You don't need to be Bigfoot to eat at The Lodge Sasquatch Kitchen.
But it helps.
Entrees arrive on platters. Burgers - including one with two grilled cheese sandwiches in lieu of a bun - teeter so high that you practically need unhinging jaws. Unless you've got a sasquatch-sized stomach, there's no way you're polishing off the plates here.
The newcomer - The Lodge opened in late December near the Foothills Mall in the former My Big Fat Greek Restaurant - is the latest offering from Phoenix restaurateur Aaron May, the chef behind May's Counter Chicken & Waffles on East Speedway.
The Lodge, no surprise here, is done up like a hunting lodge. Antler chandeliers dangle from the ceiling, and stuffed critter heads decorate the walls. Wood's everywhere, and lanterns grace the tables. A roaring fire crackles - on a flat-screen TV. Speaking of TVs, the bar and dining area have as many flat-screen TVs as an appliance showroom, so obviously it's sports-fan-friendly.
This place is kid-friendly, too, with a lovely wrap-around patio, bubbling fountain and stuff to do while the young 'uns are waiting for their $5 meals. An oversized (of course) wooden block stacking game offers entertainment, along with several cornhole boards.
The Lodge is all about comfort - and comfort food. But the menu does offer fancy twists like buffalo in the meatloaf and lamb in the stew, along with playful touches. The baked mac and cheese featured corkscrew pasta spiked with green chile and came topped with fluorescent orange powder, the unmistakable hue of crushed Cheetos. The cheesecake's not-so-secret ingredient is Velveeta. For reals.
The menu lets you know what you're in for with headings like "shrubbery" for the five salad offerings and "two paws" for the more extensive burger and sandwich section.
Starters here are barlike: wings, nachos, potato skins and fries. The White Cheddar Cheese Curds ($6.99) caught our attention. The heaping basket featured lightly battered, crispy nuggets of slightly gooey, very mellow cheddar. Great on their own, a dunk into the thick, house ranch added a creamy, savory punch.
It's hard to know how to attack the LSK burger ($9.99). Do you squash it down? Cut it in half with the fat steak knife on the side of the plate? The answer is, both. A beefy behemoth, the monster was a half-pound patty topped with thick, crispy Applewood-smoked bacon, fried onions as thin as spaghetti noodles, cheese of your choosin', lettuce and fat, juicy wheels of tomatoes. Everything busted out from in between a fluffy bun that had been toasted on the undersides. The accompanying sweet potato fries were flat rectangles, an unusual shape that maximized the crispy exterior. So flavorful, they didn't need ketchup.
The Buffalo Meatloaf ($15.99) would have been a hearty enough portion with a single slab, but it came with two, each more than an inch thick. And the meal still came with a veggie of the day and a side. Whoa.
Now, buffalo tastes very beefy but is pretty lean. The Lodge created a silky, rich 100 percent bison meatloaf by basting it in tomato-based glaze and dolling it up with a creamy cheese sauce and a kicky red pepper relish that added a pleasant spike of heat. We already covered the mac and cheese, and on this day, cauliflower was the highlighted vegetable, cooked until it was soft but not smooshy, and lightly sprinkled with Parmesan.
I've never had the pleasure of indulging in a Wisconsin Friday fish fry, but the Lodge promises an authentic Famous Fried Walleye experience ($17.99). Shaped like two long, fat cigars, the white fish - coated in crushed Ritz crackers and fried - stretched across the length of the platter. The flaky walleye didn't have a lot of flavor on its own. That made it the perfect vehicle to eat copious amounts of the thick, mayonnaise-based tartar sauce. Chunky with diced pickle and onion and with a just-right salty caper kick, the sauce elevated the lackluster walleye. The accompanying coleslaw was simplicity at its best: crisp, shredded green and purple cabbage lightly tossed in mayo. In true fish-and-chips style, the skin-on fries came with tangy vinegar.
Perhaps nowhere is the whole comfort-food shtick more evident than in the "schweets" part of the menu. The Lodge offers everything from rum-raisin bread pudding to a half-baked chocolate-chip cookie to house-spun cotton candy ($4), all airy and blue and looking like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. The s'mores ($5) were the show-stopper: a thick, warm square of fudgy brownie topped with three perfectly toasted, gooey marshmallows. The base was a thick, crunchy graham cracker that kept the sweetness in check. Drizzles of caramel sauce and bits of chocolate ensured that each and every last bit of the plate was licked clean.
As for the cheesecake, well, it tends to be a polarizing dessert: You love it or you hate it. Even those who aren't fans will want to try The Lodge's version that intriguingly boasts Velveeta ($7). You don't taste the so-called processed cheese "food" in the cake; instead it tones down the overtly cheesy tang that many people find off-putting when it comes to the treat. Creamy and smooth and topped with drifts of whipped cream and slivered strawberries, the cheesecake was delicate, gently sweet - and surprisingly, not super-yellow.
And after downing all that, we wished the trio of wooden sasquatches standing guard outside the door were real, so they could carry us out to the car.
The Lodge Sasquatch Kitchen
• Where: 7265 N. La Cholla Blvd., 219-8528, lodgetucson.com
• Hours: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily
• Noise level: Not bad.
• Alcohol: You betcha, plenty of draft and bottled beer options along with wine and several specialty cocktails.
• Family call: Super-kid-friendly with reasonably priced meals ($5) and games out on the patio.
• Vegetarian options: Mostly salads and appetizers.
• Gluten-free: Yes.
• Price range: Entrees run $6-$24.99.
Contact Kristen Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4194.