Power House Brewing/Columbus Bar
322 4th Street
Visited on March 7, 2008
Sometimes I let my expectations and desire to like a place stand in the way of a fair and balanced review. That happens less to me these days than it used to, but one of the rankings on my list to be published is a prime example.
The Columbus Bar is a small bar in a small town called Columbus, Indiana, which is about an hour’s drive east of Bloomington and Indiana University. It’s quite charming, being small with a lot of dark wood, a lot of regulars, and the perfect hometown vibe. Plus, the New York Times once did an article on their acclaimed pork tenderloin sandwich.
For those of you from outside Indiana, that’s basically a schnitzel – pork pounded flat, breaded and fried – adorned with mayo, lettuce, tomato and perhaps some American cheese. It also happens to be my favorite sandwich of all-time. So when I heard that the Times had paid a visit once upon a time, I really wanted to like the place.
But looking back, it wasn’t that great.
The sandwich was good, but I grew up with better. The most distinguishing part of it was its gigantic size. They barely brewed. They had a stout of their own making when I visited and nothing else of their own. The second visit, they had none at all. And the stout wasn’t that great.
Perhaps they’ve evolved a bit today and have expanded their brewing a bit. Judging by their current website, they have. And if said expansion is very good, then this place would get back into its five-star rating. But as it was in my memory, I have to drop it down.
This self-proclaimed “nano brewery” is in the heart of a tiny downtown in a tiny pit-stop of a town along I-65 between Indianapolis and Louisville. They have only a five-gallon brewing system, which can be seen in the front window standing behind a velvet rope. The bar is small, there are only a few tables, and old, small, square TV’s adorn the top of the bar for patrons to watch. And on some evenings, live music is performed from a balcony overlooking the small restaurant. Nice!
The Columbus Bar serves pub grub. They know it, and they’re damn good at it. Their classic “Hoosier” fried pork tenderloin sandwich has been written about in the New York Times twice, and for good reason. The hand breaded and fried gigantic piece of pork (twice as big as the bun it comes on) is flavorful and fried to perfection. The fried mushroom caps have breading that doubles the size of the caps, and is obviously hand breaded and fried. I would prefer a little less breading myself, but it was still good, and I appreciate the effort. Finally, a homemade praline cheesecake competes on the menu with a Cheesecake Factory plain, and please, please go for the homemade option every time! It was amazingly delicious. I wish I had room for another piece.
They only have a couple of their own brews on tap at one time, and only one when I went. That being said, their Diesel Oil Stout is very rich, thick and flavorful. I enjoyed it very much. And the rest of their draught list is very, very good. They are the first to carry Indianapolis’ Brugge Brassiere’s beer. They also carry Fuller’s, Bell’s, Black Hook, Stone, and Brooklyn, to name a few. Not bad for a small bar.
Returned for a visit June 5, 2008. Location is exactly as I remembered. The tenderloin was even more perfectly seasoned and cooked than I remember, but smaller. It fit quite nicely on the bun. Either it’s smaller due to rising food costs, or the bun they serve it on is now much bigger. I can’t say for certain. The beer on tap was their Nut Brown, and it was average. Their menu describes it as, “A full bodied well-balanced mahogany colored brew with a good hop character, nutty flavor and off-white head. It is a mid-pallet beer that is easily digestible and pairs well with most foods.” And that describes it perfectly. There is a fairly heavy mouth feel, mild to moderate hop bitterness, one note of nutty flavor, and nothing else clouding up the palette picture. It’s a very simple bear, it’s adequate, but I’ve had much better. Their beer list is still magnificent. This is more of a great beer bar in a historic location than a good brewpub stop. Still worth the drive, however.