Joel Smith & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & D & lt;/span & uffy Mahoney makes it sound so easy. One Christmas three or four years ago, he and his brother Mickey, while peering into the bottoms of a couple glasses of homebrew, said, "Hey, we should start our own brewery."
So they did. In March of this year, on First Avenue in downtown Sandpoint, the 20-somethings opened MickDuff's in a long, narrow, high-ceilinged room propped up by rough-hewn timbers and a loan on their father's house.
Neither had any experience in the restaurant business. Duffy used to be in marketing in Portland, and Mickey formerly sold prosthetic limbs. (Both are WSU graduates.) Their vision: to create a place that's "just a fun place to go," according to Duffy. "Nothing too upscale."
They've succeeded at that, for the most part. The brewpub is rustic and comfortable but with flecks of modernity. And a little kitsch. The floors are the original Douglas fir, buffed to a shine. There are those massive pillars. Comfortable plush chairs sit in one corner next to a collection of games: Uno, Scrabble, chess. But the walls are painted avocado green, with dark green trim over corrugated tin-roof wainscoting. Decoupaged onto the tabletops are hundreds of arcane beer labels: Acapulco Lime, Funky Monkey, Tube City, Robin Hood Ale. And in a corner near the street, nine gleaming silver and copper tanks hold the business's raison d'etre -- their seven ales, from IPA to porter to a huckleberry blonde made with raw, local huckleberry puree. The beers, which the Mahoneys don't plan to distribute, run to 10 taps behind the long wooden bar, near the bottom of a massive, chalked-up blackboard wall. & r & If the d & eacute;cor veers from alpine to modern, the menu veers even more wildly -- at least, the appetizer menu does. Eleven items run the spectrum from pot stickers to barbecued pork wings, from croquettes to jalapeno poppers -- a truly unusual selection, particularly for a brewpub. My lady companion and I chose a plate that's familiar to most fine dining restaurants in the Inland Northwest, but that I, for one, had never seen in all the pub grub reviews I've done for this paper: seared ahi tuna ($9.25).
It proved to be not grubby at all. The tuna was a vibrant, tender pink, crusted with black and white sesame seeds, giving each cut a nice crunch on the outside. We dumped a dab of wasabi into the dish of super-salty (too salty, actually) soy sauce. It was a pleasing combination, though a little off. Still, the fish was fine and the beers -- my Strom-Hammer IPA and her Lake Paddler pale ale (named for the monster that trolls Lake Pend Oreille) -- were crisp and refreshing, helping cut the salt.
In its entr & eacute;e menu, Mick Duff's displays a much narrower focus. Main dishes here come in two varieties: sandwiches and burgers. This may be a good thing. Too many pubs we've been to try to please everyone and strike out with insipid pasta or wretched turkey dinners. Mick Duff's sticks with the classics, and they succeed. The sandwiches run from the ordinary (Reuben, turkey club) to the slightly more adventurous (the sauteed mushroom and the BLTA -- with avocado). All are moderately priced, with the BBQ pork sandwich scraping the high end at $9.25. My companion had the herb chicken sandwich ($8.75), a surprisingly spicy (though somewhat dry) affair on rustic bread.
The burgers get a little more adventurous still. There's the Classic cheeseburger, but also the Blue burger (caramelized onion and Gorgonzola cheese), the Tiki burger (ham, pineapple and pepper jack) and the Southwest burger (saut & eacute;ed onions, bell peppers and pepper jack).
They also give you the option of topping your buns with Kobe beef, not just regular ground beef. The Kobe is advertised as "Japanese cattle that are massaged, beer fed and brushed with sake daily to promote marbling and tenderness." Don't believe everything you read. As we reported in our Spring Menu Guide, the idea that Kobe beef cattle are massaged with sake is a myth. Whether they're beer-fed (or whether this really means anything) is questionable. Duffy Mahoney insists, though, that this is genuine Kobe beef -- that is, that it comes from Wagyu cattle in Japan, not Wagyu cattle in the States.
The Kobe beef is a nice bonus (it does taste good) and will no doubt get the Californians excited, but it also highlights a problem with the entire menu: For a laid-back, neighborhood pub in a small town, MickDuff's is kind of expensive. Our appetizer was almost 10 bucks. All but one of the burgers cost $9.50, even without the Kobe substitution. With the Kobe, they run up to $12.50. For a hamburger.
It's a good thing these are good burgers. I had the Brewers burger ($9.50), with regular old beef, bacon, jalapeno, cheddar and avocado. It was delicious, even if the jalapenos didn't knock me off my ass, as our server had predicted. Coupled with a generous serving of waffle fries topped with crumbled Gorgonzola, it was a fine meal. And by this point, the beer was making me feel all warm and happy. As it should.
MickDuff's Brewpub, 312 N. First Ave., Sandpoint, Idaho, is open weekdays 11 am-9 pm, and weekends 11 am-10 pm. Visit www.mickduffs.com or call (208) 255-4351.