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: The Mission @ Minder Binder Location: 715 S. McClintock Drive, Tempe Open: Less than a week Eats: Burgers, pizza Price: $15+ a person
Since closing in the mid-2000s, the big red barn on the northeast corner of University and McClintock Drive in Tempe has sat empty. But for 30 years before that, the red barn housed one of Tempe's most loved bars and music venues, Minder Binders. It originally opened in 1972, bringing the raucous college crowd five bars, an outdoor volleyball pit, and plenty of booze.
As of last week, Minder Binders is back in a new form. Thanks to a new group of owners the barn has been remodeled -- extensively -- and is now home to a restaurant and drinking establishment dubbed The Mission @ Minder Binder.
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From the outside the new Minder Binders looks like it might be an upscale Mexican restaurant. The exterior is now entirely stucco with a hulking front building our sever tells us will eventually house a bakery. On the back side the two-story Santa Fe-style building looks over a large patio, complete with water fountains, greenery, and tables. You can head into the back building through the patio; this is where you'll find the dining room and main bar.
Fans of the old bar and restaurant will be happy to see how much of the original interior has been salvaged and incorporated into the new space. The booths on which you might have scrawled your name back in the day, even the ceilings where presumably-drunk patrons drew suggestive cartoons in Sharpie, are all present and waiting to be appreciated by a new generation of customers.
Up a flight of stairs you'll eventually find a second bar and a large dance floor, though for now the upper level is still under construction.
As for the menu, The Mission at Minder Binder may look like a Mexican restaurant on the outside, but by no means does it stick to the design theme with its food. Instead you'll find a pretty concise menu of starters, salads, burgers, and pizzas. We were surprised by the price point of some of the entrees, which range from a $10 burger to a $17 12-inch pizza.
In general, we thought they hit a little above what we'd like to spend at a drinks-focused establishment.
We started with a beer (Minder Binders' draft and bottle selections range from $3 for a PBR tallboy to $6 for "specialty" brews such as Guinness) and a $9 Secretariat cocktail. For the price you might expect something better than the underwhelming mixture of gin, mint, lime, and soda. But when you consider your surroundings, you might not. In the future, we'd just stick to the beer.
For an appetizer the Panko Shrimp ($10) don't make a bad option. You get five large shrimp battered in a nice panko breading and served with a horseradish dipping sauce that will certainly clear your sinuses.
The Great Cheeseburger ($10) was similarly inoffensive. The menu claims the burgers are made with fresh beef ground in-house, though we were lightly suspicious of our patty's perfectly circular shape. It was cooked to a nice medium-well and topped with melted cheddar cheese, tomato, lettuce, and red onion. The bun was the highlight of the whole creation -- buttery, toasted, and sturdy, we had no complaints here.
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The same can't be said of the side of powdered sugar-dusted sweet potato fries -- too weird for our taste -- or the unsalted thick-cut steak fries that screamed for a side of ketchup or ranch.
The worst of the whole lot was the Scarborough Fair, a $17 12-inch pizza that our dining companion compared to a "really well cooked Digornio frozen pizza." A thick layer of toppings including pepperoni, fennel-infused sausage, red bell peppers, purple onions, and mushrooms somehow resulted in little flavor at all and nowhere near enough to compensate for the dry crust.
Honestly, we'd be happy to say screw the food and come back to take in the fun surroundings while drinking whiskey-waters and cold beer -- except for the fact that the place is only open till 11 p.m. on the weekends. Reliving the glory days or just experiencing a piece of Tempe history may draw some to the new Minder Binder, but we have a hard time believing in its lasting power unless it embraces its identity as a bar-first operation.