Neal Farrell and Kristina Frosch are serious about beer. The duo opened Litchfield Taproom in 2013 with a 31-gallon homebrew system and an even tinier menu. Despite lacking the massive mash tuns of its competitors, the brewery managed to churn out over 40 original beers in two years – no small feat. Its kitchen, on the other hand, lacked the capacity to offer more than a handful of easy-to-prepare bar bites.
Farrell and Frosch found a bigger, better outlet for their encore: the 3,000-square-foot Peoria Artisan Brewery, aka P.A.B., at Camino á Lago Marketplace. The new digs are pretty slick, with an L-shaped wooden bar and 49-seat covered patio. Daily brews are adorably scrawled in block letters on chalkboard planks. And the food? Much, much better than its Litchfield sibling.
Like the décor, chef Michael Mahalick’s people-pleasing menu is more elegantly executed than the beer-pub norm. Chicken bites ($6), that prosaic staple of kiddie menus and fast food drive-thrus, are enlivened by a crisp, crackly skin and juicy mouthfeel. Clearly, the chef’s tenure under Stephen Jones at The Larder + The Delta (formerly Yard Bird + The Larder) paid off.
Classic deviled eggs with ham flecks ($6/$9) are enjoyable, albeit mustard-heavy, and Buffalo pig ears – another Yard Bird inspiration – are delightfully chewy and flavorful ($6). Mahalick’s sauce smacks of ubiquitous hot wing topper Frank’s Hot Sauce, but the Duroc pork’s potent, leathery flavor makes the resemblance forgivable.
Most main dishes are infused with house beer. The bacon burger’s smoky flavor is complemented by mellow muenster ($13), while the beer-brined Yard Bird Trio ($17) tastes of hops and malt. Unfortunately, the breast/wing/leg trio also suffers from some bone-dry texture, so instead opt for the bright and sweet BLTA ($10) sandwich with avocado and sugary tomato jam. The bone-in short ribs ($22) are great, too, with a rich, heady, dark-beer-infused flavor.
Offered 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Sundays, brunch features several culinary standouts paired with Bloody Marys and “beermosas.” Smoked chili bacon strips ($5) are caramelized with brown sugar to complement the dish’s chipotle spice; pair them with savory veggie hash ($8) or dense buttermilk pancakes ($10) for a balanced breakfast.
Moist pulled pork satisfies in chilaquiles ($14), a simple but tasty mélange of a yolky fried egg, corn chips and green chiles, but gets iffy treatment in Mahalick’s pork n’ waffles ($12), served with a runny barbecue-flavored glaze somewhat inaccurately described as “maple pecan syrup.”
The pub’s $6 brewhouse trio, a sampling of beer-flavored ice creams, is a perfect meal-ender. Each of the three daily selections offered a different experience, from ESB’s chocolatey notes to the darker malt flavor of Haboob Black IPA and mildly sugary buttermilk tang of Angus Boy.
Mahalick never strays too far from pub-grub convention, but there’s enough culinary intrigue in the pig ears and chili bacon to please gourmands. And the IPA-brined chicken and brewhouse trio effectively caters to the craft-brew base.
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