I was elated upon hearing that Gavin Jacobs, former bartender and manager at House of Tricks in Tempe, was opening Vintage 95 Wine Lounge with investors Craig and Tricia Hills. It’s housed in a 1926 space that oozes charm and warmth – both literally, with a focal-point fireplace, and figuratively, with handsomely upholstered chairs and rich woods. One complaint: The tables are packed too tight, resulting in many irritating bumps from servers and fellow patrons alike. The happening back patio is the shining jewel, though, with crushed-glass fire pit and open-air bar; it attracts a crowd every night.
The wine list is superb, thanks to canny palates picking the bottles. Every selection I sipped – from the Russian River to the Côtes du Rhône – was satisfying. A locally-oriented craft beer list and inventive cocktails round out the beverages.
The food was average the first two times I visited, but the kitchen seemed to be working out the kinks by the third, thanks in part to the addition of full entrées in February. A juicy bone-in pork chop with apple bread pudding and sherry beurre blanc ($26) and grilled steelhead with lively tarragon aioli ($22) were both comfortable and au courant.
But the best thing here is the lick-the-bowl-clean smoked tomato bisque with grilled cheese croutons ($3 cup; $5 bowl). Other standouts included a kicky green chili pulled pork sandwich ($9) on a puffy egg bun with a side of zesty chipotle pasta salad, and a hearty chicken panino with sun-dried tomato aioli with well-seasoned orzo salad ($9). I also enjoyed a cheese board ($12 for three; $18 for six) with nuts, apple slices, dried fruit, lavosh and mixed olives.
Italian flatbread ($12) could have been crisper but was redeemed by house-made mozzarella and delectable cured meats – not made on-site, but good quality. Choose that instead of bruschetta ($12 for four), which were good but not Postino-caliber. A Southwest Caesar ($8) was over-dressed – a common malady. The worst thing I tried was “AZ Cheesesteak” ($12), a train wreck that tasted like a bad Sloppy Joe.
On the upside, food and service got much better over time, so like a fine wine, I expect Vintage 95 to improve with age.
Address: 95 W. Boston St., Chandler
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday, 11 a.m. to midnight Thursday-Saturday
Highlights: House soup (smoked tomato bisque, $3 cup; $5 bowl), cheese board ($12 for three; $18 for six), Italian flat bread ($12), chicken panino ($9), green chili pulled pork sandwich ($9)
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