GC Food & Brewery: A Review

I visit too many restaurants to cover in the print version of the RFT. From time to time I'll share my thoughts on these visits in briefer, less formal blog-exclusive reviews.

GC Food & Brewery is a chain of restaurants with locations in a dozen states. GC stands for Granite City, though not Granite City, Illinois. The first location opened in St. Cloud, Minnesota, in 1999.

GC both does and doesn't brew its beer on site. The chain uses a patented technique it calls -- no joke -- Fermentus Interruptus.

The GC Web site explains that Fermentus Interruptus

makes micro brewing for multiple locations more efficient. This process...allows us to ship sweet liquid called wort from our central brewing facility to individual stores. When this liquid reaches the stores, we begin the fermentation process and complete the brewing.

I suppose Fermentus Interruptus is a more successful technique than its namesake, but I'm not really a fan of GC's brews.

First, though, the food. The menu takes a let's-please-everyone approach that leads to many choices, none of them especially exciting. There are flatbreads, pastas, burgers, sandwiches and "Signature Selections." A list of the appetizers should give you some idea of GC's reach: crab cakes, spinach-artichoke dip, nachos, crab wontons, chicken quesadillas, Buffalo wings and waffle fries.

I have no idea what makes the signature selections so special. A massive chicken burrito -- maybe twice as long as your average specimen -- was shellacked in melted cheese and tame in flavor. The "Granite City Meatloaf" did have one interesting distinction: It was charbroiled. The menu doesn't make clear whether it was only charbroiled or parcooked in the oven and then charbroiled to order, but it doesn't really matter because all you can taste is char. It's something like eating a cube steak. The meatloaf comes swimming in a sticky-sweet bourbon-onion sauce and topped with a tangle of fried onion strings.

Another odd distinction: The bacon cheeseburger I had (the "Bedda Chedda Bacon Burger") was topped by a heaping handful of shredded cheddar cheese. There was so much cheese, in fact, that much of the cheese hadn't melted, which removed one of, maybe the most prominent, pleasures of eating a cheeseburger. And it looked funny. I'd ordered the burger medium, but the patty was medium-well edging toward well-done and rather flavorless.

One thing in the menu's favor: It's full of foods that make you crave a nice cold one. GC has four main beers: a lager, an IPA, a stout and a bock. (There is also at least one seasonal offering; on my visits, this was an Irish red ale.)

I sampled all but the stout. I liked the bock the best, smooth with a clear, mildly sweet malt flavor. The IPA had the requisite hoppy bitterness but not much depth. The lager was much, much too light for my tastes -- it reminded me of shandy, beer cut with lemonade.

On the one hand, I give GC credit for building a chain of restaurants around microbrewed beer and daring to open a branch in the heart of Budweiser country. And for someone who wants to branch out from cheap American lager, it would make an OK starting place.

But there's something much too formulaic about GC's approach to beer. The IPA is an IPA. If you didn't know what an IPA was and what it tasted like, now you do. Someone who is more than just a little curious about beer, let alone a beer geek, will soon find themselves asking, "Is that all there is?"

GC Food & Brewery 11411 Olive Boulevard Creve Coeur 314-432-3535 $$-$$$

-Ian Froeb

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