Beer, brick-oven pizza, and rafters at Iron Horse Ale House | Bleader

Beer, brick-oven pizza, and rafters at Iron Horse Ale House

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Iron Horse Ale House's logo is a hybrid of a locomotive and a beer tap. It's pretty manly, pretty turn-of-the-century. Stamped on the doorway of Norwood Park's new brick fortress—just to the right of the banner advertising a Miller Lite bucket special—it exudes a burly, industrial aesthetic similar to that at Revolution Brewing, which brands its own logo with a triumphant fist that also serves as a handle for each beer tap and a pillar for the bar. Iron Horse's interior is impressive, actually, crossing a factorylike setting with that of a swashbuckling saloon, grandiose rafters and plenty of TVs with sports included.

The fare is typical brewpub grub, though Iron Horse Ale House absolutely does not brew its own beer (it's an ale house, mind you). The draft selection is relatively pedestrian, not for lack of solid options, just for lack of adventurous ones—Dogfish Head, Half Acre, Great Divide, and other trustworthy beers are all on tap, so you'll be pleased, but you'll probably have had it before. The food menu leans heavily on brick-oven pizzas and fancified bar cuisine. So, for example, there's the Bocconcini Fritto, which is a gussied-up way of saying fried cheese. And no two ways about it, fried cheese is fried cheese, and fried cheese is delicious, regardless of the shape into which it's molded and sauce it's paired with. This appetizer was followed by a promising bowl of spinach with goat cheese, beets, mandarin oranges . . . the works. But there was a catch: the shareable salad (which, for the love of God, needed serving tongs or something) was hosed down in a bland raspberry vinaigrette—there was a veritable pool of it sloshing around once we hit the bottom of the bowl. It was messy and oily and turned what had once seemed fresh, sharp spinach into a drowned mess.

Can you spot the brick oven?
My dinner partner ordered the Iron Horse Burger, which with a look of pleasant surprise he described as cooked well and "actually really good." I felt inclined to go for one of the brick-oven pizzas, if for no other reason than to give the three bored-looking guys manning the oven something to do. The Smokin' features a roasted red pepper cream, smoked mozzarella, roasted red peppers, fennel sausage (which I subtracted), more cheese, and basil (a dusting of dried flakes, not fresh). Not bad. The cream sauce was easily the best part (a vodka cream sauce and buffalo cream sauce are available too). So much so that I wish it had really been slathered on. Because as I neared the end of the pie, the amount in each bite dwindled, or maybe just dried up. My own pleasant surprise at the first slice eventually morphed into a shrug that said basically, "Hey, it's pizza. I like pizza."

The meal didn't leave me wanting more, or wanting leftovers. But Iron Horse Ale House is a perfectly fine, completely inoffensive addition to a far-northwest neighborhood that butts up against the burbs, with a robust if predictable beer selection, Blackhawks games on TV (sound on, of course), and enough wood and iron to build a Viking ship. The food's just a bonus, really.

Iron Horse Ale House, 6158 N. Northwest Hwy., 773-763-1800, ironhorsechicago.com

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