Cities are often stereotyped as environmental problems, full of pollution and development that negates the natural world. Properly managed, however, urban centers can actually be part of an environmental solution. By consolidating people in a more efficient manner and sparing the wilderness on the outskirts the pressure of development, cities can complement natural lands. One recent arrival in downtown Phoenix, Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company, seems to realize that its own wilderness ethos is compatible with an urban location on Roosevelt Row.
Arizona Wilderness’ original location is decidedly more suburban, just on the Gilbert side of that town’s border with Mesa. That’s where the actual brewing occurs and where a full-service pub operates. For its second site, Arizona Wilderness decided on a different approach, building a beer garden just two blocks east of the Roosevelt/Central light rail station. Although construction contractors sometimes blocked the Roosevelt bike lanes during the build-out, Arizona Wilderness makes up for that with abundant bike racks on both Roosevelt and Second Street.
The beer garden involves a long indoor bar and a dining room with a counter where food is ordered. It’s an allocation of space that sometimes results in lines to order food but seldom any wait at all for a pint or stein of any of Arizona Wilderness’ beers. It’s very much an orientation towards efficiency with no stools of any sort to encourage customers to linger at the bar. Instead, visitors grab their drinks and a numbered placard for their food order and then find a seat, either inside or among the more extensive seating options found on the shaded patio.
For the most part, the seats are at picnic tables that smaller parties may need to share during peak hours. There are also two circular tables surrounded by Adirondack chairs for an even more relaxed atmosphere. For those who prefer more of a counter setting, a long line of stools faces outward with a view of Roosevelt Row. Arizona Wilderness touts its accommodation of dogs on the patio; however, parties with canine guests should be aware that this welcome extends only to the one section of the outdoor space with a paved surface, not the gravel.
Arizona Wilderness’ downtown location isn’t a brewery per se, but it always carries a broad representation of the beermaker’s offerings on tap, as well as a refrigerated case with beer packaged for retail sale. Since its founding more than five years ago in Gilbert, the brewery has focused on building a portfolio of pale ales and session beers with later expansions into tripels, saisons, goses, and other styles. For the Phoenix location, Arizona Wilderness added a new India Pale Ale with citra and mosaic hops. It’s known as La Ciudad, Spanish for the “the City.”
While the selection of beer at this location is extensive, easily rivaling what’s poured in Gilbert, the food menu is more compact at the Roosevelt beer garden. The offerings begins with burgers, made with Arizona beef. Meat from grass fed cattle has nutritional and environmental advantages, but it’s also tricky to cook. On one occasion, the signature Downtowner burger turned out tough and chewy under its toppings of guacamole and pepper jack. Fortunately, during two later visits, the PB&J burger and the AZ Trail burger were both cooked just right.
While burgers account for about half the entrees, there are a few other sandwiches with their own strengths. The hot chicken sandwich is a current trend spreading throughout the country from its Nashville origins. Arizona Wilderness’ version might seem small in size, but its spice is discernible and its flavor large. It pairs well with a side of the mild jalapeno coleslaw, one of three options provided with every sandwich. The others are a simple side salad with a choice of dressing (Try the chipotle ranch for even more spice.) and the indulgent duck fat fries.
A pulled pork sandwich is equally effective. The meat is tender but given a bit of textural variety with its crisp bark. If barbecue and fries sound like a successful combination, then “When Pigs Fly,” one of many “shareables” on the menu is the logical end. Pulled pork and beer cheese top a generous basket of fries in a hearty United States version of poutine. For a meatless option, Arizona Wilderness’ black bean burger has a texture like falafel with a slightly less crisp exterior. Chipotle ranch, roasted red pepper, and avocado add additional notes of flavor.
Among the other shared items, the Bavarian pretzels, served with spicy mustard and beer cheese, come three to an order with a firm crust dappled with sea salt crystals and a yielding interior. The quesadilla and the “Fingers and Fries” are both successful poultry dishes that can work as entrees for one. The Buffalo cauliflower is tasty, but the seven-ounce portion seems small for the price. A better approach, not listed on the menu but available upon request, is to order a five-ounce portion as a side with any of the sandwiches for just a dollar extra.
There is no dessert currently on the menu, but Melt is just a block away, parked either inside or in front of Jobot, depending on the time of year. For those who don’t consume beer, a smaller selection of wine and cocktails are available. Options without alcohol include bottled sodas and iced tea. With all the residential development that is occurring in the neighborhood, Roosevelt Row doesn’t feel much like a wilderness setting. Nevertheless, Arizona Wilderness’ beer garden, with its outdoor seating and nature-themed decor, feels entirely at home in the city.
201 E. Roosevelt St., Phoenix AZ 85004