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The kitchen doesn't take dessert nearly as seriously as it does the beer or other food. The sweets are supplier-provided, and the serviceable chocolate mousse and lemon-raspberry cakes won't linger in your memory.
But just about everything else will. And that's no blarney.
Tombstone Brewing Company & the 202 Grill, northwest corner of Scottsdale Road and the 202 freeway, 710 East Gilbert Drive, Tempe, 967-2337. Hours: Lunch and Dinner, Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Sunday and Monday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
5945 W. Ray Road
Chandler, AZ 85226-1807
Category: Bars and Clubs
Tombstone Brewing Company takes the microbrew craze one step further than most brew pubs. Sure, the place brews nine varieties of its own suds. But if they wish, amateurs have the opportunity to hone their own brewmastering skills. For $150 (plus tax), Tombstone will furnish advice, ingredients, facilities and bottles, and help you brew your own batch. In two weeks, you can be the proud author of 13 gallons of beer.
Frankly, I have about as much interest making my own beer as I do cobbling my own shoes or removing my own appendix. After all, that's why there are shoemakers and surgeons. I figure I'm better off leaving certain tasks to the experts--especially tasks of supreme importance, like brewing beer.
If the six varieties of Tombstone's home-brews I sampled are any indication, the brewmasters here are no amateurs. The Prickly Pear Porter will certainly get any Saint Patrick's Day celebration off to a rousing start. Powerfully robust, it's not designed for novices. Neither is the stout. The pale ale is particularly outstanding, rich but not too heavy. The hefeweizen and dunkelweizen have a quirky appeal, while the full-bodied blond seems directed at more mainstream tastes. At $3.25 a pint, the price is right, too.
The place looks smart, with blond-wood tables, walls painted in black and white and live, late-evening music. If you wish, you can sit on the patio, which overlooks a sand volleyball court. You can also be soothed by the sound of freeway traffic rushing overhead on the nearby 202.
The food indicates that management keeps as close a watch on the kitchen as it does on the brewery. In the old days, at your neighborhood tavern, beer came with pretzels and peanuts. But this is the brew-pub '90s. So when we ordered a round of beers as a prelude to dinner, it came with focaccia and olive oil for dipping.
Tombstone's appetizers make the take-a-bite, wash-it-down cycle a real delight. Tempura-fried vegetables is an upscale name for oil-rich battered veggies--onions, broccoli, squash and red peppers, served with a spicy garlic dip. The crab cakes are formidable: four crisp, crabby disks teamed with a pungent mustard sauce. And the hot, cheesy, ale-marinated artichoke dip is as tasty as it is filling.
The evening menu is ambitious. Of course, you can find the usual burgers, sandwiches and pizza. But you can also find Southwest Shrimp, six meaty crustaceans first marinated in honey-lemon ale, then grilled, served with peppers and onions over rice.
Chicken Florentine is another good option. It's a boneless breast topped with spinach and pine nuts, moistened by a mushroom wine sauce. Like the shrimp, it's good enough to make you occasionally put down your beer glass.
As far as I know, beer-swilling vegetarians aren't a demographically significant group. Nevertheless, if there is a member of this cohort in your party, you can confidently bring him (or her) to Tombstone. That's because the menu offers vegetarian lasagna, layers of thick noodles adorned with mozzarella and ricotta cheeses, coated with a vegetable marinara.
However, your vegetarian pals won't be able to enjoy the best dish here, the New York steak. It's wonderful: a beautifully juicy strip, beefy and deeply flavorful, gilded with portabella mushrooms and roasted garlic. If the accompanying fries had been fresh-cut spuds, instead of freezer-bag potatoes, this platter might have soared right out of sight.
If you're looking for something a bit lighter, consider the Italian sausage hero. The mild sausage is boiled in ale, and embellished with peppers, onions and cheese. My only complaint: mushy, past-its-prime bread. A sandwich like this deserves a crusty loaf to do it full justice.
No one is ever going to mistake Maricopa County for County Cork. And Tombstone Brewery is nobody's idea of a wee bit o' Ireland. But who cares when the suds and grub are this good? Kiss me, I'm Arizonan.
Copper Canyon Brewing & Alehouse:
Tombstone Brewing Company & the 202 Grill:
New York steak