Orchard Tavern adds a dinner option to Luci's in north Phoenix | Phoenix New Times

First Taste

With Orchard Tavern, Luci's sibling spot is alive again in the evening

The team behind Luci's has a new evening neighbor serving pints, pizzas and pub-style eats.
Orchard Tavern provides a casual, cozy spot for dinner and a beer.
Orchard Tavern provides a casual, cozy spot for dinner and a beer. Sara Crocker
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When a new spot opens in town, we're eager to check it out, 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 — an occasion to sample a few items and satisfy curiosities (both yours and ours).

If the restaurant announcements and openings from recent months tell us anything, it’s that Phoenix is going in two directions, seeing more high-end, luxury dining paired with a resurgence of neighborhood taverns.

A dining category once ceded to chains is being reclaimed by independent restaurant groups in the Valley. While buzzwords about these workhorse, everyday eateries can feel like overwrought marketing-speak – think “approachable” yet “eclectic” with "familiar but upscale” dishes – they belie the impact of restaurants where one can truly become a regular, have a good meal, a cold drink and a sense of community.

Orchard Tavern fits the bill. It replaces Pomelo at The Orchard, an indoor-outdoor eatery repurposed from the property’s original homestead owned by the Wasser family. It served contemporary American fare and pizzas made in an Italian wood-fired oven. The Orchard, a two-acre gathering space off of 12th Street, is also home to the popular breakfast-lunch-kids-splash-pad-zone Luci’s and the ice cream and candy shop Splurge. With the opening of Orchard Tavern in December, these spots now have a nocturnal neighbor.
click to enlarge Patio at Orchard Tavern.
Orchard Tavern, replacing Pomelo at The Orchard, has an upgraded, covered outdoor space.
Sara Crocker
The menu at Orchard Tavern is functionally similar to Pomelo – anchored by wood-fired pies, with salads, snacks and an array of tavern-centered dishes including burgers, pot pie and fish and chips.

But the space itself is transformed, leaning into a dog-themed pub interior that boasts midcentury-esque hexagonal wallpaper, lime green barstools and light fixtures of brass bulldogs dangling Edison bulbs from their jaws. Sports fans can rejoice at the array of TVs, at the bar and on the outdoor patio – which has been revamped with an awning to offer year-round shade, fire pits for the evening and plenty of seats from which to see the big game.

We snagged seats during an NFL playoff weekend and were surprised to encounter a weekend happy hour, which knocks $3 off drafts and cocktails and other specials on bar snacks. We opted for a pour of two IPAs, one from Flagstaff’s Historic Brewing Co. and the second a rotating tap from local Wren House Brewing Co.

click to enlarge A burger and fries at Orchard Tavern.
Burgers, pizza and other pub favorites make up the menu at Orchard Tavern. The Figgy Piggy Burger is topped with bacon, fig jam, herbed goat cheese, arugula and an onion ring.
Sara Crocker
To eat, we shared the Figgy Piggy Burger and the Mob Ties pizza.

The Figgy Piggy starts with a half-pound patty which is topped with bacon, arugula, fig jam and herbed goat cheese and served on a Noble Bread bun. It’s garnished with an onion ring both inside and out. The burger is rich but well-balanced – salty bacon dancing with sweet fig jam, peppery arugula biting against creamy cheese and juicy meat. The burger is served with Sidewinder Potatoes – a twisty corkscrew kind of steak fry that’s soft and creamy in the center but crisp and well seasoned on the outside.
click to enlarge A pizza on a peel at Orchard Tavern.
The Mob Ties pizza from Orchard Tavern holds up under the weight of its toppings.
Sara Crocker
The Mob Ties pie is topped with large rings of pepperoni, Shreiner’s Sicilian sausage, ricotta, mozzarella and hot chile oil, along with a scattering of fresh basil. With that tonnage on top, this pizza could have been a mess. Pulling a slice from the pie, it held rigid and refused to spill its bounty of rich, spicy meat onto the bar. The dough had good chew and a nice outer crust but the bottom was a tad pale and seemed it may have needed just a minute or two longer.

Watching the bartenders turn out drinks and chat with guests they already knew by name after just a few months of service, we opted to peruse the cocktail menu, selecting the whiskey-based Teddy Raspberry and tequila tipple More Life. The Teddy is made from Eza 99 Rye, Carpano Botanic Bitter, raspberry puree and lemon juice, poured over a cube of ice into a rocks glass. The drink gets a rosy pink hue from the puree and Carpano – an herbaceous aperitif that fits somewhere between sweet Aperol and bitter Campari. The sip is boozy and earthy, but leans more sweet than tart.

More Life’s base spirit is a cristalino tequila – one that’s oak-aged and then filtered with charcoal for a spirit that’s crystal clear. It’s mixed with passion fruit puree and liqueur as well as lime juice, served tall in a Collins glass. Alas, we lost the flavor of the tequila in this tropical tipple, which was sweet and crushable – something we’d try again on a hot afternoon instead of a dark, cool evening.

Luci’s has cemented its popularity among the daytime crowd seeking a third space. Out of the gate, it seems the Orchard Tavern is poised to become its nighttime counterpart as a go-to neighborhood spot.

Orchard Tavern

7100 N. 12th Street, Bldg. 1
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