Snow job

Breckenridge stumbles down the mountain of brewpubs

OK, everybody, raise your hand if you think that what Dallas really needs is one more brewpub.

And, for those of you who raised your hand, I've got a deal on some really great lake property near Alice.

Somewhere in Colorado, it seems, some scam salesman has put out the word that a great way to get rich is to open a brewpub in Dallas. "Yeah, those Dallasites really guzzle their brew," I figure they're saying to some ski bum whose knees have gone. "Remember how they used to drive back with cases of Coors in their trunks? You just can't lose money by selling beer to Texans."

Well, let me tell you something, mountain men. This niche is closed. There are as many brewpubs in Dallas as there are bagel 'n' coffee stores, and the only sliver of an opportunity left that I can imagine might be called, oh, "Drive-Thru Bagel and Brew"--picking up on the convenience concept--or maybe "Beer & Bagel Wholesale Club," where you could basically take out your crates with a fork lift. More Hoffbrau Haus-style sports bars we don't need.

Most brewpubs I've been in have all the ambiance of a warehouse, anyway, and certainly the acoustics are just about the same as Sam's. Breckenridge, the latest--though, lamentably, not the last--brewpub to open in Dallas, is just like all the rest: huge, noisy, with massive brewing machinery standing in for decor, and a menu that mistakes bulk for creativity.

It's the time of the season when a Texan's fancy turns to Colorado, but Breckenridge Brewery is no substitute. There are a few photos of ski runs on the walls, and the food is of that heft that could only appeal to you if you've spent a day in the cold with an elevated heart rate. A day in the 100-plus-degree humidity just doesn't build appetites that could deal with the fried-chicken platter served here, I don't care how many hours you spent on your air-conditioned treadmill. The copper tanks, the rows of booths, a wall of beer cans, and the big bar just about sum it up for the interior, which looks like Tim Allen designed it on Home Improvement.

Unless you leave your car out front with the valet service, you come in through a door off the parking lot where hordes of valets flagged us down so they could commandeer the car and park it in the lot where we were standing. The staff inside was equally helpful and equally numerous: We were completely outnumbered the first night we ate there, which was right after the Breckenridge opened, but evidently that was because the staff was required to attend a cigar seminar. Everyone who wasn't waiting on us was gathered around an adjacent table watching someone sniff cigars.

By our next visit, more people had found Breckenridge (it's down at the end of McKinney next to Watel's and across from the Velvet E). Still, the staff outnumbered the guests by a large margin--we counted 17 green aprons--and the kitchen workers wear white. Everyone was as friendly and helpful as they could be. They seemed uniformly young, full of jokes and enthusiasm, and they reminded me of waiters in summer or ski resorts in the square state...or camp counselors.

We started with beer and fried onions, the skinny-cut ones called "tobacco onions" by today's chefs. They were good, maybe the best thing we ate on either visit, a mountain of crunchy sweet strings, as rich as butter, so your fingers left greasy smears on your cold mug. During our second visit, we tried the house-smoked trout, as pristine and clean as the onions were decadently fat. A whole fillet, naked and white, firm and slightly dry, with a barely smoky aftertaste, was served with a corn salad--yellow kernels mixed with onions, black beans, and peppers in a honeyed vinaigrette--and a slab of sweet and gummy beer bread.

Smoked-duck enchiladas are a house specialty, the shredded meat of indistinguishable flavor mixed with spinach and melted jack cheese then rolled in tricolor tortillas and served with bland black beans. My pork chop had evidently been abandoned in a slow oven since around noon. Supposedly, it was glazed with apple sauce and roasted with "smashed" potatoes; actually, it was just the thing for sticking in your pack if you were planning a three-day hike in the back country. Good jerky.

The hamburger was gray to the center though it had been ordered medium rare, and the bacon that topped it was too tough to bite through. Breckenridge's kitchen seemed to have the most control over potatoes: Both the French fries and the "smashed" potatoes (just slightly mashed till lumpy) were excellent. The salmon was fine, too, though it was advertised as both smoked and grilled and tasted neither of smoke nor char; it was just a nice, only slightly overcooked piece of fish topped with a flavorless pumpkin-seed vinaigrette.

The "light" selection, the "Vegetable Club Tortilla Roll," sauteed vegetables folded in a flour tortilla spread with herbed cream cheese. That chicken-fried chicken I mentioned earlier was a double boneless breast, batter-fried, butterflied out on a plate, and blanketed with thick cream gravy.

On our visits, the big copper tanks were merely decorative--we weren't able to sample fresh beer made by Breckenridge because the suds aren't ready yet. Not even the root beer. They're still trucking it in from Colorado. This is the fourth store this brewing concern has opened, and I suppose their experience has proven that people will come to Breckenridge just to eat, but my experience at the Dallas store would lead me to question why.

Of the beers we tried, we liked the Avalanche Ale the best. The Oatmeal Stout was good, too, but I found it too heavy to drink with food. Best of all was something called a "George Foreman"--one part Oatmeal Stout mixed with three parts India Pale Ale. I'll go back to sample the beer again when it's being made fresh on the premises. I'm sure it will taste great with those tobacco onions.

Breckenridge Brewery, 1907 McKinney (at St. Paul), 965-0007. Open Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight (kitchen closes at 10 p.m.); Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m.

Breckenridge Brewery:
Apple and Pale Ale Glazed Pork Chop $12.95
Chicken-Fried Chicken $6.95
Smoked-Duck Enchiladas $9.45

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