(Mishawaka, IN) — It isn’t often we find ourselves with a free weekend. Too frequently, there are projects around the house or friends we’ve neglected for far too long or a myriad other distractions which prevent us from enjoying time, just the two of us. So it’s a bit of a surprise when we wake up one Saturday morning with no immediate obligations. What to do? Well, we need some groceries, but rather than scooting over to the neighborhood store why not take a leisurely drive down south to Whole Foods? And we just happen to have a coupon for a free appetizer at the nearby Granite City Food & Brewery...
Granite City is impressively built, with solid furnishings and a rustic, brick ambiance. They produce a full roster of beers, and you can even peek into the tank chamber. By all outward appearances, this is a capable brewery. We’re greeted at the front desk with cheery smiles and a quick escort to a booth.
I whip out my free appetizer coupon and our server informs us we can choose any of the appetizers, even the most expensive. Nice! Although we’re enticed by the Asian Glazed Shrimp, we instead opt for the comforting Pretzels with Cheese Sauce, mainly because it’s cold and slightly drizzly out. We couldn’t have picked a better app, with big chunks of sea salt clinging to the freshly baked, soft pretzel sticks. Tear off a hunk and dip into the beer cheese...heaven. Somehow I manage to refrain from devouring every last stick.
I’m not in the mood for anything too fancy, but their Blue Peppercorn Burger is calling my name. I order it medium rare. The Angus patty comes perfectly cooked, served on a soft pretzel bun (more pretzel! all the pretzels!!!). Cheddar cheese melts over bacon strips, creamy bleu cheese dressing, and crispy onion strings. Now, I’m not a lover of onion rings or straws or strings or whatever on my burgers. They tend to get in the way. Usually. Not today, though. These have been sauteed or somehow tenderized so I can actually bite through them, rather than pull them off the sandwich with my teeth. As I bite into the burger, the spicy snap of the peppercorns greets me, cooled immediately by the bleu cheese. Oh, man, that’s a good burger!
The natural-cut fries taste good but are kind of floppy. I can pretty much knife-and-fork them through puddles of BBQ sauce without them ever leaving a memory. That’s fine, though; the burger is the superhero, the fry is the sidekick.
Believe it or not, I only have room for two beers. Their Batch 1000, a typical muddy midwest DIPA, clocks in at 8% ABV though it tastes much lighter. Their Falling Leaf is only 5.4% ABV yet has a more flavorful and surprising taste profile, with hints of lemon, tea leaf hops, and amber malt. I’m not overly impressed with their beers, but at least they’re more solid than most low-rung breweries.
I’ll admit, I’m not all that excited about grabbing lunch at a chain restaurant in a big mall. We’ve been incredibly fortunate over the years to meet several great chefs and dine in so many unique restaurants that hitting a chain just feels wrong. I remind myself about a Cali chef we know who confided his guilty pleasure of Cozy Shack rice pudding and buckets of KFC fried extra-crispy. I guess we all have our food sins and maybe a chain brewery isn’t the worst of the worst.
The menu is huge, both in size and in number of offerings. At least for the food, they only have five beers crafted in house and none of them strike me as particularly interesting. I order the Benny, a Bock—a “German Lager with a sweet toasted flavor”. It’s a solid beer and nice on a lazy Saturday afternoon. Not amazing, but also not disappointing.
Jeremy has a coupon (this story just gets better and better, right?) for a free app and we agree to share the house-baked Pretzels with Cheese Sauce. Warm hot rods of pretzel-y goodness dunked in a creamy hot cheese sauce? Perfect on a cold day and very comforting.
For my main, I opt for the Shrimp Taco Duo and a cup of the Northern Cheddar & Ale soup. I think I actually ordered the soup before we chose our shared app, because in retrospect this turns out to be a whole lotta dairy. The soup is tangier and obviously much thicker than the pretzel sauce, but not by much. What does save the soup is the warm croutons filled with caraway. I could swear they’re fresh out of the oven.
The tacos are quite good, with generous hunks of shrimp glazed with a sweet and spicy sauce. Just hot enough to make you pause and then just sweet enough to make you take another bite. There’s a spicy cream sauce and sprigs of cilantro on the tacos. I sprinkle each with some of the Spanish rice on the side for good measure.
While Granite City is certainly not The French Laundry, it offers a decent lunch and the service is very good. Confession: I like the tacos so much that I end up ordering them a few weeks later with the house DIPA when I find myself solo and in need of a quick lunch during a shopping trip.