Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Monday, June 20, 2011

Spartan Paters for a Day

By Kurt Epps—The PubScout

Four of us Hardcore Heck’s Angels (that’s like Hell’s Angels Very Very Lite) planned a ride to Sparta, NJ for Father’s Day, a day which turned out to be beautiful, both weather-wise and experience-wise. I suggested a visit to a place called the Mohawk House, having heard and read many good things about the place—especially about the beer selection. As it happens, one of my favorite brewpubs, Krogh’s—right on magnificently scenic Lake Mohawk—is also there, so I could essentially kill two birds with one stone by getting some fresh brewpub beer in a rustic pub and checking out a new place with a reportedly superior beer list.

Staten Island Gold Wing Joe, Marc the Busa, Ron the Yellow School bus rider and I took in the sights around this man-made lake on an absolutely gorgeous day. Check out the pics to the right. That beautiful lass is Ron’s daughter Cailley who accompanied Ron for Father’s Day.

I reviewed Krogh’s many years ago, fascinated by the fact that the brewer and the chef were the same person, and pleasantly surprised that both beer and food were very good. Nothing has changed in that regard. In fact, the beer we had was the winner of a past homebrew contest at the pub. The distinction was deserved as this beer, a “patersbier” was tasty, well balanced and extraordinarily refreshing. Not normally a style with which many Americans are familiar, a patersbier (father’s beer, appropriately) was usually only available within the walls of a Trappist monastery. It was considered a relatively weak beer that could be offered to the monks only on festive occasions, in keeping with the Trappist tradition of leading an austere life. If this is the kind of stuff those monks made, it’s not hard to see why at least some of the monastic life was appealing. By the way, Krogh’s didn’t open its doors until noon, but by 12:15, the place was packed. Apparently others now know about this northwest Jersey secret.

Time for an after lunch Alvarez (my cigar of choice) and some chit-chat in the shade across from the lake, and then a three minute ride to the Mohawk House, which, though just now coming into its own, has actually been there for six years. Built at a cost of nearly $6 million—and built right, as the place is stunning visually—this place has risen to culinary prominence on the strength of level-headed, dedicated ownership, a master chef (Stephan Sabo) who refuses to cut corners, locally grown and freshly shipped food, the friendliest staff anywhere and an ever-changing beer list that will knock your socks off.

And beer lines that are cleaned every three weeks.

The owner Steve Scro happened to be on premise and, after graciously providing us with some incredible refreshment, guided us on a tour. Steve comes from a farming background and insists on doing things “the right way.” His wife Rachel GC’d the place under construction, and anyone with or without a knowledge of building and construction will come away impressed. The last time I saw this many rooms I was at the Biltmore Mansion in Asheville, NC, and I noted that they were all meticulously appointed and exceptionally clean. There were different woods in different rooms for various ceilings, handmade wooden furniture and a different “feel” for every room. Check out the relatively new room called “The Study” with its “Frank Lloyd Wright modeled stained glass windows, fieldstone walls, and antique maple floors.” It’s no wonder the place is booming, serving 2,000 dinners a week, hosting weddings and private parties and joining the rarefied air of the Top Five restaurants in Jersey according to There’s even a specially constructed bocce ball court out back, and a firepit area for those chilly mountain nights. And Steve, who likes to see a place crowded and hopping, gets top-notch entertainment to achieve his goal.

In a word, the place is vast, both above and below ground, and the cleanliness above ground is the model for the cleanliness below. You might think that such a place has a dress code, and it does: whatever you’re wearing is OK. Three-piece suits and smart outfits are at home beside shorts and sneakers—and even biker attire like we wore. “I like comfortable,” said Scro. Me, too, Steve.

The pics at right will show you some of the incredible beer offerings, but that list is in a constant state of flux. Tip: If you’ve never had Sam Adams Chocolate Cherry Bock for dessert, go have one. Or a Dragon’s Milk (New Holland), or a Theobroma (Dogfish Head) or a St. Bernardus Blanche—or actually pretty much whatever you want. The mother lode of tap handles Steve has stored in basement boxes—in alphabetical order, mind you—will attest to the wide variety of beers that grace the Mohawk House taps. You’ll enjoy whatever you get in a really special ambience, no matter where you sit, but the bar area (see pics) is my kind of place. Scro has just finished a special “Beer Tastings” table in the “Prohibition-Moonshine” area with a lovely view of the two-plus acre plot. Occasionally, breweries bring in their beers for special tastings and dinners, and that sounds like something I need to investigate.

And, if you’re lucky, you’ll meet Maggie, the barwoman. Or Julia, the hostess. Or one or both of the Heathers. Talk about fine appointments to a place…

So Impressed with the place was Ron that he called his boss while we were there and urged him to book the company Christmas party there now—before it gets sold out.

Do yourself a favor and make the trip. I guarantee that, like the Heck’s Angels , you’ll be back.

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