If you had to create a neighborhood bar along the crazy-busy street that Thornydale Road has become, you couldn't come up with a more fitting venue than Monsoons Tap & Grill.
There's plenty of cold craft beer, a bare bones décor with a homey touch, friendly service, mostly country music on the sound system and good, but not great, food.
The menu has the usual items one might expect to find in a pub. Nachos and wings, burgers and sandwiches, pizzas, fries, onion rings and some dinner plates with sides of potato salad and slaw ... you get the idea. Most seem like somebody's home recipes adjusted for mass appeal. (But if you want to check out the menu before visiting, good luck—we couldn't find a website.)
And while what we sampled was satisfying, all those great craft beers deserve a little more. A tweak here, a tweak there and the food would be a great match for the brews.
Our app choices included Monsoons' Homemade Pretzels ($5); Bubba Bill's Shrimp ($9); Lightning Bolts, aka zucchini sticks ($8); and a cup of the soup of the day, which was chicken noodle ($4). Our beers were from Thunder Canyon and Four Peaks.
The apps arrived at the table hot and steamy and the beers were icy cold.
The pretzels came with two sauces; a light, cheesy one and one that was mustard-based. The two twists were nicely salted, but I doubt they were prepped in true pretzel fashion; they lacked that golden glisten and chewiness that comes from first boiling, and then baking, the dough. But they were tasty and went well with the beer.
The six shrimp were wrapped in a fluffy beer-based coating, which really made the dish. Both the dipping sauces were spicy—one was a well-done cocktail sauce with lots of horseradish; the other a weird wasabi aioli. This is where a minor tweak, such as lemony sauce instead of the wasabi, would have improved the dish considerably.
The zucchini sticks came in the same beer batter, with a sprinkling of Parmesan. The serving was small. And while the batter was good, the ranch dipping sauce was merely OK.
The chicken noodle soup had lots of elbow macaroni, chunks of white meat chicken and veggies, but the broth needed salt. Again, good but not great.
Although the apps were served steaming hot, our chili ($8) was not. And that's a shame because this was a good bowl of chili. There was a perfect balance of beans and beef, and the spicy notes had the perfect tone. A sprinkling of cheddar cheese on top added a nice texture. And while this was probably the best dish we had, the jalapeño corn muffin that came with it was a tad dry.
The pork tenderloin sandwich, called The Big Nick, was also quite good but a bit deceptive. The meat was sliced so thin that it got lost in the excellent crunchy coating. I think there was oatmeal somewhere in there—it was truly unique and flavorful, but it just overpowered the tender pork.
The Wisconsin Matt (yes, Matt, named after the chef) and Cheese ($10) was topped with bread crumbs, meaning that it is baked, which is the only way to serve mac and cheese. It came out of the oven ultra-hot, which disguised the flavors, But as it cooled, the cheesy taste came out. This wasn't the best mac and cheese I've had but it satisfied, although it lacked salt and the elbow macaroni was overcooked.
It came with garlic bread and a side salad, which was as big as some entrée salads. (I couldn't finish it.) It contained mixed minigreens of all colors, red onions, cherry tomatoes, cukes and some buttery, crispy croutons. The blue cheese dressing lacked zip, though.
The fish and chips were also cooked in the beer batter. Sizzling hot and delicious, they were accompanied by a so-so slaw. The fries were undercooked, which seems to be a common problem these days. Again, a pinch of salt would've elevated this dish.
We opted not to get dessert since none are made in-house.
The servers were friendly, and they seemed truly invested in their work. That tells me that the restaurant owners care about their employees and train them well.
On a back wall by the kitchen, there is a passel of pithy sayings in large letters. Perhaps the most telling is, "Sweat and tears, arguments and beers, that's how we built this place."
Although the food needs some work, these guys seem to have the talent and passion to bring it up to a level that will please patrons and do justice to the beer options.