The big question about Port Chester Hall is, simply put: Why? The county already has Applebee’s and TGI Fridays serving deep-fried ‘merican bar fare under nostalgic 19th-century typography. In Port Chester Hall, you’ll find familiar, waxed-mustachioed baseballers, and, lo, there’s that busty, stein-toting beer frau. These things have all been done to death—and, we’re talking decades ago. Meanwhile, Westchester and its environs are currently flowering with excellent craft brewers whose beers are found in trendsetting dining meccas like Manhattan’s Ivan Ramen and The Breslin Bar & Dining Room. Which begs another question: Why would Port Chester Hall, a beer-themed restaurant, open in beer-savvy Westchester serving only the wan beers of a single, and fairly undistinguished, brewer?
The answer to those questions is that, despite a name that tantalizingly evokes the funkiness of New York City’s outdoor beer halls, Port Chester Hall is operated by the touristy Heartland Brewery. The New York City-based chain—with outlets in Times Square, Midtown West, etc.—was launched during the brewpub fad of the mid-1990s, which faded as soon as its novelty wore off. (“Dude! We’re eating burgers and looking at giant fermentation tanks!”) Diners quickly realized that they could: a) get better beer from established breweries, and, b) get better burgers at restaurants that didn’t struggle to also produce beer. Most of the ’90s brewpubs disappeared sooner than their souvenir glasses, which still clutter cabinets, relics of forgettable meals.
While Port Chester Hall does not brew its beer onsite (this emanates from the chain’s Brooklyn brewery), the restaurant carries only Heartland beers. (There is also Woodchuck Cider.) Any beer geek, upon sipping Heartland’s IPA, Oatmeal Stout, Pilsner, Golden Lager, etc., will be able to name tastier versions of those beers, and many that are locally brewed. Sadly, the cocktail list offers little solace. With the exception of the Runaway American Sidecar (Michter’s American Whiskey, Laird’s AppleJack, Cointreau, lemon), PCH’s cocktails skew cloyingly sweet.
Though you won’t find gleaming tanks, Port Chester Hall’s charm lies in its site, which existed nearly a century before Heartland Brewery’s Times Square debut. PCH’s dining room is the repurposed waiting room of the historic (circa 1890) Port Chester train station, and many of its original architectural details remain intact. Look for soaring brick walls, brawny Victorian moldings, and a spectacularly curved wooden ticket window that Metro-North still operates until 1:40 pm on weekdays. Among the
additions, there are antique beer taps and, over the fireplace, a busty frau frolicking with beer and a human-sized goat. Port Chester Hall’s outdoor space is even more seductive. The hearth-warmed patio’s wide footprint was reclaimed from the station’s parking lot, and—on chilly nights—heat lamps invite outdoor dining (though the view is strictly parking lot, and honking trains will rumble by).
The winning starter at PCH is the hot pretzel, but it’s practically a Guy Fieri joke. It is truly as big as your head and arrives on a metal frame. On one night, its cheddar ale sauce had broken, but the dish was still seductive (because hot pretzel and cheese sauce, that’s why). Other starters also veer into Fieri-Land, including the pastrami Reuben spring rolls with Carnegie Deli pastrami, sauerkraut, spicy mustard, and Gruyère. Predictably, the salty, greasy result was not worth violating the cuisines of two respectable cultures. The same can be said of chicken tikka masala wontons, whose powerfully minted yogurt sauce nixed any hint of poultry (or even curry). Tragically, even the tater tots with bacon, cheddar, and chives fared badly. Beyond crisp shells, the salty spheres were gluey, and not particularly savoring of bacon. Stick with that pretzel or the delicious Creekstone Kobe sliders.
Sure, you could hit the mushy bacon and chicken mac and cheese (which my dining partner refused to eat, forcing me to split my tasty—and, formerly, well-portioned—Pat LaFreida cheeseburger). You could also order the tarry, overly salted, overly peppered shepherd’s pie, but I would stay away (at press, PCH no longer offered this). Of all the non-burger mains, only the shamefully basic petit filet with mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach was good. We would have enjoyed it more had it not arrived, as did our mains during all three meals, halfway through our first course.
Winningly (for my purposes, anyway), our waiter volunteered that only one of PCH’s three desserts was prepared in-house. It was the fudgy chocolate mousse that alternated, Jell-O parfait style, with layers of canned-tasting whipped cream. As our waiter tactfully hinted, the commercial-tasting apple pie was a precipitous step down. Smart money ends with a glass of George Dickel whiskey, enjoyed eye-to-eye with a buxom fräulein and her man-goat.
Food 1/4 | Service 1/4 | Atmosphere 2.5/4 | Cost $$
Port Chester Hall
3 Broad St, Port Chester
(914) 305-8383; www.portchesterhall.com