Crab Dip from Gordon Biersch

What can be better than cold, freshly brewed beer and good hot food? It’s a match made in heaven and the concept behind brew pubs.

These days, the pubs, pulling pints of house-made craft beers to down with burgers, brats and other bar favorites, are pretty common fare. But in 1988, when brewer Dan Gordon and restaurateur Dean Biersch decided to open their first brewery restaurant in Palo Alto, California, it was a novel concept.

Much to the pleasure of lovers of fine brews, the concept caught on. Today, Gordon Biersch boasts locations in 18 states across the country, including Gilbert’s SanTan Village Mall.

Biersch was also responsible for another wonderful trend in food—garlic fries. He may not have invented the combination, but his restaurants were among the first to serve them, and Biersch can take credit for bringing the golden, garlicky fries into the mainstream. Bless him.

Biersch was a brewer, trained at the Technical University of Munich, and the beers at Gordon Biersch reflect that background—German-style lagers and ales brewed according to Reinheitsgetbot, the German Purity Law of beer. Beer for the Gilbert location is brewed in Glendale and Tempe and brought in kegs to the restaurant.

Four times a year, seasonal beers are added to the menu of standards. And tapping those kegs presents an opportunity for what else? A party.

At the Gilbert Gordon Biersch, manager Tony Blais turns the quarterly tappings into fundraisers for community groups—most recently Gilbert fire and police departments. At the April tapping, the Mai Bock flowed and so did the dollars.

“We raised over $1,500 for the Gilbert Fire Department in two hours,” Blais says. Expect another great time at Oktober Fest, the restaurant’s biggest party of the year. Keep an eye on their website for upcoming “Year of Beer” events.

Blais has been general manager of Gordon Biersch in Gilbert since November. His 12-year career with the chain includes stops in Las Vegas, Hawaii and the District of Columbia.

That’s a lot of fries. “When I was a cook I remember going home smelling of garlic,” Blais says.

The fries, along with burgers, sausages, pizza and other bar standards, are great, but if I had to pick one item on the menu it would be the Cajun pasta. The combination of zesty andouille sausage, chicken and shrimp in creamy sauced linguini is a wonderful counterpart to the crisp, citrusy flavors and bitter finish of the Mai Bock.

On a recent visit, I also sampled the beer-battered fish and chips, a stack of five large logs of perfectly battered cod served on a bed of garlic fries. (You also can get them with salt-and-pepper fries, but why would anyone pass up a chance for the garlic?)

Portion sizes are generous, so sharing is a good strategy.

Simply grilled fish—salmon and mahi mahi spritzed with beer as it cooks and finished with butter—are popular menu additions with customers, Blais says. So I’ll be back for that and the traditional sausage platter of grilled Bratwurst with braised red cabbage and sauerkraut croquettes—crispy fried morsels of kraut, bacon, Swiss cheese and potato.

“We have a few new things coming out,” Blais says. “We’re testing adding shareable dishes—served family-style—to the menu. And we will start selling fill-in growlers in August. There’s a huge demand for them. We probably get eight or 10 people a week who want to fill growlers.” (Growlers, for the uninitiated, are jugs that customers bring in for takeout draft beer.)

Also fairly new on the menu, the American wagu beef burgers have developed a strong following, Blais says. The rich, juicy beef pairs well with a crisp hoppy beer.

How can the uninitiated know which brew to choose? That’s easy, your server will bring you tastes. Mind did without my having to ask—small glasses of Royal Hopness Pale Ale and India Brown Ale to try along with the Mai Bock I’d chosen as the main beverage.

My favorite combination was the Royal Hopness, with citrus flavors and a bitter, hoppy finish that cleared the palate after the Cajun pasta. I’ll save the brown ale, with its strong malt and caramelized brown sugar notes and a bracing bitter finish, for next time. I want to come back for that wagu burger.

Gordon Biersch, 2218 E. Williams Field Road, Gilbert, 480.722.0883. Visit gordonbiersch.com for other area locations

– Majorie Rice, Entertainer Magazine / Edited for Phoenix.org