May 29, 2014

May seems to be one of those months that it's hard to get the dads together. Everyone has end-of-school-year events with their kids. It's a hit-or-miss thing. Fortunately, David is up for anything, so even though we did not make quorum, we still had fun.

We agreed to meet at Port Chester Hall, which had only just opened two days before. This restaurant / taphouse is literally in the Port Chester Metro-North commuter rail station. The MTA was looking for a partner who would develop the mostly unused train station; they found one in Heartland Holdings, an employee-owned company that operates five Heartland Restaurants in New York City as well as Houston Hall and Flatiron Hall.

As with the other restaurants in the chain, beer here is made by Greenpoint Beer Works, who also brew under their own name as KelSo of Brooklyn. Kelly Taylor, formerly head brewer at Heartland, branched out on his own in 2006.

The restaurant is good-sized. Indoors, there is a small (but nice) bar with a substantial selection of liquors and 12 taps. There are several high tables for the bar area, and there is the main restaurant area. Outdoors, there is a lovely beer garden that is at least as big as the restaurant. I'm told that in the winter, the beer garden can be closed off from the elements and the space is heated by powerful heatlamps. (Given the relatively cool late-May weather we've been having, the heatlamps were on low, and I have no doubt that one would be plenty warm in the colder weather!)

The one possible downside to the location is that there is a constant stream of train activity. In addition to the frequent Metro-North commuter trains, this line is also part of the Northeast Corridor used by Amtrak trains travelling between Boston and Washington, DC. There was even a freight train passing through for several minutes at one point. It didn't bother me, but it's not the place for a quiet romantic dinner.

The flip side, of course, is that it is really easily accessible for New Yorkers and commuters on the New Haven line. A 5:31 train from Grand Central gets you there at 6:09! To be fair, I'm not sure why a city dweller would shell out the $21 for roundtrip train fare, when they can visit Houston Hall, Flatiron Hall or the five Heartlands—essentially the same experience—for the cost of a couple subway rides. On the other hand, since I live in central Westchester County, it was also very easy to get to; my drive from White Plains took about 15 minutes.

On to the beer. And food.

I sat at the bar and ordered a fantastic Sumatran Porter. This beer is brewed with coffee, presumably Sumatran coffee. It really was better than I anticipated! There was a rich coffee note and I found it really well balanced between the coffee and chocolate malts. At 5.5% ABV, it wasn't overly heavy, just satisfying. Turns out that David was already in the beer garden, nursing an Oatmeal Stout (6.0%).

We order some tasty appetizers, Chicken Tikka Masala Wontons with chutney and Prosciutto Toast: Prosciutto, Fig Jam, Goat Cheese and Fresh Herbs on toast. Yummy! A respectable Gruyere Burger followed.

Round Two was the Wheat Beer, an unfiltered hefeweissen (5.0%). It was fresh and pleasant, but frankly, unexceptional. David went with the Single Hop Pale Ale, a 5.5% ABV ale brewed with only one type of hops (obviously). Not bad. Round Three was the India Pale Ale (6.0%), an uncharacteristic choice for me. As one might expect, it was very hoppy, but there was a nice balance to the beer and it certainly cleaned my palate! David opted for the Red Ale. At 5.75% ABV, it had a bit of a punch and warm notes of toffee and nuts. It reminded me of Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale.

All in all, a pleasant evening. The place was surprisingly busy for its first days of business. I attribute this to the convenient location and Heartland's marketing savvy. I received several emails about the restaurant's construction progress, and this week, I heard it was finally open. David had been similarly well-informed, as I imagine were the rest of the patrons. Definitely worth visiting.

Port Chester Hall
3 Broad Street,
Port Chester, NY 10573
(914) 305-8383

Greenpoint Beer Works
529 Waverly Ave,
Brooklyn, NY 11238
(718) 398-2731

Brand new Port Chester Hall

The beer garden in summer

David in the garden. Working fireplace at left.

Steve in the garden

You could not get closer to the train platform!