28A Monroe St., Ellicottville, NY 14731
Web: Ellicottville Brewing Company
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"For $11, the refill of the two-liter Growler we'd previously purchased was an unbeatable deal, and surprised us by arriving with blueberries floating inside, a neat touch."
A piece of friendly advice: if you like beer, and you discover that a well-regarded local brewing company is operating both a full-service bar and a restaurant in its home town an hour away, don't think, just go. That's why we decided this Sunday to drive an hour for our second visit to the Ellicottville Brewing Company - the "EBC" found on numerous local beer bottles - to make up for an abbreviated initial stop there last year. Last October, we'd hoped to sit down and explore its menu, but found the place so packed that we did little more than buy a German Growler full of beer ($38.50) to bring home. This year, we returned with the empty Growler in hand and our stomachs similarly ready to be filled; what followed was generally a really nice experience.
If you've never visited Ellicottville before, suffice to say that it's worth a drive, particularly in the Fall when it's covered with colorful leaves, or in the Winter when the otherwise sleepy town is accommodating Holiday Valley's skiing crowd. We arrived in mid-Summer, finding the town's shops and restaurants quiet, and the previously stuffed EBC able to seat us immediately. Its rustic, red wooded ski lodge-slash-tavern feel is accentuated by a collection of large, polished beer tanks, and a signboard above signals their contents; the servers were happy to tell us what was special inside them. The lemony seasonal Summer Stein ($4.50), for instance, was golden red, brewed with hot granite stones that were actually dumped into the tank to aid in flavor. We tried a sample, which led us to order and down a full glass. Ultimately, however, we chose to fill our Growler with EBC's Blueberry Wheat Beer, discussed in a prior review; for $11, the refill of the two-liter Growler was an unbeatable deal, and surprised us by arriving with blueberries floating inside, a neat touch.
We'd expected the beer to be great, but had no reason to think that we'd be impressed by anything else on the menu - it's just a brewery, right? Wrong. Though EBC's menu could be summed up as a two-page collection of soups, salads, and sandwiches, whoever assembled the list wasn't just relying on the beers to make visits here worthwhile. Our eyes were quickly drawn to the Spicy African Peanut Soup ($4.25), a crock containing something close to liquid Thai peanut satay: the creamy brown peanut broth was bisque-like in thickness, hiding small chopped pieces of chicken and tomato in fun proportions that led us to lap up the last drips in the bowl. A packet of oyster crackers were included and enjoyable, but not necessary to make this soup memorably good. It was a little sweet, but more like drinking a light satay sauce - something we've been known to do on occasion.
Another item that reminded us of satay was the appetizer called Chicken Lollipops ($9), grilled, semi-spicy skewers of chicken with a sauce that perhaps not coincidentally was made with peanuts and coconut, served atop lettuce. As with the soup, the ingredients may have been familiar, but their balance was unique: the chicken had been grilled in a powerful lemon and pepper rub that we really liked, offering enough inherent taste that the drizzled peanut and coconut sauce was a complement rather than dominant in every bite. Had we realized in advance how similar the soup and appetizer were going to be, we mightn't have ordered them both, but we were glad that we did; they were each delicious and different - standout uses of peanuts and poultry.
As tempted as we were to try the more exotic-sounding Thai Chile Mussels appetizer, we instead went with something we knew and loved from visits to Belgium and France: a pound of Belgian Style Mussels ($10). Served soaking in a broth of white wine, garlic and butter, familiar enough from our days at places such as Leon de Bruxelles, the mussels were good rather than great - a little on the small side, and the sauce somewhat too heavy on butter and herbs rather than wine and garlic. Still, we found ourselves sopping up some of the sauce with included white bread, and wishing that we'd gone for the full-sized, two-pound $16 portion instead. We blame Leon for this addiction, which is too hard to sate around Buffalo.
Other items we tried were mixed. We definitely liked a BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich ($9), which was made with a nice pile of sweet, tender meat and a fresh, lightly grilled sesame roll, both enjoyable if not the best we've ever had; a surprisingly sugary fresh cole slaw and good fries filled out the rest of this plate. A thicker sauce would have been even better for the sandwich, but we enjoyed each bite, as the soft shreds of pork and crispy roll worked well together.
On the other hand, we had a bad experience with the Steak & Potato Salad ($13), a chopped grilled piece of sirloin and french fries atop greens, onions, and parmesan, plus a cup of tomato basil vinaigrette dressing. Unlike all of the other items we ordered, the salad's elements just didn't taste right: the fries were cold and soggy, while the steak was chewy, fatty, lukewarm, and seemed as if it had been reheated. We took the unusual step of sending it back, and it was struck from the check without issue. The problems with this item were the major reason EBC fell short of a three-star rating.
All in all, however, we truly enjoyed our visit to the Ellicottville Brewing Company: it would have been hard to go wrong if we'd visited solely for the beer, and the discovery of a legitimately compelling menu - albeit with a small speedbump - left us generally pleased with our meal and more than willing to return again. If we lived immediately next door, we'd be refilling our Growler on a weekly basis; as-is, we expect to keep making seasonal trips here until we've tried every beer on the menu.