The Place: Water Street Brewing Company, 168 Water Street, Binghamton
The Rundown: As you may have been able to infer from the radio silence here for the past four months, I haven’t been able to get out much lately. I did hit a few spots for Restaurant Week back in September, but trying to get those reviews out has been a bit of a bear for more than a few reasons (which I won’t go into here). All three are in various states of completion, and should be making their way onto the site eventually. In the meantime, however, I’m choosing to focus on posting some new reviews, so I don’t get stuck in writer’s block and you guys don’t get stuck with no content for months on end.
If you’ll recall, I mentioned back in April that I was trying to educate myself on beer for a review I had in mind further down the pipeline. Last month, I finally felt that I’d learned enough to take a stab at it.
Water St. Brewing Co. has made quite a name for themselves in the short time (~10 months) that they’ve been open. Although Binghamton Brewing Co. and Galaxy Brewing Co. should both be opening sometime later this year, Water St. has the distinction of being the Binghamton area’s first brewpub. All the beers served are made on the premises, and they seem to have about 5 on tap at any given time. For those who aren’t into beer, they also have a wine list (including selections from local Black Bear Winery, based in Chenango County), and for those who don’t drink alcohol, they offer coffee and soda.
On the night we went, Water St. was running a special promotional menu. The “I ♥ NY Food” menu consisted entirely of items sourced in New York state, with the possible exception of some spices. Water St. also has a regular menu, mostly consisting of standard bar fare with a surprising number of vegetarian/vegan options.
One very important thing to note: they do not have table service here. If you’re seated at the bar, you can order as normal and have your food brought out to you, but if you’re anywhere else in the place, you have to go up to the bar and order your food. My guess is that they’re trying to cut down on labor costs by not having to hire a server, but I do hope they’ll reconsider this policy in the future.
Another aspect of the place that needs a little work is the interior. It’s not so much that the design is bad–I actually kind of like the industrial feel that they’ve gone for. However, it’s very, very spartan, which makes the place seem kind of cavernous and cold, and also feeds into the main issue–it’s very, very loud. Although it seems like they’ve tried to mitigate it by hanging fabric-covered canvases on the wall, the sound just bounces all over the place and isn’t really absorbed anywhere. This, unfortunately, has the effect of not being able to hold a conversation with someone who’s directly across from you, and really spoils the atmosphere at what should be a fairly low-key place.
As stated earlier, there were 5 beers on tap that night. We opted to go with a beer flight so that we could try them all. The Novemberfest and the Transcontinental Bitter were both universally liked. Both were light in flavor and body, but it worked well with both styles. If the Weizenbock had been just a little less sour I would have liked it a lot better; there were lots of nice toasty caramel and coffee notes, but the sourness right up front isn’t something I like in my beer. I’m not a big fan of pale ales in general, but there was something very strange about either the IPA or the No. 2 Pale Ale–I’m not sure which, because the glasses got switched around a bit–just a very odd flavor that no one who tried it liked at all.
The Cheese & Sausage Board was one of the items off of the “I ♥ NY Food” menu. The Across The Pond Washed Rind Cheese (topped with Raspberry Blossom Honey) wasn’t bad, but it was rather earthy and I’m not a fan of that much earthiness in my cheese. The Toma Celena reminded me very much of Ricotta Salata, and for that matter, most other hard Italian cheeses–I like them in small doses (shredded or grated) and used to accent other foods; I generally don’t like them when left to stand on their own. The Cayuga Blue Goat Cheese was rather nice; it had a lovely creaminess to it that helped to balance out the strength of the flavor. My favorite, naturally, was the Smoked Gouda–it’s really hard to go wrong with that one.
As for the sausages, while the Canadian Venison Sausage was excellent (I’m a sucker for venison), the sweet spices added to the Chicken Sausage made it a real standout. The only real complaint that I have about the sausages were that there weren’t nearly enough pieces of them.
The Farro Salad was a nice, if unexpected offering on the main menu. One of the things I have to commend Water St. on is finding ways to integrate common beer-making ingredients into their menu offerings. However, although all of the ingredients seemed to be fresh, it was a little bland. Some fresh herbs would really allow the dish to come into its own, I think.
The Chili Ginger Chicken was another ”I ♥ NY Food” menu item. The Chili Ginger sauce was more sweet than spicy–I believe honey was a main ingredient–but it worked well with the char-grilled flavor of the chicken breast itself. The Sweet Potato Puree and the Buttered Green Beans that came with it were simple, but fresh and delicious. It would have been nice if the accompanying piece of Garlic Bread were a bit more toasted, but that is literally the only complaint I had about my meal. I would love to see this dish added to the regular menu, either as-is or reworked as a sandwich.
Virtually everyone else at the table opted for the Burger Basket, and not a one of them was disappointed with their choice. The burgers, like my chicken, were grilled on an actual grill (not on a griddle, as most other establishments do), and had all the lovely char-grilled flavor to prove it. One of my dining companions (a gourmand from New York City, no less) proclaimed that it was hands-down the best burger in Binghamton.
The Blueberry Pandowdy was yet another item off of the special menu, but unfortunately did not resonate as well as the appetizer and entree did. The house-made blueberry filling was delicious in and of itself, but there was an odd, almost soapy flavor to the pastry portion of the dish. The ingredient list on the back of the menu didn’t provide any clue as to where it came from–the nearest anyone could figure was that there might have been various types of grains used to make the pastry, and they didn’t jive well together flavor-wise.
The Verdict: Water Street Brewing Co. is as much of a destination for the food as it is for the microbrews. It’s not the cheapest place to eat and drink in Binghamton, but it’s affordable enough, and the quality is well worth the added cost. Definitely check them out, even if you’re not a beer geek.