Generations of Lehigh Valley residents have marked their milestones with a meal at the Brass Rail in Allentown.
I’ve been there dozens of times, for large birthday dinners, quiet meals for two or just to sit at the bar to watch a Phillies game. I’ve always been treated to unfailingly friendly service, consistent good food and reasonable prices.
The restaurant has more than 30 dinner entrees, ranging from chicken fingers and fries ($7.99) to 10 oz. lobster tail ($27.49). If you’ve got a hankering for grilled liver and onions ($10.49), they’ve got it. There are also several Italian dishes available as well as pizza. The menu also has at least 15 sandwiches, including “The Famous Phil’s Original Steak Sandwich,” just $3.99 ($4.29 with cheese).
On our most recent visit, we were in the mood for sandwiches and a pitcher of beer.
We started with the appetizer sampler, mozzarella sticks, pierogies, mushrooms and onion chips, all deep fried. Perhaps not the best choice for someone without health insurance, but something my vegetarian fiancée and I could actually share.
We finished them all but the cheese sticks. The onion chips were simply breaded, fried onion petals, very hot and very good with a cold beer. Like the onions, the mushrooms were easily popped out of their breading and disappeared quickly. We each had a pierogi; they were fluffy and filled generously with potato filling. The mozzarella sticks, like all mozzarella sticks since the beginning of time, were like hot lava tubes and were either tasteless or they seared away my tastebuds.
For dinner, my fiancée had the inside scoop on a veggie sandwich. It’s not on the menu, but the Rail serves a veggie steak consisting of grilled mushrooms, peppers and onions with steak sauce (a tomato sauce), pickles and, if you want, cheese. You have to ask for it. It’s her go-to Rail sandwich.
I’ve had the veggie steak once or twice (O.K., once), and it’s not bad; the combination of the veggies and sauce makes for a substantial meal. Normally, I prefer steak in my steak sandwich, but more on that later.
I bypassed Phil’s Famous in favor of my current favorite, the pot roast sandwich. This used to be available only at the Brass Rail booth at the Allentown Fair, but lately it’s been added to the menu. Served on a six-inch roll, the sandwich is filled generously with tender pot roast and comes with your choice of horseradish sauce, gravy or both. For me, the horseradish sauce doesn’t have much zip, but this sandwich doesn’t need any help. Still, I like it with hot cherry peppers on the side.
I’ll also give a shout out to my former favorite Rail sandwich, the suboli. This is a hot sandwich with ham, cappicola, salami, sweet peppers, sausage and onion covered with melted provolone. It is served with a side of marinara sauce for dipping and really does taste like a stromboli. Next time.
Back to the steak sandwiches. As I mentioned, the Rail is famous for its steaks and proud of them. In fact, the Rail says its founder, Phil Sorrentino, introduced the steak sandwich to Allentown at the original Brass Rail in 1937. (That restaurant on Hamilton Street near 11th closed in 2001. The current location on Lehigh Street near 31st opened in 1961.)
Thousands of people -- including most of my fiancee’s family – grew up on them and just love them. Except for me. Call it provincialism or just stubbornness, but I prefer the Philly style steak. A steak with sauce and pickles on a soft sandwich roll just doesn’t cut it for me.
That said, the Rail has shipped its steak sandwiches to devotees in every state but North Dakota, unless that pin fell out of the map in the foyer, so they must be doing something right.
Despite the intrigue of the cake du jour, we decided we’d had our fill and skipped dessert.
Our bill for dinner was $28.71, before tip, including an $8 pitcher of Yuengling.
The Brass Rail doesn’t take reservations and there can be a dinner wait. It’s best to go a little later for dinner because the restaurant does a very brisk early-bird business.
The Brass Rail
3015 Lehigh St., Allentown
Open 7 a.m. – midnight, Monday-Thursday; 7 a.m. – 1 a.m., Friday and Saturday; 8 a.m. – 10 p.m., Sunday.