I adore the film “A Christmas Story.”
No, I am not one of those people that spends the whole day watching the film repeated for 24 straight hours. However, I do giggle when I see scenes such as “the leg lamp” or Christmas dinner at the Chinese restaurant.
There is one scene, nonetheless, that is really quite the lesson on life. Ralphie has been desperate to get his Little Orphan Annie decoder ring. When he finally does, he listens to the radio broadcast and gets the secret message. He then locks himself in the bathroom with his pad and pencil and decodes away, only to discover that the secret message was a commercial for Ovaltine.
Yes, a hard knock from life for little Ralphie, courtesy of Little Orphan Annie.
Sadly, hard knocks are learned even though you have great expectations. Such was the case as I found myself attending another guys’ night out with friends. Dave, Neil, Phil and Anthony joined me for dinner. Apparently our testosterone was oozing from our pores because we decided to check out the Four Peaks Brewing Company in Scottsdale. Since the local microbrewery had been hocking beers in the Valley for quite some time (and beer that I do like), I thought it could be fun to have a beer and some grub to go along with it. Four Peaks online menu certainly had some appealing items.
So, we drove over to Scottsdale and found the place to be packed; not just the bar, but the restaurant as well. We were quickly seated at a round table that was comfortable. What wasn’t comfortable was the noise level. I could handle the male posturing at the bar. I could handle the constant hair flips and the occasional shriek of giddiness from some of the women at the bar. But the noise level was through the roof and then some.
We reviewed the menus and began our track through the pages. Our server arrived and took our drink order. Two Diet Cokes and three Iced Teas were ordered (although we discovered several days later they didn’t appear on the bill). I had a pint of the Kilt Lifter ($3.75) and Neil ordered a pint of the Oatmeal Stout ($3.75). Our server headed for the bar while we debated what to eat.
Upon return with our drinks, we made our decisions. For an early nosh, we decided to split orders of the Garlic Cheese Bread ($6.00), the Hummus ($6.00), and the Bavarian Pretzel ($5.50). Dave had the Popper Burger ($8.00) while Neil had the Bleu Light Special Burger ($8.00). Phil wanted a non-American dish and selected the Carne Adovada ($10.00). Anthony and I each had the Grilled Chicken Beer Bread Sandwich ($8.50 each), but I had mine topped with Swiss Cheese ($0.50 add on). Anthony, Dave and I also decided to get a side salad ($2.50 each).
As our server spirited away to plunk our order into the computer, we chatted while enjoying our drinks. I liked the Kilt Lifter and the Oatmeal Stout beers. I was surprised at how smooth the stout was as I have had some stouts that could peel paint off the wall. However, I seemed to be the only fan, with most of the table leaning toward the Kilt Lifter. I certainly liked the Kilt Lifter better, but that was more to the fact that I am not a big stout fan as where an ale can always seduce me in some way.
About 10 minutes passed before our first appetizer arrived. The Hummus was in a small cup on a larger plate filled with triangles of pita bread. I was a bit concerned at first because the color of the hummus was of an orange hue that made it look slightly unappetizing. The pita triangles were hot and the bread itself was soft. I dunked a piece in the hummus and was pleased with the taste. The hummus was slightly salty, but rather smooth in texture. Others at the table were also pleased with our first food taste. The general consensus was that it wasn’t outstanding, but for a brew pub, it was decent.
Next up was the Garlic Cheese Bread. This disappeared off the plate in minutes. The bread was exceptional. Soft, yet slightly chewy, with a strong, pungent garlic and cheese aroma that had us all digging into the dish in seconds. The taste was as good as the smell. The bread was slightly grilled on the bottom and the cheese had been fully melted on top. It was quite good and we all lamented that there wasn’t more on the plate after we had inhaled every crumb.
We were expecting our last appetizer to arrive, but our salads were next. The side salad was a mix of iceberg and Romaine lettuce tossed with mushrooms, croutons, carrots, cucumbers, and bell pepper. A tomato wedge served as the garnish. I was pleased that they had added a few more vegetables than normal to the mix. The Italian dressing was pretty straight forward, but wasn’t exciting or memorable. It was a good salad, but nothing grand.
The Bavarian Pretzel arrived and I took the first bit off and dunked it into the accompanying mustard sauce. I loved it. It was a classic, big, doughy, soft pretzel with just the right amount of salt to give it some contrast. The mustard sauce was also quite good as it wasn’t just plain, yellow mustard put into a ramekin and served on the side. This was tangy, but not overpowering. Like me, the others at the table thought this was a perfect dish to go with the beers.
Just as we finished the beers and the pretzel, our meals began to arrive. Phil’s Carne Adovada looked delicious with its dark, savory sauce and a side of colorful rice. The plate also held spicy black beans and a flour tortilla. Phil dove right in and thought the sauce was very good, also noting that the pork was tender and not cooked to death. He also found the beans and rice to be “above average.” It was with Phil’s positive review that I had hopes for the rest of our meals.
Neil’s Bleu Light Special Burger was a hamburger patty topped with hickory smoked bacon and blue cheese, all on a grilled bun with lettuce and tomato. My first impression was that there was a lot of blue cheese. Neil said the burger was “pretty good,” but it seemed that the cheese would have overpowered any other taste on the plate. Neil did say he thought the bacon was excellent and they had done a good job of cooking his burger to order. I thought the fries that accompanied the burger looked like they were coated with a breading or seasoning and they were fried to a dark, golden color. Neil shrugged when I asked him about the fries.
Dave was thoroughly disappointed with his Popper Burger. In concept, this sounded quite good. A burger would be topped with jalapeño poppers and dressed with lettuce, tomatoes and fried onion straws. What it turned out to be was a burger patty topped with whole jalapeños and the burger smeared with some cream cheese. Dave said the execution of this burger was “horrible.” And it was. Why a kitchen would not remove the tops, seeds and ribs of the jalapeños is beyond me. Dave said the spicy level was so high from the seeds and ribs that the burger, cream cheese and onions had no taste other than heat. He also was unimpressed with the fries.
The Grilled Chicken Beer Bread Sandwiches that Anthony and I had were pretty enticing from the menu description. Grilled chicken, red onions, artichoke hearts, cheese, green peppers and cucumber sauce were to be tucked into fresh beer bread. While I found the ingredients to be a pleasant mix of flavors, the presentation was daunting. A flat piece of the beer bread had been filled with the chicken and friends and then rolled up. It was then cut into four pieces. Unfortunately, the bread had become a soggy mess on the bottom and the open-ended pieces in the middle fell apart the minute Anthony and I picked them up. We ended up using a knife and fork to tackle our sandwiches. A division into two pieces and a toasting of the bread would have salvaged this sandwich. The fries seemed like an afterthought.
While we had devoured the appetizers, we all picked at our entrees, save Phil who had the best dish of the lot. We got our bill and the total was $82.04, which we felt was an okay value, despite the disappointing entrees. The service was friendly and competent.
I couldn’t help but think that a more focused kitchen could have pulled the dishes together and made them a success, but instead, I felt like we had been enticed with the lure of great appetizers only to be let down with the main attraction. To be fair, Four Peaks is - first and foremost - about the beer.
However, like Ralphie’s decoder ring, the payoff should have been much more than it was.
Four Peaks Grill & Tap
15730 North Pima Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85260
Hours: 11 AM to 2 AM daily.
Notes: A sister location is at 1340 East 8th Street in Tempe, AZ
Additional photos can be found at www.feastinginphoenix.com