LORI LUCAS

I had planned on reviewing Mash Tun months ago, closer to its opening, but at that time its brewing equipment was defunct, looming sadly in the corner, shiny and new and inoperative. Now it's up and running, and Mash Tun can stand proud by its status as a "brewpub." In the few months that have passed since I visited the first time, it's undergone significant improvements. The menu has diversified, the food tastes better, and on an otherwise normal Wednesday evening, the place was packed—a good sign.

Mash Tun's homemade brew is nothing spectacular at present, but it will improve in time. We sampled the pale ale and the golden ale, two different beers that looked, smelled, and tasted almost exactly the same. They were light and easy to drink and perfect for washing food down the gullet, but they don't yet possess that distinctive, hoppy kick that separates a great brewpub's booze from the good. And make no mistake: Once Mash Tun finds its own unique brand of brew, it will be a great brewpub. It's an excellent place to chill, with a welcoming staff, a FREE kickass jukebox, and, most importantly, delicious food.

It could be argued, in fact, that Mash Tun has the perfect Portland menu: cheap and expansive, with a balanced array of veget- and meat-atarian delights. The Italian beef sandwich is a gooey, gorgeous gut bomb of Chicago-style shoulder-cut beef on an au jus-soaked baguette. You'll have to eat it with a knife and fork (or even a spoon), but that makes it all the easier to split with your dining companion (a choice you'll want to make to avoid a coronary). Or go lighter with the turkey al pesto with provolone cheese and basil pesto aioli. Non-carnivores have all kinds of options, including the grilled portabella burger, topped with soy cheese for the vegan in all of us. There's also a falafel sandwich, a homemade veggie burger, and even a baked red lentil puree, which with the accompanying pita chips, made for a zesty, crunchy, healthy alternative to normal bar snacks like French fries and onion rings (though, rest assured, there are plenty of those as well).

A brief note about chicken wings: On Wednesdays Mash Tun serves them up for 25 cents a pop, and they're wonderful. We got six and tore into them like bloodthirsty hyenas; the meat was crispy and smoky, and the buffalo sauce had a marvelous tang to it, which spread across our mouths like prairie dust, lingering awhile before blowing away again.

The term "mash tun" denotes a quietly important vessel used in the beer-brewing process. At a key stage, starchy malt gets poured into the mash tun, where it is then converted into sugar so that the REALLY exciting action can begin: the yeast-induced fermentation process. Everyone knows the role yeast plays in beer making, but few are aware of the mash tun—which is why it's also a great name for Alberta's newest brewpub. Mash Tun isn't flashy or prominent; it's tucked away on a side street, with a cement floor and simple wood tables. Like its namesake, you probably don't even know it exists right now—but once you find it, it will become an instrumental part of your drinking regimen.