All around the world we typically walk into churches knowing exactly what we’re going to see and get, but here in Pittsburgh PA you might want to check online prior if you’re planning to spend your Sunday morning at this particular church on Liberty Avenue.
Former St. John Baptist Roman Catholic church was built in 1902 and operated that way until 1933 when it sadly closed.
For 3 years it sat, until Church Brew Works took over and opened it’s beautiful wooden doors once again on August 1st of 1996 after extensive renovation.
After days of being stuck in my hotel room, unable to even get out of bed, thanks to a nasty sickness/fever, I was extremely excited to finally get back to work and head out for more foodie adventures.
It was pretty late in the evening and my husband told me that I must see the brewery at least once whilst in Pittsburgh, and I trusted him whole heartedly.
The Uber pulled to a stop at the curb underneath a glowing streetlight, as I peered out of the window to get my first glimpse of Church Brew Works; it was a sight to behold.
Even with a picture from across the street I really could not do any justice for the church itself; it is a beauty that needs to be seen in person to be appreciated to its full extent.
The night was cold, but I stuffed my hands into my pockets and walked back and forth admiring every inch of it that I possibly could.
I loved that on the outside wall they had used the church’s bulletin board – originally used for service times and events – to list their full food menu, beers on draft, special events and basically anything to do with the brewery itself; it was nice to see them keeping with the theme of what was once a well attended church.
After a few more seconds of exposure to the frigid cold we decided it was time to head indoors, and I don’t think anything prepared me for what I was about to see.
My husband held the door, with a smile on his face, as I walked through. He had been here many times before and followed me inside, looking at my reaction instead of the church, and he was not disappointed.
“Wow” seemed to be the only word I could muster with my foggy recovering sickness brain, and I stared at him with a smile, thankful that he’d shared this the experience with me.
Flags lined the room, and the nave was beautifully decorated with church pews and bright glistening lights, all lining the way towards the alter, which housed working brew tanks.
To each side of the nave where seating areas, and the confessional stalls on either side had been transformed into restrooms for beer drinking patrons.
It was gorgeous in the most mind blowing way possible, and I found myself constantly staring around the room to discover new and exciting details I had missed prior.
To the left sat the bar, which is where my husband and I took our seats.
It wasn’t cold in the church, but it definitely had that typical breezy feel to it that made me feel as though I’d gone back to a time in my youth sitting for Christmas carols in the old church across the street from my first home in England.
There where no Christmas carols here however, as 90s jams blasted through the speakers, and our waitress came over to offer us a beer menu.
With a draft list that wasn’t too long, I already knew I would try for the Thundercloud, with my new obsession for hazy New England IPAs still growing strong.
My husband chose the Thundercloud also, which reassured me I’d made a smart choice; it was a good IPA, and I could definitely taste and the smell the hops more than usual as I took my first sip.
Sat at the bar I noticed that a lot of people where inside, chatting, drinking and eating the night away; Church Brew Works was definitely getting a lot of custom through its big wooden doors, and can you blame them? This place was a feast for not only your tastebuds, but for your eyes also.
The menu had a lot of variety, which stalled my ordering by a few minutes, and in the end I decided to make the most of my trip and try 2 dishes instead of one main.
What would you have chose if you had been right there with us? Take a look for yourself!
With the Winterfest seasonal menu in full swing I couldn’t resist passing up the opportunity to try Rattlesnake and cactus pierogi – of course – and my second dish of choice was the seven onion soup, which I knew very well would help me feel better after so many days of bed rest.
My husband went with the pub steak, which I must admit almost stole my heart when asked for my order, but I knew that two dishes would be better than one, and after so many days with zero appetite it was now back in raging form, and I was beyond HANGRY!
Before we could even drink half of our beer, our food arrived to the tune of Blink 182’s ‘Always’ playing in the background, and my eyes burned with flames of desire; it looked glorious.
At first the pierogi seemed as though something was missing from the middle of the plate, but I can assure you that the amount of ingredients packed into those little fellas would later make me realize why they arrived in a deceiving Gang of Four.
The steaming onion soup smelled so good that I struggled to pull my eyes away from it to first tackle the pierogi, but my curiosity for the Rattlesnake won tenfold and I pulled the plate closer to get the party started with that first delicious bite.
When I tell you that the inside of these pierogi are stuffed to the brim I am in no way shape or form lying; as you can see from the picture above these bad boys are LOADED, and I must say that I was pleasantly surprised with the taste.
Now, how would one describe a rattlesnake and cactus pierogi? It’s not an easy task, but I think I’ve found a way.
I’ll start with the sauce; it was a chipotle corn blanket over each pierogi. I could taste the chipotle most of all, and I noted that it was almost smoky, which paired really well with the rest of the ingredients, and I noticed that the cheesey tang I was getting must mean that the jack cheese had been beautifully melted into the sauce giving it an almost velvety texture.
The inside of the pierogi was a mix of western diamondback rattlesnake – a fatally venomous snake typically found in Southwest United States and Mexico – braised cactus, bell peppers, onion, and more jack cheese.
I couldn’t really taste the braised cactus, but then again I had never eaten cactus before and presumed that maybe the flavor wasn’t strong enough to detect while mixed in with so many ingredients.
The peppers and onions added a nice bite of flavor that would spark my tastebuds at certain intervals throughout each pierogi, and the dough was crispy on the outside and soft in the middle like a good pierogi should be.
As for the Western diamondback rattlesnake I would compare it to gator or frogs legs, which I guess in my experience could be related back to chicken; it definitely isn’t anything wild or crazy, and if you’d told me that it was boiled shredded, chicken I would have believed you.
The texture also threw me off; usually when a meat is shredded the texture is firm instead of mushy, but the texture of the rattlesnake was very spongey and reminded me almost of the texture of a steamed white fish.
I liked it. I think most of all I liked a different kind of meat, and knowing that I was getting something a little more exotic than a usual pierogi filling. After all, sometimes I find myself getting bored of the usual, chicken, lamb, beef, pork, and turkey rotation that I mix in with the usual fish suspects, and to know that there are other animals/meats out there too that are not your everyday kind is an exciting concept.
I’d like to say that I couldn’t notice a distinct flavor that would have me picking rattlesnake out of a tasting session anytime soon, but it was different and quirky in ways that kept it exciting and I think it’s a great move on the breweries part to go with a dish so intriguing that will most definitely be hard pushed to find an unsatisfied customer.
With my pierogi plate empty and my stomach reaching its 50% capacity mark, I pulled my next victim in for a closer look.
Enter – seven onion soup.
Melted cheese is one of my most loved sights in the whole world, and the provolone – although not my favorite gruyere – was calling my name.
However, the first dip of my spoon ascended to my mouth with no cheese, no onions and no bread, only that dark brown broth that would reveal itself to be so good that I wished I could use a straw. The onions within the broth had flavored it nicely, and the richness lined the inside of my mouth like a glossy film as I savored it’s delightful taste and aroma; this was one good bowl of onion soup already.
The next spoon was more of a kicker. Stacked high with a thick stringy cheese (that stretched almost a forearm long) a soup absorbed bread bite, a pile of onions, and some dark rich broth, I got a flavor punch that had me closing my eyes with happiness.
The mix of the sharp provolone, added in with the rich soup broth and bread, and the perfectly caramelized onions was a match so wonderful that I’m pretty sure it’s been a couple of years since I had an onion soup as good as this.
The onions seemed to never end as they magically multiplied in the broth, and I found myself scraping trickling cheese rivers from the sides of the bowl, unwilling to accept its decline, and mixing them in with the other ingredients for that perfect bite.
Each doughy piece of bread exploded with soupy broth inside my mouth, and begrudgingly I told my husband that he simply had to try a little, although I knew that his homemade onion soup would forever be my favorite.
We agreed on its glory and I scraped the bowl dry until the only way I could possibly get anything else out of it was to literally lick it clean, and lord knows I couldn’t lower myself to a bowl lick in a public place – ha.
It was a 10/10 from me, even if I did have no idea which seven onions where chosen to make this absolutely delightful dish.
As for my husbands meal, I am delighted to tell you that I snagged myself a bite of that juicy medium rare steak before it was devoured, and I can tell you right here and now that THAT steak was the perfect pub steak meal.
The meat was seasoned to perfection, and cooked to the right temperature for our desired finish, and I saw that each zucchini piece was nicely colored from a good grilling which I can appreciate on levels you may never know -ha. (I didn’t get to try the French fries, but I’m sure you can use your imagination.)
All in all I was content with our time at the Church Brew Works.
Not only was the atmosphere unique and exciting and the IPA delicious, but the food was everything we wished for and more while enjoyed those great craft brews.
On the way out of the brewery, full and content, I noticed that the organs where still perched above the exit and I smiled knowing that not only had the brewery taken over the church, but the true church had been saved to see many more years of footfall through its doors thanks to Church Brew Works.
If you happen to be in the area I strongly recommend a trip to Church Brew Works, not only for the great beer and the food, but just for the experience in itself because it is a one of a kind in Pittsburgh, PA!
Thank you Church Brew Works for an amazing evening. I left smiling, and feeling a little more badass than when I entered after eating Western Diamondback Rattlesnake.
Until next time,
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