61073/weston-scotts-beer-food-tasting-at-moerlein-lager-house/). I haven’t fact checked (how would I?), but he calls it the largest brew pub in America. That is pretty cool.
The building itself is simply awesome. Really, that’s the only word I can think to use. It juts out of a slight downward hill to overlook the mighty Ohio River, and is mostly walled by gigantic floor to ceiling windows. This allows for amazing, sweeping views of the river and the Newport and Covington riverfronts. Maybe the prettiest part of the view is the night-time sight of the Roebling Suspension Bridge. The two stories each have a large centrally located bar with smallish TV’s (it’s a brew pub, not a sports bar) along with plenty of seating. The first floor also has an indoor/outdoor area that has temporary walls that can be opened during nicer weather. There is also a private dining area called the Beer Baron Hall and a museum/gift shop where you can buy shirts, mugs, etc. The entrance also has an homage to Cincinnati beer and sports history, as they have both a timeline of local brewing as well as a plaque on the floor where Pete Rose’s record breaking 4,192’nd hit landed.
The beer is good…Moerlein is a solid brewery, with lots of different types of beer. There are also plenty of guest taps (I had Fat Head’s Head Hunter IPA, which was excellent) and bottles to choose from. I will complain that they are often out of guest drafts when the Reds are in town, which is too bad since they usually have some great choices. Perhaps they should manage their inventory better during the season? While the beer is a major factor in a brew pub, the food needs to be good as well, and it is. During this trip to the Lager House, I enjoyed the short rib grilled cheese sandwich (braised beef short ribs, sweet onion relish with Butterkase (butter cheese!) on a toasted parmesan sourdough) with a side of garlic parmesan fries and my wife had the OTR chicken (half chicken topped with OTR beurre blanc) with a brussel sprouts for a side. My sandwich was excellent…I’ve had this dish a couple of times now, and I haven’t had many better sandwiches. The Butterkase is just so good melted on the short ribs, and the meat itself is tender and juicy. The fries are great as well, with a hefty dose of garlic. The OTR chicken is tender and juicy, with plenty of flavor. Even the brussel sprouts were good.
Having eaten at the Lager House a couple of times before as well, I can also recommend the meat and/or cheese trays (with beer bread, spicy mustard, applekraut, and pickles), surf and turf (filet mignon with an excellent lump crab cake), and the soft pretzels (with beer cheese). My second complaint (after the out of stock guest drafts) would be the service. It’s not been bad, but it has been inconsistent. The server we had this trip was pretty good when it came to food, but brought my wife the wrong beer twice…which is weird since it was not loud where we were seated. He also didn’t seem to know his beers, which is not a good thing at a brew pub. However, to be fair, we have had very good service before, so maybe this was an anomaly.
Overall, I’d highly recommend the Moerlein Lager House. The location is incredible, with amazing views, tons of craft beer choices (when in stock!), and great food.
****Update Bonus Review****
On another visit to Moerlein, my wife got the short rib grilled cheese, which was as good as the last time. I ordered the meatloaf (Barbarossa demi-glace, smoked cheddar mashed potatoes, and sautéed green beans). Yes, it reminded me of “Wedding Crashers” for a second, but I decided to try it out…why not? It is probably the best meatloaf I’ve ever had. The meatloaf itself was wonderful, solid beef with seemingly very few fillers. The mashed potatoes were great, too…lumpy, and tasted home-made. What made it all come together was the sauce. Made with Moerlein’s Barbarossa beer (a dunkel), it really brought it together. Trust me, just eat it! Sadly, the Angry Mac and Cheese (with pieces of a hot mett and jalapeno cheese sauce) was not so good. For a place with very good food overall, I was sad to see that the mac and cheese (which is hard to mess up) was made up of watery cheese and initially came cold (they made us a new one when we let the waiter know). Save your money or buy another beer…this was not worth the eight bucks.