Cafe Reviews

The Best of the Cheese and Wine Worlds Converge at Ahwatukee's Wedge & Bottle

To form an opinion of Wedge & Bottle, a wine and cheese shop in Ahwatukee, you may want to first consider its melted cheese sandwiches.

Densely packed with gourmet cheeses, meats, and condiments on toasted bread, they're the grown-up version of the grilled cheese sandwich, and they feature the same satisfying crunch and gooey perfection you enjoyed as a kid. Each selection, including a build-your-own option, comes with a choice of a mixed green salad or chips, but it almost goes without saying that most fans of melted-cheese sandwiches will forgo both for a cup of fragrant tomato and basil soup perfectly sized for dunking.

There's a salty and sweet (a little too sweet) concoction of Asiago and prosciutto slathered with fig jam between two pieces of marble rye; a satisfying French-Italian inspiration of mild, creamy, and nutty raclette cheese studded with tart bits of cornichon pickles and thin, folded slices of rich mortadella ham on sourdough; and a French baguette bulked out with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, sweet and sour onions, and pesto for a summery, Caprese-style sandwich.

But the best of the bunch may be the melted hoagie packed with Barber's Cheddar, from the England-based company that's been making the cheese for over 170 years. Lusciously creamy with a nutty and fruity flavor, it's layered with turkey, citrus horseradish, and Dijon mustard on golden toasted sourdough.

"You could pair it with a medium-bodied red or a beer — cheddar always goes well with beer," Krista Daily laughs. "Maybe an IPA or a pale ale."

Daily's easygoing manner, like the comfort of those melted cheese sandwiches, helps lend Wedge & Bottle a decidedly unpretentious air, a concept she and her husband, Troy, had in mind when they opened their shop in 2011. Tucked into a strip mall on Chandler Boulevard in Ahwatukee, the tiny space features a thoughtful rotating selection of top-notch cheeses and meats — available as plates, packed into sandwiches, or sold to go — along with wine, craft beer, and boutique grocery items. For cheese enthusiasts and cured meat aficionados, it's a destination. And for those who happen to be in the area, it's the perfect place to unwind on a lazy afternoon or early evening for a glass of wine and a bit of gourmet fare.

You'll want a cheese or charcuterie plate, most likely a mix of both. That's what the Dailys do best. Before opening Wedge & Bottle, the two read books on cheese, sampled countless selections from Murray's Cheese in New York City, and spent time in Portland, Oregon, researching neighborhood meat and cheese shops. The ones they liked the best were down-to-earth, focused on the cheese first, and let their customers take a taste before making a purchase.

"Some are ones we know and love," Kristen says of the couple's rotating selection of cheese, "and others are ones that sounded amazing and that we decided to take a chance on. Our customers are also great at giving us suggestions."

The Dailys' stellar collection of cheeses may be small, but it covers all the bases: all three major types of milk, from (fairly) inexpensive to fancy, and from countries around the world as well as American-made artisanals (the selection is about 60 percent domestic and 40 percent import). And Krista says there are cheeses at Wedge & Bottle you won't find anywhere else, including handcrafted sheep milk cheeses from Black Sheep Creamery in Washington State, small-batch sheep and cow milk cheeses from Kokoborrego Cheese Company in Ohio, and a farmstead soft cheese from Sequatchie Cove Farm in Tennessee.

Connoisseurs are invited to create their own cheese plate. For everyone else, particularly those who are eager to indulge but feel overwhelmed by the selection, the Dailys can help craft a plate for you; better yet, there's a decision-free, three-cheese plate that changes weekly. Served with accompanying bites that may include cabernet jelly, vanilla salt caramels, and crackers, the well-curated plate may contain a Utah cheddar kissed with lavender and fennel pollen, a cow's milk blue cheese smoked over hazelnuts from Oregon, or a creamy Wisconsin Gouda with a bit of sharpness.

The cured meat selection is equally as marvelous as the cheese, with several offerings from companies such as Smoking Goose in Indianapolis and Olympic Provisions in Oregon. There are various types of salami, prosciutto, and sopressata. Many are procured from Salumeria Biellse, the 80-something-year-old artisan meat shop in New York City. As with the cheese, you can customize a plate or choose the Dailys' weekly four-meat selection, with possible accompaniments of addictive homemade rosemary and garlic peanuts and spicy wax beans. The hand-selected meat plate may include mouthwatering pieces of coarsely ground finocchiona, the Tuscan salami flavored with fennel; silky pieces of spicy, Spanish-style ham; or thin slices of rich bresaola, the air-dried, salted beef.

If you prefer a bit of garden companionship with your meat and cheese, you could do worse than a satisfying salad of mixed greens, tomato, and bits of fresh mozzarella topped with wispy slices of prosciutto and a side of balsamic vinaigrette. There's also a colorful, mixed green creation with pickled beets, tomato, and red onion topped with a citrusy tangerine dressing that's as gratifying by itself as it is with a sandwich or meat or cheese plate. You wonder if there's anything that the Dailys can't do well.

For dessert, there's a selection of chocolate truffles, but you may be hard-pressed not to simply purchase a gooey tube of delectable goat milk caramel with vanilla sea salt (made in Pomerene, Arizona) for a snack on the way home.

Wedge & Bottle looks as though it might have been ripped from the pages of a Restoration Hardware catalog: rustic metal seating, salvaged wood, chalkboard menus, and bookcase-style shelves stocked with domestic and international wines, beer, and boutique grocery items like jams, honey, pasta, olive oils, and specialty sweets. It's the kind of place many may envision when they think about quitting their day jobs and starting up a shop of their own. Which is kind of what the Dailys did nearly two years ago, Kristen quitting the commercial furniture company she worked for and Troy leaving Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Scottsdale, where, after graduating, he worked in its restaurant.

Now, the two mingle with their shop's patrons, mostly well-heeled regulars and curious newcomers who nibble on cheese and cured meat plates with glasses of wine in hand, often eyeing the shelves and deli cases for a take-home treat or two.

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Laura Hahnefeld
Contact: Laura Hahnefeld