Beer + Pie = Bliss

New pizza joint 1702 wows with an ever-changing selection of brews and slices the size of a human head

Peanut butter and jelly, champagne and caviar, foie gras and sauternes, pizza and beer--there are certain combinations that are just meant to be. There are at least 50 places in Tucson serving up the latter, some more successfully than others. One of those more successful places is 1702.

My first attempted visit, on a Saturday afternoon, was unsuccessful, as the restaurant doesn't open until 5 p.m. that day. I did learn something on that unsuccessful visit: Parking can be a challenge. The closest parking lot is the UA Zone 1 lot on the southeast corner of Cherry Avenue and Speedway Boulevard, which is free after 5 p.m. weekdays and on weekends (presuming it's not a game day). Otherwise, the alternate parking option is at the Nob Hill shopping complex just to the east.

My fiancé, Ted, and I tried our luck again the following Saturday evening. We were greeted warmly as we walked in, and we were told to seat ourselves wherever we liked. The place was pretty busy, so we chose a booth by the window in the secondary dining room. Our friendly server came over promptly to take our drink order and drop off the menus: two pieces of copy paper stapled together. We asked for a beer list, since 1702 has more than 25 beers on tap, but there wasn't an updated list to be had, and we were directed to the whiteboard in the corner of the main dining room. It would have been nice to have a list in the secondary dining room as well, but our server was more than happy to make some suggestions. She also explained that 1702 can't always keep a printed beer list on hand, because the selection changes so frequently.

We ordered the Deschutes Obsidian Stout and the Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA (on the $4 pint list during happy hour, from 5 to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday); the soup of the day, which turned out to be a green chile chicken stew ($3); and the chicken wings special, with the Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale sauce ($3.75 for a half-pound, or about six to eight wings).

Beer arrived promptly in frosty mugs, followed about five minutes later by the soup and chicken wings. The soup was good, although it was served in a plastic-foam bowl, something restaurants should avoid for dine-in customers. The soup offered big chunks of chicken and veggies, with rice and mild green chiles in a hearty chicken broth.

Crispy on the outside and moist on the inside, the wings were phenomenal. The sauce was a little sweet, just spicy enough to make you sniffle a little.

Our server returned to take our order for pizza (offered by the slice) and another round of beers, and I decided on the "Islanda," a house specialty topped with pineapple, ham, green pepper, feta and garlic ($7.50). Ted went with the "Roman," a supreme-style pizza with Italian sausage, pepperoni, green pepper, onion, tomato and mushroom ($7.50). Based on our previous beer selections, our server brought us some small samples of a few beers she thought we might enjoy--a nice touch. I went with the Bear Republic's Hop Rod Rye, and Ted chose the Dogfish Head India Brown Ale (also both on the $4 pint list).

The slices came out about 10 minutes later; they could have used a few more minutes in the oven, since the slices were on the tepid side. If you were balking over the $7.50 price tag ... these slices are literally bigger than your head. They look like they were cut out of a pizza about 3 feet in diameter. Despite the lack of heat, the pizza was still pretty good. The toppings were plentiful, fresh and not overcooked. Mine suffered from a little too much feta cheese and not quite enough sauce. Ted's pizza had a good balance of toppings, and the Italian sausage was delicately spiced. We made it through about half of our slices before we were stuffed.

Our second visit came on the next Saturday, and this time, the place was almost empty. We had the same friendly server, and on this visit, 1702 had brand-new, professionally printed menus. The whiteboard beer list was indeed quite different; I took our server's suggestion and ordered the Belgian Brune from Moinette ($6 for 12 ounces). Ted ordered Rogue brewery's Dry Hop Red ($4 a pint).

After taking a gander at the new-and-improved menu, I decided on the Greek salad ($5.95): romaine lettuce with artichoke hearts, onions, green peppers, tomatoes, pepperoncini, feta and black olives. Ted ordered the P.H.S. salad ($5.95): "fancy" lettuce and romaine with pepperoni, ham, salami, green peppers, tomatoes and mozzarella. For pizza, I decided to check out one of the vegetarian options on the menu, the "Italia" ($7.50), topped with spinach, basil, tomato, feta and garlic. Ted, being the enthusiastic carnivore that he is, ordered the "Meata" slice ($7.50), complete with pepperoni, Italian sausage, salami, meatballs and ham.

The pizza and salads arrived together--and it was enough to feed six people. The salads were piled high on large platters, and were fresh and delicious. This time, our slices were piping hot and, once again, tasty. Ted commented that the "Meata" was the best meat pizza he'd ever had. There was a perfect amount of scrumptious sauce on both slices, and the feta on mine wasn't overpowering this time. The "Italia" was perfect for vegetarians and nonvegetarians alike, loaded with a delectable harmony of toppings.

To finish our evening, our server brought us a few samples of beers that she thought we might enjoy, but we decided to try the "suggested mixers" on the whiteboard. I stuck with the Belgian-style ales and chose the mixture of Unibroue's Éphémère and Rodenbach's Grand Cru. It was like having a green apple Jolly Rancher and a beer at the same time, in a tasty way. Ted ordered the mixture of Stone's Old Guardian Barley Wine and North Coast's Old Rasputin, which was also divine.

Numerous restaurants have occupied the space at 1702 E. Speedway Blvd. With an endlessly rotating selection of tempting brews and mouthwatering slices, 1702 just may have the formula to stick around for quite some time.

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