Restaurant Review - Gimme a refill

Five Seasons Brewing Company delivers good beer and good

Beer for dessert? Well, this is Five Seasons Brewing Company, a restaurant-microbrewery- sports bar hybrid with an 18-house- brewed-beer inventory more detailed than either the lunch or dinner menus. An example:

"Glenkevin Wee Heavy Scotch Ale — A Classic Scotch Strong Ale, also known as a 90 Shilling Ale or Wee Heavy. Walnut in color with gentle roasted grain and mild alcohol warmth balanced with a moderate sweetness and bitterness with very little hop aroma. Excellent for savoring after dinner with a cigar or as an apertif [sic]. Very popular in Belgium (the world's foremost consumers of Scotch Ale) as an accompaniment to dessert."

I'd have tried this, had it been one of the brews available when I dropped in. (Five or six are featured at any given time.) Alas, it was not. The $5 five-beer sampler — two ounces of each in roly poly glasses — comprised Seven Sisters Münchner, Munich Helles, Lionheart Pale Ale, Big Horn Bock and Nut Brown Ale.

It isn't easy nosing out their nuances, what with the scent of stale beer hanging in the air. The latent bitter edges, whatever the color of the beer — amber to caramel to bark — work well with the eclectic menu, however, which is the main thing. And while the small wine list is nice enough, you are better off sticking with beer, if only because the wine mark-up here is ridiculous. I noticed a 50 percent increase on some bottles I buy frequently.

But Five Seasons Brewing Company is full of contradictions. Some things are surprisingly successful, while others are simply puzzling. The common denominator is that the food — however odd certain elements may be — tastes good.

One thing there is absolutely no question about is the mussels a la mariniere ($7.95, both lunch and dinner). It's listed as an appetizer, but with three dozen mussels presented in a huge white soup plate, this is a meal in itself. And what a meal, the sweet, plump mussels bathed in an aromatic white wine broth. Not that this is the traditional broth, mind you. Liberal flecks of red pepper take care of that. With a side of crisp, hot, skin-on french fries ($3.25) — again, a bowl big enough for a meal, or to share with others — one creates a version of moules et frites.

If you want to have room for anything else, though, start with a tiny square bowl of olives. For $3.50 you get eight olives, a pair each of four distinctively flavored varieties. Good olives aren't cheap.

But good pizza can be. Five Seasons' grilled pizzas (all $8.95 at both lunch and dinner) are thin enough and light enough to savor all to oneself. At the moment I prefer the wild mushroom and asparagus or three cheese pies over the tomato and basil because the chopped red and yellow tomatoes have no flavor whatsoever at this time of year. Not even the terrific grilled crust can mask that.

Given the kitchen's obvious expertise with the grill, one would expect the grilled vegetable platter ($14.95) to be a winner. The seven vegetables are tasty. They just aren't grilled. Well, the quartered mushroom caps and asparagus are. But the julienne carrots and zucchini ooze a fresh-steamed goodness, French green beans are lightly sauteed, and those twin mounds are mashed potatoes and mashed sweet potatoes. More knowledgeable or forthcoming servers would be appreciated here. Or, at least, a more accurate menu would be.

Accuracy aside, the menu is notable for its range of unusual dishes. While not listed, buttery- textured ostrich is a frequent special. Codfish and chips with smoked tomato malt vinegar ($10.95) may not have the crunch and light body of authentic fish and chips, but it comes close. And the miso marinated sea bass ($21.95) is a treat, the silken flesh rendered almost candy-sweet.

It isn't often that a restaurant offers such diverse items as sweet onion spaetzle ($3.95); chicken paillard with Vidalia onions, green beans and carrots ($10.95); and seared jumbo scallops with blood orange glaze ($6.95) in addition to the more expected New York strip steak with asparagus ($16.95); shrimp and scallop pasta with corn and spinach ($14.95); or lamb tenderloin (one for $12.95, or $17.95 for a pair of tenderloins). That a casual microbrewery does it, and does it well for the most part, is unusual.

Possibly because Five Seasons Brewing Company is so casual, the service is not as polished as the imaginative dinner entrees deserve. The staff is friendly, but short on details. And the large tiered dining room — with its massive dark wood walls and window onto the in-house brewing vats — would be a more impressive setting after a good cleaning. One whiff of the mussels, though, and all is forgiven.

amy.jinknerlloyd@creative loafing.com??