Spoke & Wheel Pedals to Mediocrity

Ask anyone from Sunnyslope about the odd-shaped building at the end of Murphy Bridle Path, between Central Avenue and the Arizona Canal, and many may pause, a few may try to recollect some of its former monikers, and some simply may shrug before replying that it's never been much of anything — and what has been there hasn't lasted very long.

For years, the historic building's been more or less a revolving door of restaurants. In 2010, it opened as Dillon's on Top of Central, part of the locally owned Kansas City-style barbecue chain. Two years later, Dillon's closed. Before then, the structure had seen more than a half-dozen restaurant concepts set up camp within its sharply angled walls — Calico Cow, Gregory's on Central, Bridle Path Steakhouse, and more — all with similar shuttered results.

Now, as of February of this year, it's the home of Spoke & Wheel, a cyclist-centric bar and restaurant from Phoenix-based Wildthyme Restaurant Group, whose founders include Heinrich Stasiuk and chef Mercer Mohr. No strangers to the restaurant business, Stasiuk and Mohr also own Ken's Creekside in Sedona; Brick, the three-year-old gourmet pizzeria in downtown's Arizona Center; and Timo, the wine bar that took the place of Sunnyslope's South American-themed Bomberos (just up the street from Spoke & Wheel) in 2011.

Spoke & Wheel's burgers include soft and sturdy buns, but the thick patties are underseasoned and result in burgers relying on toppings for flavor.
Jackie Mercandetti
Spoke & Wheel's burgers include soft and sturdy buns, but the thick patties are underseasoned and result in burgers relying on toppings for flavor.

Location Info

Map

Spoke & Wheel

8525 N. Central Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85020

Category: Restaurant > New American

Region: North Phoenix

Details

Spoke & Wheel
8525 North Central Avenue
602-870-8843
www.spokeandwheeltavern.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday
Wings: $4.99
Nacho Mama's: $8.95
Original Hatch Green Chile Burger: $10.95
Fish and chips (dinner): $14.69

But unlike Brick and Timo, which came out swinging, Stasiuk and Mohr's Spoke & Wheel seems to be, well, spinning its wheels when it comes to establishing its own identity. Even the stated definition of itself on its menu as a "San-Francisco-style tavern and chef-driven eatery serving up contemporary American cuisine with a Southwestern flair" sounds like it needs an interpreter. And, unfortunately, along with the restaurant's confusion comes a parade of mostly average dishes, many as forgettable as some of the building's former tenants.

You might expect a restaurant called Spoke & Wheel to offer a more upscale menu of familiar bar food standards and snacks — and it does. What you might not expect is that along with the gourmet cheeseburger, Southwest Caesar salad, and crispy calamari are dishes like tuna crudo, a house-smoked salmon platter, and a $23 pork chop. Not entirely a bad thing, but given that many of the restaurant's more straightforward dishes don't deliver on their promised flavors, the pricier and more unusual entries are, at least for now, best avoided.

To start, there is a perfectly acceptable plate of six tangy fried Buffalo wings. And although the Nacho Mama's featured ingredient of housemade chicken chorizo is barely noticeable, it's a passable appetizer, with a light cheese sauce and a side of tasty green salsa. As far as the street tacos and pozole go, you've had better elsewhere. And the aforementioned not-very-spicy spicy tuna crudo, presented with each piece of raw fish topped with a slice of burnt garlic and the whole group near drowning in a pool of soy sauce, it should have been 86'd at conception.

If there's a menu category Stasiuk and Mohr should focus on first, it is the signature burgers. They include a soft and sturdy bun, but the thick patty, a mix of ground sirloin strip and short rib, is woefully under-seasoned and results in the burgers relying on toppings such as bacon, chipotle mayo, and Hatch green chiles for flavor. And when it came to preparing the patties to my or my guest's temperature specifications, the kitchen never once got it right.

But the uninspired patties have little on another beefy, but leafier, item: the chopped steak salad. More or less a sloppy arrangement of dry pieces of steak, avocado slices, and limp greens blasted with avocado dressing and streaks of an unpleasantly cloying red sauce, the salad looks (and tastes) like it was run through an entirely different kitchen — specifically, Applebee's.

If you're a fish lover, you're in luck. The best sandwich of the bunch might be the one packed with chunks of white trout, crunchy sweet coleslaw, and a dab of hot sauce on a toasted bun. When it comes to the sides, opt for the sweet potato waffle fries or a side salad over the not-very-cheesy mac 'n' cheese, overcooked fingerling potatoes, and limp and oily charred garlic kale.

Fish triumphs again when put up against the larger entrée selections. Fish and chips features large hunks of pink-flesh red trout — a unique departure from the more familiar cod and haddock — whose lightly battered coating you may wish were crispier but whose firm meat exudes a nice, delicate flavor all the same. Overall, the dish fares better than a calamari fettucine, with not very much calamari tossed in a spicy and thin marinara, or the house-smoked Kurobuta pork chop. Well prepared and nicely seasoned — but with barely a trace of smoke — the heritage breed's trademarked tender meat and tasty fattiness are there, but its accompanying sides of soupy-sweet applesauce and inedible charred kale drowned in a garlicky oil make the meal hardly worth its $23 asking price.

From the outside, the long, angled space of Spoke & Wheel looks larger than it is within. There are a couple of special-occasion rooms on one side and a high-ceilinged main eating area with a bar and a door to a tapered outdoor patio on the other. A weathered wood floor, accents of brick, and a few pieces of bicycle-themed décor make the restaurant feel welcoming and friendly (there's even a gaming station for kids). But a ridiculous number of TVs (around a dozen, and all tuned to sports) is crazily distracting and, along with an often too-loud music track, plunges the bicycle-friendly tavern into bona fide sports bar territory.

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10 comments
gary.gilbert
gary.gilbert

It's disappointing that this restaurant falls short. It would be nice to have a reliable neighborhood restaurant to look forward to visiting.

I am not a professional food critic, but after one visit to this restaurant, I have to agree with the review. The food was good, but not great, and the service was not up to par.  We were there at 7pm on a Friday night and there were 5 other people eating there. This should have clued us in right away.

For those who disagree with the review, I suggest you go to the restaurant on a Friday or Saturday night and take a look around at all the empty seats. This should tell you all you need to know.

phx_2009
phx_2009

This review such a lie. I been here many times by myself or with friends. The food was great and servers was amazing. I know this restaurant will keep it up. And I can finally say there is a good dam place to eat to watch sports in sunnyslope. . Keep up the good work guys!

Whatsfordinner
Whatsfordinner

Someone clearly out to get this place. Starts the review off with negativity and never let's up.. I have to disagree with it. I am a regular. I love food, more importantly good food. The quality of the food at spoke and wheel should never be under fire. This person clearly has a grudge for some reason.. Don't listen to it

Schwinnersandlosers
Schwinnersandlosers

Yeah, the wheels seem to be falling off fast at this purportedly cyclist-focused clusterf**k. We live on Central just south of Northern, and have experienced the revolving door restaurant history of this property first-hand. We give every new tenant a chance to earn our business. Sad to say, our two trips to Spoke and Wheel weren't worth the ten minutes legwork we invested pedaling over.

Firstly, the main dining room has all the décor charm of a VFW hall. It's a whitewashed box of a room decked out in cheap-looking table and chair arrangements and Target store electronics. Then there's the service: male staff dressed in crisp white shirts with black vests, female staff in seemingly whatever they wish to wear. The only thing uniform about them as a group seems to be their uniformly scattered service. To us, it seemed that nobody ever bothered to put a service model in place before opening the restaurant. Dining room staff appeared to just be generally on their own, learning on their feet.

 On each of our two visits, frankly, the food being served around us (we chose barstools over dining room seats) looked so half-assed and unappealing that we couldn't force ourselves to order. During our last visit, a group of guys acting so loud and boorish as to make us conclude they could only be ownership or friends of ownership, made us decided to cut bait in the middle of our first round and call it quits on Spoke and Wheel.

  I ride by this restaurant on my way to and from work, six days a week. On a bicycle, no less. Seeing the near-empty patio, bike racks, and parking lot, I'm already thinking Spoke and Wheel's run will be a short one here. And I'm hoping that someone will eventually come in and bring us a concept with some staying power. And I'm praying it won't be Sam Fox with The Yard 2.   

andybrown04
andybrown04

I had a meeting with the owners before they opened to possibly do some artwork for the establishment, and after two meetings, I had a feeling that the owners got a great  deal 

on rent to get them in there, and hoped that they werent going to perform as poorly as they did when i asked them what they were looking for in the way of the environment they wanted to create. 

rgeiken
rgeiken

Wow, talk about former names, this place was known as Top of Central when I was patronizing it back in 1986 to 1990. It was a Singles Bar then and always had a big crowd. I also ate there a couple of other times since then and once it was a Dillons. Had a lot of fun there over the years I was a patron, and met a lot of people there too. For a couple of years back then, it was my home away from home!

getanewfoodcritic
getanewfoodcritic

I've eaten there over a dozen times, and your review couldn't be more incorrect.  The food is outstanding and the service is as good as it gets.  I go with a group every other week and with friends as well, even took my father for Father's Day.  Everybody has been thrilled.

As to their "more expensive offerings" that you didn't even try, that was a bad mistake on your part.   The Country Style chicken is fantastic, the Fire Cracker Calamari is delicious (Dad loved it too), and the Fish and Chips are crunchy, tasty, and a real treat.

The hamburgers are as good as you can get in Phoenix (and have always been cooked to my specifications. A personal (and group) favorite is the black truffle burger. 

We have had about every appetizer on their menu and all have been very much enjoyed and ordered on many of our visits.  One of my friends loves the Mussels and gets them almost every time.  He also loved the Tuna Crudo (and he knows his food).  I am partial to both the Calamari and Guac from that list. 

The deserts also get raves from my group. All of them have been sampled and very much enjoyed. 

The Spoke & Wheel is exactly what it should be.  A reasonably priced, friendly, casual,  neighborhood restaurant with  great quality, delicious food and service. 

The only thing this review has accomplished is to make me question your reviewing skills and any recommendations that you make. 

pulledpineypork
pulledpineypork

@phx_2009 The place is dead. I bicycle by it around 7:00 p.m., six days a week, and there's barely any business happening. I live a ten-minute pedal from the place. Tried it twice. Sorry. Not impressed.

BetteF
BetteF

@getanewfoodcritic I wish that I could have shared your experience. I am lucky enough to live in the neighborhood and was looking forward to another place to visit for meals.  I've tried this restaurant 5 times since it opened and I agree wholeheartedly with the review of this restaurant.

I have sat at the bar a few times. The bartenders were very interested in the sports on the tv's and we had to wave at them to get their attention. I've tried the guacamole and it was good once, the second time it had no taste. Their white balsamic dressing was also bland.

All entrees that we tried were mediocre as the review stated above. The french fries were great once, another two visits they were cold and greasy. I was not tempted to try the dessert after the experience that I've had with the food.

During my visits, they would not pick up the dirty dishes. My husband and I created a pile of dishes to one side to make it clear they needed to be cleared and they still wouldn't pick them up until we asked them to.  Very strange.

I am truly disappointed that another restaurant will probably be departing soon, but since I drive by the restaurant everyday and I see the mostly empty parking lot on a lot of days, I'm afraid the clock is ticking on this place. 

 
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