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Eats and Ales 

Good food, cold beer and a well-informed staff combine to create a great neighborhood brewery

Our lovely little burg has enjoyed the openings of several new wine bars in recent months. That's a good thing. And yet ...

Don't get me wrong; I love a great wine bar, but with the fancy décor and all that chatter about vintages, some wine bars can be a little dreary. Every now and then, one needs a place where somebody can relax, sip a few beers and eat a burger or sandwich ... in other words, a bar, or perhaps a brewery.

Barrio Brewing opened about seven months ago, although the brewing was going on long before that. The same folks own the perennial University Boulevard favorite Gentle Ben's, and when it got to be cumbersome to brew the beer at Ben's, they moved the operation to a warehouse near downtown. Barrio Brewing soon followed.

It's dark and cool in this converted warehouse. Sunlight finds its way though the windows just enough to take in the mix of tables (some copper-topped) and mismatched chairs, as well as the heavy-duty wooden bar that takes up much of the space. The walls are corrugated metal and wood; there's a highly polished shuffleboard up against one wall, and large windows in the back showcase the vats of brews.

The crowd on the Sunday afternoon when we visited was a mixed bag: some bikers on the front porch, a few old timers and some couples. They all seemed to be there for the same reason--a few good ales.

We sat at the bar and ordered ale from the house list; there are usually 10 or so at the ready. I had an India pale ale ($4), and John went with the copperhead pale ale ($4). He later ordered the red cat amber ($4). Each had their own distinct flavors. All were quite good, but the copperhead was the best: slightly bitter, slightly sweet and a beautiful copper color.

The bartender was ready with the pour and to answer any questions. He knew the history of the place, could describe the beers and informed us that although all the beers are currently ales, lagers are in the works.

We began our meal with potato skins ($7.25; $3.50 during happy hour). All too often, potato skins are a soggy mess that are so overloaded with filling that you might forget you're eating a potato. Not so here. Five potato halves had been topped with cheddar cheese, chopped crispy bacon and green onions. The edges of the potato were crisped to a deep brown, which was the real treat. They're served with house buttermilk ranch dressing, a great version.

John ordered the Western BBQ burger ($8.25) from an interesting burger list. This burger came topped with bacon, onion rings, cheddar cheese and a side of house barbecue sauce. It proved to be delicious; all the savory toppings--especially the sauce--enhanced the juicy burger. The bun was "fresh baked" and held up well under all that gooey stuff.

The sandwich menu had a few different twists, but the description of the Reuben's high on rye ($8.75) intrigued. Here, the corned beef is marinated in the red cat amber ale and then caramelized with Barrio's secret sauce. Served on marble rye with just the right amount of Russian dressing and sauerkraut, this Reuben was one of the best I've had in awhile. There was a little fat on the corned beef, as there should be, and the marinating and all of that secret sauce tempered the greasiness that is all too often the downfall of this super sandwich. We both enjoyed the house fries; the menu also has a beer-battered version.

For our next visit, we stopped by on a Saturday evening just prior to a UA basketball game. There was a small crowd, mostly there to watch the game on the big TVs. Many people seemed to know one another, which speaks to the neighborliness of the place.

They were out of two of the beers that John wanted to order, and we both ended up ordering the same beer: the Tucson blonde ($4). Like the others we sampled the first time around, this brew had a clean, crisp tone.

As a starter, we ordered the medium buffalo wings--actually, drumettes ($6.95). The sauce was hotter than most "medium" sauces, with an undertone of barbecue sweet. An added plus: They were crispy-skinned and cooked to the bone.

John ordered the Philly cheesesteak ($8.75), and I had the black and blue burger ($7.50), which is described as Cajun-seasoned and topped with chunky gorgonzola cheese.

The Brewery's version of the East Coast standby was served on a French roll. Inside, thin slices of nicely grilled beef (the edges were charred) were topped with a mix of grilled onions, red and green peppers, and provolone cheese--very Italian. This was a great way to prepare this sandwich, because the topping complemented the beef instead of smothering it.

While my burger was juicy, the seasoning was a bit of a distraction, and, sadly, the blue cheese got buried under the dried-out bun. It wasn't nearly as good as the burger on the previous visit.

The menu doesn't list desserts. There was no mention of any, and I didn't bother to ask.

We will certainly return, if only to have a few beers (there is a full bar as well, just in case beer isn't your thing). The kitchen closes a few hours before the bar does, so if you're there to dine, plan appropriately--and you can take most of the brews home in various forms. Call ahead for details.

More by Rita Connelly

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