By Jeff Kronenfeld, June 2019 Issue.

Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. is one of the

newest additions to the increasingly crowded downtown Phoenix restaurant and

bar scene.

The first

location of Arizona Wilderness opened in Gilbert in 2013. It quickly

established itself as a local watering hole and even drew international

acclaim, earning the number one spot for new breweries on ratebeer.com, besting

beermakers from Deutschland (Germany) to Doucheland (San Diego).

A housemade black bean burger is thick and tasty.

Its food menu

may be small, but its beer selection is as vast and deep as the Grand Canyon —

and both are packed with local flavor. Whether you’re swallowing Padre Kino or

swimming in Dirty Hop Water, the delightful and often surprising selection of

craft beers are radiant as the star in the center of our state’s flag.

While its

large patio featuring fancy picnic tables and Adirondack chairs is meant to

invoke a German beer garden, the vein-like map of desert waterways and in-house

crafted beers — with names drawing on the Copper State’s geography, biology and

history — let you know where you are. That is, in case the winged millennials

flashing selfies outside Monorchid across the street aren’t enough. The

herringbone brick and gravel patio offer a rustic charm and plenty of shade, plus

the misters spray lightly enough that they cool without soaking reading

materials or electronics. The big tables offer room for parties, but also

plenty of space to perch and people watch for the less-social.  

A juicy burger is paired with crispy ductk fat fries.

The menu may

be simple, but ordering proved somewhat more complicated. You can get beer

either from the outside bar housed in shipping containers or from the long one

inside, which have slightly different selections. It gives you plenty of happy

yeasty options, but you have to create separate tabs at both, which was

inconvenient, as was the fact you had to wait in another line and open another

tab to order food. I can only imagine how frustrating this could become on a

crowded First Friday. Despite this, once the amber fluids flowed and patio lights

shined, I wouldn’t care if I had to scale a class five climb to keep it coming.

The staff were helpful, particularly with selecting from among the 26 beers on

tap inside.

In order to

obtain an adequate sample size, my dining partner and I sacrificed sobriety and

ordered a half-dozen brews. Since the Salome Wilderness is one of my favorite

hiking destinations in the state, I naturally ordered the wood-fermented Salome

Saison. With a surprisingly creamy texture and earthy flavor, tasting this beer

was the oral equivalent of an escape room: mysterious, diverting and not for

everyone. Also, it’s fun to say. Go ahead, try it … I’ll wait.

Named in honor

of the new spot’s urban local, La Ciudad is an IPA featuring Citra and Mosaic

hops. It wasn’t too bitter and even had a slight sweetness, complemented nicely

by wood and citrus notes. This unique brew is a stand out. It’s an excellent

choice for those turned off by the extreme bitterness of most IPAs.

The Drumsticks Confit are stylish and delicious.

The Chocolate

Bunny, an imperial milk porter, was strong on the chocolate but not crude-oil

thick. Like La Ciudad, it plays against type and is hence an excellent porter

for the non-porter aficionado. The Nicaraguan cacao nibs and Madagascar Vanilla

helped make it a perfect dessert beer/nightcap. All the beers were full of

surprising tastes and I highly recommend trying different kinds, even if you

don’t normally like them. The beers here are really something special and I

will be back to try more.

Though there

are only eight entrees and six “shareables” on the menu, everything we tried

was tasty, well-prepared and featured local ingredients. I ordered the Arizona

Trail Burger, which piled thick-cut bacon, pepper jack, roasted jalapenos and

sweet n’ spicy sauce on a perfectly medium rare patty from the Arizona Grass

Raised Beef Company. The side of duck-fat fries dusted with rosemary and salt —

which can be ordered separately smothered in various delights — were tasty and

all together quite filling. The house-made ketchup was particularly good, not

too sweet and complementing the fries nicely.

My dining

companion had the Counter Culture Black Bean Burger, which was four inches of

fried goodness. Who said four inches can’t be a mouthful? It balanced well with

the avocado and spicy sauce, and also came with a side of fries.

In glutinous

addition, I ordered the Drumsticks Confit and my companion the Buffalo

Cauliflower. The five plump drumsticks were a standout that honestly left me

wondering why more places don’t serve these things? Though it may cause Teressa

Bellissimo — known for founding the wing phenomenon with her husband Frank at

their Buffalo restaurant — to roll over in her upstate New York grave, in every

respect these drumsticks are superior to chicken wings. They had a crispy

exterior accented by a savory dry rub, plus a juicy interior. Their coup de

grace is the bare bone sticking out, which provides a non-messy means to

hold them. Combined with the dry rub, my beard and fingers remained pleasantly

free of sticky sauce and so I didn’t have to use a small forest of napkins to

make myself decent afterwards. They have a number of sauce options. I opted for

the house-made ranch and aioli, neither of which disappointed. The

cauliflower’s crunchy exterior was glazed in spicy sauce, providing a tasty and

healthy appetizer. All around the food was great and the menu provided good

options for carnivores and herbivores. 

As the name

may imply, the founders of Arizona Wilderness are both outdoor enthusiasts with

a deep reverence for Arizona’s natural spaces and the nonprofits, such as the

Nature Conservancy, which help protect them. Throughout the restaurant you’ll

find plaques informing you about the sustainable practices of their partners

and reminding you of the interconnected nature of desert life.

For instance,

there is Sinagua Malt, a benefit corporation that works with farmers along the

Verde River to plant crops, such as barley, that use less water but are still

in high demand. It saves two birds with one stone, allowing farmers to keep

growing while letting more water flow through this vital riparian zone, which

sustains native fish and hosts of other animals, everything from yellow-billed

cuckoos to lowland leopard frogs.

Though every

company these days talks the talk on sustainability, founders Jonathan Buford

and Patrick Ware seem to walk the walk. Not only is it evident in the many

pictures of the two amply-bearded men hiking through wilderness areas covered

in red mud and big smiles, but also in the writings of Buford. He waxes poetic

as only a brewer can about how in the summer, “leaves beg the sun for its

powerful energy,” but by fall they, “abide by the rules of nature by creating

sugars for the roots.”

When you can’t make the drive to the real wilderness, drinking and

eating in the Arizona Wilderness DTPHX can be the next best thing.


Photo courtesy of The Dinah

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