For suds lovers, downtown's Angels Trumpet Ale House is a blessing.
With 31 craft brews rotating on tap, beer enthusiasts would be hard-pressed not to find one to their liking. Most do, and regularly. They turn the sizable room, which features a bar nearly the length of it, into a convivial, craft-drinking affair of local favorites, seasonals, and all-over IPAs. Some prefer to worship their brews atop stools at an altar of stark white tiles and gleaming taps, others at wooden tables and chairs under low lights in the dining area, and some under the heavens on the patio out back.
Mat and Sharry Englehorn are craft beer lovers, too — and they didn't think Phoenix offered enough places to enjoy it. So they quit their jobs in real estate and property management and opened Angels Trumpet Ale House in August 2012.
The Englehorns' one-of-a-kind drinking establishment makes it a popular choice with the downtown crowd. When packed, its exposed ceiling of wood rafters, brick walls, and concrete floors can bring the noise level to a near-deafening crescendo, where the experience is akin more to a spirited town hall meeting than somewhere to sit back and sip. And a behind-the-bar blackboard of ever-changing beer selections, not easily seen by many seats in the house, can make ordering tricky. But the beer drinkers here are an industrious lot. Some simply leave their seats to get a closer look, others shout questions to their servers, and a few snap phone photos of the board before returning to their table and sharing the information with friends.
The angels have, indeed, smiled upon this worthy drinking hangout. But Angels Trumpet is not just an alehouse; it's a restaurant, too. And it's the other half of the gastropub equation — the food — that the celestial beings seem to have abandoned. What remains is the devil, and he most definitely is not in the details.
At first glance, the lunch and dinner menu is a sensible two-page offering of beer-friendly categories such as snacks, burgers and sandwiches, and flatbread pizzas. The dishes are an eclectic lot, featuring ingredients and flavor combinations that, in the hands of a more capable kitchen staff, might elevate the dining experience. Here, though, they seem too ambitious, often have preparation issues, and rarely deliver on their expected tastes.
If you order the spud tacos, congratulations; you have selected the best dish the alehouse offers. The two taco turnovers, each the size of a folded dinner plate, are flash-fried and feature light, crispy tortillas filled with mashed sweet potatoes, roasted corn, and soft cheese accompanied by a lively pesto. As a solo snack or light meal, the tacos are a solid selection.
But don't let this dish fool you into thinking the alehouse's other Mexican-inspired entrees will be as successful. The chorizo in the Chet was tender and spicy, but the burrito's other fillings — salty black beans and missing fries — tripped up its overall flavor.
Two beer-battered fish tacos didn't fare much better. They were topped with an onion-heavy pico de gallo but were missing the promised guacamole, and their secret sauce proved so secret that it was nowhere to be found. A side of salty black beans — saltier than those in the burrito — did little to help.
Three dipping sauces — hot, Buffalo, and honey and dark ale — couldn't save a plate of dry, fried Angels Wings. The small ramekins they were served in made the coating/dunking process a frustrating one, and the appetizer became difficult to share. The name of a dish called The Mess may not have been intended to mean a shallow, lukewarm pile of limp fries, salty gravy, and deep-fried cheese curds coated in a moist, bland batter, but that's precisely what it was.
Better to split a 10-inch flatbread pizza — the one category of food Angels Trumpet does fairly well. Often, the dough is overly chewy and without much flavor, but the pizzas' toppings help make up for it. Solid choices are the Fun-Guy, made with slices of fresh mushrooms, garlic, basil, and feta and mozzarella cheeses on a satisfying nutmeg white sauce, and the Tractor, featuring a roasted tomato sauce with bacon, Brussels sprouts, caramelized onion, pecorino Romano, and smoked mozzarella topped with two over-easy eggs, for the pizza equivalent of a farm-inspired breakfast.
On the other hand, burgers and sandwiches — served with frequently limp and lifeless fries (but with a surprisingly stellar signature ketchup akin to chunky tomato soup), cole slaw studded with cranberries and feta that tastes less flavorful than it appears, or decent housemade chips — could use some improvement.
Chances are, even if your Good Ole Fashioned burger, ordered with the optional fried egg, is prepared to your requested temperature (my medium-rare arrived well done), there still will be too little of its stated pickled red onions and smoked tomato aioli to make much impact. The bison BLT is somewhat better, the juicy link offset only by an overcooked slice of bacon in its flatbread wrapping.
If the Englehorns were to re-think a category of their menu, the sandwiches would be the place to start. Most are typically served up on greasy, startlingly hard slices of fried bread, and, like many of the dishes at their brewpub, lack a successful flavor balance of their stated ingredients.
One that could be 86'd altogether is the Nutter. A senseless novelty sandwich of peanut butter, raspberry chipotle, bananas, marshmallow fluff, and bacon, it is easily one of the vilest things I've tasted (and this from the gal who ate a scorpion). If you can get past the image of glistening pieces of buttery fried sourdough housing a sloppy filling oozing a milky liquid and take a bite, you'll receive a cloying punch of mush mixed with bread so hard it borders on crouton-esque and takes an eternity to swallow. I'm not sure what craft beer this atrocity best pairs with, but I know there isn't enough of it on tap to extinguish the aftertaste.
Ready for a salad? Me, too. They're not game-changers, but compared to many of the other dishes on the menu, they're safe bets. Although my avocado salad was underdressed, it contained satisfying bites of grapefruit along with beets, almonds, goat cheese, and large slices of avocado atop a bed of arugula.
If, by the end of your barley, malt, and hops, you have a hankering for something sweet, there's the alehouse's excellent version of Pop Tarts. These two warm and flaky pastries filled with a seasonal flavor — think pumpkin ginger, strawberry and rhubarb, and almond — get even better with a delectably sweet vanilla glaze.
Although friendly, the staff seems untrained in the craft brew arena, unable to offer much help to those unfamiliar with its styles, brands, and jargon. In this house of Angels, you're on your own. And if you're ordering food, the response is very much the same. When my vegetarian dining partner asked if there was meat in a brown gravy sauce, the server simply replied, "I don't know."
At this point, Angels Trumpet Ale House is just that: an alehouse. Perfect for downtowners in search of craft-y suds, not so much so if they're hungry, too. Thankfully for the Englehorns, their unique gastropub is the only game downtown — at least for now. In the future, if they truly want the food to be as stellar as the suds, serious work needs to be done. If not, brew food buyer beware.