Before you say anything about the new Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant downtown, you have to talk about the beer. Gordon Biersch made its name in California with delicious, authentically styled German lager beers, made under the strict rules of the Reinheitsgebot. That's the 1516 law that says beer can be brewed with only four ingredients: barley, hops, yeast and water.
That's how serious this national chain of brewpubs takes its beer. Co-founder Dan Gordon, trained in Munich, developed the recipes for the five lagers: (from light to dark) Golden Export, Pilsner, Blonde Bock, Mdrzen and Dunkles, all brewed on premises behind glass walls. Each of the beers is worth tasting -- feel free to ask for small sampler glasses of each. Just don't ask the bartenders for a stout, an amber ale or a flavored beer. As one of Gordon Biersch's ads put it, "Sure, we could make a strawberry beer. We could put a little paper umbrella in it, too."
One last thing about the beers: They're served in a special half-liter glass with a fill-to line on it, which guarantees every beer has a thick, creamy head. Each 16.9-ounce glass costs $4.75.
Now, on to the restaurant. The building, the 1891 Riggs Bank, is spectacular. Much of the interior, including the 20-foot ceilings, fluted columns and large windows, had to be preserved, because the building is on the National Register of Historic Places. Outfitted in marble, rich wood and art deco styling, the restaurant is beautiful. It's light and airy. The place still feels like a bank from the Bonnie-and-Clyde era.
"This isn't a pub," co-founder Dean Biersch said at the opening. "Don't get me wrong -- pubs have their place. I love 'em. But we were trying to create something more."
They have -- it's an upscale experience, not a hangout. The draw is the beer, but the look and feel of Gordon Biersch caters toward those coming to eat. Will the waitresses look at you at you funny if you head towards the bar? Nope. And about half of the space is given over to what they call "bar and lounge" seating: stools and tables next to the bar.
The food selection is diverse. Few restaurants in town would offer chicken and andouille sausage gumbo, pan-fried tuna with ponzu sauce, Moroccan lamb chops, and meatloaf with beer mustard gravy.
One goal, says Biersch is teaching the bartenders how to match beer to the foods on the menu, similar to wines and cheese. If a customer likes the Dunkles, for example, staff should be able to list matching entrees. But the perfect accompaniment, according to Gordon, is a bowl of garlic fries. He's right. The crispy, pencil-thick fries are salted and covered with just enough garlic so that they don't overwhelm the beer.
The bar and lounge area seats 100 between the high stools and small tables, but there's plenty of room to stand if you're drinking. Almost three times as many can sit at the wooden booths and tables in the dining room; a patio will open when the weather improves. In the meantime, the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant is open for brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 11 to 3.
-- Fritz Hahn