Photo by Lana Gramlich
Good things take time. Just ask Nick and Andrea Powers, the husband and wife team behind the newly opened Old Rail Brewing Company in Mandeville. Although Nick and Andrea were kindergarten sweethearts, they didn’t find their way back together and marry until recently. Their newest labor of love, The Old Rail, endured a three-year, permit-filled process before finally opening this July.
The long road to opening Old Rail surprised Nick Powers, who is no stranger to the restaurant industry. The Louisiana native began his career owning and managing a chain of Whataburgers, but a European trip inspired him to sell his fast food holdings and use the profits to open Old Rail’s sister bar, old world draught haus The Barley Oak, back in 2009. Although the venues are a stone’s throw away from one another and both sell beer, that’s about where the similarities end. The Barley Oak is a bar that stocks over one hundred types of craft beer from around the world. Old Rail Brewing Company is a restaurant and brewpub that sells only eight types of beer—each one conceived and brewed on the premises by resident Brewmaster Matt Horney—with high quality American fare created and prepared by Chef Brett Monteleone. The second floor of the building also houses a spacious event center with a private bar and a wrap-around porch that is already booking parties a year in advance.
Old Rail gets its name from the St. Tammany Trace, a thirty-one-mile pine- and oak-lined multipurpose public path built on the site of the old Illinois Central Railroad corridor that runs from Slidell to Covington and is home to almost every form of non-motorized recreational travel from pedestrian to equestrian. Small tributes to the Illinois Central are found throughout the pub. The railroad’s old iron spikes have been repurposed as tap handles, and the metal tracks now serve as foot rests at the bar. There is something about the understated New Orleans-esque architecture that blends well with the natural landscape as it overlooks the piney path.
Horney is a one-man beer-making tour de force. The former landscape architect and home brewer got his professional start working for Abita Brewing and later Terrapin Beer Company in Athens, Georgia. When Powers offered him the chance to run the microbrewery at Old Rail, he decided it was time to return to the Northshore. This year Horney will brew about six hundred barrels for Old Rail. His first undertaking at the microbrewery was the Hobo Helles, a classic Munich Helles with a clean fresh taste that is best consumed on a hot day.
After he perfected the Helles, Horney set his sights on constructing Old Rail’s permanent portfolio of six high quality beers and a rotating selection of seasonal ales. His menagerie of brews is incredibly balanced, full of flavors that marry in a subtle, sophisticated way. The Seven Sisters IPA is inspired by the IPAs of the Pacific Northwest. “It is a little different from other IPAs in the state. It is generously hoppy but also sweet and malty and has a smooth finish,” Horney said.
Another standout is his Cow Catcher Chocolate Stout. Cocoa nibs give this milk stout a natural, slightly sweet flavor. It is very dark in color, but not rough or heavy. It ends on an even note with lingering hints of nut. Other regular offerings include staff favorite, Echo Sierra Bravo ESB; Rusted Rail Ale, Horney’s take on an amber ale; and Gold Spike Wheat, a classic Hefeweizen.
Upcoming seasonals include a pumpkin ale, Russian imperial stout, and a Belgian blonde. The one complaint about Horney’s collection of craft beer is that regulations currently prevent the brewpub from selling growlers or bottles to take home. Old Rails’ beers can only be purchased and consumed at the brewery.
Great beer needs to pair with excellent food. So Monteleone had his work cut out for him when he created Old Rail’s re-imagined American pub cuisine menu. “Everything we can do here, we do,” he said, “All of the steaks are cut in house. All of the rubs, seasonings, dressings, and sauces are made in our kitchen.”
Chef Monteleone is especially proud of his burger. “Everything on the burger is very local,” he said. “The bread is from Randazzo’s. The meat is from Saia’s Meat Market; and whenever possible, I source the produce from New Orleans.”
Other popular items include hand beer-battered onion rings with fancy sauce, the rib eye French-dip sandwich with beer mustard and caramelized onions, and Old Rail’s signature beer and cheese soup. The hands-down staff favorite is the Irish nachos paired with an ESB. Hand-cut french fries are tossed in white truffle oil, coated with parmesan cheese, and then topped with crispy bacon, red onions, pickled jalapeños and sour cream.
Monteleone and Horney also have plans for many seasonal food and beer pairings down the road. Their first true collaboration—a bratwurst from Crescent City Meat Market topped with a house-made quick kraut and paired with an Oktoberfest—was a very popular sell-out. Monteleone’s favorite everyday pairing so far is the Double Chocolate Bread Pudding with a white and milk chocolate raspberry coulis and Cow Catcher Chocolate Stout for dessert. Monteleone said he has really enjoyed the excitement that comes with working hand-in-hand with a brewmaster. “It’s funny,” he said, “When I get to go out to tables and talk sometimes, I end up talking about the beer not the food.”
Perhaps the most glowing recommendation for Old Rail is the regular fan base that frequents the microbrewery. On a typical Sunday, they flock to Old Rail to enjoy food and beer while they watch the Saints play on one of the many television screens. Gerilyn Dallmann, who does marketing for both Old Rail and Barley Oak said, “We have a huge regular following. They are just like an extended family. I’d say seventy-five percent of our clientele are regulars who just keep coming back.”
Details. Details. Details.
Old Rail Brewing Company
639 Girod Street
(985) 612-1828 • facebook.com/OldRailBrewingCompany