It's a Friday night, and beer beckons.
The bar at Appalachian Brewing Company's Mechanicsburg location has only a few stools open, and the high top tables behind the bar are nearly full at 6:30 p.m.
Each ABC restaurant — six locations in all — looks different. This one has been transformed from a car dealership on the Carlisle Pike into a modern, industrial-looking restaurant with a small outdoor dining area in the front, a large first floor of high-top and low tables, backed by a bar that runs the full length of the dining room. It's an open floor design with second-floor tables overlooking the diners below.
It carries a little bit more of the character of ABC's original brewhouse in downtown Harrisburg, 50 N. Cameron St. That site has the warm atmosphere of dark woods, high ceilings and massive windows that give customers a view of the tall beer vats in the fermenting room. The other ABCs sport the same eclectic menu and at least a dozen homemade beers on draft, and each has its own character. The downtown location has the Abbey Bar with live music, and the Gettysburg spot has a nice deck. The Mechanicsburg place feels open and energetic, a fun place to hunker down for some high-end bar food, craft beer (or wine, if you prefer), and socialization.
In fact, the main dining area buzzes with so many voices that my husband, Mike, and I are grateful for a booth around the corner, in a quieter area of the restaurant. We're waiting for our friends, Donna and Ken, so we order a couple of starters: the bacon-wrapped poppers and the sugar-caned shrimp.
The appetizers arrive quickly, just after the other couple appears. Ken takes a bite of the popper and declares, "Everything tastes good with bacon." Indeed it does. The poppers — six of them — are stuffed with a cream cheese mixture, wrapped in bacon, and served with ranch dressing on the side. They aren't breaded, which we appreciate. The ginger beer marinated shrimp drape over a less flavorful bed of noodles. We eat it all.
Ken orders fish and chips, and Donna gets a burger loaded with onion straws and a side of onion rings. My husband goes for ABC's version of a French dip sandwich, called the steak dip, with wine, and I try a new gluten-free dish, White Rocks Chicken, and wine as well.
The fish and chips with Water Gap Wheat Ale haven't failed Ken on his many trips to ABC, and this batch meets his expectations, as the beer-battered fish falls apart to the touch. The beer he has chosen is an ABC flagship staple, a wheat beer.
Donna takes a leap of faith with this month's beer special, the Hinterland Hefe Weizen, which she discovers to be light and refreshing, and orders a second. Burgers are one of ABC's hottest menu items, and Donna's is cooked exactly as requested, thick and juicy.
The onion rings are a tale of their own. These are the best onion rings I've ever had, and ABC offers a generous portion. Most rings are breaded, but ABC's are battered and fresh, hot from the fryer.
Mike's sandwich is piled with steak slices and a hearty bun, about the size of a 9-inch sub with a heaping pile of French fries, which I nibble, too. My White Rocks Chicken is coated in quinoa and goat cheese to imitate the appearance of breaded chicken. It's crisp and crunchy over a tender piece of breast meat with a sweet corn and pablano pepper salsa that brings the dish together with heat. Broccoli and cilantro lime rice round it out.
My husband is the only one with room to spare for a dessert, and he orders the Elephant's Ear, and it is quite large. It's crispy fried dough coated in cinnamon sugar, topped with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with caramel sauce. When the ice cream is done, my husband loses interest in the remainder of the pastry.
The root beer float looked more interesting, since ABC makes its own root beer — that's for the next time.
We had drinks and food to keep us going for two-and-a-half hours because when beer beckons, make a night of it.
If you go
LOCATION: 6462 Carlisle Pike, Mechanicsburg. Other locations in Gettysburg, Camp Hill, Harrisburg, Collegeville and Lititz.
CUISINE: Upscale bar food.
KIM'S PICK: White Rocks Chicken ($14)
PARKING: Parking lot in front of the restaurant.
HOURS: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday through Thursday (kitchen closes at 10 p.m.); 11 a.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday (kitchen closes at 11 p.m.); 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday (kitchen closes at 9 p.m.)
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers from $7-$9 to entrees from $12-$18
ALCOHOL: Yes, beer and wine
ACCEPTS: Cash and credit
KIDS MENU: No
DETAILS: Call 717-795-4660 or visit www.abcbrew.com