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: Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co.
Location: 201 East Roosevelt Street
Open: Four months
Eats: Upscale pub fare
Price: $15 to $20 per person
Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday
As much as you’ve heard about the Arizona Wilderness Co.'s beer, you’ve probably heard equal amounts of praise for its food. Wilderness sprang up as Gilbert’s first craft brewery in 2013, and quickly became known as a beer house, east Valley hotspot, and restaurant.
Now, after years of PB&J Burger orders and neat projects like the Camp Coolship batches, Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. has expanded in distribution and physical locations. The downtown Phoenix spot opened in February 2019, and with this new Roosevelt Street establishment came a shortened menu. A very shortened menu compared to the original Gilbert location. We wanted to give it a try.
The setup inside is roomy, meaning you don’t feel in the way when deciding where to order food. We can help: The large bar serves beer on the right; the small bar serves food on the left.
It’s counter service, but bustling Wilderness employees will get that food out to your community-style table before you know it.
The duck fat fries are the first entry under the shareables section of the high-hanging menu. These are hand-cut fries cooked in duck fat oil and sprinkled with herbs and flaky salt. You’ll try to recount the number of times you’ve heard people tell you these are their favorite fries. Once delivered to the table, you can’t get enough of them.
Plus, the Wilderness ketchup doesn't taste overly sweet like corporate ketchup — and the ranch isn’t the thin, bummer-inducing kind.
Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. also features a cauliflower starter on its menu. It’s served tossed in Buffalo sauce in an open bowl, making it appealing to those who may not even like cauliflower.
The Buffalo sauce is spicy enough, really no different from a bottle of Frank’s, but any vegan, vegetarian, or low-carb diner at the table will appreciate this offering.
For your burger, assuming you’re getting one of Wilderness’ beloved burgers, nothing seems more appropriate than the Downtown Burger. Its juicy, double-meat patties sit atop lettuce and tomato and are fully coated in pepper jack cheese. A glop of guacamole and chipotle ranch is spread thick above that, followed by a pile of fried onion strings.
Yes, the burger is stuck with an oversized toothpick to keep it in place.
If you’ve never had a Wilderness burger before, the downtown location has not diminished this initial experience. The magic has transferred well enough.
Then there's the coleslaw. The added jalapeño makes it stand out as a side. It makes you feel like you may not want to get fries as your side every time. It’s fresh, bright, and the ideal light accompaniment to such a heavy burger.
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Bonus: Eating outside on the spacious beer-garden patio is a big plus for this Roosevelt Row tenant. If you can catch a stunning Arizona sunset during the right season at dinnertime, there’s no place you’d rather be.
But, like with all dog-friendly patios, awkward instances of dog defecation can and may happen. Just a heads up.
This is to say that fans of the original Gilbert location’s food menu will not be disappointed by its centrally located sister restaurant. The beer, the vibe, and the ability to serve surprisingly good brewpub food, have followed.