Thursday, March 29, 2012

Stamper’s Grill Pub in Fairview Park

A special thanks to my good friend Gretchen for this guest review of Stamper's Grill Pub in Fairview Park.  Recently, her and her husband Steve decided to visit Stampers and she offered to do a guest review.  I graciously accepted and she did a stellar job covering all of the details of their meal!
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Within the past year, Stamper’s has undergone an image transformation. While the bar looks the same both inside and out, the menu, beer list, and music scene have all had a face lift. When a few friends of ours recently visited and spoke highly of the “new” Stamper’s, my husband, Steve, and I decided that we should check it out for ourselves. We were most excited to view the new beer menu as Stamper’s claims to be moving into the craft beer direction, even adding the words “craft and belgian beer” to its new sign and website.

Food
The extensive menu of bar food that Stamper’s used to have has been replaced by a sleeker one-page menu. You can choose from bar snacks, small plates, salads, gourmet burgers, sandwiches, fatbread pizzas (no that is not a spelling error), entrees, cheese, and desserts. There is also a Specials board as you enter.


For some reason, I was in the mood for a fish fry. Every year at this time, I have to sample at least one fish fry from an establishment where I have never ordered one before. I don’t normally eat fried food, but the delicious aroma and crunchy breading always beckon to me in the spring. Fortunately, almost every restaurant has a fish fry special during lent. When I saw fried fish skewers on the Specials board, I was in my glory. Stamper’s offers great Happy Hour Specials, which almost made me order the sliders, as they are half off during Happy Hour, but I simply couldn’t pass up on the fish.

Steve ordered the Grind of the Week burger, which was made of chorizo, a favorite of his. I, of course, ordered the fish skewers, and assuming that they would be small, I also ordered half of the goat cheese salad. Steve and I had just finished completing our tax refund, which may have made us extra hungry, because we also ordered the soft pretzels as an appetizer.

The pretzels weren’t anything special. I feel as if I could have had almost the same quality from the frozen box of Super Pretzels that I used to microwave as a kid. The two redeeming qualities of the pretzels were the sweet and spicy mustard sauce and the lingering softness that the pretzels retained. The ones I microwaved always seemed to get chewy and hard after a few minutes. The smoked cheddar stout sauce was flavorless.
My salad was shockingly bland. Goat cheese is my favorite food. I love it for its funkiness and biting flavor. This goat cheese just didn't have that. The balsamic vinagrette also tended towards the flavorless side. The saving grace of this salad were the candied walnuts and the dried cranberries.
The fish skewers were huge. I was not prepared for this. I’m not sure why I assumed that this was a smaller portion, so it is only my own fault that I didn't ask the server how many pieces were in a skewer order. At first bite, the skewers were everything I had hoped for when craving a fish fry. The breading was crunchy, the fish was flaky and moist, and the tartar sauce was incredible. I’m not sure what exactly went into the tartar sauce, but I would have to guess that jalapenos were present. There was the perfect amount of kick to go along with the thick, creaminess of the sauce. However, when I tasted the fish skewers without adding tartar sauce, there simply was no flavor. The texture was spot on and, to be honest, I’d rather have crunchy flavorless fish skewers than soggy flavorful ones. As the skewers sat for a while (I was eating my salad), they unfortunately, became grease bombs. I couldn't continue to pick them up and pry them off of their skewers, as my fingers kept slipping.
Steve’s burger was also a redeeming food item from our visit. The chorizo was spicy enough for someone who likes things a bit hot, and may have been too hot for people with a sensitive palate. Steve likes his food to have major kick, so it wasn't quite spicy enough for him, however, that isn’t necessarily a surprise as restaurants have to cater to all of their clientele. While he ordered his burger medium-rare, and it was borderline medium-well, it was still moist and juicy. The only real problem with his burger was the bacon on top. The picture doesn't do it justice, but some pieces were crispy and others had bulbous sections of inedible fat that had to be removed prior to consumption.
The french fries reminded me of fair fries and I could have picked at them all day. They weren't crispy, which I usually prefer, but they had the wonderfully fresh potatoey taste that trumped all need for crispiness. Stamper’s chef attempted to fancify the fries by adding sprigs of rosemary. However, at least on this visit, there was no rosemary aroma or flavor to be found.

I would recommend ordering a burger. It was definitely the best bite on the table. Plus there is the added bonus of french fries as a side.

Drinks 
The draught list had 24 beers available, plus the always popular domestics like Bud Light. Whoever planned the menu attempted to consider that not every visitor would have craft beer knowledge. Therefore, they set up the menu in a few interesting ways. First, the beers were listed in order of darkness. Beer closer to the top of the menu was lighter and those near the bottom were dark. There was also an advisory about head, and that certain glasses may not be filled all of the way to compensate for a thick head on the beer. One of the major problems with setting up a menu this way is that the color of a beer doesn't always mean it will have a particular flavor. For example, currently on Stamper’s menu is Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale. This beer is near the bottom of the menu because of its color. However, this is a hoppy beer that is similar in flavor to an IPA, which are often light in color. If the beer drinker is expecting to get a thick, dark stout, such as those beers that surround the Self-Righteous, they will be in for a surprise, and potentially not a good one.

There are these little symbols all over the menu. And while Steve and I believe that we figured them out, there is no map key for us to be sure. We assume that the little airplanes mean that you can purchase the beer in a flight for the lower dollar amount listed to the right. We assume that the little wine glass means that the beer will taste a bit like a wine, as it was pictured next to a lambic. We are not sure what the boot symbols mean. We are kind of hoping that they mean the beer will be served in a boot, but honestly don’t know and didn't ask.

I ordered a Columbus IPA, which is one of my favorite summer beers. I realize that it isn't summer yet, but the weather was exceptional and people were eating on the patio. Steve ordered a Great Divide Oak-Aged Yeti Stout. Both beers were priced reasonably. The size of the pour was also clearly displayed on the menu so that we knew exactly what we were getting prior to ordering it.
As a craft beer snob of sorts, I appreciate that Stamper’s is trying. They have done a nice job of moving away from all domestic beers. Some of the beers on their list may be a bit common, but others are not. Overall, their beer menu would be a good option for craft beer snobs and those just getting their feet into the craft beer waters.

Atmosphere and Service
We were greeted immediately upon entering the restaurant by the hostess who also became our server. She was extremely friendly and had great knowledge of the food side of the menu. Not once did she appear at our table without a smile on her face and I could overhear her talking to other tables with the same positive persona. The only real snafu was that even though we ordered an appetizer and two dinners, she brought out the pretzels, salad, and fish skewers all at the same time and the burger didn't arrive for another 5 minutes or so. This could have been more of a problem if I wasn't eating with my husband, but we are past the point of waiting for each other to eat, which is good since the longer my fish skewers sat, the greasier they became. Our waitress checked back on us multiple times and empty dishes never sat at our table for long. Either our server swung by and removed them or the owner did. There was a rather long wait to bring our check, however, the place was packed and most likely a bit understaffed for a crowded Wednesday night. We do not fault our server at all for this delay.

The atmosphere at Stamper’s has not changed much since its upgrades. The interior is still decorated the same and there are dark areas in the back and by the bar. What has changed though is that people must no longer feel that this is just a bar anymore. (I've always felt the word “grill” is a distinguishing word for people to bring children inside.) Patrons of all ages were in the dining area. From a family with two small children to another family of high school aged children, everyone was welcome.

Overall, The word “pub” is not a descriptor that I would use for Stamper’s. Pub makes me think of one of two things: either a dark bar that only serves food that can be cooked in a deep fryer, or a gastropub where the food and beer are equally outstanding. Neither of which applies to Stamper’s. I would classify it as somewhere in the middle. Stamper’s is a nice place to grab a beer with friends and eat a juicy burger at the same time.
Stamper's Grill Pub on Urbanspoon

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