It doesn't matter too much which bar lives in the building by the lake in the little mountain town. Whether it's the Pine Gables Tavern, the Silver Tongue Devil Saloon or the current Blue Moose Tavern, it will always be true that locals need a hole, tourists need a trap, and everybody needs a little time away.
A pool table's been added to the front of the house, along with a more modern, corrugated-metal kick, but the walls are still rough-hewn wood, and the vibe is still that of a pretty good basement party for adults.
If only the food had remained unchanged, too. At previous incarnations, you could live on the thick pizzas for weeks, and the burrito-sized jalapeño poppers, wrapped like egg rolls, were a meal unto themselves. We wrote so effusively of the jumbo chicken wings that the Silver Tongue Devil even named them after our newspaper. But while the Blue Moose doesn't exactly shirk its duty, and the wings abide, things are different.
First, the pizzas aren't quite the monoliths they used to be, though there's still something respectable about the thinner, chewy, Parmesan-and-garlic covered crusts with light sauce. And the menu lists interesting ingredients like elk sausage. But when The Falls ($12.75/14-inch) came, the only topping that didn't look like pepperoni, cubed ham, regular sausage, bacon, black olives or roasted red peppers was crumbly and average.
And about that "roasted" part? It shouldn't just mean you've sent raw peppers through a pizza oven, like we saw again on the mushroom-heavy The Slope ($9.75/10-inch). Similarly, in the case of the green-chile buffalo brat ($8.75), "caramelized" oversells what happens when you heat red onions and green peppers on a flattop for a minute or two. Plus, that sandwich was lukewarm and everything fell out the bottom.
To be fair, the battered fries were delicious, and other stuff was, too. The nacho-cheese-covered Ultimate Peak Nachos ($8.25) brought out my inner Louis C.K. — "The meal is not over when I'm full. The meal is over when I hate myself." — while the jalapeño poppers ($5.75), though downsized from the Silver Tongue days, were straight murderous. Blanketed in wonton wrappers, then stuffed with bacon and cheddar, mozzarella and cream cheeses, the deep-fried peppers were little atomic bombs of heat. Lastly, the Southwestern Buffalo Skewer ($7.50) of brat slices and pretzel bites was plain, but the underlying flavors were there.
A ham and turkey melt ($8.75) returned to the realm of the lackluster — the "caramelized" onions and peppers were nearly raw, and the previously melted cheddar cheese had resolidified by delivery — but it was our server the same night who was the most frustrating. We initially sat menu-less for minutes; we practically had to bargain for the same brown mustard served with the Buffalo Skewers; she left and came back repeatedly, bringing napkins, then silverware, then refills; and somebody else ultimately had to bring our check and to-go boxes.
But, again to be fair, our server the first night pulsed with timely personality, at one point saying, "I'm going to go get you some napkins. Do you need plates and shit?"
So, it's a little hard to say where the Blue Moose is, especially considering that we learned, after our visits, that the menu was being revamped some. It certainly suffers in comparison to its predecessors, but then again it's got a lot of history.