- The Washington Times - Monday, October 15, 2001

You might think going to Washington's new Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant for a meal would be like visiting a seafood restaurant and ordering a cheeseburger.

A seafood place may have burgers on the menu, but if you don't order the crab cake or shrimp, you're missing the house specialty.

If you assume a similar dynamic is at work at Gordon Biersch after all, this place does put "brewery" before "restaurant" in its name you would be wrong.

The food at Gordon Biersch is quite good for a chain that has earned a reputation for its microbrews. Still, the lunch we had there last week left us craving better service.

We had the penne pasta with grilled chicken breast, and it was tasty. The dish was sauteed with fresh tomatoes and sweet onions, and the $13.50 price justified the heaping helping that was placed before us.

The service, though, was a little hard to swallow.

Our companion ordered a Caesar salad with salmon, but the salad arrived sans fish. When we alerted the waiter to this mistake, he promised to bring a salmon for our companion, but never did.

Toward the end of our meal, the waiter sheepishly told us he had the chef prepare the fish, but then he dropped it on his way to the table. If this was the case, why didn't the chef prepare a second serving of salmon for our companion?

And the price of the salad, $8.95, seemed pretty steep for what was essentially a plate of romaine lettuce. This price didn't include the cost of the fish, which would have added another $3.95, according to the menu.

Our companion, who doesn't like garlic, was also unhappy that garlic butter was the only kind of butter Gordon Biersch serves.

But what the restaurant lacks in service, it makes up for in atmosphere.

Gordon Biersch is located in an old Riggs Bank building at 900 F St. NW. The Memphis company that operates the restaurant has gone to great lengths to preserve the bank's historic flavor.

The restaurant uses the bank's original marble columns, which date back to the 1890s, and its ornamental ceilings. A 24-step staircase, which was found in pieces in a corner of the building when the renovation began, has been restored and now leads to the restaurant's mezzanine level.

The brewery is enclosed in glass at one end of the restaurant.

When we visited Gordon Biersch last Monday, it seemed to attract a mix of tourists and business folks.

We arrived at about 11:45 a.m. when there were only a handful of other patrons in the dining room. When we left two hours later, the place was packed.

Gordon Biersch is also loud. Blues music is piped into the restaurant's sound system, and if you didn't know already, a wailing harmonica can be distracting when you're trying to have a conversation.

But as our companion noted, noise is sometimes conducive to a business lunch.

"If you're talking business, you may not necessarily want everyone around you to hear what you're saying," she said.

Above the restaurant's bar hang old beer advertisements that evoke the spirit of the late 19th-century illustrations that appeared during the opening credits of the TV sitcom "Cheers." It's a nice touch that adds to the historical atmosphere.

The restaurant, which opened in March, is also very clean. The dining room is still shiny, and the restroom we visited was virtually spotless.

Most of the ingredients for a fun place to have a business lunch seem to be present at Gordon Biersch: Good food, lively atmosphere. If the service improves, we see this being a solid alternative to 701 Pennsylvania Avenue or Capitol City Brewing Co., two popular eateries nearby.



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