When I was a kid, downtown Phoenix was a ghost town. The Suns still played at the Madhouse on McDowell and there were mostly trains and warehouses downtown, with the occasional skyscraper. I kind of imagine there was a lot of bum-rape and pee smell too, but I can’t back that up. When the Suns started construction on a new, state-of-the-art arena in 1990, the city was buzzing. Were we finally going to get a downtown district? Were new businesses going to come in and inject money and fun into the area and attract residents back into the core of this sprawl? We were all dying to find out. So, how did it go?
It went okay.
New skyscrapers started going up slowly and businesses moved in, kicking out the vagrants and the hobos and the warehouses (but not the bum piss smell). In a brilliant move in 1996, the Coyotes brought hockey…a sport on ice…to Phoenix, the hottest major city in North America. In 1998 the Bank One Ballpark (now Chase Field, a stupid name that I refuse to say) opened and brought professional baseball to downtown Phoenix. 3 major sports teams, the fifth biggest city in the nation, a bustling population with a housing boom, and a bit less bum-rape. So how was downtown at the end of the century?
See, here’s what downtown Phoenix didn’t get back then: unlike shopping centers in developing suburbs and stripmalls with grocery stores, unlike open-air malls with movie theaters and BevMos, unlike what any Phoenix real estate moguls had previously found success with, a downtown area can’t just sprout up by throwing money at it. It’s landlocked. It’s not going anywhere. There’s no incentive to make it better when we can just keep moving outwards and further away from the decay of a city that was never as much of an urban center as a loose affiliation of farming communities tied together by sporadic-but-sudden growth.
What could fix downtown was exactly what the money-men were trying to avoid: culture. When you force out the natural residents of an area, you create a bit of a cultural vacuum and it’s not one that can be easily or quickly replaced. Lots of odd, kitschy houses and brick buildings went up for sale, and the only people willing to buy were the kind of people..well..I guess the kind you’d expect to buy warehouses and old tiny houses. Artsy people. And since ASU later opened up a campus downtown, it was the perfect storm of art-meets-education that fosters further culture. There’s a lot of beanies and knit caps and irony amongst that group, but bless ‘em because they created the grassroots movement that has injected downtown with enough signs of life that I now believe we may have a legit shot at a fun and varied downtown experience.
Now we just need some fucking beer, right? Enter, Angels Trumpet Ale House with perfect timing.
Mat & Sherry Englehorn (I’ll spare you the cute bit every other writer has given you about how their last name literally means “Angel Trumpet”) (…shit. I did it anyway, didn’t I?) opened this ale house barely two months ago and it has already become a mainstay for craft brew lovers, beer snobs, after-work folks and the like. The concept is simple: 31 taps of constantly rotating, quality craft beer with careful attention paid to not just the beer but the beer delivery system. 5 feet of line separate keg from tap at any given time and stainless steel taps are used to avoid any nasty beer funk.
Now, let’s get this straight: Angels Trumpet Ale House isn’t cheap. I can understand that gripe, and it’s within reason that some people just don’t want to pay $6-9 for a pint of beer. Those people should avoid this place if they’re just looking for a cheap beer. Zipps is $3.75 for a 32oz Bud Light, knock yourself out (no judgment you pussy). What you’re going to Angels Trumpet for isn’t quantity or intentional drunkenness, it’s for the brilliance of quality craft beer and that drunkenness that you get to claim is accidental because you were just, like, trying to taste the beers and TOTALLY didn’t realize that even 18 smaller samples of 9.4% beer can make you talk all crooked.
When Tyler and I went, we sat inside. When my wife and I went, we sat outside. Both are suitable environments, the inside having a semi-retro decor and the outside being sparse but welcoming. Both of them have awful, rigid wooden chairs. Look, I have no ass. I’m not ashamed to admit this and in fact I may even have pancake-ass. I invite anyone that wants to check to come out and check. My point though is that I’m not a skinny guy for one and I’ve got no natural padding on my posterior for two, so these chairs were akin to a medieval torture device after 20 minutes of sitting in them.
Minor gripe aside, the service was astute both times I went. The servers know their beer and seem eager to have you try food from the eclectic menu. Angels Trumpet has their beers with all the prices written on the board, but the best bet in the house is definitely the beer flights. No matter how cheap or expensive the pint may be on the board, you get to pick any six for $9. Wanna find the six most expensive? Go for it. The six with highest ABV? Knock yourself out. But you do manage to start learning whether you intend to or not.
It’s almost too easy to drink beer like this. When you have a whole pint, you grasp the severity of the alcohol-situation you’ve put yourself in. You know your approximate limits, the personal conversion chart in your head starts converting pints to drunken stumbles and you realize how many you can have before you’re pulling your nuts out of the leg of your boxers and telling everyone there’s gum on your seat. With these little flights though? There’s no calculating how much you just had, or how much more you’re about to have. It’s a small amount so you want to get it down the hatch quicker to try the next type of beer, and next thing you know you’re writing crooked.
I know some beer folks are reading this and thinking I’m an asshole for making it sound like it’s a race and thinking that I’m promoting getting sloshed on fine beer. Well, I am. But that’s my thing, and for those among you that are only there to taste and sample and not partake in debauchery, you’ll feel right at home. And it’s not like I wasn’t tasting this beer and marveling at its quality. I just also was finding myself getting drunk easily, that’s all. It’s not a crime, beer snobs.
I’d love to describe the brilliance of some of my more favorite beers here to you, but therein lies the problem-that-isn’t-a-problem: They probably won’t have that beer when you go. It’s ever-rotating. One keg down? Replace with something else. I’m sure some will end up in the rotation more often than others, but who knows? Beer is such a seasonal beast. Far more stable than their beer list though is their food menu.
Seemingly wanting to create comforting, familiar foods with a foodie-twist to them, the chefs at Angels Trumpet have cooked up something kind of cool. I get the feeling some of their experimenting may fall flat and the execution can really be the determining factor in your enjoyment of their food, but when its working it’s really working. Credit Chef Xane Brody (fellow X-Man, I salute your ridiculous name) for taking smart chances with the food and making inventive meals out of standard bar staples.
Imagine if you will a grilled cheese sandwich. Bread and cheese, right? If you go somewhere fancy, you might see gruyere and arugula and all kinds of fancy bullshit, and it can be really good but a “fancy grilled cheese” is so expected nowadays. What you’re not expecting is smoked mozzarella and fontina with pesto, and you certainly aren’t expecting a bacon jam. There it is though, in all its splendor, and it’s rich and interesting. And the 810? A southwest turkey sandwich done right, even if the adobo sauce is a bit overpowering and makes it taste too “southwest”. The bread is excellent and they’re not afraid to brown it and give it more crisp than a stack of $1′s before they enter stripper g-strings.
This time around I ordered the Shroom Stroganoff Burger ($9) and Tyler ordered the Meat Treat Pizza ($10). He desperately wanted the grilled cheese but I talked him out of it because my wife had already eaten it, we needed to try something else, and I’m a real bastard. The first time around, I had fries with my 810 turkey sandwich and my wife had ribbon chips with her grilled cheese. The fries were handcut and even though they were thick, they had a nice crisp. The star was the ribbon chips though.
These ribbon chips were almost invisible. The potatoes were sliced so thinly and fried so perfectly that they curled into translucent little wings of glory. Topped with a seasoned salt and served piping hot with the meal, they were so addictive that we ended up inhaling them before even touching the sandwiches. I’ve had house “chips” before at other places and they just don’t stack up to Angels Trumpet’s chips. I just said “stack” and “chips” in the same sentence and didn’t even make reference to stacking chips, I feel like the world is ending.
While we waited for our food to arrive, we took in the decor of the restaurant.
Oh, I forgot to mention, we got wings. You didn’t really think we’d go to a place that offers wings and NOT order them, did you? Described as “Angels Wings” and served with a honey-and-dark-ale sauce on the side (and a hot sauce also available upon request), these wings come with radish, celery and carrots.
They come sauceless, by the way.
Yeah, we were a little weirded out by being served dry wings but we powered through it for you. For YOU, and not because we’re fat wing-eating shits. Crispy is certainly the perfect word to describe these wings. They were above-average in size, and they were well cooked. I’m actually kind of impressed at how crispy the skin was while not overcooking the meat inside. But the tiny little metal containers holding the two “dipping sauces” was holding us back. It was just plain chicken with a dipping sauce as we struggled to wedge our wings in there and get some solid sauce coverage. “Too bad,” we thought, “because this hot sauce is definitely unique.”
Frustrated by the lack of sauce and the decision to not just toss the wings in it, and with only one wing a piece left to eat, we said fuck it and just poured the sauce all over our remaining wing (slathering our fingers and plates in it in the process). We ate that last wing in silence before I finally looked at Tyler and said, “Hey, call me nuts but is this last wing REALLY good?” He instantly grinned and agreed. It sounds stupid but slathering this super-crispy but plain wing in their unique hot sauce fused the two pieces together in what would end up being an awesome pairing. I’m terribly sad they don’t come this way by default.
Side note: They make their own house blue cheese, and it is EXCELLENT. Not the same as NY Boyz, but it tastes a lot like the roquefort dressing at Monti’s.
Tyler’s pizza came with pepperoni, peppered bacon, salami, sausage and leeks over a smoked mozzarella. He ate most of it so I’ll let him respond down below, but we both agreed that it was a quality pizza, though it could have been cooked a little longer. The crust was a bit floppy but the meats were delicious. The sausage wasn’t quite as unique or stand-out as Four Peaks’ sausage though, and the multitude of meats sort of blended together instead of letting any one flavor scream at you. I will say that I thought the addition of leeks really made this pizza, adding a little crunch and some bite to it.
The Shroom Stroganoff burger was, for me, a stroke of brilliance. I can never get enough sauce on anything, and I love sour cream, so a burger with a housemade cream of mushroom sauce and topped with a huge dollop of sour cream called to me like a fat, creamy siren. But I hate soggy bread, so I was worried the bun would just disintegrate with all this sloppy goodness.
I’m happy to say that the bun stood up to all the sauce. It held form and never got overloaded, and it tasted fresh. The meat was cooked to order, medium in this case, and managed to stand out despite all the toppings. The slice of swiss was the icing on this burger cake (shut up, I know it doesn’t make sense) and I was absolutely thrilled with my choice of meal.
Plus it came with more ribbon fries.
Drunk with lust for my burger, gluttons for a pizza, we still managed to find the state of inebriation from the beer. 11.5%, 10.4%, 9.6%, no matter how small the sample size is, when you have several flights you start to let the numbers blur together because you’re too happy with the experience to fuss about the details.
Ultimately, that’s the experience at Angels Trumpet. There are niggling details here and there (it’s not racist, I swear that’s a real word) about this ale house that I could hope to have them improve. Sauce your wings. Cook your pizza to a better crisp. Speed up the service just a little. Get better chairs. Lower your prices. But it all washes away in the glow of the positive experience of delicious beer and food, and it’s amplified by being downtown amongst the lights and the buildings.
We both want to go back to Angels Trumpet, and the beauty of Downtown Phoenix in 2012 is that there are actually reasons to already be downtown instead of having to force a trip just to get some beer. There’s less of a need to justify going down there and more of a “well, I’m already downtown, might as well go to this great spot down here for a unique experience.” It is the unique experiences, after all, that keep us coming back. No one will give a fuck about downtown in 10 years if they manage to fill it up with Applebee’s and Chili’s because no one goes to chains for experience, they go for convenience and going downtown is rarely convenient for most of us.
But if they keep filling it with places like Angels Trumpet Ale House, if they keep fostering an environment where people who care about what they’re serving you are able to become successful then Downtown Phoenix is going to keep growing into something awesome and I’m going to be right there, cheering on the Suns and getting drunk and eating food and making fun of First Friday art nerds. I really hope it happens, it’s kind of always been my dream to see Phoenix with a bustling downtown entertainment district.
It’s not there yet, but Angels Trumpet is the kind of place that makes me think the dream can be realized.
Angels Trumpet Ale House
810 N 2nd St
Phoenix, AZ 85004