Sometimes, I scratch my head when I see various restaurants in the Valley. Most of these times occur when I pass by a restaurant like Olive Garden and see the line out the door and down the street with people dying to get in while the outstanding Mom-n-Pop place next door is concerned that the lack of customers means a future closing.
More often than not, it is the latter that I experience. I go into a restaurant that has great food, excellent value and an all-around good time and, yet, there is only a table or two occupied. Such was the case when Tim, Tara, Winedubar and I made our way over to Urban Campfire in Tempe.
Sitting on the southeast corner of University & Rural, the building wasn’t hard to spot with its red, yellow and brown sign right along the road. I pulled in and drove around the back parking along the east side of the restaurant. I moseyed on into the place and saw Winedubar sitting at the table sipping and Iced Tea ($1.69). We caught up on a few things before Tim and Tara arrived and our bubbly waitress brought me a Diet Rite soda ($1.69), which was a completely acceptable substitute for Diet Coke (Tab being another).
When Tim and Tara did join us, we were so busy talking, our very patient waitress would check in on us asking if we were ready to order only to be sent away because we hadn’t even cracked the menus. Tim and Tara did manage, however, to order drinks and we asked for an order of the Yam Planks (part of Winedubar’s entree) and the Garlic Fries ($2.50).
After solving the world’s problems, we were finally ready to order. Winedubar was tickled pink at the thought of getting the Pulled BBQ Pork Sliders ($7.95) and demanded to know if it would come with a deviled egg (which it did). Tara was intrigued by the Midwest Sloppy Joe Sliders ($7.95) and had the Yam Planks as her side dish. Tim went with the Double Dogs ($6.95), selecting the cole slaw and the chili that came with the dogs on the side. I decided to try the Pulled BBQ Chicken Sliders ($6.95) and went with the Basil Potato Salad and had some of the Brown Sugar Beans ($2.50) as an additional side. I also got a cup of the Green Chile Pork Stew ($3.25).
As our waitress flew to the kitchen to place our order, we discussed the menu and other options we would have chosen. Certainly there was something on that menu for everyone except, perhaps, the strictest of vegetarian. It was like going to camp, but having gourmet food.
We also enjoyed the surrounding. Pictures and sports items dotted the walls and there was a signature wall for patrons who praised the food at Urban Campfire. Tim was enthralled with the Red Sox game on the television and I was grinning because the PA system was playing full CDs of Led Zepplin followed by the Rolling Stones and The Who.
The Yam Planks arrived and I think we were all surprised at them. I was expecting thick slices of yam perhaps fried like fried green tomatoes or similar. Instead, these were crunchy yam chips with the texture of fresh potato chips, but much more intense in flavor. They were served, interestingly enough, with BBQ sauce. I liked them right off the bat, and the BBQ sauce was a perfect match. The general consensus was that the ones that were cooked longer were the best, but we had no problems gobbling up every last chip and the crumbs.
The Garlic Fries were freshly cut and cooked potatoes sprinkled liberally with garlic powder. Tara and I were pleased with the amount of garlic that coated the cuts spuds, but Tim said his first fry was devoid of any garlic taste although he did taste the garlic on subsequent fires. The talk was about the kitchen using fresh potatoes instead of something out of a bag in the freezer. It was a nice change.
My Green Chile Pork Stew was another surprise. When I think of “stew” I think of a rich, thick, meaty dish that quickly satisfies. My pork stew had all of those elements except the thick part. This was more like a soup and then I was reminded by my dining companions that stews often vary in consistency. Fair enough. It wasn’t a criticism, per se, but more of an expectation. I was still very happy with the flavor of the stew. There were thick chunks of pork, lots of green chile and plenty of rich broth that held it all together. I also loved the fried tortilla chip that was included.
After some more talk and a few rounds of drinks, our entrees started to arrive and I knew right off the bat that we would be probably be stuffed by the end of the meal. Winedubar’s Pulled BBQ Pork Sliders were three plump sandwiches with a chiabata-type bread and tender pork. Before even getting to the sandwiches, she devoured the Deviled egg saying that is was excellent. The sandwiches were a hit for her, but she was especially pleased with the bread.
Tara’s Midwest Sloppy Joe Sliders were very similar to the ones she had when she lived in the Midwest. She said they had a spicy kick and loved the bread they were served on. She also liked the deviled egg. While she also enjoyed the Yam Planks, she didn’t like the BBQ sauce as a dipping side for the yams.
Tim’s Hot Dogs were plentiful and loaded with goodies. He loved the all-beef franks and the “great grill flavor” they had. He also liked the toppings that were perfect with the dogs. He found the Cole Slaw, however, to be mediocre and complained about the excessive amount of dressing on the slaw. Because the portions were so large, he didn’t get a chance to have more than a couple of bites of the chili before requesting a “to go” container. He found the chili to be quite good and I could see that the serving size was substantial the chili thick and rich.
My Pulled BBQ Chicken Sliders were excellent. (And I apologize for the lack of photos of my meal because I remember taking the shots, but they just weren’t there when I did the download.) The three mini-sandwiches had plenty of moist chicken and were quite satisfying. I agreed with Winedubar that the bread was outstanding. It was slightly chewy and had somewhat of a sourdough edge to it. The only complaint I had about the sandwiches is that I wanted a bit more BBQ sauce. I thought it would have been great to have a small plastic cup of the sauce on the side to adjust to my taste. The Basil Potato Salad was very unique. The salad itself was ice cold and quite thick, but the flavor was smooth and the burst of basil flavor really made this a nice accompaniment to the sandwiches. I also like the Deviled egg. It was a solid find.
The Brown Sugar Beans were really a nice contrast to everything else. Slight sweet, somewhat acidic and full of flavor, these were great. Tim tried a bite and agreed that the beans were a success. I particularly liked the chunks of onion that were slightly crunchy and added a nice dimension to the beans. I was very happy I took the chance and ordered them.
After all was said and done, we had completed quite the feast at Urban Campfire. We were completely stuffed and gave a big thumbs up to the food, the portion size and the cost. Our waitress was exceptionally patient with us and the service was solid.
Just as we thought everything was done, our waitress presented each of us with a small ramekin of salted watermelon. Nothing fancy, but just a nice cap to the meal, although Tim didn’t seem to like the salt on the watermelon. Still, it was a welcome gesture.
So, we requested the bill and couldn’t believe that for all the food we ordered, our bill was a measly $45.47, which included tax. A bona fide steal on any level.
As we gathered in the parking lot to say our goodbyes, we all were trying to figure out why Urban Campfire wasn’t packed with ASU students looking for plentiful vittles at low prices. If I were still attending ASU, this would be a regular stop on my search for food. Instead, there were only a couple of tables sporting patrons and a few people did drop in for some take out orders.
I headed back to East Phoenix, still scratching my head and wondering what more Urban Campfire could do.
From my perspective, they were doing everything just about right.
921 East University Drive
Tempe, AZ 85
Hours: Monday - 11 AM to 5 PM; Tuesday through Thursday - 11 AM to 10 PM; Friday and Saturday - 11 AM to 2 AM; Closed Sundays.
Notes: Plenty of parking. Outside seating is available.
Alcohol: Limited selection.
Additional photos can be found at www.feastinginphoenix.com
921 E University Dr, Tempe, AZ 85281