Restaurant Review: The Old Forge

This week’s review is of Lanesboro’s finest eatery – the Old Forge. While it is slightly farther away than the Spring Street fare on which this column has previously focused -about a 25 minute drive – the Forge is well worth your time and money, especially if you’re either 21 or in possession of a persuasive fake ID.

The fare at the Forge falls into three categories: Beer, Wings and Everything Else. Start with your choice of 300 different varieties of beer, with give or take a dozen on tap on any weekend. Not bad, huh? Then, over your first pint, make sure to put in an order for a pile of the best wings around.

Maybe you stop there, but maybe you don’t. There are other options available: pub food, entrees and even a reasonably-priced glass of wine or two. But beer and award-winning wings are the heart of the Old Forge, and they’re what make it great.

I’ve been to the Forge before, but I couldn’t review it based on my memories. Memory is a funny thing, especially when you’ve been delirious for the past few years due to sleep deprivation. I’m sure there are other factors that can impact a college student’s memory, but my mom reads these columns, so I won’t get into them here. Since something like 75 percent of Williams students are psych majors, you won’t have too much trouble getting some answers. And if you’re still having trouble, I’m sure that the Health Center has loads of informative pamphlets that will tell you all about it.

So I headed down to Lanesboro last Friday with some buddies to refresh my memory. Apparently, a wedding reception was taking place downstairs. The Forge is terrific, but a wedding reception? You can’t beat that kind of endorsement. So we had a bit of a wait. Not a problem though, as we were able to wait by the bar. I tried a pumpkin-flavored ale on tap from the Dogfish Head microbrewery, and it was surprisingly enjoyable, with strong nutmeg flavors and a crisp aftertaste. For underaged readers and designated drivers, don’t be discouraged by all the wonderful beers that the Forge provides. There is always non-alcoholic Saranac Root Beer on tap, which is nice until your birthday comes around.

When you get to your table, the first issue you and your friends need to tackle is, “What kind of wings are we getting, and how many?” The wings take a fair amount of time to prepare, so you should order them as quickly as possible. There are three varieties: regular (available in varying degrees of spiciness), Dean’s Original and Buff Orpington. Conveniently, the Forge allows you to split your orders up in six-wing blocks, making it easier to try the different varieties all at once. The regular treatment delivers a crispy, fried exterior without drying out the meat inside, which was my favorite for executing the classic Buffalo wing style to near-perfection. The Dean’s Original wings were less crispy, with a sweeter, teriyaki-esque sauce, but they were not as spicy as the regular style. The Buff Orpington wings took the greatest departure from traditional Buffalo wing preparation in that they were doused in a pungent curry-based sauce.

Each variety had its advocates among the group I ate with, but I would recommend you start with the traditional variety and move on from there. No matter which one you choose, you will be more than satisfied: these wings are the best I’ve ever had. I’ve been to the Old Forge several times, and often, all I will order is the wings – no other item on the menu comes close. They are large and meaty, and first time visitors to the Forge might be surprised by how full they feel after eating just a dozen wings.

While waiting for our appetizers to show up, we perused the extensive beer list, which is the Old Forge’s hallmark. From pale ale to stout and everywhere in between, the Forge has you covered, and with representatives from around the world. In addition to the comprehensive collection of bottled beer, there are about ten different brews on draft at any given time – these change frequently so that each visit will be accompanied by new offerings.

This variety of beers has given rise to the Forge’s famous Beer Club. This successful promotion encourages patrons to try 50 different beers at the Forge over the course of a year. The records are kept at the restaurant itself, and upon reaching this milestone, a bell is rung and you are rewarded with a metal stein, custom engraved with a personal message. From this point on, when you visit the Forge, you drink your beer out of your personal mug and get discounts to boot. The countless mugs hanging above and around the bar area attest to the success of this promotion, but there is one caveat: the engraved mug takes six months to be ordered and prepared, so if this is your goal, start early.

We also tried a few other offerings from the main menu – stuffed potato skins, a Portabello mushroom sandwich and a Mexican pizza. The potato skins were stuffed with melted jack cheese topped with either bacon or salsa, and they were of a disappointing below-average quality. The salsa seemed not to be much more than chopped tomatoes, and though melted cheese and bacon is a winning combination in any form, the finished product was unexceptional. There was too much potato left inside the skin – I wanted to focus on delectable bacon and melted cheese, but all I kept tasting was dry baked potato.

Due to all this starch, my mouth and throat were more clogged than the Los Angeles freeway at rush hour, but I’m sure my waitress didn’t mind, as this caused me to buy more drinks. I was forced to reach again and again for my Young’s Oatmeal Stout to wash it all down. While this selection was a rich and tasty pint, similar to Guinness, I’m sure Mr. Young did not envision his beer’s primary function to be first-aid for starchy potatoes.

The Mexican pizza was average at best – anytime Taco Bell’s version is superior to a restaurant entree that costs three or four times as much, there are obviously some issues to be worked out. It reminded me more of a Mexican salad with some melted cheese thrown in than an actual Mexican pizza, and it would have benefited from more refried beans and cheese and less vegetables.

The Portabello sandwich was slightly better than the Mexican pizza. It was served with sauteed peppers on rye, and was a tad soggy. Aside from this complaint, however, the sandwich is a nice vegetarian option.

We didn’t get a chance to try everything on the menu, but the recommendation here is to go for the wings and the beer. If you don’t care much for wings, or you only drink beers that feature bikini-clad women in their advertisements, the Old Forge might not be the place for you. This is not a knock on bikini-clad women: everything has its place. But the Forge will fill your belly with award-winning wings while giving you a chance to expand your horizons with the area’s widest selection of beers from around the world.