Despite the seemingly endless streetcar construction, the downtown restaurant scene is booming, with several restaurants either recently opening or in the works. Microbreweries are also popping up all over the place, and Thunder Canyon, a longstanding Tucson brewery on the Northwest side, has joined the crowd and opened a second location on Broadway Boulevard near Fourth Avenue.
The restaurant is massive and a bit warehouselike, but not necessarily in a bad way. The concrete floors are bare and there are exposed bricks and beams, but there's plenty of light that makes it somehow welcoming. The only challenge with the interior space seems to be a lack of air circulation, which made it a bit stuffy and encouraged a small cloud of flies to take up temporary residence at our table during both of our dining experiences. I should also mention that, because of the interior design, it can be very loud.
Thunder Canyon brews about a dozen beers (and a nonalcoholic root beer for $2.50), everything from an oatmeal stout to an orange-infused wheat (all TCB brews are $3.25 for 10 ounces or $4.25 for a pint). Though Thunder Canyon beers generally have nice body and flavor, I've always found them to be a little too sweet—even their IPAs and ESBs—and this experience was no different. However, tastes vary, and many of my friends enjoy their brews. The downtown location also features about 30 non-TCB brews on tap. The rotating selection is excellent and varied, and it's rivaled by few other restaurants around town. Prices are reasonable, too. The most expensive pint listed when we visited cost $5.50.
Service was hit-or-miss on our visits. The first server was lackluster and mumbly, but he was timely with the food, drinks and refills. The second server was friendly and welcoming, but didn't check in frequently enough. However, on both dining occasions the food and drinks, once ordered, made it to the table quickly. Most important, the food was hot and the beer was cold.
The menu at TCB features standard pub fare, with lots of sandwiches, burgers, wraps and salads, and a bunch of carb-loaded and/or deep-fried appetizers (nachos, pretzels, chicken fingers, etc.). The portions of both the appetizers and the entrées are quite substantial—it would be a great place to take a large group of hungry, thirsty folks looking for a decent bite to eat.
All of the food we ordered was good, but relatively unremarkable. The mac and cheese entrée ($11.70) and the TCB dip appetizer ($9.20) were the two best items Ted and I tried. The TCB dip is a nice, cheesy, oniony, creamy artichoke dip served in a bread bowl with lots of fresh veggies for dipping. The only issue was that the bread was unforgivably dry. The pretzel appetizer ($4.20 for a half order, or $7 for a full) was also pretty decent, though I wish I had chosen the TCB dip option instead of the jalapeño cheese dip, which wasn't spicy and was just standard nacho cheese. The house-made beer mustard was pretty tasty, though I would have liked a little more kick to it. We also tried the buenodillas, which are essentially quesadillas made with cheddar, mozzarella and green chiles ($8.80 for a full order, $5.90 for a half). We chose to add beef ($3.60 extra). They were OK, but a bit bland, and would have been better had the beef been shredded or chopped instead of ground.
Apart from the mac and cheese, which was chock-full of grilled chicken pieces and smoky bacon chunks, with a nice, creamy cheese sauce (very tasty), the entrées were decent, though not spectacular. The brewhouse sausage plate ($10) features two house-made sausages. They had great flavor, with nice heat and lots of smoky goodness, but they were inexcusably dry. The jubilee burger ($10.50) suffered the same fate—it was ordered medium-rare and came to the table well done and very, very dry, even with the sautéed portobello, bacon, cheddar and havarti on it. My monsoon sandwich ($9.90) was tasty enough, with sliced beef and sautéed mushrooms served on a baguette-style roll with au jus, but there was way too much bread in the meat-to-bread ratio, and the au jus had to be constantly stirred to avoid dipping my sandwich into the layer of grease that kept floating to the top.
TCB will be a great place to grab an after-work or pre-show beer downtown, and the food has the potential to be really tasty. But they definitely need to work out a few details in the kitchen before it will join the ranks of some of the great downtown eateries we now have.