Steampunk Slip-up

Pub 1922 might want to dump some of the schtick and focus on the basics

The sudden closing of the El Charro in Rancho Sahuarita left the town without any establishment that served both food and adult beverages, not counting the Super Stop or grocery stores. While there was nothing special about that restaurant, it was always busy and served as a central hangout for friends, families, singles and random people who got hungry driving south on Interstate 19.

The same owners have filled that void with Pub 1922 Vintage Flavor Co., a gastropub with a theme heavy on kitsch and nostalgia from those better days before technology took over our lives. But they've still got flat-screen TVs, so it's not a total abandonment of modern convenience.

The ambience is supposed to harken back to 1922, when El Charro opened in Tucson. But that doesn't explain the odd Superman vs. Muhammad Ali painting in the men's room or the Moscow Mule-style cocktail repurposed as the Sputnik Mule ($8). Sure, those things are old, but not 1920s-old.

But the menu still sticks with an attempt to feel old-style, from the pricing—the grilled chicken nachos aren't $9.25, they're 9¼—and the use of "rations" to describe side dishes and "cure-alls" for the mixed drinks, to the overabundance of pails and buckets in the food presentation. Also, the odd choice to use ceramic water glasses makes it a crapshoot whether the server or busser is going to notice the need for a refill.

Pub 1922 looks like it's trying really hard to cater to two main demographics: drinkers and families. We purposed our visits along those lines, with mixed results.

The first time out, on a weeknight when a high-profile college football game was on, the place was packed and we needed to wait 45 minutes to move from the bar to a table facing one of the 12 televisions stationed around the spacious room. In fact, the room is so spacious that a couch-and-love seat setup has gone in where two or three more tables could go.

The beer selection is solid, if not spectacular, with a choice of 22 drafts and 22 brews in bottles or cans (sense a theme here?). Too bad it's hard to see the taps in the evening due to the overly bright backdrop light behind a Felix the Cat emblem hanging behind the bar.

We decided to go eccentric on our appetizers, choosing the dos mex hot dog sliders ($6.50) and the carnitas verde and cheddar ($9.25), which was essentially a bucket of spiced, shredded pork with green chiles and cheese mixed in, and topped oddly (but tastily) with a fried egg. The sliders were what you'd expect from miniature Sonoran hot dogs, though the menu didn't indicate they'd have mayonnaise, despite that being a traditional Sonoran dog condiment.

The 1922 burger with cheddar ($9.50, add $2 for bacon) was good, not great. But the meat had a nice, fresh taste to it. I wanted medium-well, but the waitress said the only options for cooked meat are "pink or no pink," so I went with the latter.

My friend went with one of the flatbread pizzas, choosing the shredded beef-and-white cheddar option ($9.75), which basically turned out to be a flatbread quesadilla with the ingredients layered one on top of the other, no mixing necessary.

My second trip involved the wife and two young boys, both picky eaters who were more than elated to see mac 'n' cheese and pizza (both $5) were on the kids' menu. Had it specified that the former would be penne pasta with a white-cheddar cream sauce, they might have gone with the chicken strips instead.

For an appetizer we decided to go more traditional, for the kids' sake, but the warm pretzels with Swiss and sea salt ($7.75) didn't live up to even the lowest expectations. It was essentially three or four miniloaves of bread baked like pretzels, and the Swiss rested on top rather than oozing into the dough. The sauces offered were cheese dip, yellow mustard and "pub relish," which the 4-year-old enjoyed eating by itself but not on the pretzel.

The wife went with the vintage cheese tortellini ($13.50) with pan-seared chicken, Parmesan and Alfredo sauce. It tasted like it should have, though we weren't aware that in the olden days such a dish had large slabs of chicken breast dumped on top of the pasta.

My selection, the charbroiled hanger steak ($14.50), was where Pub 1922's "pink or no pink" mandate fails. Trying to see what would happen if I pushed the envelope, I asked for the steak to be a little pink. What I got was four semi-thick slices of what looked like well-done roast beef piled on top of the dish's several sides, which included cremini mushrooms, fries, onion strings and "simple little veggies," which turned out to be green beans, Brussels sprouts and ... bacon?

Bacon's a vegetable. Who knew?

While the menu doesn't scream family-style (other than the item that actually does go that route, the '22 Family Forever meal of spaghetti and meatballs, Caesar salad and ice cream sundaes for four, all for $22), the kookiness of the décor fits here thanks to a good selection of board games like Chinese checkers, old-school Battleship and Sorry, not to mention some Rock'Em Sock'Em Robots that were in high demand.

All in all, Pub 1922 seems to be trying too hard to stand out. In a community where an Applebee's would do just as well, there's no need for all the flair and kitsch. The menu needs a few more staples that actually resemble staple items, in order to keep the customers happy. But as long as it's the only game in town, such changes might not be imperative.