Without a time machine, it’s hard to know for sure, but it’s often thought that the world’s oldest fermented beverage is mead. Since mead is made with honey, a sugar source that can be found naturally through foraging, its use to create alcohol could have easily predated the agriculture needed to grow grain for beer or cultivate grapes for wine. Just east of downtown Phoenix, Superstition Meadery has fittingly chosen an old building, the former Ong’s market, for a restaurant and shop focused on its signature beverage and complementary food.
Despite a name suggesting origins in the stunning mountains east of the Phoenix Metropolitan Area, Superstition is actually based in Prescott, where it has long operated both a production facility and a tasting room at Courthouse Square. The Prescott shop serves a limited selection of food, but when coming to Phoenix, Superstition decided to take its food-and-mead pairing to a much higher level, creating a space defined by its open kitchen, chef-driven menu, and creative cuisine designed to accompany the impressive array of beverages served.
The venue is a vintage structure on the National Register of Historic Places. The 1928 building was one of Phoenix’s original neighborhood markets, then a dance studio, and now Superstition’s Phoenix home. Located just a block from the 12th Street / Washington (westbound) and 12th Street / Jefferson (eastbound) light rail stations, the location is roughly where the Garfield and Eastlake Park neighborhoods meet. One entrance faces Washington Street; however, the host station and bike racks are closer to a second entrance in the back.
The interior of the building has been updated in a manner that respects the building’s heritage. Wood, tile, and metal all play a role in creating a warm atmosphere in the dining room, which has a bar on one side and an L-shaped counter wrapped around the kitchen on the other. One renovation detail not to be overlooked is the honeycombs, found both on the floor tile near the street entrance and on the walls. It’s a fitting motif when the source of honey is considered. Outside, there’s a long linear patio, shaded by day and heated by night when necessary.
The mead selection here is abundant, almost overwhelming for a first-timer. One way to begin is with a glass of either Flora, which is somewhat sweet, or Fauna, its drier counterpart. Both are straightforward traditional meads made from Arizona honey. Other meads have more distinctive flavors. Juicius Caesar has the essence of grapefruit, and Peanut Butter Jelly Crime has unexpectedly successful notes of the sandwich it is named for. Beemosa is a sparkling mead with a strong orange component, and Blueberry Spaceship Box is a hard, dark cider.
Many beverages come and go with the seasons, and often a flight is the best way to sample the meadery’s offerings. Flights can be paired with cheese or charcuterie boards with a progression of small bites that mirror the one-ounce pours of drink. The most striking boards are those that pair a protein such as plump seared scallops with an umami-rich assortment of roasted mushrooms, greenery from endive and arugula, and a playful assortment of shisito peppers. Add a bit of starch in the form of roasted potatoes or Greek pretzels to make a filling meal.
Supersition’s entrees focus on wood-fired cuisine with items like a spicy Asian bison steak paired with snap peas and forbidden rice cooked in coconut milk to add a level of sweetness, perhaps a little more than needed, to offset the sauce atop the meat. Choices as varied as rack of lamb, five-spice duck breast, and Chilean sea bass all benefit from their time in the oven’s fire, and celery root gnocchi function as a meatless alternative. The entrees are a higher price point than pub grub or most wine bar fare, but there are some economical options at lunch.
One option at midday is to combine one of the tapas with one of the “de la mano” sandwiches with a small discount for the pairing. This approach can lead to some inventive and appealing combinations such as a soft shell crab sandwich with roasted beet nigiri, both with subtle east Asian influence, or a vegetarian grilled portabello mushroom on focaccia with a side of gigantes, large white beans in tomato sauce. Two generous chicken mole tacos are menu standouts and seem a logical pairing with a side of tostones, or fried plantains, with a bit of guacamole.
Another more recent addition to the menu is an assortment of sandwich combinations such as steak with melted provolone or chicken with arugula. These are served with an included side of roasted potatoes or a green salad topped with red onions. The structure of Superstition’s menu allows for free-form pairing of any number of small plates and shareable items, and it’s worthwhile to leave room for the restaurant’s dessert menu. Regular offerings include a Greek orange honey cake with pistachios, and a berry cobbler has been among recent specials.
Even if a dessert is not purchased, a complementary sugar cookie is typically presented with the bill. On the way out, customers have the opportunity to purchase bottles or cans of the drinks they’ve sampled for home consumption. There are also a club and a guild that serious mead drinkers can join for special subscription benefits. While renewed enthusiasm for mead may be a contemporary trend, mead is an ancient drink with a deep heritage. Its availability in an historic building adds to the sense of renewal that surrounds Superstition Downtown.
1110 E. Washington St., Phoenix AZ 85034