First Taste

Mad G's in Tempe Has a Lot to Be Angry About

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: Mad G's Grill & Tavern Location: 19 East Broadway, Tempe Open: Almost a month. Eats: Bar food. Price Point: $11 to $30

I'm not sure who Mad G is, but if I were him (or her), I'd be angry, too.

Mad G's Grill & Tavern, the third restaurant from Allen and Traci Thompson (owners of The Grind and next-door neighbor Chick Rotisserie & Wine Bar near Arcadia), Mad G's opened in Tempe on Friday, June 15, describing itself as "a neighborhood establishment that serves quality food," "a quality dive," and "'pub grub' at a higher level."

Sadly, Mad G.'s isn't any of those things, even with the help of its menu, created by The Grind and Chick chef Bevin O'Neil. In fact, it seems to be suffering from an identity problem -- and who wouldn't be mad about that?

The menu features American favorites like wings, Angus beef burgers, sandwiches, and pizzas. And for those interested in imbibing, there's a healthy selection of beers and cocktails as well.

You could start with an appetizer, that is, if any are available. On my visit, the waffle iron was broken so no fried chicken and waffles, the St. Louis "Root Beer" Ribs had been 86'd, and the restaurant was out of French fries. I did try some very good slow- cooked beef and pork chili ($5.99 for a cup), which was sweet and smoky and had a nice chunky texture. The Monster Smoked Drums ($1 each) with rubbery vegetables, unfortunately, weren't very monster-size, and were coated in too much lemon garlic or chipotle barbecue sauce to enjoy the taste of the smoked meat.

What was monster-size was the wedge of iceberg lettuce in my mushroom burger ($8.99). After I removed it, I actually was able to taste a nicely seasoned Angus beef patty, grilled onions, provolone cheese, and excellent beer-braised mushrooms on a soft bun. The burger isn't on the same level of one you might score at The Grind, but with a glass of beer and a baseball game on TV, it'll do in a pinch. I just wish someone in the kitchen had decided against giving me the bottom-of-the-bag dregs of the accompanying tortilla chips -- and not just the bottom of one, but the bottom of two different kinds of them.

And for those who think very cheesy and greasy pizza has taken a backseat to the more popular gourmet types in town, Mad G's 16-inch, square-cut rustic pies are out to change your mind -- maybe. The dough, made with Mad G's house brew, makes for a soft and slightly sweet crust. It was very good on my Margherita ($16.99), however, too much cheese overshadowed any ability to taste the globs of house-pulled mozzarella and the tomatoes, which would have been perfectly fine on their own yet curiously were marinated in balsamic.

My friendly server told me that the best time to get the pizzas are during happy hour, when they're half-off. I'd have to agree. Seventeen bucks is too much to pay for a cheese fest.

Another surprise at Mad G's is the interior. For those who have been in The Grind or Chick Rotisserie, Mad G's seems to have gotten the bottom of the budget barrel when it comes to décor. Best described as a mash-up between a banquet hall and a sports bar, it is a bland, sprawling carpeted room, filled with tables and booths, mirrored columns, such diversions as pool, darts, and video games in the corners, two walls of TVs, '70s classic rock tunes, and a central bar with a what-the-hell giant chandelier overhead. It doesn't feel like much of anything, and it especially doesn't feel like an establishment in Tempe that's just a jump away from Mill Avenue.

If Mad G's wants to be the "Grill & Tavern" its description says it is, the restaurant has a lot of work ahead of it, both in food and atmosphere. My guess is that until it makes some improvements, Tempe residents might opt to go elsewhere for their drinking fun -- and if they want food, to a more wallet-friendly place that offers more bang for their hard-earned buck.

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Laura Hahnefeld
Contact: Laura Hahnefeld