Cafe Reviews

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.

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Howard Seftel