First Dish: The Vanilla Gorilla

Nikki BuchananNovember 11, 2021
Share This

The Vanilla Gorilla interior | Photo by Nikki Buchanan

If you’re up on urban slang, you probably already know that “vanilla gorilla” is the term for a big, burly white guy. It’s also the shared nickname of feuding UFC fighters Chase Sherman and Jason Witt. More importantly, in my food-and-drink-loving world, it’s the moniker for a terrific new tap room and bottle shop that sits alongside Hush Public House in North Scottsdale. For all we know Dom Ruggiero, the talented (and yes, burly) chef-owner of both operations, is the actual Vanilla Gorilla in question. Or maybe it’s just a cool name.

In any case, the place, fragrant with clean, new construction smell, is instantly likeable for being spacious, relaxed, even lighthearted — an effect achieved because of the following amenities: an eye-popping, vintage-style mural of the desert (painted by Geremy Cites), a painted logo of a ball cap- and shades-wearing vanilla gorilla, a trio of TVs, a bank of beer fridges, a room divider of wine shelves and a 12-seat bar with 24 beer taps behind it. Yep, it’s a mini wonderland of curated beer and wine, the kind of place in which you want to hang out for an afternoon over beer or wine with a snack or two for sustenance.

About half of the craft beer selections are local (Goldwater Brewing, PHX Beer Co., Arizona Wilderness, Mother Road Brewing and Greenwood Brewing, for example), and the rest are simply great craft beers from around the country, curated by longtime Valley craft brew guru Todd Oltmann, who also co-owns The Golden Pineapple. This friendly, enthusiastic guy can talk the talk, and it’s fun to let him guide you through beer selections you might never try otherwise. He’s gleeful when my friend and I — both IPA on-the-fencers — like a double IPA he has recommended.

bar nuts and beer | Photo by Nikki Buchanan

We’re feeling fall-ish, however, on this 80° day, so we both order autumnal beers: Karens Gone Wild from O.H.S.O. and Chai Jolly from Wren House. I hope my wholehearted approval of the Karens Gone Wild doesn’t make me a Karen, but this pumpkin spice latte blonde ale, made with infusion coffee and a blend of fall spices, is yummy, a not-too-sweet easy drinker that offers up hints of coffee roast and baking spice. Meanwhile, the Chai Jolly is a winter wheat that’s darker, richer and bigger, made with 50 pounds of local honey and a homemade chai blend. It has a creamier mouthfeel and notes of malt, vanilla and spices, including cardamom. We love them both.

A friend of mine (Chef Tandy Peterson of Embers Chocolate) happens to be sitting at the bar too, and she offers us a slug of her Origin Story from Clown Shoes out of Boston. I might like this complex, barrel-aged IPA even better than the other.

We consider trying a wine by the glass (VG is building a list of natural wines I want to pursue), but the guys behind the bar urge us to try Grüner Leader, an Austrian Grüner Veltliner from Barbara Öhlzelt. It’s exactly as the menu describes it, “fresh and fun” with enough acidity to pair well with the salty, fatty foods we’re noshing. Another winner!

There are exactly six things to order on the food menu, all of them snacky, all of them prepared by Ruggiero and crew at Hush, then packaged in plastic grab and go-style containers. The French onion dip, thicker and darker than the shlock people make at home, is one of my favorites, amped up with caramelized yellow onions, shallots, chives and cayenne ($12). Lusciously sweet and creamy, it’s served with a bag of Ruffles potato chips, but if you want another bag (we did), you’ll pay $2 for it. Also great — smoked trout dip with zesty notes of horseradish and local Cutino Verde hot sauce. This one comes with a tiny package of plain Saltines, which serve as mellow background for the big flavors in the dip ($16).

House-cured olives | Photo by Nikki Buchanan

If you’re more into nibbling than dipping, try the bar nuts — peanuts, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans tossed in Loot N’ Booty BBQ seasoning and vinegar salt to give them spicy, salty tang ($11). And if you want an abbreviated version of a charcuterie board, get the house-cured olives — Castelvetranos, Coquillos (black and plummy like Nicoise), Greek Frescatranos and Kalamatas — with cubes of rich, fatty soppressata and diminutive orbs of creamy mozzarella ($10).

There’s a beef hot dog too, a long skinny one with plenty of snap and flavor made by Fripper’s — a specialty meats company out of Atlanta ($9). A station near the back of the room is where you walk that dog for a little doctoring with ketchup, mustard, relish or sauerkraut.

It’s been a bit expensive, this little sojourn, but what isn’t in these inflationary times? Next go-round, I would probably stick to one or two snacks, not five, which becomes a meal. But what a fun way to kill an afternoon!

Dom and his wife Holly (The VG is actually her baby) are also bringing in food trucks (3rd Floor Smoke was there last Friday), and I’m told many people order takeout from Hush and eat it at VG. Lots of options here. Figure out what works for you because I’m pretty sure that, like me, you’re going to love this place.

14202 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-597-6526,

For more than 50 years, PHOENIX magazine's experienced writers, editors, and designers have captured all sides of the Valley with award-winning and insightful writing, and groundbreaking report and design. Our expository features, narratives, profiles, and investigative features keep our 385,000 readers in touch with the Valley's latest trends, events, personalities and places.