Today I am discussing another of my absolute favorite restaurants, easily in my all-time top 5, period. I first discovered Upland Brewing Company in May of 2010 within a couple of weeks of moving to the city. The restaurant expertly blends an impressive selection of hand-crafted beers. In addition to the brews Upland features some of the best food in town, specializing in fresh local ingredients it kicks standard pub fare up several notches.
Upland is located at 350 West 11th Street, a few blocks north of downtown. Currently the location contains both the restaurant and the brewing operation, but they are in the process of expanding. In good weather there is a very nice outdoor dining and patio area that provides a beer-garden type atmosphere. On the inside the restaurant has a cozy pub feel with a bar area, wood tables, a few TVs and beer memorabilia. Until the restaurant expands it can get extremely crowded inside during the winter months when outdoor seating is not available, so arrive early, but on the plus side the bar is open while you wait.
At a given time Upland features about six beers on tap, and the list frequently rotates. A number of the beers have won regional and international awards and the brewery is constantly developing new specialty batches in addition to the year-round and seasonal selections. So far out of all the varieties I have tried (well over a dozen) my two personal favorites have been the bourbon barrel winter warmer, with rich notes of vanilla and bourbon, and the Infinite Wisdom Tripel, which is a Belgian style made light and crisp with subtle fruitiness. Other favorites include the Wheat beer, Bad Elmer Porter, and Komodo Dragonfly Black IPA.
I’m not sure where to begin when describing the food. One of the signatures of the restaurant is the fact that the menu is composed almost entirely of local ingredients, made fresh. One of my favorite appetizers at Upland is the spinach and artichoke dip, which is the best I have ever found. The difference maker is the quality of the spinach and artichoke. It is creamy and cheesy, but not overpowering so that the main ingredients are the star. Served with blue corn chips and warm, fresh pita bread this is a great way to start the evening.
Upland features a variety of outstanding entrees, but two of my favorites are the burgers and the macaroni. My favorite is the Bad Elmer’s burger, with sharp cheddar, bacon, and a bbq sauce made with Bad Elmer’s porter. The patty’s are quite large, well cooked, and exploding with flavor. I recommend ordering the buffalo burger, coming from a herd in the area, which is a little leaner and provides a slightly different taste. The fries, are beer battered, perfectly seasoned, with a light but crunchy exterior and a chewy interior they are the perfect accompaniment. Another highlight is the Wit Macaroni and Cheese, which is probably the best pure macaroni I have yet encountered. The cheese is not overly done and what really makes the dish is the use of the upland wheat beer in the sauce and a little garlic, the result is perfection.
In addition to the standard menu Upland rotates in new specials each week. On my most recent trip I tried their version of spaghetti and meatballs. Pasta has always been my absolute favorite food, and nothing compares to my mother’s meatballs, so I had no choice but to try Upland’s version. The meatballs were a unique combination of beef, buffalo and Italian sausage that provided a surprising amount of spice and were cooked to a point where they were still tender and flavorful (a common problem with meatballs is cooking them until they try out). The sauce was a delightful combination of marinara with Parmesan and some spices that resulted in a creamy hybrid which perfectly complimented the meatballs, resulting in a dish that is second only to my mother’s.
On one last note, Upland also features a unique dessert of bacon ice cream, produced special by the Chocolate Moose (a local ice cream shop that will be discussed later). It is blend of vanilla ice cream with small bits of bacon which provide a nice salty, smokiness. While the combination sounds weird, it really works. If you love bacon, this is something you must try at least once.
For overall atmosphere, food quality and variety, as well as the hand crafted brews, this is the best full dining experience you can find in Bloomington. A trip to town is not complete without a visit here. Information about the current menu and beer list, as well as special events can be found here.