Friday, August 5, 2011
The John Harvard's (Lake Grove, NY) Review
John Harvard's Brew House is a chain of microbreweries that are scattered throughout New England with only one location in New York. The problem with corporate breweries, especially national chains of brewpubs, is that the beer tends to be lifeless and without any great character. The recipes tend to lack any pop as uniformity (generally) is revered over originality and, most importantly, flavor. Fortunately, John Harvard's as a whole escapes such labels and, the Lake Grove location, in particular, stands out as one of the best brewpubs I have ever visited.
It's funny how it works with people and this particular John Harvard's. If you ask anyone in New York if they've heard of the chain, most would probably shake their heads in the negative. Those that do, though, will probably cite the one located at the Smithhaven Plaza in Lake Grove, New York as the one they've been to or heard of. The next question, invariably, is whether or not they have ever tried the Pumpkin Spice Ale. For those who have, the reaction is both spontaneous and uniform across the board: a gigantic grin followed by an ohmigod eye roll, culminating with an emphatic "YES!"
What first drew me to John Harvard's is, what I would imagine, draws most people there (unless you go to Stony Brook University...then it would just be the proximity and awesomeness of the Happy Hour deals). The Pumpkin Spice Ale is an entity unto itself and, come the autumn months, it will single-handedly draw in enormous crowds of thirsty patrons. What makes the brew so special, though, is not the beer itself but rather how it is served. Every pint comes rimmed with a cinnamon-spiced sugar, not unlike a margarita with salt. The combination of the sugar with the pumpkin ale is nothing short of divine. They even give you a small container of the sugar when you purchase a growler to go so that you can enjoy the beer in the exact same way at home.
The Pumpkin Spice Ale, not unlike Magic Hat's #9, tends to act as a gateway beer for the non-drinker (particularly with women). Unlike Magic Hat's brew, though, John Harvard's pumpkin ale has almost none of the traditional beer flavors when sipped with the sugar. Drink it a la carte or let it sit for awhile, however, and the characteristics of a traditional pumpkin ale come blazing through. Therein lies the genius for John Harvard's: the quicker you drink it, the less it tastes like beer, the more pints purchased, the greater the quantity of happy, inebriated customers.
If the story ended with the Pumpkin Spice Ale, it would still be a happy one...but what makes John Harvard's Lake Grove location stand out is the fact that all of their other brews tend to be phenomenal as well. Over the course of my numerous visits to the brewpub, I have had twenty-three different beers and the lowest grade I gave any of them was a B. The only thing that I don't like about the beer is the way the sampler works. The brewer selects five beers to offer up for sampling at any given point leaving a few otherwise-available off of the list. I haven't tried to ask for samples of the missing ones except for once when I had not tried all but one brew. I would imagine that the bartender and/or waitress would probably frown upon asking for an additional four or five samples of things that, for whatever reason, were deliberately left off of the sample list.
Finally, the second most important aspect of any brewpub is the quality of its food. Though somewhat pricey (entrees tend to run between ten and twenty dollars, depending upon what you order), the food is excellent--as good as the beer, if not better. This makes any visit out there COMPLETELY worthwhile, especially when you are driving over one-hundred twenty miles round trip like I am every time I go. Expect to drop some coin when you hit this place up, not because it is expensive but rather because you will be unable to resist the temptation of downing a few pints (or samplers!) of their stellar beer along wit their amazing assortment of delectable dishes!
I give the John Harvard's Lake Grove, NY Brew House an A+ because the beer is always fresh and crisp, innovative, and, most importantly, delicious; the food is on par with many high end restaurants let alone brewpubs; and the ambiance and decor are wonderful as well. Simply put, this John Harvard's is worth the drive out from the five boroughs and even New Jersey. It receives the highest recommendation I can offer a brewpub!
BEERS SAMPLED AT JOHN HARVARD'S LAKE GROVE
John Harvard's Pale Ale
All American Light Lager
Nut Brown Ale
Dry Irish Stout
Old Willy India Pale Ale
Queen Bee Honey Ale
Pumpkin Spice Ale
Long Island Light
El Chupacabra Barley Wine
Mad Tom's Old Ale
Celtic Irish Red
Oatmeal Amber Ale
Black Hole IPA
As far as the food goes, I would give an A or an A+ to all of the following food items by category:
APPETIZERS & SNACKS
Nachos with BBQ Pulled Pork (A++--GREAT if you're looking to save money AND can split the food with at least one or two other people).
UNCONVENTIONAL SLIDER MENU
Pulled Pork (A+--the pineapple salsa is RIDICULOUSLY good!)
Chicken Caesar Salad (A)
Crab Stuffed Tilapia (A+--this is based on a recommendation by a friend who gets this every time we go)
BREW HOUSE CLASSICS
Grilled Meatloaf (A+++ I HATE meatloaf...yet I crave this and get it almost every time we go. It is mind-bendingly delicious) and is under $15.
(All the burgers are top notch)
Backwoods BBQ Chicken Sandwich (A+ It's indulgence incarnate)
*NOTE: all information regarding food written above has been taken from the current menu on John Harvard's website for the Lake Grove location, which can be found here:http://www.johnharvards.com/downloads/Menu-LakeGrove.pdf
TIME TO VISIT
Expect a TON of traffic no matter how you go and a very long wait if you go on a Thursday or Friday night in the summer; Saturdays are no better with the crowds getting larger the later in the day you go. The best bet really is to hit it up on a Monday night during the week or early on a Saturday/Sunday afternoon. And, of course, to go again in the fall when the Pumpkin Spice Ale is in!
HOW TO GET THERE
If you live west of Lake Grove on Long Island (which, I would imagine, most of you would), and unless you're a masochist or traffic lover, DO NOT TAKE THE L.I.E.! If you're coming from southern Brooklyn/Queens/Staten Island or central/southern Jersey, your best bet will be to take the Belt Parkway to the Southern State, then hopping on the Sagtikos Parkway North at Exit 41A and taking it to its terminus at the Northern Parkway taking care to avoid getting off at the LIE exit shortly beforehand. You'll want to take the Northern Parkway East to its ending point where it becomes Route 454. Shortly thereafter (only a mile or two) you'll want to take Route 347 E/N for around seven miles until you reach the Smithhaven Plaza on the right side of the road. The address for the Brew House is 2093 Smithhaven Plaza in Lake Grove, NY.
--Beer Whisperer Matt
For more information about the brewpub, please visit the official John Harvard's site at: