I headed out to the Tap Exchange Alehouse & Grill last Saturday to watch McAllister Park in the Little League World Series game. The rain delays kept me from seeing the game, but I left with a good feeling about the restaurant.
Any place with that many India pale ales on the menu – not to mention the stouts, pilsners, porters, weissens and amber ales – gets a thumbs up from me. I love the bitter, floral hoppiness of IPAs and could easily drink my way through the dozen or so offered – as long as someone else was driving and I didn’t care what I felt like the next day. The whole list includes more than 60 beers on tap and 50 by the bottle. There’s also a list of beer-based cocktails that go well beyond the beloved black and tan. There’s a good wine list, too, for variety.
But it was beer I wanted, so I started with a Lagunitas Imperial Red Ale, which had a happy hoppiness about it that made me sink back into my chair and forget all about rain delays and the rest of the afternoon. My Patty Melt made me perk up even more, thanks to a winning combination of grilled onions, melted Swiss cheese and thousand island dressing on toasted rye. Oh, yeah, there was a burger tucked in there, too, but more on that later.
A Green Flash IPA from the tap added plenty of citrus notes to the beer’s floral nature, which was just fine with me because, by the time I ordered the second beer, I was ready for a snack. I opted for the hot wings with the habanero sauce, which wasn’t too hot but had a lot of fruit flavor. The spiciness of the sauce seemed to come more from black pepper, but they were still good and meaty, just what you’d expect from a beer hall like this.
I made it back there Monday night with friends, who were a bit flummoxed at all the beer choices available. Thankfully, our waitress was extremely helpful. She approached the topic the way a good wine steward does, and after a few short questions, she had the right beers chosen for both. A fruit Michelob Ultra Pomegranate-Raspberry for one, Young’s Double Chocolate Stout for the other. I opted for hops again and chose Victory Wild Devil IPA, again with plenty of citrus notes to balance the pleasant bitterness.
We each found something to like when we paired the brews with thick-cut fried pickles and a trio plate of breaded jalapeño slices, mushrooms and Buffalo-style cheese sticks. Fried food all, but the quality, unfortunately, was not equal. The cheese sticks were oddly bland next to the rest of the goodies, which disappeared quickly.
Our sandwiches varied from good to mediocre. Top honor went to a custom burger made with a large portobello mushroom instead of beef. Ripe avocado and cheese made it even more enjoyable. A Black & Bleu Wrap with steak strips and blue cheese also made a good impression, though the tortilla wrap itself was on the cardboard side in terms of texture and lack of taste.
On the Ortega burger drew yawns. The mild green chile aioli the menu referred to was really a shrinking violet, adding no flavor. A slightly sweet, slightly stale bun didn’t help. But worst of all was the preformed burger patty, lifeless and dull – and not all that hot. The ripe avocado was about the only saving grace of the whole sandwich. (If you can made your own sauce for the ziti and your own soups each day, spend the time to form your own patties and don’t freeze the meat. You’ll do better in the long-run for taking the extra step.)
But my friend got over her disappointment by ordering the homemade ice cream. We all loved the chalky, gritty texture of the cocoa powder in the chocolate ice cream, which also had small chunks of chocolate for added flavor. (And, yes, it pairs nicely with Double Chocolate Stout.) The vanilla could have used a little more vanilla; what we had was more like sweet cream, which certainly wasn’t bad.
In the end, though, it’s beer, not ice cream, that will get people into Tap Exchange. (And apparently the promise of kids eating free on Mondays will, too, as there were many families that night.) I’ve already got my next IPAs picked out.
22250 Bulverde Road at Evans Road
Lunch and dinner daily.