Foam Booths

Desserts are superb. The warm apple bread pudding in butterscotch sauce, tossed with candied pecans, is a marvel. I'm incredibly fussy about cheesecake, but I found no shortcomings in the rich, creamy model here. And the chocolate cake is moist, dense and intense.

A few words about the service--it's great, even when it stinks. How's that possible? Well, during one midweek visit, the restaurant got overwhelmed by unexpected hordes. Our harried waitress apologized for the endless delay getting our food out to us. Appetizers took 45 minutes. The entrees took an hour more. The whole experience was painful.

That is, it was painful until she uttered the three magic words: "I'm sorry it's been such a mess tonight," she apologized. To make up for it, dinner was "on the house."

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Gordon Biersch Brewery & Restaurant

420 S. Mill Ave.
Tempe, AZ 85281

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Tempe

My mouth dropped open--the tab for our table of four was more than a hundred bucks. I've had meals in restaurants where the chair I was sitting on has collapsed. I've had meals where the food was spoiled. I've had six-legged critters wander across my plate. I've eaten in total darkness. But never in my life have I been totally comped. Evidently, the brewmaster and chef aren't the only folks here who know their jobs. Give the manager and staff credit for turning around a potentially disastrous encounter.

Gordon Biersch's formidable beers, food and heads-up service won't make anyone cheer for August. But they sure can take the sting out of it.

Alcatraz Brewing Co., Arizona Mills mall, Tempe, 491-0000. Hours: Lunch and Dinner, Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.

I wish Alcatraz Brewing Co. had its priorities straight.
This brew pub is beautifully designed: There's a spectacular diorama of San Francisco viewed from Alcatraz; blown-up mug shots of famous inmates; pelicans suspended in flight hanging from the ceiling ("Alcatraz" means pelican in Spanish); a single, naked light bulb shining over each booth, giving the impression you're dining in a cell; and waitresses done up as "guards," with handcuffs tucked into their outfits.

The eclectic menu is just about as well-designed, and the food here is far better than you'd expect in this discount mall setting.

But the beers? They're a disappointing lot.
The only wholly satisfying brew here is the Searchlight Ale, a crisp, light beverage that can handle a summer thirst. Weiss Guy Wheat is thoroughly undistinguished, with none of the body or staying power you'd find in a German hefeweizen. The Pelican Pale Ale is one-dimensionally hoppy, with no character. The menu calls the forgettable Big House Red "robust" and "fruity," but those adjectives never came to my mind. The creamy Penitentiary Porter is long on smoothness, but short on depth.

It's too bad, really, because the kitchen here sends out some wonderful, brew-friendly fare.

Mussels steamed in ale and loaded with garlic fire on all cylinders. So does the roasted garlic, two big bulbs teamed with creamy cambozola cheese, tomato chutney and focaccialike bread to spread it all on. Skewered chicken also gets the meal off to a fast start, poultry threaded on a stick teamed with a perky peanut dipping sauce and a marvelous cucumber ginger slaw.

Most of the main dishes are just as impressive. This is about the last place I'd expect rib-house-quality ribs, but the meaty, tender bones here have no defects. Neither do the thick, sweet barbecue sauce, the crisp, seasoned French fries or the funky peanut cole slaw accompaniment.

The $17.95 filet mignon platter gives you $17.95 worth of value. The first-rate piece of meat is wrapped in highly scented applewood-smoked bacon, and paired with garlic mashed potatoes and an enormous stalk of perfectly steamed broccoli. I also admire the seafood brochette, which sports shrimp, scallops and swordfish.

The kitchen gets a little too ambitious with the four-cheese ravioli. It's heavy enough to sink a rowboat: heavy pasta, heavy sauce and heavy on the sun-dried tomatoes.

The crab melt sandwich makes for lighter eating, and the lovely mixed greens tossed with a zippy lemon-pepper vinaigrette that come with it are an unexpected bonus. In contrast, the burger needs work. The menu calls it "thick," "juicy" and a "half pound." But none of those words described the burger I got.

Desserts provide the high the beer doesn't. The Total Blackout is a knockout, an unholy combination of rich chocolate cake, chocolate sauce and a chocolate slab. The Rock, meanwhile, is mocha and vanilla ice cream in a cookie crust, heaped with toasted pecans, frozen whipped cream and chocolate sauce. It's not exactly a culinary-school creation, but it's just right on a warm summer's night.

Alcatraz Brewing Co. seems to have gotten everything right except the beer necessities. I sentence the brewery part of this operation to hard labor.

Gordon Biersch:
Smoked salmon handrolls
$7.95
Oyster pan roast
11.95
Peppered ahi tuna
16.95
Apple bread pudding
5.95

Alcatraz Brewing Co.:
Steamed mussels
$9.95
Crab melt sandwich
10.95
Ribs
12.95
Total Blackout
4.95

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