First things first. The restaurant is perfectly fine for a themed chain restaurant located in a mall. For a brewpub, it’s not quite Empire Brewing Company, but it is better than most of the other child-friendly options available to us on a Friday night.
Second things second. The beer is good. I had two — the märzen and schwarzbier — and half of The Wife’s golden export. The märzen was quite good. Full-flavored, smooth, and as good as Spaten’s offering. The schwarzbier was good, though not as good as the first. It’s a smooth, dark lager with a coffee finish that was both surprising and pleasant. The golden export was ordinary. It was a bland lager, perfect for The Wife and her narrow liking of beer, but nothing to jump up and down over. They call it a kolsch, but it didn’t have that refreshing flavor characteristic of that summertime beer.
Now, let’s get back on course.
My first visit to Gordon Biersch was during my Atlanta trip for work three years ago. The midtown location has that more traditional GB look, with the enormous grain silo out front and an industrial plant exterior. I was less than impressed at the food and beer. We probably should have known better when we walked by and saw a nearly empty restaurant at 6 p.m. on a Thursday.
When the Syracuse location was announced, I was fairly nonplused. Keeping my Atlanta experience in mind, I figured that I would probably go once or twice as part of a group and that would be that.
Our Friday visit was more of a plea to leave the house than anything. We typically get takeout or visit a local diner on Fridays (The Kid is addicted to pancakes). Good Friday left The Wife home with The Kid all day, as both schools were closed. Knowing that I wouldn’t be in favor of leaving the house for dinner, The Wife went right to my heart and lured me out with beer. I thought the Syracuse GB would be worth the attempt, right? Right?
We were seated immediately upon arriving to the 80 percent full restaurant at about 5 p.m. By the time we left, the wait was over one hour and a staffer was passing hors d’oeuvres to the waiting patrons. Pretty classy.
The restaurant has six beers on tap: the three that I had previously mentioned, plus a Czech-style pilsener, a hefeweizen and a seasonal pale ale. I like hefes but not when they are heavily spiced with clove and banana as the GB version is. The pale ale was described as very hoppy, so I passed on that as well. Had I stayed for a third beer, I would have had the pilsener. Samplers of the beers are available. We were both impressed that the restaurant only charged $5.50 for a 16 oz. pour.
The service was quite attentive with both a server and waitress tending to our needs. Our primary waitress went out of her way to accommodate The Kid with crayons, drinks and offers of kid-friendly foods.
The menu is what you might expect from an American-style restaurant: burgers, sandwiches, steaks, salads, large entrees and a collection of appetizers. We opted to start with the blue crab and artichoke dip, a recommendation from many friends that had been to the restaurant previously. A shallow bowl of creamy, rich-flavored dip was accompanied by a platter of crostini. Chains like these tend to overwhelm with enormous presentations, but this was a perfectly-sized presentation of bread and dip.
One of my biggest annoyances of eating out is when a restaurant pushes food out too quickly. Being served a dinner while an appetizer is still in progress is a sign of poor timing by the wait staff or a signal to eat and get out. Our waitress was great about pacing, allowing us to have enough time to settle before dinner arrived.
The Wife’s cheeseburger was advertised as 10 oz. precooked. The large burger did not lose a lot of weight on the grill before it and a serving of cheddar was moved to a roll. She struggled to move through the behemoth, eventually tossing the bun to the side. I gather that the CBLT (Chicken Bacon Lettuce Tomato? California?) is one of the more popular dishes. It’s featured in photos on the website, in the menu and on promotional table cards. CBLT is certainly a sexier name than chicken club. Setting the sandwich off from the traditional BLT was a grilled marinated chicken breast, a very tasty avocado mayo and sourdough bread. The sandwich was large, but not as hulking as the burger.
Sandwiches and burgers are accompanied by a choice of housemade chips, vegetables or the house specialty: garlic fries. When I had these in Atlanta, I was nauseated. I never thought there was such a thing as too much garlic. The fries were swimming in garlic and oil, and were nothing short of rancid. A co-worker and I actually sent them back in exchange for an order of chips. The Wife and I gave them a try and enjoyed them, but the chips were still the standout side here.
The reasonably-priced (as DestinyUSA restaurants go) menu of chef’s choices range from a miso-glazed mahi mahi at $19.50 to a ribeye at $28.50. Both The Wife and I ordered meals that came in at less than $11.
All in all, my fears were allayed. It’s certainly a better mall option than TGI Fridays, Ruby Tuesdays or Uno’s, and more relaxed than Cantina Laredo, P.F. Chang’s or The Melting Pot. I don’t know that I would deliberately go to the mall to eat there, but if a mall trip was in my future (so help me God), Gordon Biersch would likely be my choice for lunch or dinner.
Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant is located on the first floor of the Canyon section of DestinyUSA on Hiawatha Boulevard in Syracuse. It does not take reservations. Dinner, before tip, was $51.17.