I wouldn't have to order. The bartender would know: A pint of Vienna lager and an "Alandale Cheese Burger" with maple-smoked cheddar, peppered bacon and slices of garden-fresh romaine lettuce, beefsteak tomato and red onion.
The lager would soothe my tension with a hint of caramel sweetness, then invigorate me with a jolt of crisp hops. The burger would be thick and juicy, lightly charred outside, blushing pink inside. And the kitchen would have swapped out the fries for its signature side, a mash of sweet, russet and Yukon Gold potatoes as light as a cloud.
On a special occasion I might throw my bartender a curve and order the grilled trout entrée: two tender pink fillets with crackling skin, so naturally flavorful that the garnish of brown butter, lime, walnuts and tarragon is an afterthought, filler for the space on the menu that would otherwise have to be left blank.
In winter I might stop in for a pint of oatmeal stout, a rich beer with a pleasant chocolate finish, the perfect brew for a cold evening. After a second stout, I'd succumb and order a cheeseburger, fortifying myself for the icy walk home.
If I lived in Kirkwood. If the Alandale Brewing Co. was a neighborhood bar. If you could order the "Alandale Cheese Burger" for dinner.
I don't, it's not and you can't.
It's the burger's absence from the dinner menu that bugs me the most. I mean, what goes better with good beer than a good burger? And if you make not just a good burger, but a very, very good burger, why would you offer it only for lunch?
That problem, of course is easily fixed: Put the damn burger on the dinner menu. But I fear the burger's absence suggests a problem at the Alandale Brewing Co. Is there some relationship between the food being served and the beer being brewed? Or is the relative novelty of a restaurant brewing its own beer little more than a hook to draw diners to an otherwise undistinguished new eating establishment?
Whatever it is or is intended to be, the Alandale Brewing Co. will never be mistaken for a neighborhood bar. The restaurant occupies a massive space, with an airplane hangar for a main dining room, a bar nearly as big, a smaller but not tiny dining room and two private dining rooms. The décor is spare and generic. In the main dining room, there's a large tract that's more or less barren: the waiters' computer, an electrical outlet and a couple of security cameras. On the opposite wall hang several large mirrors an odd choice, as they simply amplify how cavernous the room is. No matter how many people are eating here, the room feels empty and, even though the Alandale Brewing Co. has been open for more than two months, unfinished.
The menu offered by consultant chef Dana Holland and executive chef Peter Knobbe reads like an attempt to fill all that space. (While we're mentioning names, in case you're wondering, the pub isn't named after a William D. Alandale. The restaurant's name is an amalgam of the five owners' first names.) It features a little of everything, from items straight out of Pub Food 101 to a few odd attempts at a sort of Mexican-Mediterranean-Japanese fusion. No kidding: The "Inside Out Guacamole" appetizer was guacamole and cream cheese fried in a won ton. The result combined the texture of crab rangoon with the flavor of paste. "Crazy Aunt Millie's Deviled Eggs" were equally bland. The menu declared these were "no kid's stuff," being as they employed wasabi, as opposed to paprika, as the seasoning. The wasabi was just a whisper, though. The dominant taste was hard-boiled egg.
I swear I tasted wasabi in the zippy dipping sauce of whole-grain mustard and beer that came with an order of soft pretzels. I wish a similar sauce had come with the pub chips; instead I got a "blue cheese and chipotle" dip that was a dead ringer for straight-up mayonnaise. The chips were crisp but lukewarm and dusted with grated (prefab, it tasted like) Parmesan cheese.
In general, the more straightforward the dish at the Alandale, the better. The grilled trout might as well have been pulled right from the fire along the river where it was caught. Barbecue baby-back ribs weren't quite that fresh, but the slab was huge, the meat very tender, the wet rub imbued with very subtle heat that cried out for beer.
Cut from the tenderloin, the "grilled beef filet" was a good hunk of beef, tender and juicy. The "five-peppercorn port-wine butter" that glazed it detracted from the flavor, however, because the cracked pepper crowded out everything else. The kitchen removed the skin from the breast portion of my "Citrus Roasted Chicken," leaving a large piece of underseasoned meat. The leg and thigh portion escaped the scalping, but their flavor offered only a hint of orange, and the drizzle of mango mustard that topped the entire portion added nothing.
The strangest dish was a pasta offering, pappardelle in a ragout of duck, wild mushrooms, figs and red chiles, with a dollop of chèvre on top. I could taste fig I think but what I mostly tasted was ginger and clove. A lot of ginger and clove. It tasted like sauerbraten.
At $15, the pappardelle was the least expensive main dish I tried; entrée prices reach $23 for the tenderloin and $24 for a New York strip steak. Those numbers suggest the Alandale Brewing Co. wants to be taken seriously as a restaurant, and the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink fusion exercises demonstrate the kitchen's creativity. But creativity needs to be balanced by focused thought.
Still, it is encouraging to see a brewpub in Kirkwood. It's encouraging, too, that the Alandale Brewing Co. is the second such establishment to open in our A-B fiefdom this year alone. (Square One Brewery opened in Lafayette Square this past winter.)
I don't know who first said that beer is the new wine (let's pretend I did, just now), but it's indisputably true. In the 25 years since pioneers like Fritz Maytag opened the first of the new generation of craft breweries on the west coast, interest in the history and different styles of beer has grown exponentially. Today, you can walk into almost any grocery store and find six-packs of very good local and national microbrews and imported beers. Find a wine merchant with a good selection (I like Starrs on Big Bend Boulevard in Richmond Heights), and you can select from dozens and dozens of brewers and styles. Another good resource is the Beer Advocate (www.beeradvocate.com) and browse of tasting notes as detailed (but not as stuffy) as those in Wine Advocate.
The Alandale Brewing Co. offers six different styles of beer. (It will soon offer two more, a waiter told me.) The Vienna lager and the oatmeal stout were the best of the bunch, but all six were more or less textbook examples of their particular styles. The American IPA was exceedingly hoppy with a citric edge, as bitter as beer can be and still be delicious; the doppelbock wasn't as dark or as complex as the best German doppelbocks, but its substantial, malty body went well with the more flavorful entrées like the trout and the tenderloin.
I wish my neighborhood bar offered six beers this good let alone six homemade beers. Though the Alandale Brewing Co. is too big and too sterile to be a neighborhood bar, focusing on dishes that highlight the beers would go a long way toward mitigating that flaw.
Putting the burger on the dinner menu would be a nice place to start.