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Spaghetti Supper in a Beer Hall: Lunch at the Saint Arnold Brewery

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"You know what this reminds me of?" my friend asked me over lunch at the Saint Arnold Brewery earlier this week. "A really nice spaghetti supper. Except not at a church."

I saw what he meant: The long, wooden picnic tables that line Saint Arnold's beer hall have a visual effect similar to the cafeteria-style seating in a church adjunct building, or perhaps a Knights of Columbus lodge. And the meal we were eating -- a salad, a pasta dish with meat sauce and a glass with iced tea -- wasn't too far off either.

The main difference? This spaghetti supper comes with beer, and costs quite a bit more than your average church dinner.

The brand new weekday lunch service at Saint Arnold launched last Wednesday. Under the guidance of chef Ryan Savoie, the brewery offers a new three-course prix-fixe meal every day from 11 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. The website lets you know which meals are coming up so you can plan your week in advance.

The prices may look odd, but it's because tax has been backed out of them. So the first two courses are $19, dessert is $5 and unlimited refills of iced tea are $1. Get them all and you'll pay $25 total, tax included.

The lunch we enjoyed that day was of far higher quality than what you'll typically find at a spaghetti supper and, indeed, many of the lunchtime spots in and around downtown, where business workers are throwing money at florescent-lit sandwich artists inside the tunnels. Savoie had made a lovely penne bolognese tossed with roasted artichokes and tomatoes heaped high in a white china bowl. Shreds of fresh basil and wisps of Parmesan melted into the well-seasoned meat.

The antipasto salad was overdressed, but otherwise good. I picked through the oil-saturated lettuce to find the creamy slices of fresh mozzarella and relished them on their own, with a few Kalamata olives popped as chasers. Dessert was far better than expected -- Savoie doesn't have a pastry chef -- and I was particularly impressed by the flaky, buttery crust on his pecan tart. The bittersweet chocolate torte only wanted a bit more salt to really bring out its dark, earthy depths.

A $50 lunch for two people can be pricey, though, which means that Saint Arnold isn't necessarily the destination for a cheap and cheerful weekday lunch. That's where kati rolls at Bombay Pizza or a sandwich at Brown Bag Deli come in handy. There's another reason this isn't the weekday lunch for everyone: beer.

Your $25-a-person lunch price also includes beer samples. That's no fun to pass up, but you also have to go back to work. Decisions. I sipped a little Icon Blue with my penne bolognese (a great pairing, by the way) but regretted not being able to kick back with a pint and enjoy a leisurely lunch.

Saint Arnold always has a terrific soundtrack playing over its stereo -- The Clash, The Ramones, The Cure and other favorites were queued up earlier this week -- which only made me want to stay put even longer. Although your food comes out quickly, the brewery simply isn't the ideal place for a regular weekday lunch.

That said, it's absolutely the place I would take out-of-towners or clients if I still had a corporate gig. It's the spot I'd meet friends for lunch if I had a rare weekday off. It's where I'd request to go if it was my birthday lunch and the boss was treating. It's great for occasions like these, and I think we're lucky to have this fun little program at Saint Arnold now. Even if it's for no other reason than the fact that there's finally food -- really great food, at that -- in this weird little nook north of downtown.

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