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: Pedal Haus Brewery
Location: 730 S. Mill Ave., #102, Tempe
Open: About six weeks
Eats: Belgian-American gastropub
Since opening La Bocca Pizzeria on Mill Avenue six years ago, local restaurateur Julian Wright slowly but steadily has taken over much of Tempe's most iconic stretch of road. In addition to the longstanding pizza and wine bar, Wright has opened (and closed) several restaurants and bars up and down Mill Avenue over the years, including The Library Bar & Grill, Gringo Star Street Bar, and The Handlebar Tempe.
Earlier this year, he announced plans for an ambitious new project, something the owner even went so far as to call his "crowning jewel."
Enter Pedal Haus Brewery.
Located just steps from the action on Mill Avenue, Pedal Haus Brewery is not well-hidden near the AMC Centerpoint 11 movie theater and West 6th apartments. It's a sprawling building with soaring ceilings that offers diners three bars, two kitchens, a full brewery, and two semi-separate outdoor dining spaces. Dog-friendly, bike-friendly, and booze-friendly, it's the kind of place that aims to impress at first glance — and succeeds.
But what about the food? None of Weight's restaurant/bars have been renowned for their culinary prowess (yes, that includes La Bocca). And though Pedal Haus Brewery's menu of "Belgian-American gastropub" fare shows sparks of creativity, the food doesn't quite rise above the reality that this is a place that's mostly about the beer.
Speaking of the beer, Pedal Haus is finally tapping some of its own housemade brews. And thanks to experienced brew master Derek "Doc" Osborn, even Pedal Haus' first creations are easy to like. There's a Pedal Haus Kolsh and Wit to try, as well as a Haus Pub Ale that's über-smooth (thanks to an infusion of nitrogen) and supremely easy to drink. The only downside to the fact that Pedal Haus is brewing beer on site can be the smell, which during our visit was so powerful as to drive us out of the dining room and onto the spacious patio for lunch.
The brewery's lunch menu offers mostly sharable starters, sandwiches, and salads, and we started with an order of the steamed mussels and fries ($15) and classic poutine ($9), both recommended by our server.
We were happy to see the hearty serving of mussels, topped with thick, crispy frites and swimming in a shallow pool of beer-based sauce. But we wanted more heat (garlic maybe? or chiles?) to kick things up, though the broth hung heavily with thyme, onion, and bay leaves. Most remarkable about this dish was the sheer size of the mussels, which were closer to the size of oysters than the mussels we're used to. Two pieces of toasted and buttered Noble Bread were also a welcome side, and we were just as happy to eat them plain as we were to drag them through the remaining sauce.
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The poutine, on the other hard, was difficult to resist. More of the "haus cut fries" came smothered in gravy and Crow’s Dairy curd then topped with a fried egg. It's hard to mess up so inherently satisfying a combination, and Pedal Haus' version kept us coming back for forkful after forkful of fries. We appreciated how well the thick-cut frites stood up to the heavy gravy and cheese, maintaining some level of crunch even after they'd been sitting for a while.
Also at the recommendation of the server, we tried the restaurant's organic chicken pot pie ($13). Pedal Haus' version of the dish comes in a white soup crock and topped with a flaky, doughy top. We recommend jabbing your spoon directly through the upper layer, and using pieces of the bready top to scoop out the pie's insides. A creamy mixture of chicken and vegetables gets a flavor boost from more thyme — and if you're sensitive to the woody flavor of this herb, best skip this dish altogether.
Finally, we tried the tempura grilled bratwurst ($8), because who can resist fried sausages? Unfortunately, we probably should have. The chewy tempura batter didn't deliver the delicate crunch we hoped for and contributed almost nothing in the way of flavor. On the upside, the creamy white cheddar beer cheese provided for dipping lived up completely to its name; it was creamy, white, and cheesy. Dipping the brat in the gooey cheese made us wish we could have ordered the dish without the tempura.
During our midweek lunch, the patio was about half-full of diners (even despite cloudy skies and impending rain). And from experience, we know this spot already has become a popular destination for happy hour, football watching, and weekend drinking. We wish the food was enough to also merit Pedal Haus as a destination for pre-drinking dinner, too, but for now, we'll come back for the beer — and use the poutine as a carb-y blanket to soak up the excess alcohol.