Something Wild for your mouth
By Jeff Kronenfeld, June 2019 Issue.
Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. is one of the
newest additions to the increasingly crowded downtown Phoenix restaurant and
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).
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.