Vat City

Desserts are a mixed lot. We devoured the homemade peanut butter ice cream cake. The made-elsewhere cheesecake, however, had an unmistakable prefab look and taste.

Of course, when you get down to it, a brew pub is only as good as its beers, or, in this case, its ales. Let's give the brewmaster credit. With one exception--an overly fruity peach ale that reminded me of sweetened wine cooler--Four Peaks brews nothing but winners.

These beverages have a remarkable amount of character. So if all you're interested in is slaking a summertime thirst and getting a buzz, there's no need to come here: You're better off picking up a six-pack of flavorless swill at the convenience store.

Location Info

Map

Four Peaks Brewing Company

1340 E. 8th St.
Tempe, AZ 85281

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Tempe

Two ales stand out. The mildly bitter Eighth Street ale tastes like something you'd nurse in an English pub. The deeply bitter Raj IPA is everything the Eighth Street ale is, except more so: more alcohol, more flavor.

The menu describes the Scottish Amber as "roasty and sweet with little hop bitterness or aroma." That's it, exactly. Hefeweizen has the right "citrusy" tang. The creamy Oatmeal Stout is big and bold, almost chocolaty. The Fools Gold Ale, the lightest brew, is crisply refreshing. And at 4.1 percent alcohol, it's probably the one to have, if you're having more than one.

The best way for first-timers to go: Get the sampler of eight, four-ounce tastes for $6.

Four Peaks isn't fancy, but it sure is fun. Who says there ain't no cure for the summertime blues?

Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery, 14205 South 50th Street, Phoenix, 480-598-1300. Hours: Lunch and Dinner, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., seven days a week.

Is Ahwatukee ready for yet another corporate-owned chain restaurant? I hope so. That's because Rock Bottom Brewery (NASDAQ symbol: BREW) doesn't seem to have many weak links.

This brew pub draws all types: beer-chugging guys, dating couples, white-haired seniors and moms and dads with kiddies in tow. How do you account for the universal attraction? It's no secret--good food and good suds.

The two-story place looks like a brew pub: brick walls, pool tables upstairs and high-tech brewing equipment. But the feel is definitely "family restaurant." That's why the acres of tables set with white cloth napkins on them don't seem so out of place. No wonder there's such a mix of types here.

The kitchen takes its food mission seriously, especially the munchie portion of the menu. These appetizers get meals off to such a fast start that you may be tempted to fill up on them. Go ahead, give in to temptation. The asiago cheese dip, gilded with mushrooms and sun-dried tomato, is luscious. And it comes with toasted, chile-flecked beer bread that's good enough to sell retail. The shrimp simmer is another outstanding starter, a rich blend of smoked shrimp, spinach and cheese in a creamy broth. Consider, too, the three big portabella mushrooms, which come coated with cheese and deftly stuffed with smoked chicken, pine nuts and spinach.

The entrees go beyond the usual burger/pizza brew-pub fare. A couple of them are very impressive. The St. Louis ribs would do a barbecue parlor proud--they're meaty, tender, a bit charred and uncommonly tasty. Buffalo fajitas also hit the mark: lots of tender buffalo meat served on a sizzling skillet with hissing onions and peppers along with a side plate of beans, rice, cheese and guacamole.

The chef bites off a bit more than I could chew with the fish and chips. I applaud the risk-taking, using salmon instead of cod. But there's a reason you never see battered, deep-fried salmon on any menu--the fish is too rich and oily to be battered and deep-fried successfully. (Too bad, too, because the homemade beer batter is first-rate.) The chips, meanwhile, are strictly institutional. I also couldn't get worked up over the Brown Ale Chicken, a ho-hum breast whose lack of charm even a creamy shiitake mushroom sauce couldn't overcome.

The pizzas have real merit, if the woodland mushroom model is any guide. No one could complain about the chewy crust or the four-cheese, three-mushroom topping. The dry, lifeless burger, however, has plenty of room for improvement.

Rock Bottom's brews are a refreshing lot. Even the lightest, the Dream Catcher Ale, has some malty depth. Gila Pale Ale, boosted by a touch of the hops, isn't for wimps. My favorite is the Raptor Red, a full-bodied and full-flavored ale, crisp and robust. The Brown Ale is smooth, strong and caramely. And while the heavy Desert Stout isn't exactly suited to a Phoenix summer, maybe you can pretend it's January in Ireland. But don't look for happiness from the Jazzberry Ale, a seasonal special that tastes like fruit soda gone bad. Can't make up your mind? The six-glass sampler is five bucks.

Rock Bottom won't make the summer go any faster. But its food and drink can make the next few months, well, beerable.

Four Peaks Brewing Company:
Chicken rolls
$5.25
Reuben sandwich
6.50
Veggie pesto pizza
12.95

Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery:
Asiago cheese dip
$6.95
Woodland mushroom pizza
8.25
Buffalo fajitas
11.

95

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