Seven Hills Brewing Co. is trying hard — maybe too hard. It’s a brewery with a full bar, a restaurant that’s open practically all day, every day, even for brunch on Sundays. And when speaking strictly about food, much of it is working.
On South 15th Street, the space is huge and requires large crowds to make it feel warm. Without customers, it’s a dim, industrial hall. On one side you’ll find a long bar and high-top tables, and on the other, small tables that look over the patio onto Dock Street.
It might buzz during happy hour, but on a weeknight it can be a lonely place. And here’s why: Unless you live or work in the area, this brew pub isn’t exactly convenient. It takes a Fan dweller 10 minutes to drive to it and another 10 to find street parking. The experience needs to be worth it — and it almost is. Ambience-wise, it’s no Scott’s Addition brewery, but it’s no Applebee’s either. Seven Hills Brewing is — dare I say it — fairly polished for pub fare.
Starters are solid. The beet and basil salad ($7) combines spinach, basil and small cubes of red beets, golden beets that look and taste like pears, feta and mandarin oranges. A citrus vinaigrette brightens it all up. And the Seven Hills mussels ($11) are impressive. The namesakes themselves are quarter-sized and arrive in a huge pile in the bowl, along with warm cherry tomatoes and bits of bacon, resting in a white wine broth that’s lemony and light. I could drink it like soup.
On a scale of dismal to Super Bowl-worthy, the 15th Street chicken wings (eight for $10) are a fool-proof choice for any game day. Each bite is tender with crispy skin. Order four wings in buffalo sauce and four tossed in honey-bourbon barbecue — the latter has a hint of lemon and some kick. The soft pretzels ($7) glimmer with a buttery sheen, and the beer cheese sauce, made with the Seven Hills Blonde Ale, transforms my favorite county fair staple into a pub fondue.
The bleu-bacon burger ($12) is a thick, hand-packed burger on a dense and crumbly bun, topped with gorgonzola cheese, a folded slice of bacon and caramelized onions. Fries are hand-cut daily and shaken in an herb blend and flaked salt before serving.
The dark horse of sandwich options, though, is the french dip ($12). It unexpectedly turns out to be everything I want out of a hot sandwich: seasoned, thinly sliced tender rib-eye, melted swiss cheese that’s not distracting and a bun so soft that the sandwich melts in your mouth — in a made-fresh-that-morning kind of way, not in a mysterious Wonderbread way. This easily is the most satisfying item on the menu and one of the better sandwiches I’ve had, prior to Balliceaux’s menu makeover.
Waitresses are friendly — and also proud — taking time and care to explain all of the options. I hear about a strawberry blonde ale, which arrives the day I visit for lunch. The beer selection changes every few weeks, “because of how small the batches are,” a cheerful bartender says during an evening meal. On one visit, when an appetizer mistakenly never arrives, we notify the waitress, and she makes sure to bring it out at the end of the meal, on the house.
If you stroll in after 5 p.m., you may be tempted by half a dozen dinner entrees. Resist: This is where things fall apart. I’m disappointed by the lobster mac ’n’ cheese ($15) and wish that it contained a milder cheddar and that the unseasoned lobster tail could be incorporated within the dish. Instead, it lies on top like an afterthought. The grits portion of Seven Hills’ shrimp and grits comes out undercooked and watery, relying on the plump and pungent shrimp to save the meal. A fried egg mysteriously arrives later on a side plate and I wonder if the chef forgot to add it to my dish.
When you’re an overachiever, you can fall short in some areas. But when it comes to food, Seven Hills Brewing Co. has found strength in its snacks and sandwiches. S
Seven Hills Brewing Co.
115 S. 15th St.
Mondays 5 p.m.-10 p.m.; Tuesdays-Thursdays, Sundays 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays 11 a.m.-12 a.m.