You won’t be surprised to learn that it’s mostly about the brew at the Bier Abbey, but you can also find bright spots on the developing food menu.
Owner George Collentine’s vision of a place for beer aficionados in Schenectady — he self-deprecatingly calls himself a “beer geek” — seems to be taking shape, based on our observations on a recent Friday night. In a follow-up interview, he agreed. “We’re doing all right,” he said, adding he expects his business will evolve over the next couple of years as people learn more about beer and find it now available in their own city.
Bier Abbey is in a row of lower Union Street restaurants, flanked by the Manhattan Exchange and Marotta’s Ristorante on one side and Cafe NOLA on the other. The place was jumping when we arrived, and much of the steady buzz was coming from the bar, though it was hardly quiet as a monk’s cell in the front dining room where we were seated. There’s a handful of attractive wood tables there and a modern depiction of a monk over the handsome mantel. There are also old church pews in the rear where you can quietly contemplate life as you quaff your favorite beverage or — much more likely — watch a game on the big-screen TV.
WHERE: 613 Union St., Schenectady. 388-8597, www.thebierabbey.com
WHEN: 11:30 a.m.-midnight Monday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday-Saturday; 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday
OTHER INFO: Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover accepted
29 BEERS ON TAP
The Abbey has 29 beers on tap and one that is hand pumped from a cask. We are not regular beer drinkers, but we had fun trying some of the brews available, which you can order in 4-oz. sample sizes for as little as $2 each. We were interested to learn that the beers are maintained at different temperatures, some refrigerated and some not noticeably so, and served in prescribed glass sizes for standard pours that could hold as much as 20 oz.
Wife Beverly ordered a sample of the Koelsch, from Cologne, Germany, which was clear with a yellow hue and hoppy but lighter than a pilsener. She also tried the Kastel Rouge, described precisely as spiced cherry in flavor with bready malts. She liked it well enough but suggested it would be better with dessert. (We confirmed this later in the evening when we sipped some of it with our crème brûlée.)
My own choices were Old Brown Dog, considered typical of an English brown ale, and Pater Dubbel, a strong burgundy ale that dates to the 15th century. Both were heartier varieties that I enjoyed. Of the two, I would order the Pater Dubbel again.
MADE IN HOUSE
We spent a fair amount of time tasting the beers and offering our insights but we also ordered food, starting with mussels (Prince Edward Island variety) for Beverly, a full two pounds of them in a delicious broth of coconut milk, Thai curry and a Canadian beer, Blanche de Chambly ($12). I chose the Beer Abbey Onion Soup ($4.50), which is flavored with beer, naturally, baked with croutons and Fontina cheese. It was a hearty enough soup but I found it too sweet for my taste and blamed it on whatever beer was part of the formula.
Owner Collentine told us, “Our signature now and moving forward is everything is made in house.” That was good to hear as was our server’s announcement of the night’s vegetable choices: broccoli rabe and sautéed spinach.
The menu, still a work in progress, does offer the usual appetizers like chicken wings and you can get fries and a burger, which other patrons we know have praised. And there’s a rib eye steak for $19 and Steak Frites for $17.50, as well as a few other dinner choices.
Beverly ordered the night’s special, a Tandoori Cornish Hen for $14, described on the menu as a half-chicken marinated in yogurt, lemon, chiles and spices and grilled. It came with vegetables and Belgian frites but she asked for the two vegetables and told them to keep the frites. The dish turned out to be two halves of a Cornish hen nicely browned on the grill and succulently and flavorful beneath the char.
For my dinner, I chose the Fish and Chips ($12), which turned out to be a generous fillet of white fish in a crispy golden jacket of breadcrumbs, with french fries on the side. The house tartar sauce was a suitable accompaniment to the fish, and Beverly shared some of her veggies with me so my meal was well balanced.
We concluded our evening with a shared pumpkin crème brûlée, a delightful confection that arrived with sliced strawberries and fresh whipped cream on the side.
We wanted coffee of some kind with dessert but the Abbey doesn’t serve any kind of coffee. I think that should be reconsidered. If you’re going to serve dinner, you must offer at least basic coffee, if not espresso and cappuccino.
READY TO RETURN
We’ll visit the Bier Abbey again, probably with friends, because it’s that kind of inviting and cheerful place. The fact that there’s good food along with all that beer makes it even more attractive.
Our tab for the evening, not counting the beer sampling, was $62.38, including tax and a tip for our helpful server, Michael, who’s working his way through law school by waiting on tables and offering beer advice to beer neophytes like us.