Parker's Steakhouse and Brewery
1300 Mt. St. Helens Way NE, Castle Rock, Wash., 360-967-2333, parkerssteakhouse.com. 8 am-9 pm Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday, 9 am-10 pm Friday-Saturday.
[STEAK 'N' KEGS] When he was 15, Tony Parker was driving through Portland with a buddy when they spotted a sandwich board with an enticing message: "Brew Your Own Beer For Pennies." A quick shopping trip later, the boys returned to their hometown of Longview, Wash., and set to work in the garage. The first attempt, a stout, "wasn't so wonderful," Parker says. But he was hooked, and 35 years later, he's expanded from that garage to a two-barrel system at his restaurant in Castle Rock, 12 miles north of Longview. The place looks like any other small-town steakhouse just off an interstate: nondescript barnlike building, a sprawling family-friendly room, a dim lounge area festooned with taxidermal trout and photos from Parker's previous gig as executive chef at Cleopatra's Wild Grizzly Casino in Kelso. Bud and Coors signs might glow neon on the walls, but don't ask for them on draft, as macros are only available in bottles. Instead, the five taps dispense Parker's own creations, and often a guest beer from a nearby brewery—Cathlamet's Drop Anchor, say, or Longview's Five Dons. On our visit, we sampled three of Parker's brews: a super-sweet pale, a hefeweizen with strong banana and bubblegum notes, and a smoked porter that was like liquid campfire. Cowlitz County palates are getting more adventurous, Parker says. While customers once looked askance at dark or bitter beers, they're now asking for chocolate stouts and hoppy IPAs.
DRINK THIS: The hefeweizen is a little too sweet but also doesn't shy away from banana and bubblegum flavors.