Restaurant Review-Church Brew Works (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
If you think that dining in a church cannot be done, it can. If you think that beer and a house of worship don’t go together, they do. Where on earth does such a place exist? None other than the Church Brew Works. Now obviously many people have dined inside a currently functioning church (i.e. a church supper), but the same can’t be said about churches no longer active but whose unique features remain.
I’ve only eaten at the Church Brew Works once before and while it’s a place I wouldn’t mind dining at multiple times in the course of a year, it’s much more suited for visitors due to its wow factor upon first entering off of busy Liberty Avenue. The building dates from the early 20th century when it operated as St. John’s the Baptist Catholic Church. The website notes that “the multi-colored glass of the Rose Window stands as a kaleidoscopic backdrop for the turn-of-the-century pipe organ located in the church’s balcony” and “the hand-painted cypress beams on the high vaulted ceiling and the intricate European-style stained glass windows would be very difficult to replicate today.” Due to a downward spiral that the Lawrenceville neighborhood had been experiencing for decades, resulting lack of parishioners, the church was shut down by the Archdiocese of Pittsburgh in the early 1990s, and in 1996 the Church Brew Works opened for business.
During the restoration process, much effort was taken to reuse as many of the church’s original fixtures as possible, including tables and the bar area using materials from the church’s pews. However, the restaurant’s most striking feature is undoubtedly the position of the brew house on the alter. As in any church, the altar was built as a centerpiece, so to see these massive tanks up there instead of a priest reciting a homily is just brilliant and a sight one will always remember.
Neither my mom nor I are beer drinkers but my dad and D are and both enjoyed the restaurant’s offerings. A IPA was ordered (entitled Thunder Hop IPA) which was described as an American IPA with “intense bitterness, flavor and aroma.”
For starters, my mom and I both began with the featured soup, white chicken chili (a cup is $3.50, a bowl is $4.50). It was decent but nothing to rave about. The chicken was in chunks as opposed to shredded which is how I prefer chicken in chili recipes, not to mention it was extremely spicy, so perhaps that marred the taste for me as well.
D went with a favorite of his, Seven Onion Soup which is laced with the restaurant’s Pious Monk Dunkel and topped with homemade croutons and provolone cheese (cup $4.50, bowl $5.50).
For my entree, my mom and I were meal twins again as we both went with the Pulled Pork Sandwich ($9.50)-slow roasted in-house pulled pork topped with Dunkel infused sweet molasses BBQ sauce and served on a hoagie roll. Perhaps I’ve been “spoiled” having eaten authentic pulled pork in North Carolina, but I was slightly disappointed by it as I just tasted the pork and not nearly enough of the BBQ sauce (in my opinion pulled pork should be drowning in it).
All sandwiches are served with a choice of coleslaw, fresh cut hand fries, or homemade potato chips, or for $2 you can substitute sweet potato fries which is what my mom and I both did. I highly recommend these as they were delicious.
For his entree D ordered the 3-Alarm Cheesesteak ($11.75). The three-alarm moniker was due to the fact that it featured jalapenos and melted pepper-jack cheese on top the Morgan Ranch Kobe Beef.
My dad went with a selection from the entrees section-Buffalo and Wild Mushroom Meatloaf ($13) which was accompanied with roasted pesto potatoes and sauteed baby carrots and topped with a roasted tomato demi-glace.
As all of us were much too filled from our meals, we skipped dessert although I’m sure they would have been delicious.
There is ample on street parking, although a lot behind the building is also available for dining patrons. Dinner (at least on the weekend) can be a mad house so either come early or be prepared for a wait. Dining at the Church Brew Works is probably one of the most unique settings for a meal, so I definitely recommend coming here to eat if you haven’t already done so. Although it’s located outside of the city center, it’s a straight shot from the city’s downtown making the 10 minutes it takes to get there easy and uncomplicated.