Cafe Reviews

Sasquatch Burgers Draw Patrons to Aaron May's The Lodge

I hadn't really given much thought to reviewing The Lodge, a ski lodge-themed American restaurant/watering hole in Old Town Scottsdale, until a new signature menu item was unveiled a few months back.

It's called the Sasquatch Burger, and it's as gargantuan as the name implies. When I posted a blog item about it on Chow Bella earlier this year, I knew I was on to something when the entry got tens of thousands of Web hits. In this era of "extreme" food, people really do love — or hate — over-the-top burgers.

Intrigued? Wait, there's more: Rather than putting the Angus beef patty in an ordinary hamburger bun, they put it between two whole grilled cheese sandwiches, along with even more cheese, bacon, and fried onions. And instead of a dainty toothpick to hold it all together, there's a big steak knife stabbed right into the middle of it, as if someone in the kitchen had to run out and hunt down a Sasquatch to fill your order.

Needless to say, it takes full-contact eating (and definitely two hands) to even attempt to take a bite out of it. Chances are, you won't be able to finish it, but if your appetite and stomach really are that big, you'll be fortified with 1,995 calories of meaty, cheesy, greasy bliss.

We have chef Aaron May to thank for bringing this beautiful monstrosity to the masses. He's one of the owners here, and he also owns Over Easy, a breakfast nook in east Phoenix. May's mini-empire was halved three weeks ago, when he shuttered his two upscale DC Ranch eateries, Sol y Sombra and Autostrada, but he's got three more concepts in the works — a gastropub in Old Town, and Asian noodles and Mexican food at CityScape in downtown Phoenix, opening next spring.

The Sasquatch Burger is one of the highlights on a menu of mostly standard pub grub (which, honestly, May could bump up a notch), but it epitomizes what I like about this restaurant — a sense of humor.

Because let's face it: Any place that bills itself as a "quaint, Midwestern dive bar" in the deepest, darkest heart of Scottsdale's plastic-fantastic nightlife mecca can't possibly take itself too seriously. (For further proof, check out The Lodge's cool, cleverly animated Web site.)

There's a taxidermied coyote over the fireplace, dramatic antler chandeliers hanging from the high A-frame ceiling (the building used to be a First Watch breakfast joint), a bar made out of logs, and a family of carved wooden Sasquatch statues by the entrance. I even saw an employee walk by with a camo trucker's cap over his mullet haircut, and I'm not sure he was being ironic. Dressed-down scenesters abound, with plenty of college-age dudes in the crowd. Yep, this is a very dude-friendly hangout, right down to the perky waitresses in tight, low-cut T-shirts.

Appetizers and side dishes were pretty tasty — especially crispy, gooey-on-the-inside, white cheddar cheese curds, and fried potato skins that were fresh and potatoey, not dried out. Teamed with ranch dressing, the curds were veiled in a light, salty batter, while the skins were served with scrumptious sour cream dip, crumbled bacon, grated cheddar, and green onion.

Chicken wings smothered in bourbon barbecue sauce struck me as average, just like the soft pretzels served with creamy cheese sauce and yellow mustard (not stoneground, as described on the menu). Satisfactory, but not particularly special. But corn chowder, brimming with sweet kernels, and spicy cottage cheese, studded with bits of jalapeño, were deliciously different. Also, the kitchen had no trouble cranking out all manner of hot, crispy fries, including sweet potato (my pick), shoestring, and waffle-cut.

I'd definitely order the Sloppy Joe again, a big scoop of rich, sauce-smothered ground sirloin heaped into a bun with pickles and red onion. The smell was mouthwatering, and the flavor went perfectly with a cold beer. That's my kind of bar food. But then again, I could say the same about the hot, crispy Cuban sandwich, layered with ham, Swiss, and pickles. It was a decent find amid the traditional American stuff.

Cheez Whiz, onions, and sweet peppers gave the Philly cheesesteak a great taste, yet it simply needed more meat to fill out that sub roll. The steak-to-bread ratio was visibly out of whack. Meanwhile, the vegetarian burger option — a juicy, garlicky roasted portobello mushroom topped with goat cheese, lettuce, and tomato on an aioli-slicked bun — was just as satisfying as any of the beefy choices.

On the lighter side, I liked the TLTA sandwich, a toasted creation layered with smoked turkey, lettuce, tomato, avocado, and Green Goddess dressing. But what was up with that tuna melt? It was as bad as the lamest diner version I've ever had — icebox-cold tuna salad (which tasted okay) squished between two pieces of limp, room-temperature toast, with some sliced tomato and red onion embedded in a single slice of barely melted cheddar. It was as if they'd made toast first, and then slapped the sandwich together.

I didn't even eat half of it. Instead, I ordered up another Guinness. (It is a meal in a glass, you know.)

Which reminds me — the beer selection at The Lodge would be the easiest thing to improve. Sol y Sombra, Aaron May's now-defunct tapas restaurant, was known for sommelier David Johnson's impressive, all-Spanish wine list. Accordingly, I expected a few beer-geek nods from The Lodge. Coors Light isn't my bag, but sure, somebody will drink it. For me, it's just sad when Sierra Nevada is the most exciting thing on tap.

The Lodge has a lot to offer — the indulgent Sasquatch burger, consistently good fried snacks, a kitschy atmosphere. The cocktail list is interesting, too. So how about adding some interesting microbrews to the rundown?

I'd raise my glass to that.

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Michele Laudig
Contact: Michele Laudig