First Taste

We Tried the New Starbucks Evenings Menu — And It Wasn't Terrible

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: Starbucks 
Location: 3530 North Goldwater Boulevard, Scottsdale (and other select locations)
Open: The new Evenings menu has been rolling out since January 2016
Eats: Small plates, wine, and craft beer
Price: $10-15/person

If you ever wished you could sip moscato or grab dinner at Starbucks, then get ready, because your wish has now become reality. Yes, Starbucks Evenings has landed in Arizona.

The mega-coffee chain's latest menu program features small plates, wine, and a curated selection of craft beers, and has been gradually rolling out across Arizona since January of this year. There are currently only seven Starbucks locations in Arizona with the Evenings menu, so don't feel bad if you haven't spotted it at your favorite neighborhood Starbucks location. In metro Phoenix, there are just five locations offering the menu, and so far, none are in Phoenix proper. One Starbucks employee told us that more locations are expected to open in Phoenix later this year, although we've heard no official word on when yet. 

In Scottsdale, you'll find two locations with the Evenings menu, including the Goldwater location situated just outside of Old Town. According to the Starbucks Evenings website, the Evenings food and drink menu may vary by region — though, on a recent night, the offerings at the Starbucks Goldwater location were nearly identical to the menu Starbucks has posted online.

On the whole, the Evenings menu is modest and seems designed to appeal to every craving. You'll find rich, salty small plates like bacon-wrapped dates served with an artful drizzle of balsamic glaze. There are also meatballs with marinara sauce, truffle mac 'n cheese, and Parmesan-crusted chicken skewers served with a side of honey Dijon sauce. Rounding out the menu are two flatbread pizzas, a veggie variety with artichokes and goat cheese, and a roasted chicken flatbread. 

The Evenings menu also includes wine and beer, which is served after 2 p.m. on weekdays, and after noon on the weekends. Starbucks even has its own in-house sommelier, Rachel Antalek, who designed a special beverage program for the Evenings menu. Currently, at local locations, the wine selection includes a sparkling prosecco, a couple of California whites, a sparkling Italian rosé, and two Napa reds. The beer menu is small, and includes four craft beers available by bottle or can, and at least one seasonally rotating beer on tap. On our recent visit to the Scottsdale location, a Deschutes Pilsner filled the rotating slot. 

All alcoholic beverages come with a complimentary side of seasoned pepitas, a nice and unexpected offering. And yes, everything is served in real glass pilsners and stemless wine glasses. 

So, how's the food? Well, everything is prepackaged and pre-cooked, and modest in size. And if you're the type to linger by the counter, you may catch a glance of your barista scissoring open a package of meatballs and throwing it in the convection oven.

Some items hold up to the convection oven treatment better than others. The truffle mac 'n cheese, for instance, is a fine rendition of what you may find at most gastropub menus. The mac 'n cheese comes in a a ramekin, bearing a pleasantly toasted membrane of bread crumbs. The bacon-wrapped dates, which are stuffed with a salty chorizo, are packed with so much flavorful salt and fat (thanks to the thick-cut bacon), that you will hardly notice they came out of a plastic package just moments earlier. 

The Parmesan-crusted chicken skewers are less successful. On our visit, they were dry and bland, lacking any notes of Parmesan, and the honey Dijon dip on the side was cloyingly sweet. The meatballs, laced with marinara and served steaming hot by the friendly staff at the Scottsdale shop we visited, were also pretty unremarkable. It's the kind of freezer-to-microwave dish you might warm up for yourself at home, a decent snack, but lacking deep flavor. 

At $6.95, the flatbreads are some of the priciest items on the Evenings menu, and they are also turned out to be the least appealing. Thin, flabby, and quick to turn cold, the flatbreads are not significantly better than the frozen variety you can find at your neighborhood grocery store. And they are remarkably light, not really substantial enough to keep you plowing through an extended work or study session. 

So, in a way, the Evenings menu is exactly what you might expect from Starbucks, which is to say not terrible, but certainly not anything likely to leave a lasting impression on your palate. It's clear Starbucks will definitely not be replacing your favorite neighborhood bistro. But if you already harbor a secret (or not-so-secret) Starbucks addiction, then the Evenings menu should give you some respite from the pastry counter and keep you filled until your next real meal. 

To find a Starbucks location offering the Evenings menu near you, check out the Starbucks Evenings locator

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Patricia Escárcega was Phoenix New Times' food critic.