26 July 2008

Out and About: Foothills Brewing

It's been awhile since I posted a review of some local eateries that I've recently tried out, and I realized when perusing over the blog here that one is greatly overdue. That delay has been two-fold: (1) like so many others, I've been eating in more lately to save money and to hopefully improve my weight loss goals, and (2) I've made some conscious decisions of late as to what I want to use my discretionary spending money on, which ties in to my goal of being totally debt-free quicker. I've had reasonable success with the first objective, as I'm still down about 22 pounds (but now fighting a bit of a plateau getting more off), and the second one has really seen some headway...I'm now paying off the last outstanding account and finishing up on the student loan (excluding regular expenses like rent, electric, phone, etc). While it kills me to make these changes and reduce one of my favourite activities of eating out, I've done it for the combined positive impact it would/will make. So, instead of trying out a new venue once a week or even once every other week, it's been averaging more like a new venue every month.

That said, I have made it out recently and thought I'd post the comments here...and I also have one going for Milltown in Carrboro on deck.

(In the post about the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games a few days back, I also mention the simply divine Bella's in Banner Elk, North Carolina. It features some absolutely fantastic Italian food. I won't repeat that brief review here, but if you're in the Sugar Mountain/Beech Mountain/western NC mountain area, I cannot encourage you enough to go and give them a visit. The pasta is homemade daily, the sauces well-seasoned, and the bread is great, too. Didn't sample from the wine list that night, but now wish that I had.)

Foothills Brewing, Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The WR and I found this place quite by accident when coming back from the GMHG, and actually found it when looking for suitable parking for another restaurant a couple of blocks back. As Winston-Salem is a bit less than halfway back from Linville, we decided to stop over there for a bit of lunch. Unfortunately, our first look took us in only in the direction of a Burger King, Quiznos, and one of the state's largest Lowe's home improvement warehouses. Turning around, we came into the downtown area, but only found half a dozen or so Chinese places that were open on a Sunday. Not really craving Chinese, we pressed on. Still we found nothing, and were about to give up and reconsider Burger King when we spied the Camel City Cafe. It looked open...one of the very few things in downtown Winston-Salem that was that afternoon...but no immediate parking was available. We kept looking and, about a block and a half down, we saw some public parking. Unfortunately for Camel City, we also then noticed the word 'Brewing' to our left...the Foothills Brewing, to be exact...and that's all two home beer-brewers needed as incentive to go patronize the joint.

Exterior of Foothills Brewing, Winston-Salem, NC. Located at the end of a very nice block, flanked by some very beautiful architectural buildings to its immediate left...nice walking tour 'finish line' if you're downtown.

I have to say I was rather pleased by the place. When you go to most breweries and/or beer emporiums here in the States, you should get a good variety of beers, but the food frequently can be lackluster (unfortunately this is a complaint I have against The Flying Saucer in Raleigh, where it's always a 50/50 chance of my food being fully cooked and/or hot when served...even the appetizers sometimes...I've learned to just skip getting food there). I was pleasantly surprised at Foothills, however, with the bison burger and rather large salad substitution (yes, I've also severely limited my potatoes intake these days). Not to mention, more times than not, there is a rather hard sell for specific beers in breweries, especially for their seasonal stuff...not so much here, as the waitress was more than willing to set up us with a sampler of their many offerings (and even brought two others, technically not samples).

When you're an unofficial beer snob such as myself, I know that I want to try something new (why else go to a brewery?), but I also know what kind of beers I tend to like. I would be very rich indeed if I had a nickel for every time I ventured into a pub or bar or brewery and asked about the options available and only been offered the light, and/or mainstream Americanized, beers. (I'm not so sure that it has anything to do with specials per se, versus that most women aren't as picky, or as fond, of stronger beers like I am.) Much to their credit, the staff at Foothills made no such assumptions about what 'should' be offered, and instead were just very receptive to the particular likes (and dislikes) of the individuals imbibing their goods. The place was clean, too, with a nice separation of the dining area near the front and more of the 'pub' and very long bar area near the back. Airy, but not too 'stuffy' in its attempts to appear modern. Prices were certainly a good deal for what was offered, so no complaints there, either. Damn shame Winston-Salem is such a trek from here (1.5+ hours on a good day with traffic, each way), or otherwise I'd be making a more frequent visit.

Our beer sampler from Foothills Brewing, downtown Winston-Salem, NC. Some, of course, were better than others. Verdict: most very good, but I couldn't finish the (very strong stout, black one far right) and I still don't like IPAs...must be the 'grapefruit-like' aftertaste.

The one negative (and it's relatively minor): Foothills may need to rethink the choice of growlers they use for home sale (growlers are the glass jugs which patrons can buy and then take home beer straight from the brewery, reuse, and/or can also bring back in for a reduced-price refill). I'm personally an advocate for the German-style of growler (seen here), that features a nice ceramic top with a strong clamp, like a Grolsch bottle, that keeps fresh beer tasting good because it keeps air out. Instead, Foothills used something like this growler bottle. In principle, both growlers do the same thing but the second option is less complicated and (presumably) less costly to the Brewery and its customers. In practice, there is a massive difference to the life of the beer once the second is opened...growlers should be able to preserve a beer for 1-2 days minimum after first opened (the heavy ceramic-topped growler that WR and I use for our beer...purchased ages ago from Front Street Brewery in Wilmington, NC...can hold our beers' quality for a week well beyond first being opened). Unfortunately, the growler I brought back from Foothills (loaded initially with a very tasty Summer Bock) was really barely able to survive 3 hours after I opened it on the second day. Its 'drink life' didn't even come close to what the 'label' suggested it would be...and the beer chosen for it was certainly fresh when put in. Not a bad thing, I suppose, if the beer itself was cheap and you don't mind losing it...it is a bad thing, though, if a really good (and slightly expensive) beer goes bad because of it. And having your beer go bad...no matter if you're a home brewer or a commercial brewery...is just a heart-sickening experience to those of us who love the stuff. The German-style growler, though, could have saved the Summer Bock. Thinking when I go to Foothills again, I'll take the Front Street Brewery growler with me for a refill and see if I can't negotiate some sort of deal.

Four and a half stars (out of five) otherwise, with the staff getting five.

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