First Taste

Tom's Tavern & 1929 Grill Is Back and Poised To Become One of Downtown's Best Lunch Spots (Even the Flippin' Pickles Are Good)

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, 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: Tom's Tavern & 1929 Grill Location: One Renaissance Square Open For: About a month. Eats: American Price Point: $10-$30

Downtown Phoenix was stunned when Valley landmark and political gathering spot Tom's Tavern, located on the northeast corner of First Avenue and Washington Street, went up for sale last year after previous owner Michael Ratner couldn't maintain operations due to his battle with cancer, to which he eventually succumbed last November. Then came Cardinals president Michael Bidwill, a longtime supporter of Tom's Tavern and acquaintance of Ratner who stepped in and purchased Tom's earlier this year, giving the restaurant a remodel in the spring.

Open for only a month, Tom's already has a high-profile regular, but before I tell you who, let's take a bite.

Tom's updated interior goes along a new menu for the restaurant's daily breakfast, lunch and dinner service of traditional American fare with a Southwestern twist courtesy of executive chef Jason Choate of Rojo Hospitality Group, the division of Bidwill's company that handles the food service at the University of Phoenix Stadium.

I started with the Diablo chicken wings, Buffalo-style. The tangy sauce was solid and I appreciated the just-right serving of eight. My friendly server told me the jalapeño spinach artichoke dip is good as well. Next time.

A sandwich like the prime rib French dip may sound conventional enough, but Tom's makes it stellar with quality meat in addition to roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions, and a top-notch bun. Fans of mac 'n' cheese may want to opt for Tom's as the accompanying side -- made with smoky chipotle chiles and bits of crunchy bacon, it was satisfyingly tasty.

A little more unique than the French dip is the Cuban. Stacked high with layers of so-good roasted pork and smoked ham (courtesy of Tom's in-house meat smoker), Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard between a soft roll, this sandwich's selling point, like the French dip, is the meat, with the pickles adding a nice crunchy texture and additional flavor. Try it with a cup of Tom's Famous 1929 Chili made with "Tom's secret ingredients," for a decidedly Southwestern twist with a light, smoky flavor that satisfies.

And speaking of pickles, Tom's hasn't gone the way of the store-bought variety. Made in-house, they're delicious -- slightly sweet with a mild pickled flavor. One wasn't enough for me.

If you visited Tom's before the remodel, you'll appreciate the updates. It's kept it's charm and dark wood accents but thanks to things like fresh paint and a new tile floor, it feels brighter and more welcoming for its clientele of tourists and business men and women able to hand over a few more bills for a better-than-average lunch.

And its most well-known regular to date? Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He was there on my visit and my server said he comes in nearly every day.

Thanks to a successful remodel and food that satisfies, it looks as if Tom's is serious about owning the title of a genuine downtown Valley landmark that's a great go-to spot for lunch -- maybe breakfast, too. I can't wait to come back for the burritos and oatmeal pancakes.

What say you downtown denizens and visitors? Have you been to Tom's Tavern & 1929 Grill yet? What did you think?

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Laura Hahnefeld
Contact: Laura Hahnefeld