Four Peaks Brewing Company, 1340 East Eighth Street, Tempe, 480-303-9967. Hours: Lunch and Dinner, Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Sunday, 1 to 11 p.m.
In spring, the poet says, "a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of love." But once spring turns to summer, just about everyone's fancy turns to thoughts of beer.
That's because from Memorial Day to Columbus Day, it's too darned hot for loving, or just about anything else. Sure, it would be great to spend June, July and August hiking the high country or hanging 10 off the La Jolla shore. But unless you bought a thousand shares of Microsoft in 1987, or sued McDonald's after spilling hot coffee on your lap, that sort of summer getaway will probably remain a heat-induced delusion.
But now that the Valley has finally caught the brew-pub wave, at least it's no longer delusional to dream about washing down decent pub grub with a cold, fresh microbrew.
Along with freeways, Starbucks and major league baseball, it took a long time for brew pubs to come to town. A decade ago, you could have counted all of them on the fingers of one hand, and still have had enough digits left over to play the trumpet. These days, you'd have to take off your socks to do the addition.
Four Peaks Brewing Company has been worth waiting for. This place has everything you'd want in a brew pub: a wonderful setting, vibrant atmosphere, tempting food and first-rate homemade suds.
It's set in the backwaters of Tempe, on a quiet street far from the Mill Avenue bustle, housed in what used to be the Pacific Creamery, one of the city's oldest buildings. Inside, it is cavernous, like a warehouse, and the tall ceiling and brick walls give Four Peaks a charming, old-fashioned feel. Huge, gleaming vats, standing like sentinels, provide a more up-to-date touch.
The televisions over the bar are tuned to sports, the walls are lined with vintage photos and the music system blasts out today's hits. However, out on the patio, where most of the tables are, it's a good deal more peaceful. Strung with lights and cooled by a very effective misting system, the patio is where you'll want to people-watch and linger over a brew.
Four Peaks attracts a young crowd, mostly twenty- and thirtysomethings, with a few graying baby boomers rounding out the mix. What the place doesn't seem to attract are rowdy, underage students with fake IDs, looking to get sloshed. On one visit, I came here with my 18-year-old daughter, whom I dropped off and sent ahead to get a table, while I looked for a parking spot on a busy Friday night. To its credit, the staff wouldn't let her in until I arrived.
Let's spread the credit around even more.
First, give the kitchen its due. The menu pretty much focuses on standard brew-pub staples: deep-fried munchies, sandwiches, burgers and pizza. (Occasional dinner specials, like enchiladas, salmon and pasta, are also available.) But while the fare's narrow range isn't very surprising, the quality is. Several items are worth coming here for, even if you plan to drink nothing stronger than a Diet Coke.
That's certainly true of the Arizona chicken rolls, a commendable mix of poultry, mild chile and cheese stuffed into pastry dough, and then crisply fried. A sweet jalapeno dip adds to the pleasure. Cheese puffs, deep-fried balls thickened with potato, are another enjoyable nosh. Meaty chicken wings, breaded and coated with spicy, Thai-style seasonings, will raise a sweat, if you somehow haven't already raised one. And while the spanakopita won't remind anyone of the premier Greek versions--it's too heavy--this phyllo-wrapped, dill-scented blend of spinach, cheese and pine nuts is still undeniably flavorful.
The hefty sandwiches are dynamite, especially the three made with the homemade beer bread, which, texture-wise, resembles a slightly chewy, puffed-up tortilla. The Italian beef model is fabulous: roast beef, mozzarella and sauteed onions, peppers and mushrooms rolled up in beer bread lined with garlic honey mayonnaise. The chicken sandwich is just as fetching: a Mediterranean combination of white meat, artichoke hearts, sauteed veggies and cheese moistened in a cucumber sauce. And even meat-eaters will salute the veggie sandwich, put together with portabella mushrooms, artichoke, veggies and cheese, zipped up with pesto sauce.
Though not quite in the same league, the Reuben sandwich is praiseworthy, too--decent corned beef, beer-braised sauerkraut and Swiss cheese on marble rye slathered with Thousand Island dressing. The sandwiches come with either pasta salad, fries or a house salad. The fries, hot and crispy, are the best choice.
The menu touts the pizza, boasting that the dough is made in-house. It's not an idle boast: This pizza is good enough to take business away from an Italian restaurant. We had the veggie model, 12 inches of artfully crafted happiness, accented with pesto and heaped with portabella mushrooms, spinach, artichoke hearts, tomatoes, feta and mozzarella.
In comparison to the sandwiches and pizza, the burger seems pretty tame. It's a half-pound of ground Black Angus, but maybe this meat is too lean. It could have been juicier and beefier.
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.
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.
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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:
Veggie pesto pizza
Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery:
Asiago cheese dip
Woodland mushroom pizza