Foam Follows Function
Lagerfields Micropub, 12601 North Paradise Village Parkway, Phoenix, 765-0059. Hours: Lunch and Dinner, Sunday and Monday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Want to cool off this monsoon season? Going to San Diego is always an option. But not too many of us can afford to light out for the Coast this July Fourth weekend and tell the boss, "See you after Labor Day."
If you must stay in town, there are ingenious ways to deal with the stifling heat. You can take refuge from noon to midnight in one of those frigid dollar-and-a-half movie theaters. Of course, the downside is the $3.50 popcorn, $3 soda pop and endless screenings of Anaconda, Selena and Volcano.
Locals can also head to the reservations to enjoy what tribal officials politely call "Indian gaming." That's industry talk for suckers mindlessly throwing hard-earned money into machines heartlessly programmed to pay out significantly less than they take in. Still, watching your assets shrink in air-conditioned comfort sure helps keep your mind off the heat.
Some folks--mostly newcomers--think they can deal with the inferno by jumping into the pool. But we veterans know that in July and August, the water in Valley pools is hot enough to steam a carp. You may as well jump into an alpaca sweater and earmuffs.
What's the best way to cope with a desert summer? I say do what we sons of the pioneers have always done when challenged by physical hardship: Have a beer.
So I checked out a couple of new pubs, to see if I could nurse some brewskis and pub grub all the way to the autumn equinox.
First stop was Lagerfields, across from Paradise Valley Mall. It bills itself as a sports restaurant/micropub, but neither label fits exactly.
Yes, televisions are perched all over the room, so patrons don't have to swivel their heads to catch any of the action. But the sound is turned off, so the broadcasts are easy to ignore.
Lagerfields isn't themed like most sports taverns, either. You won't find pennants, photos of star players or memorabilia. Instead, there are a few plants and innocuous framed prints hanging on the wall. In the background, management pipes in vintage blues, a nice change from the high-decibel, thumpa-thumpa rock that most drinking spots inflict.
Nor is Lagerfields an old-fashioned watering hole, buzzing with alcohol-fueled energy. On one visit, we saw a group of high- octane women come in, looking to shoot some pool and find some bar action. What they found, however, was a sedate group of folks, many accompanied by children (Lagerfields even has a kids' menu), enjoying dinner and suds. "This isn't a bar," one of them complained, and they turned on their heels and marched out.
Frankly, it hardly matters to me whether Lagerfields is a traditional sports bar or a micropub. What matters is you can count on better-than-decent pub grub and a good selection of brews.
All of life's pleasures, someone once said, are either illegal, immoral or fattening. Certainly the nutrition police will condemn oily battered appetizers washed down with a cold one.
But I refuse to feel guilty about Lagerfields' ale-marinated, beer-battered chicken tenders, deep-fried to a meaty crunch and paired with a tomato-aioli dipping sauce. And I have no regrets over the right-off-the-grill, beer-basted shrimp quesadilla, lined with smoked cheese and accompanied by a salsa of fresh-cut tomatoes, cilantro and red onion. Unfortunately, the Adobe onion brick isn't worth straying off the straight and narrow for. The batter-to-onion ratio is way out of balance here. These onions are so battered, they're practically abused.
Lagerfields offers about 60 beers, most of them microbrewery suds, with 15 or so available on tap. The best way to take a tour is to order a sampler, any five drafts for $6.50. Among the standout brews: Redhook Rye, an amber ale from Washington; Pike Place, a pale ale, also from Washington; and McFarlane's Hefe-Weizen, a locally brewed wheat beer. If you're interested in stronger spirits, there's a nice list of premium tequila, single-malt scotch and small-batch bourbon, as well.
The kitchen generally keeps things simple, a wise strategy. The burgers are outstanding, moist, thick and beefy. You can build your own, adding the likes of Canadian bacon, smoked Gouda, goat cheese and fresh basil for two bits each. Too bad the routine fries didn't display a bit more flair. (Management ought to check out how they make spuds at Islands, a nearby competitor.) The ancho chile slaw, however, shows some spunk.
For a place that isn't a pizzeria, the pizza is surprisingly good. The crust is somewhat bready but pleasantly chewy, and the toppings get high marks. At six bucks, the price is certainly right, too.
Sandwiches are similarly effective. The pastrami on marbled rye, teamed with Swiss cheese and Pilsner-soaked sauerkraut, is better than what you find at most delis in town. The cook can also handle the tuna steak sandwich, a grilled, medium-rare slab.
The more elaborate dishes don't work quite as well. Pasta primavera could use a little less primavera and a lot more pasta. The carrots, squash, broccoli and cauliflower don't complement the mostaccioli so much as overwhelm it. A weak garlic sauce doesn't furnish any help, either. Shrimp cappellini is a marginally better pasta alternative, featuring seven nondescript crustaceans bathed in a mild cheese sauce.
Pass on the ribs, generic bones glazed with a generic sauce. "French fries, baked potato or rice with that?" asked the waitress. "How's the rice?" I responded. "Forget it," she said, "it's always left untouched on the plate." At least give Lagerfields' servers credit for honesty.
As you might expect, pub desserts aren't the high point of the meal. But why waste calories on the supplier-provided chocolate cake and white-chocolate mousse cake, anyway? Instead, I suggest you hole up with a McFarlane's, and don't come out until Columbus Day.
The Olde English Inn, 7111 East Thomas, Scottsdale, 941-4915. Hours: Lunch and Dinner, Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Sunday, noon to midnight.
They say the sun never sets on the British Empire. These days, though, the Mother Country doesn't send redcoats to do its colonizing. It sends tavern keepers.
The Olde English Inn recently became the Valley's second outpost of English pub civilization, joining George & Dragon. The English proprietors, who ran a pub in the home country, have set up shop in a former Chinese restaurant. You'd never know to look at the place. They brought over lots of knickknacks: pewter, pitchers, plates and mugs. A vaulted, rock-lined ceiling, a stone fireplace, dark wood paneling and paintings that might have come from milord's manor make it hard to believe you're in Scottsdale. However, the music jerks you back to reality in a hurry. For some reason, management pipes in ye olde Motown.
If you're thirsty (and at this time of year, who isn't?), the Olde English Inn has a beer for you--75 of them, actually, including a dozen on tap. Among the latter are native brews full of character, like Fullers ESB, McEwans Pale India Ale, Whitbread and Newcastle Brown. Draft beers are available in both pints and half-pints, a budget-friendly touch. Bottled beers from around the world are also a lure. Check out Mamba from Africa, Kingfisher from India, Boags Lager from Tasmania and Xingu from Brazil.
English food is the Rodney Dangerfield of cuisines: It doesn't get any respect. The pub fare at the Olde English Inn illustrates both its charms and its limitations.
The appetizer nibbles do what they're supposed to: keep the beer flowing. The sausage rolls, encased in dry puff pastry, are vastly improved once you call for the condiments. Both the HP sauce, sweet, tart and fruity, and the fiery Colman's hot mustard are ideal dipping material. The English origins of the Olde English Beer Cheese Dip seem somewhat shaky, but there's no sense making a fetish of authenticity. It's fashioned from ale-doused melted Cheddar cheese, spiced up with hot red chile peppers and served in an edible tortilla cup. And while I don't believe the cook did anything more with the battered duck strips than pour them out of a freezer bag into a vat of oil, the end result turned out reasonably well. A spicy sweet-and-sour dipping sauce helped.
It helps to confront the main-dish fare without too many expectations. With the right attitude, they can be pleasant enough.
The soups that accompany all entrees are more than pleasant enough. Both the tomato bisque and cream of celery showed some flair. The basket of over-the-hill dinner rolls didn't.
The cottage pie looks great. It's a big crock filled with layers of ground beef, peas, corn and mashed potato all moistened in a rich gravy, topped with a bubbling layer of Cheddar. I'd love to come back and try it again when the cook hasn't emptied a salt shaker into it. Fish and chips feature a well-battered slab of cod and thoroughly undistinguished chips and coleslaw.
I guess the proprietors thought Americans couldn't handle English pub staples like steak-and-kidney pie. They're probably right. So the kitchen delivers an adequate steak-and-mushroom-pie substitute, served under a canopy of puff pastry. The heavy, filling bangers and mash are right on target, three hefty sausages heaped with sauteed onions and teamed with a pile of thick mashed potatoes. The best platter here, however, is the chicken curry: poultry and veggies infused with the scents of India and spread over saffron rice. A crisp pappadam supplies just the right complementary touch.
Some people say the English have no sense of humor. I guess they haven't tried English desserts. Years ago in London, I had a sherry trifle that knocked me out. The one here didn't. It's a sundae glass indifferently layered with angel-food cake, fruit, custard, Jell-O and whipped cream, laced with a bit of sherry. The heavy bread pudding, meanwhile, isn't exactly a hot-weather temptation.
Will there always be an England? Who knows? But as long as mankind thirsts for beers and bangers and mash, it seems there will always be English pubs.
Olde English Inn:
Bangers and mash
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Phoenix dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.