By Chelsea Embree, Digital Editor
The new brewery in town has a lot more going for it than “new.” Otherwise, there wouldn’t have been such a long wait on my Friday night visit. Nor would Pizza House, located right next door, have been empty in comparison.
Something is certainly different here, and it sets Iron Spike apart from its competitors. Of course, Cherry Street and McGillacuddy’s will satisfy any customer’s desire for eats and drinks. That’s to be expected. What Iron Spike does so well is just the opposite: the unexpected.
The ambiance of the place is laid back, but not lazy. And it starts with the huge, ovular windows. The building was originally a fire station, and instead of covering up the exits that fire trucks once took, some clever architect incorporated that detail into the current design. What could once be viewed as an imperfection is now a beautiful eye-catcher.
Inside, there’s a rustic vibe with the exposed brick on most of the walls and the floor, the metal piping accents on the table, the corrugated tin lining the bar, the wooden stools and the lantern lighting. This is the kind of place where a customer comes for a bite and stays to chat with friends or watch a sporting event on the large flat-screen TVs. Iron Spike caters to these needs, too, with seating at the bar, numerous tables and a lounge area with a few bench-style black couches swooping into an elegant half-circle. And for all those interested in how the brewery makes its own beers, there are four panels of huge windows looking into the machines and their processes.
The careful consideration of details carries over even to the serving platters. Meals come out on white rectangular plates or in grated metal baskets, again adding a sense of finish that isn’t trying too hard. Indeed, the dishes don’t need to try too hard. The food speaks for itself.
Students will be pleased to know that a meal at Iron Spike won’t break the bank. Salads, sandwiches and burgers all hover around the eight to $10 price range, and all are certainly a meal in themselves. Furthermore, their appetizers are even less expensive, but still majestic. A far-fetching adjective, I know. And I have only two words: Beer Queso.
The under-21 crowd will appreciate that this beer-infused cheese is available to all customers, and everyone should appreciate that it can be ordered with chips or a hot pretzel. The majesty of Beer Queso probably needs no explaining, so let me only endorse it further. There’s a richness to it that goes beyond the scope of regular nachos, and its smooth, creamy texture makes it disappear all too quickly.
That’s another thing that the Iron Spike has mastered: a little something extra. This is true not only for their amazing cheese dip, but also for their burgers. At my first visit, I indulged in one with bacon and cheese — there’s a lot to be learned from a restaurant based on its burger. And mine came out perfectly. It was cooked exactly the way I asked — a message that doesn’t always get relayed — and it was hearty, juicy and flavorful. Oh, and it was huge. When their menu says half a pound, it means that a mouth can barely fit around this thing. I was overwhelmed in the best way possible, and even had leftovers to take home for the first time ever.
What comes next may be surprising: even their salad was satisfying. I ordered their chicken Caesar salad, a little wary of its menu description. Usually, when restaurants try to do anything other than the traditional Caesar, it comes out all wrong. At best, there’s something slightly off. But at Iron Spike, their substitutions and additions made for a leafy dinner that was both filling and fulfilling. Most noteworthy was the bacon. Again, there’s that “something extra” that made all the difference. It added more flavor — naturally — and so nicely complemented everything else going on in the dish. Not to mention, the amount of chicken that came with the salad was more than three bites’ worth. That’s automatically a win.
It seems impossible to pick poorly from the Iron Spike’s menu. Even the smaller fare — the chips, the pretzels, the French fries — are prepared and presented with just as much consideration as that hefty burger. The Iron Spike has set the bar for attention to detail.
Thus, it cannot be surprising that the Iron Spike is doing so well. They’ve worked hard, and the results are tasty. And with the right price and the right location, Knox students should be sure to check out this refreshing bit of nightlife.
By Charlie Megenity, Editor-in-Chief
$5 (13 oz snifter) IBU: 35 / ABV: 8.8 percent
This recently-released porter has a subtle smokiness that exceeds the expectations. It’s definitely a “warmer” that would have been better-timed during the unseasonably cold March, but it’s a great beer nonetheless.
Screaming Thunderbox: Belgian Saison
$6.50 (13 oz snifter) IBU: 35 / ABV: 9.9 percent
This farmhouse-style ale has a clearer and deeper amber color than what one might expect from a saison, but its fruity notes help it live up to the style. Iron Spike stuck its neck out with this one, but the results are fantastic.
De-Railed Ale: American Pale Ale
$4 (full pour) IBU:60 / ABV: 6.6 percent
This hugely bitter beer is not for everyone. While I tend to prefer a pale ale with a bigger citrus presence, this is a good standard that I’ll order from Iron Spike more often than not.
Whistle Blowin’ Wheat: Bavarian Hefeweizen
$4 (full pour) IBU: 25 / ABV: 6.2 percent
This wheat beer fits into the hefeweizen style and appeals largely to the Blue Moon drinker. Slap on an orange slice, and you probably won’t know the difference.
Lightning Slinger: Golden Ale
$4 (full pour) IBU: 15 / ABV: 5.1 percent
If you tend to order lighter, American-style lagers, this is the Iron Spike beer for you. Though the pale color isn’t particularly inviting, this is a bright ale with a subtly bitter finish Ñ reminiscent of the lighter beers produced by New Belgium, which brews Fat Tire.
My picks: If I’m drinking on a budget, I’ll always go with the APA. But if I’m looking for a slow-drinking beer with dinner, the Belgian Saison can’t be beaten.
Bottom line: Iron Spike has something to cater to a wide variety of beer drinkers, even throwing in the Golden Ale for those who are feeling less adventurous. The tap menu for in-house brews covers some good standards, and they’re all done well. None of these really knocked me off my feet (figuratively speaking), but I’m excited to try whatever they brew up next.