When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: Bootleggers Location: 3375 East Shea Boulevard Open: About a month Eats: American Price: $11 to $30 per person
The first thing you should know about Bootleggers in North Phoenix is that there is a house made, 151-proof, apple pie moonshine so warm and smooth that when it knocks you on your ass (and it will), it's a little like getting loaded at meemaw's house.
The second thing to know about Bootleggers is meat -- glorious, glorious meat.
The get-cozy little joint of juice and simple yet satisfying all-American eats comes courtesy of first-time restaurateur Rick Phillips (of the food blog EaterAZ as well as the Arizona Taco Festival and the Arizona BBQ Festival). To start his venture, Phillips hooked up with grilled meat master chef Matt Carter (The Mission, Zinc Bistro, The House) to help with the menu. Chef James Fox (Milagro Grill) heads up the kitchen and Jason Horton (T. Cook's) presides over the bar.
The menu is a manageable listing of familiar, upscale tavern fare with a side of "hey, y'all." And with twelve seasonal craft brews on tap as well as bottles, wines by the glass, and cocktails, chances are you'll find a libation or two to enjoy.
You could start with some decent spicy and citrus-y chicken wings ($8). But if you've come for the best appetizer of the bunch, you've come for the Nacho Flat ($10). Made with thin and crispy fried tortillas interspersed with smoky brisket hash, roasted jalapeños, and chunky avocado relish, the secret to this addictive snack lies in a chipotle cheddar sauce which successfully finds its way in, out, and over the chips without simply weighing heavily on top of them.
You might wish you tasted more of the stated ingredients on the Bootlegger Burger ($12) or, like mine, had it cooked to your temperature specifications. Nevertheless, the patty is well-seasoned, the bacon superb, and the handfuls of house-made chips good enough to take home for later.
The real hoagie hero, however, is the PBLT ($10). Bulked out with heady chunks of 10-hour smoked pork belly and layered with grilled pickles, spicy mayo, and onions between toasty pieces of sourdough, this fatty, spicy, crispy, and sweet creation is pretty much perfect and might be one of the best takes on the classic sandwich in the Valley.
Like the menu, Bootleggers, tucked into a corner of a strip mall at 3375 East Shea Boulevard that was formerly the Dirty Drummer, is easy to settle into. A low-lit, comfortable room of reclaimed wood and brick surrounding aluminum tabletops and dark leather booths, it's the kind of casual, good-time spot its customers -- mainly those from around the area -- seem glad to have in their North Phoenix neighborhood.
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The service is casual yet efficient and the staff isn't shy about telling you what they like.
"The apple pie moonshine is really smooth," my server told me. "So smooth it's dangerous."
Consider yourself warned.