Jim Counts and Bob McMahon are two well-known—and sometimes controversial—figures in Tucson, but luckily, they've set politics aside, and their joint eastside venture produces delicious results.
Counts—owner of the original Nimbus on 44th Street—and McMahon opened the eatery in October, taking over the home of McMahon's Italia. The décor takes Nimbus to a new level of chic, with an open feel and lots of monkey art, as one might expect.
The beer list is one of the most extensive in Tucson, with lots of featured beers from all over the world at reasonable prices. Nimbus' beer is served on tap, though not exclusively, and on both visits, our server had a solid knowledge of the beer on the menu.
Our first visit was for a late weekday lunch. We took a seat in the airy, open bar area, and our friendly server promptly brought over a beer list and menus. He suggested that since we were familiar with Nimbus beer, we should try a Nimbus beer blend, like a strawberry blonde (Dirty Guera blonde and Red Ale mixed together). Though a helpful suggestion, we were in the mood for darker beer, so we ordered a Breckenridge vanilla porter ($5.75) and a Big Sky Moose Drool ($5.50).
By the time our beers arrived, we were ready to order, and we asked for the wood-fired soft pretzel with spicy oatmeal stout mustard ($3) and a wood-fired spinach, tomato, garlic and basil pizza ($7, personal size) to start. The food came out quickly and was hot and delicious. The pretzel was chewy and salty, and the oatmeal stout mustard packed a punch and a half: It was both tasty and great for clearing out your sinuses. The dinner-plate-size pizza was generously topped with lots of fresh spinach and tomatoes and had a wonderful soft, light crust.
Sandwiches were next. The portions at Nimbus are large—one pizza or sandwich is enough for two (or one really hungry person). The fried bologna ($8) with melted onions and smoked gouda on an egg bun is not your childhood bologna sandwich. The quarter-inch-thick slice of fried bologna was hot and slathered in onions and cheese; it's a Midwestern delight. I wanted a little more heat, so I asked for a small side of the oatmeal stout mustard, which our server graciously brought out. Together, they were perfection. Ted's Reuben ($8) on rye was piled high with sauerkraut and meat, and the bread was fresh and not soggy. The tumbleweed onions (a Metro Restaurants classic) on the side were salty and delicious, though the fries left something to be desired.
A few days later, after we had finished all of the leftovers, we decided to give Nimbus Bistro a try on a busy Saturday night. After a not-unpleasant half-hour wait, we were seated in the dining room near the live jam band. Despite the dining room being packed to the gills, our server came over quickly and with a smile. We put in an order for two Nimbus Red beers ($3.50 each), the "monkey burn" fried jalapeno rings ($5) and the beer buddies pizza-dough bites ($6) to start. The appetizers came out so quickly that we hadn't made up our minds on entrées yet. The fried jalapeño rings were thick slices of deep-fried jalapeño, seeds and all, served with a cream-cheese dipping sauce to ease the burn. They were spicy but not inedible, though the portion of dipping sauce was quite small. (Our server brought us another right away once we requested more.) The beer buddies were hot, delicious little chunks of pizza dough, coated in olive oil and seasonings, and served with a generous side of piping-hot marinara sauce. I probably could have eaten the entire basket, but I thought better of it.
Once we had decided on and ordered entrées, they were quick to arrive. The fish and chips ($9) included three large filets, battered and fried crisp, but moist and tender inside. Served with both tartar sauce and malt vinegar, the fish was so flavorful that neither was necessary. Again, the fries were a little boring and could have been left in the fryer for a few more minutes to crisp up on the outside, but the coleslaw was delicious. The Nimbus burger ($8) with cheese on a whole-wheat bun was cooked to order—a perfect medium-rare—and was quite tasty. I only made it through half the burger, intending to save room for dessert, but even then, I was too full to order any of their delicious-sounding desserts. Next time, I'm going for the cookie sandwiches ($5).
Nimbus Bistro and Brewery also offers a large selection of salads and other dinner entrées; the menu includes some favorites from the original brewery menu alongside more upscale options.
The long wait for a second Nimbus location has been worth it. Hopefully, it won't suffer the same fate as many of the more recently opened Metro Restaurants—and Tucson will have another great locally owned restaurant and brew pub to enjoy for a long time.