The city of Phoenix (and its surrounding metro area) is a puzzling one to categorize. Few cities can claim such a massive influx of transplants from all over the country and it adds to the experience of Phoenix as a whole, for both good and bad. The benefit of such a transient population is that we’re a true melting pot of food, music, art and culture.
The biggest downside is the dearth of loyalty anywhere in this city.
In older cities, in Philadelphia or in New York City, in Chicago or in Boston, people are entrenched. It’s far more common to hear tales of people that will die in the same city they were born. Hell, half of them have probably never even left the damn city and honestly think the edge of the world is just outside the city limits. Not Phoenix though. The people that move here do so for the weather or the jobs or the cheap housing and they bring their families and their belongings but leave their loyalties elsewhere.
This creates a bit of a social dilemma for those of us born and raised in this beautiful city. We want to welcome newcomers with open arms, invite them to enjoy Phoenix and fall in love with it and watch angels cry with retard-joy and puppies fall from the sky with parachutes into their arms when they embrace it. But usually we’re just subject to everyone coming just to tell us how much better it is back in *INSERT YOUR CITY HERE* and how their sports teams beat our sports teams and their fans beat our fans and their food beats our food (Californians in PHX, I’m looking directly at you).
I’ve often looked for a great equalizer, one fine thing native to Phoenix that we can claim is on the same level as other cities. Our sports teams don’t win championships (save for 2001). Our clubs apparently aren’t as cool as L.A.’s clubs. Our restaurants don’t carry the weight of top chefs in New York. Our weather is too extreme in the summer for people fleeing extreme winter weather (the logic of which is just…just staggering). What then?
Four Peaks, that’s what. College kids come in by the thousands every year from all over the country to act like they’re learning at ASU, and every one of them gets introduced at some point to Four Peaks Brewing. It’s sort of the quintessential college experience…except not just that. It’s got the kind of beer and food that makes hipsters foam at the mouth to grip their knit-caps tighter and non-conform harder than ever…but it’s not just a hipster spot. It’s got a great patio and bar food and flat screens for Vikings fans (for whatever reason)…but it’s not just a sports bar.
We all know the history by now. What was once an old creamery/warehouse building built in Tempe in 1892 is now Four Peaks Brewing, keeping the original brick and renovating the building to accommodate the brew tanks and bar inside, with a lively and always-packed patio outside. There’s hipsters and college folk and average Joes and we all sort of blend together to make a mish-mash of fuckery that somehow works when it shouldn’t.
We certainly drank plenty of beer during our trip to Four Peaks, and we even ate some non-wing food (believe it or not)! Since we got so much in one night, we’re going to be splitting it into two parts. This week is all about the wings, and next week Tyler will cover the beer and pizza.
We got two flavors of wings this night. First was the traditional Buffalo (no heat levels, just Buffalo) and something called Spicy Thai Peanut Sauce. We also asked for a side of the Oatmeal Stout BBQ sauce on the side, just out of curiosity. It really didn’t take long to get our wings, and we paused for pictures before diving right in, annoying a fleet of buttholes standing near us who didn’t like our flash going off while they were trading such eloquent statements as “I’ll fuck her titties up!” and “Do you even lift bro?” After making it a point to not apologize at all, we proceeded to eat.
Yeah, we only ordered a dozen. We had a pizza and a ton of beer on the way, and we were already a few beers deep anyway, so we had to save room (read: we are not pussies). But Four Peaks was nice enough to let us split the flavors, so that helped. I’m going to make this concise and break down the pluses and minuses of each flavor for you:
Buffalo Flavor – GREAT flavor. Maybe one of the best pure Buffalo sauces we’ve tasted that weren’t bottle Frank’s or some shit. Care was taken to make this sauce with the perfect balance of vinegar and tang. It rivals The Vine’s sauce, and I’d honestly love to put them side by side. It wasn’t particularly hot, maybe more in line with a medium for most, but who cares with flavor like that?
Spicy Thai Peanut Sauce – WHOA. Talk about unique. The very first word that came to my mind upon eating this flavor was “fresh”. It tasted like fresh vegetables were used to craft this sauce. Maybe scallions, maybe garlic, DEFINITELY ginger. The texture used semi-finely ground peanut to add texture to the outside. It didn’t really have a spice, so the “Spicy” moniker seemed a bit off base. I just wish you weren’t liars, Four Peaks. Four Peaks? Yeah, hi. I just wish you weren’t liars. Just kidding.
Both flavors were attached to above-average sized wings. I’d call them large but not extra large, and this large is a real large, not like when a girl asks how big your dick is and you say “large” but you mean “at least you probably won’t laugh at it.” They were cooked well, but they were just barely off the mark for being excellently cooked. Actually, the wings as a whole were really good but just barely missing each category’s criteria for excellence that would put them into that transcendent category reserved for NY Boyz and our dreams at night. They were cooked enough to not be soggy at all, but could have used just another minute to get the perfect crisp. The sauces were delicious but we felt they could have used a little more heat. We understand they aren’t out to scald lips off with the heat of their sauces, but at least give us SOMETHING to wipe our brow about.
Speaking of the sauces, that’s one thing that I can gripe about legitimately; there was hardly any there, they were stingy with the sauce. Maybe we’re just weirdos for liking our wings wet, but we love to sop up the leftover sauce with a carrot or celery after we’re done and enjoy the veggies like they’re an edible after-meal toothpick or something. But Tyler cleaned up basically ALL the remaining sauce with just one swipe of one carrot, and that was that. I would have loved to have the Buffalo wings be saucier so I could really compare it to the Vine’s incredible sauce, but because they held back so much on it, I was forced to declare the Vine the victor in sauce-wars by a smidge.
I need to give a special mention to Four Peaks’ dedication to the entire food experience. From making their own wing sauces (and making them well) to providing fresh celery and carrots instead of shit that’s been sitting out for six months. But the real deal-sealer for me was their ranch. Tyler almost never uses ranch, and I use it constantly so I feel like I have a great handle on what makes a great ranch. If it’s too thick, it can be gross. It becomes a fucking ranch pudding if they make it too thick. If it’s too thin, it’s basically delicious white water (which is now my new favorite euphemism for what I formerly called “male fun product”). Four Peaks stepped it up by making their ranch the perfect thickness, loose but not watery, thick but not sour cream-textured. And the flavor was so instantly gratifying for ranch. It was tangy but not in that insipid fast-food dipping sauce manner.
I actually forced Tyler to try some, which he reluctantly did before commenting, “Holy shit, that’s actually really good.” He was right, and it’s tough to impress this guy. So good job on getting the details right, Four Peaks.
All in all, the wing experience was a very positive one. What could have been just a standard toss-in on a well-crafted pub food menu actually comes off showing effort and expertise of saucy craft. With a little better execution, they could have cracked the top ten of wing spots. As-is, while I can’t honestly tell you to go there solely for the wings, I can tell you that while Four Peaks Brewery is already worth going to just for beer and atmosphere alone, the wings enhance the experience that much more.
Looking around, seeing all the Vikings fans (and one random Lakers fan) cheering for their losing team, watching the obviously-not-from-here crowd out on the patio enjoying the incredible phenomenon known as “Phoenix in October”, observing so many people from so many sections of the country having a damn good time, I was pleased. Four Peaks is the perfect microcosm of just why I love this city; when all the elements combine just right, it’s a tough act to beat. Great weather, great food, great beer, and great people welcoming other great people. And yet there’s still always some asshole from LA in our midst.
Can’t win ‘em all, I suppose.
Four Peaks Brewing Co
1340 E 8th St
Tempe, AZ 85281
Sampled October 25th, 2012