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).
Restaurant: Superstition Downtown
Location: 1110 East Washington Street
Eats/drinks: Contemporary American food with mead and cider
Open: About four months
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily
This neighborhood — partly downtown Phoenix, mostly Eastlake — cannot hold onto restaurants. It just lost Concierge, and Rhema Soul Cuisine before that. And we should know: This is New Times HQ territory.
Superstition Downtown, though, might have a chance. Hailing from Prescott and established by Jeff and Jen Herbert, Superstition Meadery recently opened this multi-roomed indoor-outdoor restaurant and mead bar in the former Jim Ong’s Market building.
First thing to know: Enter from the back parking lot, not the street. Second thing to know: This is an incredibly friendly place. The host, the bartender, the servers: you can tell they’ve either been asked to engage with customers, or Superstition is just really good at hiring people who are naturally adept at doing that. Before I even sat down, I was asked if I was having a good day, if I was drinking, if I needed a hook for my purse. It was nice, not overzealous.
Because though the place opened just a few months ago, the staff appear so comfortable behind that lengthy bar (topped with wood salvaged from the splintery wake of a west-of-Flagstaff tornado) you’d swear this is a decades-old neighborhood local.
The next thing you’ll notice is what has turned out to be a very polished dining room. There are green, gem-toned high-top chairs at the bar, the dining room is sleek and spacious, and the natural light blinks in off Washington Street.
The drinks come from huge jugs (stop) stacked on a wooden unit (I said stop). Hundreds of bottles of mead, cider, etc. are lined up behind the bar. There are 24 taps. (If you want to know more about the mead itself here, check out this article. This time, we were here for the food.)
The second hardest decision you’ll make here is picking a tapa. I had drunk a full Blueberry Spaceship Box before making the decision, but I went with the Gigantes over the pork belly bao bun and the Koulouri Pretzel.
The Gigantes are thumbprint-huge white beans in a heavy, herbaceous tomato sauce topped with oregano cream (the last part is what sold me). It’s served in a heavy ceramic bowl with the tips of grilled baguette pieces already dunked in. This was a hearty dish, warm and truly a meal on its own. The beans and tomato sauce mixed so well together I forgot about the bread. The best part? Only $6.
To eat eat (though I could have walked away happy with just the Gigantes) go with the soft shell crab sandwich. Sure, it’s tough to ignore the candied pecan salad or the Catalonian fire-roasted rack of lamb, but I can’t say enough good things about the first bite of this sandwich.
The tempura soft shell crab is piping hot, with a delicate little crunch. It’s topped with green papaya slaw and wasabi lemon aioli, which give the whole thing a fantastic tang. The bun is tall and squat, meaning you kind of feel like an anaconda trying to eat this thing, but the porous bread is deliciously soaked with the aioli, slaw juice, and oil from the tempura batter. It’s $14 but damn, very good. And the cheap tapas and inexpensive pours make up for it.
The chatty, fantastic female bartender here started me off with the aforementioned Blueberry Spaceship Box. This is a blueberry and apple cider with a deep purple hue. It’s sweet and smooth, like liquid candy, but 5.5 percent ABV and $2 an ounce.
Wanting a similar cider, I went for the Deep Field North. This was my favorite, and I’m a little scared I can find it so close to my office. It’s a Mandarina Bavaria hopped tart cherry cider, and they mean tart. At 5.5 percent ABV and $1 an ounce or $8 a glass, this cider might be trouble for me.
Next, I went for a melomel — mead made with fruit and Arizona honey — and ordered a Dune Bloom. This was a sparkling session mead made with prickly pear, 6 percent ABV at $1 an ounce. This one tasted more like a craft beer, something I’d be drinking at a Justin Evans joint.
Finally, I tried the Fauna, which clocks in at 13.5 percent ABV and $2. This ounce pour reminded me I was in a meadery; it is an off-dry traditional mead made with Arizona mesquite honey, water, and yeast. It was clear but tasted thick, a big dry department from the sweet little ciders. Maybe the Flora, the semi-sweet sister of Fauna, would be more my speed next time.
There are literally hundreds of other drink options here. I recommend ordering by the ounce, which is fun if you’re at the bar and feel like talking and learning mead with the informative staff. But if you just want one a glass because you’d rather focus your attention on your companion(s), they’ll help you find that, too.
To wrap up the serious experience that was lunch at Superstition Downtown, my bartender tonged out a cookie and slid it on a small plate to me. A flat little complimentary shortbread cookie.
They’re made here daily. Hell, it made my day.
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