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Monday, December 2, 2013

Nothing Is Free at Free State Brew Pub Where a Terrible $6 Burger Costs $9!

Nothing Is Free at Free State Brew Pub Where a Terrible $6 Burger Costs $9!

Free State Brew Pub
636 Massachusetts Street
Lawrence, Kansas 66044
(785) 843-4555

Mon-Sat: 11am-Midnight
Sun: Noon-11pm

Small Bar with Beer Barrels Behind
Free State Brewery … Free State Brewery … that is all I have heard since moving to Lawrence in August … “Free State Brewery”.  I have tasted some of their micro brews and they are excellent, but every time we wanted to try the food, the place was jam-packed.  Now I know why while at the same time wondering … WHY?

The reason WHY people are always outside the door on Mass (Massachusetts Street – Downtown Lawrence, Kansas), I now know, is because there is so little room inside.  The massive aluminum brewing barrels occupy a large percentage of the interior space, leaving room for a small bar and maybe 10-15 tables.  There appear to be more tables upstairs, but the rather large space is dominated by the massive beer making equipment, leaving much less room for patrons.

The reason WHY I wonder what makes this establishment attractive to their many customers is because our recent dining experience was UNDERwhelming!

We were walking down Mass last Saturday night looking at the Christmas lights and considering stopping for a bite to eat.  As we made our way north to the 700 block, I noticed that there was an absence of humans outside of Free State Brew Pub, so we went in.  We were quickly seated at a small table next to the bar and a four-top occupied by two attractive young lovebirds.  Let me digress for a moment …

What I am about to say is a generalization, but it is an observation that has become more and more frequent of late.  This lovely couple was sitting next to each other, he with his legs propped up on the chair across from him as if he were lounging in his apartment, not a restaurant full of people.  When they did not have their tongues in each other’s ears, they were both simultaneously buried in their cell phones, eagerly texting away, probably to each other!  I call it “social dystrophy”, the inability of many people, particularly the younger generation, but not exclusively, to communicate effectively with fellow human beings.  If interested, you can read more in my article “Social Dystrophy: Are Technology or Values to Blame”.

Brewery Burger with Cheddar and Fries - $8.80
Back to Free State Brew Pub.  The place was full, but not packed, yet the noise-level was high.  After 20 years in the Air Force working around very loud jet engines, my hearing is not great and I had a hard time hearing my wife from across the small table.  Wood and glass dominate the large open room, the lighting not too bright and not dim, making the setting comfortable except for the decibel-level.

Our server, a nice young man who never mentioned his name, arrived promptly to take our drink order.  I decided to go with one of two stouts ($4 for an American pint) on the menu, I tried the other later, a flavorful thick, rich chocolaty concoction that was complex, yet smooth.  The second, an oatmeal stout, was also very tasty and smooth with less complexity than the first, but it was delicious.

I ordered the Brewery Burger medium-well with cheddar cheese, figuring a brew pub would have a top-notch burger, especially at $8.25 “without cheese”.  The menu states that it is a “1/3-pound patty of Kansas pride, Creekstone Farms seasoned premium charbroiled ground beef on an onion bun, slice of onion, leaf of lettuce and a pickle spear. Hot fries stand ready to complete the feast.” Adding Provolone, Blue, Swiss, Jack or Cheddar cheese is an extra 55¢, bringing the price to nearly $9. 

When our order arrived, I was shocked by the size of the hamburger and not in a good way.  The plate was dominated by overcooked French fries that sat upon a single flaccid piece of wilted lettuce, NO ONION, and a small dill pickle spear hidden under the fries, leaving the small onion roll containing the meat and cheese.  That was it, a beef patty the size of a McDonalds ¼-pounder and cheese, no mayo, no catsup, no tomato, NO TASTE!  First of all, the beef patty was medium or medium-rare, pink throughout and NOT medium-well as I had ordered.  I added some catsup out of the bottle and rather than ask for some tomato or onion, deciding to eat it as is and thinking that maybe they knew something I did not … that it should be eaten this way, it should not!

Based on value, this was one o
f the worst hamburgers I have ever eaten … and people wait outside in the rain and cold for this?  Five Guy’s burgers, at less than $6, are eons better than this sad excuse for a hamburger and even (dare I say it?) Burger King’s Whopper is tastier, cheaper, and COMES WITH ONION AND TOMATO!

Gorgonzola and Mushrrom Gnocchi - $9.99
My wife had the Gorgonzola and Mushroom Gnocchi - $9.95 – consisting of Shiitake and button mushrooms sautéed with julienne red onions, then simmered in a creamy Gorgonzola white wine sauce with fresh made potato gnocchi and finished with sliced black mission figs, local micro greens and toasted rosemary focaccia.  Her dish was attractive and flavorful enough, except for the fact that the red onions had not only been caramelized, they had been burnt.  The burnt onion flavor overwhelmed the otherwise tasty, creamy Gorgonzola and white wine sauce which had just the right amount of the strong cheese which can be overpowering if not done correctly.  The gnocchi were cooked perfectly, not too soft and not too firm, making the dish a decent value except for the fact that the burnt onions ruined it.  For $10, a side salad would be nice considering the fact that sandwiches come with a choice of potato or salad, but that is not the case.

I honestly have no idea why this place is so popular other than the fact that it may have become “the place to be seen” by the local college crowd, the same folks that give Chipotle 4 out of 5 stars on Yelp.  The beer was very good, the food extremely disappointing.  Based on our experience and the few available options on the menu, I doubt if we will be back except to have a beer, but based on the size of the bar and the usual crowds, I also doubt if it will be worth the wait.

CombatCritic Gives Free State Brew Pub 5 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

Free State Brewing Co on Urbanspoon

Key Words: free, state, brew, pub, brewery, beer, food, hamburger, stout, pasta, gnocchi, cheese, French, fries, eat, drink, Lawrence, Kansas, Massachusetts, downtown, CombatCritic

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