Game On at the Victory Brewing Company

I’ve wanted to write about the Victory Brewing Company for a long time, and I would have pushed this review out close to a year ago, but chose to wait on it.  Don’t get me wrong, Victory Brewing has some of the finest craft beers around, and is home to one of my favorite beers ever.  But when they emerged, butterfly-like, from their renovation last spring, having transformed from a dark, moody neighborhood hang-out (think brewery with some tables and a bar thrown in for good measure) to a full fledged restaurant – something didn’t feel quite right, despite the gorgeous overhaul that included a Brewmaster’s Table, where up to a dozen people can sit underneath a copper brew kettle top.

Prior to the renovation, which took around two months and, at its height, limited the available food items to about six tables and a handful of sandwiches, Victory had offered a decent selection of dishes.  The best output of the kitchen was always to be found in foods that one naturally would pair with beer – pizzas, burgers, the excellent buffalo wings and buffalo chicken wrap, a serviceable steak sandwich.  The menu offered some higher priced items, and whenever we would dare to venture outside the realm of “bar food”, we would invariably be disappointed – a dish described as “osso bucco” was clearly not the shank that the rest of the world has come to recognize as osso bucco, and its texture was closer to pot roast than anything.  So, we would stick with the bar food, and we were pretty happy with that.  The great beer lent a lot of leniency to the food, which wasn’t outstanding, but pretty good for what it was.

For me, the benchmark of any brewpub is the quality of its cheeseburger, which is the perfect pairing with a pint of beer.  So, in my mind, it was an unimaginable sin for the “new” Victory Brewing Company to have taken its burger, which was fine, and replaced it with two thinner patties which surrounded a “filling” – in other words, they took the toppings and tried to get fancy by “stuffing” the burgers with them.  The result was a disaster – the grill cooks could never turn out a proper burger after that, and we’d always get two overcooked, dried out burger patties.  Everyone we spoke with echoed the same sentiment – why can’t Victory just put out a regular cheeseburger and be done with it?

Well, recent excursions to Victory for their monthly “Follow the Liter” event ($5 liters of beer, plus arm wrestling!), as well as an impromptu midweek lunch, has shown the kitchen to be much improved.  Creative burger configurations are a thing of the past, and I am happy to report that the burgers are once again single patty wonders of beefy deliciousness.  They are also better than they were prior to the renovation, thanks to a switch to aged beef.  Having conquered the beer (the renovation enabled Victory to expand their offerings, so today they offer upwards of twenty different drafts plus another four on cask), it was only a matter of time before the kitchen caught up.  As a server recently remarked, the owners kept all of the food items that were working, tossed what didn’t sell, and now introduce new items on the right-side of the menu.  If you want to play it safe, stick with the left side of the menu – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that a pick from the right side is doomed to disaster.

There are certainly more high notes to the menu as compared to last year.  The wings are as good as they’ve ever been, just the right heat, accompanied by that traditional tang of vinegar and always, always a requirement when we go there.  The burgers, as I’ve noted, are large and in charge, well enough of a meal in themselves to make you regret ordering the wings (but yet you’ll finish everything anyway).  The pizza selection has been trimmed to reflect the varieties that were actually not, you know, bland disks of bread – so you have a much better shot of ordering a pie that you’ll want to eat.  The buffalo chicken wrap is still on the menu, just as good and spicy as ever.  A hot roast beef sandwich was, in my wife’s words, “what Arby’s must taste like in heaven.”

Perhaps the best new addition to the food offerings at Victory, though, is a dish that I tried the first time we went to a Follow The Liter event.  It’s called Schweinshauxe, and it’s a pig ankle.  Actually, it’s two pig ankles, served with a cream sauce, sauerkraut mashed potatoes, and red cabbage, and it’s all kinds of amazing.  The meat falls off the bone, and the cream sauce pairs with the potatoes and the tart crunch of the cabbage very well – it’s a perfect rendition of traditional German cooking.  That, and one of Victory’s huge pretzels served with cheese dipping sauce, will always make me regret ordering the wings.

Somehow, though, I don’t think I’m ever going to learn from my mistakes.