In Tempe, where people gravitate toward bright commercial clusters like Mill Avenue and Tempe Marketplace, it can be hard for off-the-beaten-path businesses to do well.
The corner of Fifth Street and College Avenue is one of those places that's had a revolving door in recent years — maybe it's a bit too far from the main drag, or maybe it's too dark at night. What's more, maybe the locals weren't ready for Cuban food, which is the last thing I recall eating at this spot a few years ago.
Things have changed, though, with the arrival of Dave's Electric Brewpub. Following in the footsteps of two well-established, out-of-the-way Tempe faves — Four Peaks Brewery and Casey Moore's — Dave's seems to be thriving in an unlikely location, thanks to a bustling front patio and indoor-outdoor bar, a decent selection of all-American food, and Arizona microbrews on tap. Restaurant concepts may come and go, but in Tempe, beer and burgers definitely work.
Michele Laudig's Cafe
Dave's Electric Brewpub
502 South College Avenue, Tempe
Dave's Electric Brewpub
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 2 a.m., Saturday and Sunday
Spicy Southwest burger: $8.50
Salmon B.L.T.: $10
14-inch pizza: $10.50
Dave's Electric Brewpub is a welcome addition to the metro area's microbrew scene and an unpretentious hangout that clearly caters to the neighborhood. What adds even more interest to this two-month-old spot is the provenance of the beers.
They're actually brewed in Bisbee, thanks to a partnership that pub owners Dave Hoffman and Scott Burge worked out with Arizona microbrew pioneer "Electric" Dave Harman. Twenty-two years ago, when microbrewing was legalized here, Bisbee-based Harman was the first in the state to apply for a brewer's license.
So if they're shipping in the suds from southern AZ, what's up with all the shiny brewing equipment visible through a big window along College Ave?
That's where Hoffman and Burge will soon begin making their own unique brews, while continuing to serve Harman's four signature beers that are already on tap. There's the original Dave's Electric Beer, an accessible golden lager; OK Ale, a pale ale named after the OK Corral in Tombstone; Old Frog Grog, a dark oatmeal stout reminiscent of roasted coffee; and Industrial Pale Ale, a crisp IPA that doesn't go overboard on hoppy bitterness. The IPA was my drink of choice.
Even if you're not in the mood to drink, there is plenty to eat here — a broad variety of appetizers, sandwiches, burgers, and pizzas, some with a Southwestern spin. The kitchen dishes up portions big enough to make a hungry coed happy.
Bisbee Grand 6 Layer Nachos weren't quite the stunner my friends and I expected (based on that mouthful of a name), but we happily polished them off nonetheless, practically making a meal out of chips and a pitcher of that IPA. The mini-mountain of tortillas was smothered in melted cheddar and pepper jack, black and pinto beans, and pickled jalapeños (not roasted chiles, as described), served with salsa, guacamole, and sour cream.
We were more interested in the bruschetta, four thick slices of toasted ciabatta heaped with lots of diced tomato, fresh basil, and feta. Nobody was reinventing the wheel here, but the tomatoes were ripe, and every bite was boosted by luscious olive oil and a whiff of fresh garlic.
There's nothing like a plate of sizzling hot fried food to soak up the beer. Crunchy battered chicken strips, teamed with a pile of excellent crispy beer-battered fries, didn't last long. But neither did the wings, which were actually grilled, not fried. Our standard Buffalo wings were plenty spicy, so I suspect the Electric hot wings are not for the timid.
The pizzas had an interesting crust — thin, with a cracker-like exterior and a chewy, doughy middle. Dave's Electric Margherita was not the typical margherita — tomato sauce, sliced tomatoes, fresh basil, and huge spoonfuls of crushed garlic — and was frankly too "electric" for me. I love garlic, but only in moderation when it's raw; this hadn't been in the oven long enough to temper that pungent intensity. Don't order this unless your date's noshing on the same thing (or you're out to slay some vampires).
The Mediterranean pizza was a hit, though. The amount of garlic was appetizing, not overwhelming, and the pie was covered in sun-dried tomatoes, chicken chunks, spinach, Kalamata olives, pine nuts, mozzarella, and feta. Tasty.
Sandwiches were good, too — especially the Italian beef, which came on a soft, doughy roll that pretty much made the dish. Thinly sliced roast beef, melted mozzarella, sautéed red onion, mushrooms, and green peppers amounted to a craveworthy cheesesteak that I would definitely order again.
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Likewise, the Reuben was up to par, thanks to fresh marbled rye, beer-soaked sauerkraut, melted Swiss, plenty of corned beef, and extra-tangy Thousand Island dressing. It wasn't greasy, either.
Fish sandwiches aren't something I imagine as hefty, but the salmon B.L.T. was a surprisingly macho creation, with a thick, moist salmon fillet blackened by a bold spice rub and barely contained by two pieces of wheat bread. Spicy mayo and pepper jack amped it up a notch, while smoky bacon added another savory dimension. Lettuce and tomato were just the right cool contrast.
And, no surprise, I really appreciated the grilled-to-order Spicy Southwest Burger, a medium-rare patty topped with pepper jack, roasted green chiles, and jalapeño mayo. Bites of juicy beef, boosted by some pepper heat, satisfied a primal urge in a way that could only have been improved upon with lots of cold beer to wash it down.
Thankfully, that was not an issue.