Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The beer list is impressive, but menu doesn't match up at Polo Park pub

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Craft beer is Barley Brothers' calling card.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Craft beer is Barley Brothers' calling card. Photo Store

Oysters, sausages, German potato salad, sauerkraut! Had I died and gone to heaven, or to that heaven-on-earth known as Alsace? And had I landed in one of those brasseries which, although they'd originated as breweries, evolved into restaurants where you could have anything from a snack to a full meal at any time of day?

Well, no, I was reading the Barley Brothers website menu, and when I got there, I found pretty much what I'd expected.

A Winnipeg pub, in other words, one that (like its Alsatian cousins) also serves anything from a snack to a full meal, all day, every day from 11 a.m. until late. It's a big, rambling place with dark woods, russet bricks and huge, fascinating old sepia photographs of the prairies and some Winnipeg breweries of the past. The walls are littered with television sets -- silent on my visits, but it made no difference because the music was deafening.

This is no place for a tete--tete -- it's a place for beer, my own enjoyment of which rarely extends beyond a Tsingtao with Chinese food, or a Kingfisher with an Indian meal. The Pilsners were wasted on me in Prague and in London, my sissified tipple was usually a shandy. But on my visits to Barley Brothers I did bring a beer-loving friend -- not exactly a maven, but one with a better beer-educated palate than mine.

There are over 80 listings, all on tap, all (with two German and two Mexican exceptions) Canadian and American, priced from $4.25 to $10.25 for 10 ounces. There was some confusion when we tried to order one of two flights of beer, which come in sets of four glasses of 4 1/2 ounces each (it took two servers to explain them properly). What's needed, according to my beer-loving friend, and some others (especially in a beer specialty house with so long a list) is a tasting flight of two or three ounces each. Nevertheless, my friend was impressed by the selection and liked the Fire House Amber from Lake of the Woods (a nice depth, a little richness and a bit of a bite) and a Liberty Pale Ale from California (smooth, and very drinkable on its own).

Me? I was there for the food, and that's what the stars are based on. I started with the items that had first attracted my attention -- the six skinny little rostbratwursts which might have equalled two plump standard-size wursts; the merest dollop of sauerkraut; and a fair-sized serving of German potato salad. All of it was good, but it added up to not much food for a pricey $15.

The oysters I'd looked forward to were unexceptional but decent, but (in the what-on-earth-were-they-thinking? category) they came under a blanket of off-putting white beer foam that had no taste at all and no function that I can imagine. There was also a mignonette sauce underneath that I can't describe, since I'd scraped it off along with the foam in order to have the oysters as close to their natural state as possible ($9 for three, $16 for six). There were also mussels -- small but plump, juicy and better than many I've had recently; unfortunately the dark lager sauce was terribly bitter, and the slices of bratwurst in it had been overcooked and tasted of nothing but that sauce ($16).

The menu also offers burgers, from $12 to $15, which includes either potatoes or red cabbage. There's no such thing as a simple burger and the cheapest, at $12, comes with cheddar, bacon, pickles, lettuce, tomato and an onion ring. The bacon was good and freshly cooked, but the meat had no flavour, the cheese was a mere smear, the onion ring was flabby and the bun had been spread with a powerful mustard that I didn't like. The included braised red cabbage was good, but if you opt for potatoes, choose the nice, garlicky mashed over the frozen fries.

The inevitable mac and cheese was dry, with a stiff and skimpy béchamel sauce, an unidentified smoked cheese and some bits of jalape±os. I had to take the promised pork belly confit on faith, since all I could find were shreds -- so few, so tiny and so dry they could have been anything. The dish was finished with a final sprinkling of some kind of powdery and utterly tasteless crumbs ($13).

However, we did well with the beer and bison bourguignon -- a very generous serving of meat and veggies in a flavourful brown gravy ($25). The wee chunks of beer bread that came with it, though, were hard and useless for sopping up gravy. Actually -- as I discovered on another visit when they were fresher and much softer -- they were hard because they were stale. We might have also been pleased with a crusty and tender pork schnitzel, paired with a pleasant cucumber salad, if the meat hadn't been so greasy, and the accompanying spaetzle hadn't been tough and powerfully overdosed with sage ($21).

Other possible choices include a hot pretzel ($9), cold smoked wings ($13), poutines ($11 to $16), a few sandwiches ($13 to $15, including potatoes), fried chicken, fish and chips, steak frites and perogies ($13 to $18). There's also a 12 ounce rib-eye ($32), a 10-ounce strip loin ($28) and arctic char ($27).

There's only one real dessert (the alternative is a beer float), but the black and tan cake was absolutely marvellous -- two dark, dense chocolate slabs, made with stout and drizzled with a pale ale caramel sauce. The huge portion must have been meant for two, and although I often can't finish even a shared dessert after a full meal, in this case I devoured every crumb of my share ($8).

I've heard complaints about the service, but on my visits the servers were prompt, attentive, polite and generally efficient.

marion.warhaft@freepress.mb.ca

To see the location of this restaurant as well as others reviewed in the Winnipeg Free Press, please see the map below or click here.

Restaurants marked with a red flag were rated between 0.5 to 2.5 stars; yellow flags mark those rated between 2.5 to 4 stars; and green flags mark those rated rated 4.5 to 5 stars. Locations marked with a yellow dot were not assigned a star rating.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 20, 2014 C5

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Updated on Thursday, February 20, 2014 at 8:53 AM CST: Replaces photo, updates map, changes headline

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