I just put on a dealer in Jefferson City, MO, one that I've been pursuing for awhile and they finally came around to picking up some of my products. I had a meeting with them in Jeff City recently and had some time to get some lunch before I left town. I happened upon a brewpub with a unique name and concept - Prison Brews. I decided to give the place a try.
The Missouri State Penitentiary is a local historical landmark in Jefferson City - some for good reasons, many for the bad ones. From 1836 to 2004, some of the most notorious of Missouri's criminals were locked up in the prison located on Lafayette Street near the Missouri River in Jefferson City. It was the oldest prison west of the Mississippi River and - at one time - housed the largest prison population in the U.S. When the prison closed ten years ago and inmates were moved to a new facility on the outskirts of Jefferson City, they began to conduct tours through the facility starting in 2009. The "ghost tours" are one of the types of tours with overnight paranormal tours available. (Note - the Missouri State Penitentiary tours have been closed down since November of 2013 for clean up and renovations making the facility safer to receive tourists. It is scheduled to reopen sometime in the spring of 2014.)
Debbie Brown also knew the importance of the old prison on the history of Jefferson City and she opened Prison Brews, located about 4 blocks from the former prison, in 2008. She put a prison theme into her new restaurant and renovated the building to include prison bars, cells and even a "gas chamber", but they're really just the restrooms. (Get it?)
The building in which Brown put Prison Brews was built toward the end of the 19th century. It originally housed a wagon and blacksmithing shop, then it became a creamery before turning into the historic Landwehr Dairy in the early 1940's. After Landwehr Dairy moved out, it was an electrical company for a number of years.
It was around 1:30 when I pulled up to Prison Brews at the corner of Ash and East High streets in Jefferson City. (see map) I was greeted by a guy who pointed me toward one of the booths - called "cells" at Prison Brews. I took a seat and he dropped off a food menu. Curiously, there was no beer menu either on the food menu or on the table. There was a beer menu behind the bar in the step-up bar area, but it was behind prison bars and I couldn't read it very well.
My server, Jennifer, came over to greet me. I asked what kind of pale ales they had on tap and she said they had a regular India pale ale and one that was more hoppy. Then she told me that they had an American pale ale with reduced hops. I told her I'd take one of those.
I looked through the menu and it was very typical of many brewpubs I've visited in the past. They had some interesting and unique appetizers including spicy pub pickles where they take a jalapeno beer-batter and coat a pickle spear before deep frying it. It's served with a roasted red pepper aioli. They also have something called pepperoncini bites were they take Italian sausage, dried pepperoncinis, tomatoes and mozzarella that are coated in a breading and deep fried. Actually, both of those sounded pretty good.
Of course, they had the normal burgers and sandwiches at Prison Brews. Soups and salads are also available and they also have a brick-oven fired thin crust pizza that they serve at the brewpub. I saw one on the table of a group of people as I walked by earlier and it looked damn good. They also featured entrees of beer-boiled peel-and-eat shrimp, fish and chips, a steak entree, and a couple pasta dishes. But I decided I'd get a burger.
When Jennifer came back with my beer, I was ready to order. They had both a mushroom/Swiss cheese burger and an applewood-smoked bacon cheese burger on the menu. I asked Jennifer if I could combine the two getting some of the applewood-smoked bacon on the mushroom/Swiss burger. She said it would be no problem.
I sipped on the beer catching up on e-mails while I waited for the burger to come out. The beer was lightly hopped and seemed fresh enough. I've been favoring American pale ales as of late and this one was fine.
Jennifer brought out the burger and it was served open face with a good pile of sauteed mushrooms resting on top of an ample slice of Swiss cheese. Two slices of the applewood-smoked bacon criss-crossed the top of the burger. A pile of handcut fries came with the burger.
I had ordered the burger to be medium, but it was past medium-well. No pink in the middle, it was not very juicy and had more of a charred taste than I like. The bun was also pretty substantial - actually it was too much bun for the burger. But the saving grace were the sauteed mushrooms, which were wonderful, and the very flavorful Swiss cheese that helped with the overall taste of the burger. I would call it an average burger, at best. If they hadn't overcooked it to my liking, I'm sure I would have liked it even more.
The handcut French fries were sort of "meh!" The burger was big enough where I didn't need the fries to help with my appetite.
After paying for lunch, I went back to use the "gas chamber" restroom. On the way back to the restrooms, their small batch brewing rooms are on either side of the hallway. The brewery at Prison Brews is not a big operation as they try to keep the quality of the beers they brew as high as possible. The beer I had was all right, nothing special, but just all right.
I took a look outside on the side of Prison Brews and found that they had a substantial patio with a number of mesh metal tables and chairs along with a couple bocce ball courts. This looked like it would be a fun place on a warm summer evening and I'm guessing that it was probably used a lot. But on a cold late winter afternoon, the patio and bocce courts were understandably closed.
OK, so Prison Brews is a little kitschy with the jail theme to the place. But it sets itself apart from other generic brewpubs I've found around the Midwest. The burger was all right. The beer was - once again - all right. Jennifer did a good job of taking care of me. I would like to come back and try the pizza at some point, but I may have to wait until the summer when the patio area is open. Now that I have a dealer in Jeff City I'll have a reason to come back.