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Dining out: Utah brewpubs' menus are too heady
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

All brewpubs are not created equal. I learned this on recent visits to Squatters Pub Brewery and Red Rock Brewing Co. While both establishments have received copious brewing awards over the years, when it comes to their menus, one executes its menu a bit better than the other.

Open since 1989, Squatters is the grandfather of brewpubs in Utah. In a span of 20 years, it has become hugely popular and eco-conscious. The company has launched a microbrewery, a "roadhouse" in Park City and a pub at the international airport.

The décor at the Salt Lake location is as you'd expect: a cavernous space with exposed brick, wood and cinder block. Steel tanks and a long bar are off to one side and flags and awards are everywhere. Its menu reflects the times: calamari share space with edamame and Thai yellow curry can be had with fowl, fish or organic tofu.

With a menu that has no less than 50 choices, it's no wonder many of the dishes we ordered were mediocre.

Calamari ($10.99) arrived deep brown but lacked crunch and flavor -- except for the fried lemon slices, which were great. Hefeweizen-battered cod in the fish and chips ($12.99) was greasy and left me and my companions with that "bad fried food" feeling. "Rustic" Italian pizza ($9.99) with basil, mozzarella, parmesan and marinara was nondescript, except for the unbecoming outlines of semi-melted, pre-cut shredded parmesan.

Sweet potato fries were the best part about a Reuben ($10.99) sandwich. Though the tang from sauerkraut and Russian dressing satisfied, the corned beef slices were thick and difficult to bite and the toasted marbled rye was soggy.

Dessert wasn't much better. The graham cracker crust in a Key lime pie ($5.99) didn't have enough butter for binder, so it felt like I would inhale graham cracker dust and choke at any second. Both molten lava cake ($6.99) and bread pudding ($5.99) were overworked and dense, and left gooey gobs in our mouths.

Other dishes worked much better: A Caesar salad ($8.99) had a deliciously balanced dressing with plenty of zing from lemon and garlic, despite some brown edges on the romaine. The stout barbecue buffalo burger ($11.99) arrived, as requested, tender and medium rare, with addictive garlic fries. And the big mugs of coffee ($2.69) were outstanding. (Millcreek Coffee Roasters supplies the beans.)

Since I hadn't been to Squatters in a long time, the beer sampler ($4.49; yes, that's 75 cents a glass) was the way to go. Six 3-ounce pours of Hefeweizen, Chasing Tail Golden Ale, Provo Girl Pilsner, Vienna Style Lager, Full Suspension Pale Ale and Captain Bastard's Oatmeal Stout are presented on an old ski tip with six holes to hold each glass, while a laminated card lists the characteristics of each beer. It's a novel way to present them. Otherwise, you can order beer by the bottle, a third of a liter, half liter or pitchers ($3.79-$12.49).

As for service, the utensils sitting in canisters at each table are an indicator of the pub's casual style. What I can't understand is when dirty plates aren't cleared before other dishes arrive. Should one expect more out of a brewpub? I suppose not, given the number of patrons eating the night I dined there.

Red Rock Brewing Co. joined the burgeoning brewpub scene in 1994, located not too far from Squatters. Some may have thought this a foolish move, but 15 years later, Red Rock is holding its own and then some. On a recent early weeknight, the place was as busy -- and loud -- as ever. Its vibe, though still a brewpub feel, is a bit more refined than Squatters, with more wood finishes.

Red Rock also has an encyclopedic menu, clocking in at 65 items, not including specials. Though our meal was far from perfect, overall, the quality of food at Red Rock surpassed that of Squatters.

One of the best items is a French onion steak sandwich ($15.99). The open-faced sandwich comes with sourdough, New York steak, caramelized onions and melted Gruyère and mozzarella cheeses. The Reuben ($9.99) sandwich was better than Squatters' version. The corned beef was thinly sliced, and though not traditional, provolone replaced the Swiss cheese, while the toasted marble rye wasn't soggy.

A Cobb salad ($8.49; $11.99) was fresh and abundant, while the halibut fish and chips ($16.49) weren't greasy and had a clean taste to them.

Other items, such as the calamari ($9.99) and beer cracker ($5.99), were uninspired. The tentacles and rings of the cephalopod were lightly golden, lacked crunch and didn't have much flavor, while the roasted garlic, Gorgonzola, salt and sage scattered on flatbread looked chintzy for the price.

The kitchen made other errors, such as the flat-iron ($16.99), which was 10 ounces of incorrectly cut steak with lines of gristle throughout. Otherwise, it was tender and enhanced by Gorgonzola butter and onion straws.

And canned, horrid-tasting whipped cream should never accompany any of the desserts ($5.49-$6.49) and peach cobbler ($6.99) should never contain canned peaches. Instead, order a float ($4.99) with Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream and house-brewed root beer or cream soda.

At Red Rock, samples of beer are $1.25 for a 3-ounce glass. The limit is six per person. The characteristics of each beer must be gleaned from your server as there's no explanatory cards like at Squatters. Now that's not very beer-friendly. Squatters also beats Red Rock in the price of samples -- $4.49 versus $7.50. I sampled the Bamberg Rausch bier, which tasted like smoky bacon, the Belgian wit and the smooth and dark oatmeal stout. If you order a pint on tap, beers are all $4.50.

There's no denying both Squatters and Red Rock do an excellent job at brewing beer, but with more than 100 menu items between them, they should take a lesson from their limited beer menus and strive for quality over quantity when it comes to the food.

E-mail Lesli J. Neilson at lneilson@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">lneilson@sltrib.com.

Squatters Pub Brewery

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Bottom line » This veteran brewpub excels at making beer; now if it could perfect its pub grub instead of trying to please all palates with dishes such as tempeh salad and Thai yellow curry.

Location » 147 W. Broadway (300 South), Salt Lake City; 801-363-2739

Online » http://www.squatters.com" Target="_BLANK">http://www.squatters.com

Hours » Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight; Friday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to midnight

Children's menu » Yes

Prices » $$

Liquor » Full bar

Corkage » $8

Reservations » Parties of 10 or more

Takeout » Yes

Wheelchair access » Yes

Outdoor dining » Yes

On-site parking » No

Credit cards » All major

Red Rock Brewing Co.

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Bottom line » Despite its 65-item menu, the kitchen puts out mostly decent food, such as a French onion steak sandwich and greaseless fish and chips. More economical samplers and beer- and food-pairing suggestions would be very beer-friendly.

Location » 254 S. 200 West, Salt Lake City; 801-521-7446

Online » http://www.redrockbrewing.com" Target="_BLANK">http://www.redrockbrewing.com

Hours » Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight

Children's menu » Yes

Prices » $$

Liquor » Full bar

Corkage » $7

Reservations » No

Takeout » Yes

Wheelchair access » Yes

Outdoor dining » Yes

On-site parking » Yes

Credit cards » All major

Dining updates » Red Rock edges Squatters; both need to pare options.
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