By Ezra Amacher
College restaurants, at least those at the U of A, are notorious for boozy settings excursions under blaring pop music. Of course, the establishments have to cater to the clientele, and stressed out 22-year olds scream for beer, pizza and Drake mixtapes.
But that doesn’t mean every campus eatery needs to compromise comfort and cuisine to get the job done.
Situated across the street from some open-air beer joints, Gentle Ben’s Brewing Co. separates itself from the rest of University Boulevard with its two-story building that looks designed out of a Lincoln Logs toy set. Dimmed lights greet you inside, while giant fans cool the outdoor patio seating. Music is played at a healthy decimal level throughout.
And then there’s the menu. True to the “brewery” in its title, Gentle Ben’s makes its name off home-crafted brews more than its palette of Western-inspired dishes. Unfortunately, this reviewer cannot have sampled Gentle Ben’s selection of beers without having broken a law, so look elsewhere for critiques of the expansive beer selection.
Gentle Ben’s offers a fairly wide variety of food options, ranging from handcrafted burgers to Mexican cuisine. The beer-battered fries, double-dipped in the fryer for good taste, start any meal off right. They also come with plenty of grease, but anyone who’s looking for an authentic college dining experience shouldn’t expect to leave with using a handful of napkins. The onion rings, also beer-battered, are worth a try, as are the made-to-order Buffalo wings. If Gentle Ben’s appetizer menu has one major disappointment, it’s the chips and salsa, which carry no particular zest — in a town that’s a hotbed for good Mexican flavors.
The restaurant is ambitious in its entree selections, offering anything from a pulled-pork sandwich to The Phoenix burger – easily the best burger choice on the menu. All of Gentle Ben’s burgers are served on a ciabatta bread that occasionally falls apart due to the hefty amount of toppings piled on (The Phoenix includes red peppers, thick cut jalapeno bacon, pepper jack cheese and a spicy habanero cream). Still, the burgers stand out as the go-to choice.
If you want to venture into Mexican, Gentle Ben’s offers four types of tacos including the promoted Baja Tacos, which feature tilapia topped with Pico de Gallo. Each taco dish is served with a side of charro beans and Spanish rice that don’t quite live up to southern Arizona standards.
Gentle Ben’s Pazookie is the hallmark of its desert menu; the giant chocolate chip cookie comes with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. While the waitress recommended ordering one for each person at the table, a single Pazookie was big enough to share with a small group.