Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Prairie Rock Brewery (Schaumberg, IL)

Closed. Last visit 11/11/05

On our yearly trip from the Twin Cities to Purdue for annual home football game, we usually stop in Schaumburg for the night and eat dinner at Prairie Rock. 

Generally, they have six or so beers on tap. The last couple of years they seem to have settled into the same beers with just one or two seasonals changing. My ratings for our first time in 2003 are all pretty high, but successive trips have gone down hill when I'm ordering drafts. Not bad, and as good as the RAM Restaurant & Brewery down the street.  We've always had good look finding fairly cheap hotels in Schaumberg when travelling to Chicago or Indiana, and RAM and Prairie Rock make easy beer stop.  Food is what attracts us mostly. We order the beer cheese soup and four cheese pizza, and both are excellent. Only thing we've had there. When we stop, it's for this. 

Overall, it is a beautiful pub in a old (or old looking) brick building with very high 2 or 3 story ceilings and large wooden cross beams. Restaurant lacks some ambiance but easy to talk and the service has always been good. Bar is small and smokey. On this recent trip, it was also a meat market--which might account for the beer change. When I was at the bar, only one other person was drinking beer and at least half of the drinks going out with Sex on the Beach, JaegerBombs and such. Young, dumb, and desparate for the most part. Left for the Ram just so I could stop listening to some schuck hitting on the obviously bored hot girl. And the smoke go to me, but I've become spoiled lately with smoke free bars. 

Good stop in you're in Schaumburg, especially if you keep your expectations in check and sit in the restaurant.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery (Portland, OR)

Overall, I'd say this is an above average Rock Bottom. It's downtown in the historic Yamhill distirict. We were there to buy our Duck supplies across the street at the U of Oregon store. Beavers can buy at the other end of the block. We hit happy hour on a Monday night and had cheap appetizer size entrees, cheap beer, big screen TVs everywhere, and lots of people laughing. Joint was alive and a lot of fun. Mostly a young crowd, many were business types with ties pulled loose at the neck. Train just outside the window, so take the public transportation down to the area and save the parking fee for the day (though the Duck store did validate us).

Elliott Bay Brewing Co (Seattle, WA)

View of Seattle across the bay just
before Elliott Bay stop


Elliott Bay Brewing was literally a quicky on the way to the airport to fly back to Minnesota. Very cool looking long skinny pub; bar and kitchen on one side and the booths on the other. Old brick building in a nice looking neighborhood, though I don't know it's name. Looks like a trendy, artsy area.

Very busy at lunch, so the locals are going there. Service was fast and attentive in spite of how busy it got and the bartender even answered a few questions for the obvious note taking beer tourist. And, the samples were free, which hasn't happened in a while, especially when there's nine on tap.

Bartender said there's a new location opening up in Highline which is near the airport, so we'll hit that one next time. Beer was good to very good all around, though not as good as I expected from samples at GABF last year. Worth the stop.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Horse Brass Pub (Portland, OR)

Oct 2006

Horse Brass Pub was my last stop of a long day of tasting, so I might go back some day and give it a full shot. When I do it will be in the afternoon so as to avoid the thick smoke, though it was only 8 pm. I know I'm often in the minority here with my beer drinking bretheren, but I don't get the point of paying $5 a pint or $7 for a 10oz glass of great beer when I can't even smell it over the smoke.  Decided not to rate either beer from the bar because I'm not sure what was there.

With that said, the selection is awesome and pretty much everyone I asked along my week long trip said to hit the Horse Brass for the best beer. Between the guest beers, regs, and the rotating casks, it is beer heaven. What I drank, was well served and well cared for. Food looked good, even some vegetarian options which was unexpected from the look and attitude of the place.

HB web says they are a smoke friendly pub and that adults should have a choice. I think it's a much smarter choice if smoker's can choose to smoke outside so that the rest of us actually can actually choose to not drink or dine in smoke. But, with so many good bars in Portland, maybe nonsmokers and those allergic to it like myself shouldn't waste the time or money here.

Main Street Ale House (Gresham, OR) aka 4th Street Brewing Co

10/13/06.  Presently known as the 4th Street Brewing Co.

Main Street Ale House is not a bad place if you're invited to hang out, but I think they are suffering from a lack of focus. Twelve beers on tap, all mainline macro with a couple exceptions. The Eager Beaver IPA was pretty good and the Black Roots Blonde was pretty good for being the number two light offering. Nothing was really spectacular of the group.

Waitress kept trying to explain the various styles to me, not getting from the notes in front of me that I was a geek. Unfortunately, she didn't understand the styles. They were serving a saison and a berliner weisse as well, nice styles, but the berliner wasn't served with syrup (menu even said it was) because the waitress couldn't find it so the beer was crazy sour. Waitress said it was going off tap because it wasn't selling and that she didn't like it.

The decor was similarly off with the nice shiny brewery behind the bar, a very open cement floor, fireplace, oddly placed tables and booths, a cabinet of German beer steins, and odd colors. Just felt put together but not with a consistent purpose, just like the beer line up. Just seemed like they were worried about appearances rather than quality, and not doing a good job. Completely dead at lunch on a week day, so the downtown crowd isn't coming in either.

So, good selection, service was nice, but the beer and the place just couldn't pull it all together. We stopped because we ate dinner down the street, so came in for a rack of samples. Glad I didn't go any further out of the way than I did.

Rogue Ales (Newport, OR)

We made a wrong turn to the Rogue Ale House and found
one of the best sunsets we've ever seen.  

Rogue Brewer's on the Bay is in an old boat dock converted to brewery, bar, and restaurant. Kinda fun walking through the brewery up to the bar. View from the restaurant into the harbor is good, and we saw some sea lion butt going under out the window. Fun place with lots on tap. Tables on the "patio" are outside in the brewery, which would be a lot of fun on working day. Tables and lights were kegs cut in half and put together for fixtures, consistent with the Rogue attitude discussed below.

We drove up the Oregon coast for the day and held out for dinner at Rogue.  Mistake for us. Starved and nothing was vegetarian (even the cheese soup) except standard pub grub, so we ended up eating cheese bread and onion rings; adequate but nothing special.  Service was helpful but spotty.

The tour was a lot of fun and worth the trip.  Rogue is very much about getting the beer done right regardless of how it looks, so the mish mash brewery was interesting to see. Free beer on the tour, and lots of info and they were working hard to make sure we had a good time.

Beer is what you'd expect from Roguegood and lots of it: Mocha Porter, Honey Orange Wheat, Russian Imperial, and OC on my tasting list for the stop. Good day though a bit pricey.

We spent the afternoon in Newport and had a great time with the sea lions on the dock and hanging out. Ended up with dinner at the Rogue Public House after an absolutely spectacular sunset. Public house had spent grain pizza which was much better than the food on the bay.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

McMenamins Six Arms (Seattle, WA)

McMenamins Six Arms is a literal corner bar; I almost walked by it in the twilight. Old brick building, cramped bar with a rail to separate the restaurant tables. Lots of signs around about keeping minors out of the bar, which were at every bar, so must be a Washington thing. The place was decorated for Halloween: blinking green-chested skeletons over the bar and webs on the TVs. We had the tater tots with ranch dressing, really good bar food.  Had them Cajun at a later McMenamins and the were even better. Not a bad stop if you're in the area (like at Elysian down the street), but I wouldn't go out of my way for this place alone. Standard bar, nice atmosphere, ok beer and decent food. Fun stop.

Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery (Bellevue, WA)


Rock Bottom Bellvue is in the heart of a business district down the street from the Sheraton business hotel we were staying in. Big and well run RB with the basic restaurant and light wood bar on the first floor and the Top of the Rock Lounge upstairs, which was full and had more TVs.

Sitting down at the bar, I got very quick and attentive service even though I was just getting a beer tray of samples. Eight beers on tap that night I was there, and all were pretty good. Stay away from the Liquid Sun and Nisqually Nut Brown, Euro lager and nut brown respectively. But for a downtown location, the Hop Bomb, Harvest Ale, and Humpback Pale Ale were all very respectable, well hopped beers. Being my first night in northwest since I was 10, I was happy about this--travelling from Minnesota, if the local yuppie suit and tie crowd were drinking this many hops, the places pushing the limit should be very cool in the days to follow (which was true!).

Seattlites are an interesting breed. I mentioned yuppie post work with his tie pulled down was there, many others looked like an L.L. Bean explosion. Kinda a rugged yuppie. And, lots of laughing, which was true in Elysian earlier tonight. Food, beer, friends, and laughs are loud and strong. Any place where my own head turning loud laugh is 2nd or 3rd in the room is ok by me. Just seemed like they enjoyed other, all with a very relaxed atmosphere.

While maybe one of the best RBs I've been to, it's still just a sports bar with fake silver metal molded ceiling and the slightly above standard RB beer level--high end macro with a couple interesting ones worth the trip.

McMenamins Highland Pub & Brewery (Gresham, OR)


First night in Portland and headed right McMenamins Highland Pub & Brewery down the street from our hotel. Didn't get a pic because it was too dark, but I triedthe neon lit front didn't hold up to Vegas but easily cast a shadow over the Taco Bell in the same strip mall.  Not exactly a classic pub, though when you walked in the decor was ok. Dark wood bark, high back booths surround the outside wall of what was probably some big square dry cleaner or something at one time. Very different feel from the Six Arms in Seattle the day before; this is more like a local fancy dive in my small home time in Iowa rather than a chain, which is a compliment. Though the place has the same industrial chic: painted ceiling and exposed duct work, which is supposed to be classy, but I assume is just a cheap way to decorate a restaurant.

We had the PJ's Famous Pizza Bread, which seems to be the local thing because I didn't see it on any other McMenamins menu. It was alright, but I can see why it isn't so famous that I would have heard of it in Minnesota. Just cheese bread basically, though above average. Tater tots were much better. Waitstaff was trying hard and acted busy, but the place wasn't very full.

Standard McMenamins on tap and a couple of others. Not bad, but still the basic above macro not too exciting micro chain standard. Though I can see why they are in business--great branding with coasters and flyers for several other McMenamins on the table (which happened at every one we did).  This one is definitely not one to go out of the way for, but was better than Taco Bell or a standard restaurant since we were there anyway and didn't feel like heading into the heart of Portland for a pint.

Big Horse Brew Pub (Hood River, OR)


From the outside, Big Horse is very clean and sharp converted house. Going up the stairs to the right of the pub is a small park and memorial with a flower garden that yielded some very nice pics for my wife. Walking in the pub, it looks a bit more like the old house it is. One small TV above the pool table, kitchen right there so the waitresses must have strong legs carrying it all up to the next floor. Bar is at the top of some rattly carpeted stairs; hard left, and there's the top floor view of the Columbia Gorge. Get there early (filled fast for lunch on a Sunday) to get window seat.

Mt Hood
Big Horse gets high food ratings for exceptional veggie offerings. The Veggie Sub with fries was excellent. Vegan veggie burger, avocado, sauteed mushroom and onion, pepper jack cheese on a crusty bun. Fries good too. Waitress tried to sell the dinner as big, but it was actually well portioned. Enough so that we split the nachos afterwards, which were the most unique nachos ever. Light amount of cheese on top of six inch corn tortillas instead of chips with lots of black beans, jalapeno slices, green onions, sour cream, and a hot and spicy sauce that made the dish. Both very good and not McOversized.

The beer stop alone was a fun surprise. I hadn't scoped this place out, and literally saw the sign up the hill while going through the intersection to head up the Hood River valley for a morning of exploring. Damn glad we did. I reviewed the Russian Redneck, bourbon barrel aged Imperial Stout that was very fantastic. But, all of the beers were very good across the board, not a stinker among them. And, fun names like Vernon
the Rabbit Slayer IPA. Hoppy beers were their best, including Vernon, but the Jack Straw Harvest Ale was probably the most interesting. Had the Russian Redneck not been on tap, I would've gone for a Jack Straw. It's a pumpkin ale, and before groaning, add to it oats and raisins. Very unique seasonal that is easily the best pumpkin beer I've had because of it's complexity. spice and subtle pumpkin.

Service was good, attentive, mostly, though the waitresses worked really hard when the place got full and they were running up and down the stairs. I didn't get my second pint, but since I forgot my purchased pint glass on the table I'm not sure I needed it after the generous sampler tray and an imperial. The waitress did run out the front door to make sure I got my glass back. "A" for effort.

Head to Hood River, experience Mt Hood and the area (we drove the Fruit Loop through fruit farms and wineries), and head back to Big Horse for a great stop.

McMenamins Kennedy School (Portland, OR)


It looks like the history of the Kennedy School is covered well in the previous reviews, so I'll focus on what found unique about the Kennedy School and McMenamins in general.

The Kennedy School itself is a fun place, quite beautifully done, especially the bar in the old cafeteria with an entire wall of windows to the outside patio with fireplace. They extend the metaphor a little bit with the Detention Bar, etc. I really like that the McMenamins chain takes old buildings and restores rather than replaces, preserving the history and community. While we were there, we walked by a Celebration of Life in a side room and a Victory Garden restored on the other side of the parking lot as an educational garden.

Later, when chatting with a bartender at the next place I visited, I mentioned that I had just come from the Kennedy School; he gave me a beer snob eye roll, one I might give to someone who has just found the new great place called Rock Bottom. But in the end, he was intrigued by my point of view enough to give me a mind opening Hmmmm.

I agreed that the beer at McMenamins (I visited three between Seattle and Portland) is adequate to a bit above average for the best beers; however, because of the attitude McMenamins takes towards saving structures and fitting into local communities, that this is what capitalism is meant to be. Every McMenamins had tater tots for us to eat, as well as other in common beers and food items, but then the rest was local adjustments, down to the price of our tater tots changed with each place we went to, which we paid the most for them at the Six Arms location. McMenamins is a chain, but it's a chain with heart that could show so-called compassionate conservatives how capitalism works when community is at the center of making money.

Concordia Ale House (Portland, OR)


Loved Concordia Ale House, but it was a little too clean to be a dive bar (which I like).  It has a sort of "unconcerned" look to the decor. Tables, bar, all practical and meant to function, but they obviously work to keep it clean and neat. Counted 22 taps--I drank ST. Bernardus ABT 12, Ninkasi Fresh Hop, Walking Man Knuckle Dragger, and Bend Brewing Hop Head in my brief stop. Not a bad stop. I'm planning a trip to the Northwest with a friend, and this is at the top of my list to show him. Didn't get to the three coolers of bottles behind the bar.

Bartender was attentive and friendly, teaching dominoes to a waitress, but never missed seeing when my glass got to the bottom. The boss was at the other end of the bar and was complaining about the sunny days and the resulting lack of business. Evidently, rain means friends in the pub in Portland, which explains all the pubs and coffee shops.

I didn't eat, but the food looked very above average pub grub. One guy stopped in for a take out order and didn't have a beer--never a bad sign.

Take the time, make the stop.

Amnesia Brewing Co (Portland, OR)


I'm a big believer in asking locals for advice, especially beer and pizza.  In this case, both Alan Sprints after our tour of Hair of the Dog and James the bartender at Concordia Ale House recommended a visit to Amnesia Brewing.

And for good reason—love this place. Looks like a converted garage in the middle of a neighborhood. Everything seems built by hand inside, brewery in the back, bathrooms and bar built on one end to separate the brewery from the restaurant. Patio outside. Great music: underground grunge. The lyrics of one song were something like "next time you see your mother--SATAN, SATAN, SATAN." Went well with a chandelier with a rabid snow monkey creature reigning over stuffed squirrels running along branches or the mounted life-size My Little Pony head on the wall.

Beer was all good with the Summer Ale being the weakest.  Hoppy seems to be their specialty with both IPAs and The ESB being top of the line. The porter seemed a bit thin, but adequate. We ordered a Tofurkey hot dog just because we could and enjoyed the novelty if not the taste completely.  Small menu but several veggie options, so I was happy. Who knew Tofurkey would go well with hops, in this case the Copacetic IPA.

Great place, fun time.  Beer is better than average, but it's similar to one of my favorite placesThe Triple Rock Social Clubin that the attitude and atmosphere of the place kicks the beer and food up a notch.