The Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Some say that eating really good food is a “religious experience.” At The Church Brew Works, they are not far from wrong. St. John the Baptist Catholic Church was established in 1902 serving the community for almost 100 years until the doors closed in 1993. The building lay dormant and untouched until the doors reopened in 1996 as The Church Brew Works.

Location: 3525 Liberty Ave, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the borough of Lawrenceville.

Menu: The eclectic menu is pub food at it’s finest. The appetizer menu includes freshly-made hummus, spinach, feta, and smoked Gouda dip and BBQ pulled pork nachos.  The sandwich menu has a couple of surprises on it including a Kobe Beef Steak Sandwich and Bison Burgers. The entree menu does not disappoint with wonderful dishes like Bison Bolognese – Cavatappi pasta tossed in a classic slow-simmered Bolognese sauce featuring 100% bison meat, Bay of Fundy Salmon –  Grilled balsamic glazed sustainable salmon served with lime-cilantro rice and strawberry salsa, and Beer Steamed P.E.I. Mussels (steamed in CBW Celestial Gold Lager, of course).

The Church Brew Works has their own vegetable and herb garden practically guaranteeing that the produce used in their food dishes and beverages are fresh and grown with integrity.

They have also embraced a sustainable seafood program for all their seafood entrees.

Thoughts: When in a new city I tend to choose where I eat by what’s different or unusual and where the locals would go. Traveling with my husband there is sure to be a brewery (or two) on that list as well. We chose The Church Brew Works for that reason. Arriving at what used to be St. John the Baptist Catholic Church I felt a sense of excitement and wonder. I wondered how the hundreds of Irish and Scotch Catholic immigrants who lived in this community must have felt when arriving at St. John the Baptist for Sunday Mass.

Pulling open the big, wooden doors I was excited to see how a church could be transformed into a brewpub.

Feeling a sense of reverence I was immediately drawn to the sanctuary. The ceiling and walls were painted blue like many old Catholic churches and cathedrals. The altar that had once stood as the focal point had now been replaced with bright, shiny steel and copper brewing equipment. Being Catholic, I’m not sure how I felt about that, but knowing that this old church has been saved for future generations to enjoy, albeit differently, made me feel that it was okay.

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The restoration was impeccable. Table benches were made from the original church pews. The vibrant stained-glass windows were restored to their original glory. The bar was built using reclaimed planks from the pews. The eight original light fixtures were taken down and painstakingly restored before rehanging them. And the grand, old pipe organ still stands in the loft overlooking the “congregation” like a sentinel.

I indulged in the Seven Onion Soup laced with Church Brew Works gold medal-winning Pious Monk Dunkel and topped with homemade croutons and provolone – featured in the Brewpub Cookbook. For my entree I ordered Shrimp and Grits – Pan sautéed shrimp simmered in a Cajun cream sauce served over creamy smoked Gouda grits and microgreens salad.  Hands down the best shrimp and grits I have ever tasted.

My husband who indulges my whim for off-beat eateries ordered his staple, but this time his “ordinary burger” was a chargrilled 100% ground Bison Burger on a Kaiser roll topped with cheddar cheese, crispy shallots, and Applewood smoked bacon.

We had no room for dessert but the signature dessert list was off the hook – Brewmisu. Lady Fingers dipped into coffee-sweet barley syrup. Layered with fresh Mascarpone cheese. Dusted with cocoa and served with a bittersweet chocolate fudge sauce.

The food was all so delicious, I almost forgot to mention the beer. They are a brewery, after all. CBW signature brews are Celestial Gold – Great American Beer Festival 2012 Bronze Medal Winner, Pipe Organ Pale Ale, Pious Monk Dunkle –  Great American Beer Festival 2012 Silver Medal Winner, and ThunderHop IPA. They also have beer on tap and in bottles, plus a full bar.

Price Range: Appetizer and soup prices range from $5.50-12.50. Sandwiches and burgers go for between $9.50-15. Entrees and entree salads range from $12.95-15.95.

There are separate lunch and dinner menus. The food is almost identical but the dinner prices are slightly higher.

Guest Reviewer Bio: Loretta Berry is a freelance travel writer/photographer as well as an avid food, brewery, distillery, and winery explorer. She loves discovering new places, soaking up the culture and experiencing the local food and drink. She has traveled extensively throughout the United States. She is a wife, mother of four, and grandmother of five. She loves traveling to and with her kids and grandkids, sharing with them her passion for fun and adventure. She is a member of ITWAP.

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