Our trip to the Walldorff in Hastings, Michigan was one borne of coincidence and serendipity. Laura and I had spent several hours at Binder Park Zoo with our fellow photographer friends (who also happen to be our brother and sister in law). I often forget the valuable resource Michigan has in the Binder Park zoo, which despite being located in an inconvenient part of the state for me, is significantly more impressive than the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids. We decided to make a trip to our friends over at the Dark Horse brewery, because Eric and Sarah had not been there and (if you've been reading along) it's still one of our absolute favorite places to visit. Also it's close to the Binder Park zoo.
On our way back home, we decided (practically on a lark) to go visit our friends at the Walldorff Brew Pub. They don't bottle their own product (yet), but we met the managers at the Ludington Suds on the Shore craft beer festival. A more hospitable and entertaining pair of people I have never met; we felt it was our duty to visit their establishment and see if the food matched the beer they shared at the festival.
The Walldorff can be found right in downtown Hastings, on a quaint little main drag of road that is reminiscent of many other small Michigan towns housing brewpubs we've visited; the atmosphere is clearly focused on local food, drink, and entertainment. I've mentioned before that this is the exact setting for breweries of which I am most fond. The building itself is much larger than I expected; it's almost cavernous, with a bar and dining area set up parallel to each other and running the length of the building. The kitchen is exposed and the chefs were moving at a very brisk pace to keep up with the bustling environment, and the wood fired oven (out of which come their famous pizzas) was center stage.
We'd already sampled some of the Walldorff's beer at Suds on the Shore, but it never hurts to taste them again. The Walldorff's brewer has come up with some very interesting flavors as well as offering some excellent variations of more traditional beer. The Sundance was described to us as a competitor to Oberon, but it was significantly lighter and sweeter. A more apt comparison would be Bell's Oarsman or even Dogfish head's festina peche, although with more lemon and less peach. The stout was a deep, salty flavor – an original stout among a sea of coffee and chocolate that sit heavy in the gut. The biggest surprise for me was their bourbon aged blackberry belgian ale. It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of bourbon barrel aged beers, and this one ranks right up there. The alchohol smell is strong and it lingers on the tongue, masking a subtle blackberry and sugar flavor. The malt is heavy and sweet, but there's enough hops finish that the beer avoids straying into “candy coated” territory. I can't recommend this with salty food (get the sundance for that), but it went perfectly after dinner with dessert.
Samples on the left, photographers/in-laws on the right. And more samples.
If the beers were upstaged by anything, though, it was the food. We sampled two of their wood fired pizzas, a vegetarian pita wrap, and a pulled pork sandwich with cole slaw. This was by far some of the best food I've had in Michigan under 100 dollars. The pulled pork was spicy and tender and the vegetarian pita was full of flavor, made with fresh, hot vegetables and their signature “guacahummus.” The wood fired pizzas are what they're known for, however: my Hawaiian pizza (called “the Island” on the menu) was a perfect combination of ham, pork, pineapple, and barbeque sauce. I eat a lot of hawaiian pizzas and this was my favorite. The real winner, though, was the “highway robbery” pizza. It's a spicy pie with jalapenos, grilled chicken, with a secret, sweet/spicy sauce that is absolutely fantastic. In fact one of the ingredients in the sauce was their own State Street Oatmeal Stout! And the garlic fries. Oh yes. These salty garlic sweet potato fries will change your opinion on what fries should taste like. I cannot recommend them to people highly enough. They are crispy and full of flavor with a salty crunch followed by that superior texture and flavor of the sweet potato. They are perfect.
The real problem with this place? It's too far away from my house to walk. But between the fantastic beer, the delicious food, the excellent service and the great atmosphere, it's well worth much more than a walk – I would drive 200 miles to go to the Walldorff. Great job on a hell of a brewery.