Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Date Night in Hamburg

Last weekend, my wife and I had a great date night. We were both wiped out from the week so we didn't want to wander too far from home and wanted to go a casual place with great food and drinks. At my wife's suggestion, we went to a place that we'd been meaning to try for months: The Armor Inn Tap Room. 

I hadn't been to the Armor Inn since I was a kid. It was a completely different restaurant under different ownership back then. I was pleasantly surprised when we walked up to the front door. Here it is:

The interior had a cool, relaxed country vibe with a spacious dining room, two bars and a killer outdoor patio with lots of space and a fire pit  As it was kind of chilly out, and because we hadn't done it in ages, we had dinner inside at the bar. When we sat down at the bar, we had some choices to make. There's a huge beer list featuring 15+ selections on tap and more in bottles. I loved the selection of craft beers. My wife chose a McKenzie's Hard Cider and  I found something I'd been meaning to try for a while: Rich and Dan's Rye IPA from Harpoon Brewing Company. As you know, I'm in the midst of an IPA battle here and I also featured the great Octoberfest from Harpoon a few weeks ago. The Rye IPA was fantastic and it just might make the IPA Battle in the near future. For now, suffice it to say, it was a great way to start the evening. 

As we enjoyed our libations, we had ample time to peruse the menu. The dinner menu is quite large, with several appetizers, salads, entrees, and sandwiches. The menu is well priced, with the entrees running from $11 & up, with none exceeding $25. 

What intrigued me most were the barbecue selections from Big Bad Wolf BBQ. If you don't already know, I love great, authentic barbecue and I'm happy to see it so well represented locally. (I'm guessing that local barbecue will be a featured series here very soon. Stay tuned!) 

As I continued to decide my barbecue fate, something caught my eye: the smoked chicken wings. While they are an option for the barbecue combination platter entree, we saw you could sample five of the award winning wings for $5 at the bar. We both thought that the wings would be a great way to sample the barbecue while we pondered our entree selections. 

This is what they looked like when the put the plat in front of us:

The wings were incredible!!  They were lightly sauced and perfectly smoked.  They were so tender that the meat fell right off the bone.  They were the best thing we had and I'd come back time and time again for these delights!!  Highly recommended!!

Since the wings were such a hit, we both decided to stick with the barbecue.  For barbecue entrees, diners have four options: ribs, chicken, chicken wings or pulled pork.  The other option is a combination of two of the aforementioned meats in a big ("Little Red") or bigger ("Big Bad Wolf") size.

As you'll hear from me in upcoming barbecue posts, I tend to judge barbecue joints locally on their pulled pork.  Some might select brisket as the litmus test, but from what I've found locally, there just isn't enough authentic brisket of high quality locally worth comparing.  Due to that, I had to choose the pulled pork for the first part of my combination and then I decided to finish that up with the ribs.  My wife was thinking along the same lines because she chose to order the same thing before we even conferred.

Along with the meat, dinners who go the barbecue route get to select two sides. Of the 14 selections to choose from, there are your traditional barbecue sides such as mac & cheese, baked beans, and collard greens.  You can also choose sweet potato fries, cheddar jalapeno cornbread or risotto.  I went with the mac & cheese and fries and my wife opted for the mac & cheese and sweet potato fries.

Here's the plate that was set in front of me:

As you can see, it was a good-sized portion that allowed me to sample of their barbecue specialties   I started with the pork so I could properly gauge the barbecue.  The first thing I noticed was the distinct hickory smoke.  It was smoked perfectly, with a nice smoke ring visible on the pork.   There was also ample bark in the portion, which I particularly enjoy.  Good pulled pork should have a good amount of bark, which is the charred exterior of the pork shoulder rubbed with spices.  My only complaint was that the meat was slightly overdone and required more chew than I would have liked.  That said, I prefer the meat to have some chew than to be reduced to a paste because it was parked too long.  All in all, a good showing.

The ribs were next.  They too, unfortunately, were a little too tough.  I would have liked them to fall off the bone more easily.  That aside, the ribs were good.  They were wonderfully smoked and had nice bark.  They also had a great pink smoke ring you can see here:

They were very tasty.  While I would consider ordering them again, I would probably get the 1/4 chicken or even the wings next time.  It seems they have the best results with the chicken.

The sides were decent.  The mac & cheese was very cheesy and featured bits of bacon.  You didn't get much smoke from the bacon in the dish though, and the pasta was quite overcooked.  The fries, although not fresh cut, were fried perfectly and I couldn't stop eating them.

Another of the great things with the barbecue was the choice of homemade barbecue sauces.  This is the selection of homemade sauces you get at the Armor Inn:

From the left, there was the "Straight Up BBQ", "Honey Mustard" and "Blow Your House Down".  The "Straight Up BBQ" was a sweet, tomato based sauce.  It what is most likely put on all the meats just prior to service.  The "Honey Mustard" was much better than expected.  I expected a straight forward combination of the two ingredients.  What I got was a sweet, mustard-based Carolina style sauce.  It was great!  The "Blow Your House Down" paired the sweet of the "Straight Up BBQ" sauce with some delicious hot sauce.  The result took the barbecue to the next level.  I can certainly appreciate the homemade approach to this place.

All in all, our meal was great.  I'd sit at the bar again in a heartbeat.  I also wouldn't hesitate to return with our children.  I'd like to hang out on the patio as well.  We'll definitely be back to try more of the big menu...and to get more of those killer smoked chicken wings!!

Stay tuned for the barbecue series starting soon...


© The Nittany Epicurean, 2013.  All Rights Reserved.

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