There are two explanations for how Surprise, Arizona, got its name. One is that the burgeoning exurb was named for the village of Surprise, Nebraska. Another is that the founder said she’d be surprised if the community ever amounted to anything. Given the growth of Surprise, the city has amounted to something, but it’s only in the last few years that Surprise-based businesses have garnered a reputation elsewhere in the metropolitan area. One of those, State 48 Brewery, has made a journey of over 20 miles via Grand Avenue to open in downtown Phoenix.
State 48 is still in place at its original location on Bell Road. It also has a location at Westgate in Glendale. With those roots firmly established on the west side of town, the brewery has situated its first urban location on the west side of downtown, just four blocks west of the Van Buren / Central (westbound) and Van Buren / First Avenue (eastbound) light rail platforms. The location, until recently a neglected part of Downtown, now fits well within a triangle of nearby venues for live music: The Crescent Ballroom, the Van Buren, and the Comerica Theater.
State 48 occupies the historic Welnick Marketplace building, a 1927 structure that began life as a retail space with various food vendors inside. The high ceilings provide plenty of room for a significant brewing operation at this location, so this more than just a tap room. It’s now State 48’s flagship brewery, as well as a full-service pub with an expansive dining room and additional seating in a mezzanine over the brewing tanks. The restaurant’s entrance is found on Van Buren. Patio seating and bike racks are found just around the corner along Fourth Avenue.
There’s a host station for those wanting to sit at tables, but the long u-shaped bar provides the best view of the numerous tap handles used to dispense not only more than 20 of State 48’s own beers, but also selected brews from other local craft beer producers. That cooperative spirit is indicative that despite the rapid growth in the number of nearby breweries, there’s still an attitude that a rising tide lifts all boats. Of course, the bar also serves wine and mixes cocktails, in addition to offering flights for customers who want to sample multiple beers in one sitting.
State 48 has several workhorse brews that one can safely default to when uncertain of what to drink next. The Van Buren Belgian Blonde is floral and slightly spicy, but still a clean, crisp drink that can complement just about anything on the menu. The White Tank Wheat celebrates the mountain range just south of Surprise, and the Mango Wheat adds a bit of tropical fruit to that base. Similarly, the Lost Dutchman Golden Ale is offered in a fruit-enhanced blueberry version. The strongest beer is Hell Bitch, a Belgian Tripel with a formidable 10% alcohol content.
With a copious beer list comes a lengthy menu. State 48’s kitchen serves all sorts of bar food and pub grub to match any of the brews with appropriate food, or vice-versa. While the brewery’s liquid output is consistently high quality, the food has strengths and weaknesses. Burgers are clearly among the kitchen’s talents. The namesake State 48 burger has cheddar, pickles, lettuce, tomato, onion, and a slab of bacon which protrudes from the towering creation. The PB&J burger combines those lunchtime favorites, along with bacon, over a beef patty.
Among other sandwiches, the turkey Reuben is a simple yet effective version of a classic. Similarly, the grilled cheese sandwich served alongside a cup of tomato bisque is thoroughly successful. The carnitas torta and the beer cheese steak both deliver their meaty contents in enjoyable abundance but seem to skimp on the vegetables promised to accentuate the sandwiches. The hot chicken sandwich falters due to an excessive brittle coating that begins to come apart upon first bite, effectively separating the poultry from its spicy exterior.
Entrees are fewer in number but generally more consistent. The meatloaf is a generous slice from a loaf that has been baked in the oven and then finished on a griddle, producing a nice charred edge surrounding a softer center. The fish and chips pairs slabs of cob battered with Lost Dutchman golden ale and the same fries that accompany most of the burgers and sandwiches. For lighter fare, look to the entree salads. The Mediterranean chicken salad is a lively mix of grilled poultry with feta cheese, kalamata olive, sliced cucumbers, and chickpeas.
The appetizers, soups, and sides at State 48 can also form the basis of a less indulgent meal. A ceviche-stuffed avocado overflows with minced, marinated fish, and plenty of chips surround the assemblage for easy dipping and scooping. A roasted beet salad is a colorful mix of red and gold over a bed of arugula punctuated with creamy goat cheese. The chili is a comforting classic with ground beef and beans in a mildly spiced tomato base, and the beer onion soup is a brewery version of a classic accentuated with garlic croutons and topped with melted cheese.
For dessert, State 48 offers the simplicity of cheesecake or creme brulee in rotating flavor or the more complex S’mores dessert, an upgrade from the campfire classic with vanilla ice cream, marshmallow fluff, graham cracker toffee, and caramel all layered over a brownie. State 48 still has a way to go before the food attains the same consistency as the beer. Nevertheless, the brewery experience by itself makes it clear that this business from Surprise, like the city itself, is amounting to something with its successful journey from one end of Grand Avenue to the other.
345 W. Van Buren St., Phoenix AZ 85003
Van Buren / 1st Avenue (eastbound) and Van Buren / Central (westbound) stations