800 Vinial St., North Side
412-237-9400 or www.pennbrew.com
Pittsburgh's oldest craft brewery is also its newest. And you can get dinner there again, too.
Penn Brewery, which introduced craft brewing to Pittsburgh in 1986, broke hearts in November 2008, when it ceased on-site brewing. Penn Pilsner, Penn Dark and other staples were outsourced to a plant in Wilkes-Barre. Most agree that quality suffered.
Last summer, even the Brewery's restaurant -- your go-to spot for potato pancakes and oom-pah bands -- closed. A North Side landmark went dark.
But the lights-out was brief, its conclusion happier than expected: An investment group led by Penn founder Tom Pastorius (who'd sold his majority interest years ago) purchased the place. Soon, crews were again slinging the hops and barley that had won Penn's German-style brews dozens of awards in contests like the World Beer Championships.
Starting in late winter, the imposing former Eberhart & Ober Brewery was open Fridays, for draughts and brand-new growler hours. (Fill your half-gallon jugs for $10 from 4-7 p.m.) By late April, Penn's shady, stone-paved courtyard had become an amiable place where goateed men doublefisting growlers of soil-dark beer stopped to greet topknotted babies sitting in their fathers' laps.
On May 5, the restaurant re-opened, run by Mary Beth Pastorius (Tom's wife) and executive chef Greg Schrett. The revamped menu includes Hungarian goulash alongside schweinebraten, plus a tasty schnitzel sandwich -- with cabbage, red pepper and cheese -- that's too much for the roll.
May 5 festivities included the tapping of Penn's seasonal Penndemonium maibock -- the brewery's highest-alcohol beer -- plus a lederhosen-wearing accordion-and-bass duo and costumed German dancers.
Visitors ranged from T-shirted tradesmen to the suit-and-tie set. Especially pleased were Penn's Deutschtown neighbors, who'd briefly lost a community anchor. They included Terry Ging, who works for a law firm in the nearby former E&O bottling plant.
"We're very happy to see them back -- for many reasons," said Ging, gripping a pint glass. "It's a destination spot."
Penn faces new competition, like the South Side's Hofbrauhaus, a German-brewpub chain. But it's quickly re-establishing itself with events like June 5's Pennsylvania Microbrewers festival, boasting 28 breweries and "almost 100 beers."
And it's brewing new tricks, like Allegheny Pale Ale, Penn Brewery's first venture outside traditional German brews. "The pale ale is awesome," says Ging. "They've kinda stepped out a little bit."