A successful restaurant is really all about food, service and setting—and thankfully, the folks at Wilko have a keen sense of what it takes to succeed in this highly competitive business. They are, after all, the team behind both The B Line and Time Market, two of this town's most innovative eateries.
Offerings at this Main Gate Square gastropub are both traditional and unexpected. Ingredients come from quality sources; the service seems sincere; and it's all wrapped up in a hip space.
The room is, in a word, beautiful—big and warm, with a golden glow. Large picture windows wrap around the corner, allowing for some great people-watching. A bar sits along one wall; a huge clock hangs above. Seating includes heavy wooden tables and chairs, as well as the option to sit and watch food being prepared in the open kitchen. Various lighting fixtures hang from the high industrial ceiling, the most striking being huge chandeliers that resemble gigantic box kites.
The menu features a full slate of artisan cheeses and charcuterie. The source of each item is noted; the cheeses are also listed by milk type and consistency.
The burrata ($10) was wonderfully fresh and mild. Served with a variety of salty olives; a small scoop of lightly dressed teardrop tomatoes and basil; some cornichons; and thin slices of French bread, this was a marvelous way to start a meal.
Another option from this side of the menu is the mixed pantry board ($18). The choices seem to be at the whim of the kitchen. Three chunks of cheese, two meats, some more of the tomato salad, cornichons and lots of bread are served on a thick, heavy cutting board. One combination included three types of goat cheese: Bermuda Triangle, from California; Midnight Moon, from Holland; and another California option, Broncha. The cheeses ranged from soft and creamy to dense and hard. The meats, sopressata and a salami, were sliced paper-thin. Unfortunately, the portions were small, or maybe the cutting board was just too big; either way, it was a lot of money to pay for the portion.
The rest of the menu is divided into categories: snacks, soup, salads, pizza and flatbreads, sandwiches, and "tasty misfits." While the offerings have traditional names, the preparations tend to be quite unique.
Take the Sonoran bratwurst ($10.50). Instead of the mundane items found on the ubiquitous hot dog, the dish included lightly spiced, locally made sausage; sweet and salty applewood bacon; tangy brown mustard; hot guindilla pepper relish; pinto beans; and, surprisingly, swirls of crème fraiche. Crème fraiche instead of mayo! Who knew?
The one-third-pound burger ($9; add a roasted poblano or cheese for $1), from Double Check Ranch, was served on an English muffin. It was cooked to taste—but grass-fed beef is never quite as juicy as corn-fed. Call it a personal choice.
The options for sides (that come with most dishes, including the burger and the Sonoran bratwurst) were herb fries, sour slaw and a green salad. The fries came out hot, crispy and fragrant with rosemary. The slaw was a nice balance between creaminess and vinegar. Both were well-prepared and worked well with the entrées.
From the "tasty misfit" section, there was the penne and red ($11), Wilko's take on pasta all'arrabiata. While the sauce here wasn't as hot as arrabiata sauce should be, the dish was quite good. The pasta was tender, and the sauce was rich with tomato and salty parmesan. A tasty piece of garlic bread was served alongside.
The PC tilapia ($14)—PC means potato-crusted—was a pleasant surprise. Encrusted with potato flakes, the fish was pan-seared to a golden crispy brown outside, while the inside was light and moist. The sautéed spinach that came with it was sprinkled with parmesan and prepared perfectly.
The dessert list was small, but these are the same folks who run The B Line, which has some of the best baked goods in town, so you know you're in for a treat. While the brownie and 'scream ($7.50) was the perfect ending to a meal—with a deep chocolate flavor balanced by rich vanilla ice cream—it was the salted caramel tart ($6) that won our hearts. A dark chocolate cookie crust was filled with salted caramel and topped with a chocolate ganache. Salted caramel and chocolate is a very popular combo these days, and Wilko's spin is not to be missed. (This is a specialty item, so it may not always be available.)
As of this writing, Wilko only serves wine and beer, but a full liquor license is in the works. There are six craft draft beers daily, and the wine list was compact and clever, with a nice mix of wines from smaller, less-known wineries.
Service was all smiles. A repurposed wine bottle filled with ice water arrived at the table, along with the menus, almost immediately. One quibble: The entrées arrived at the table before we'd finished our starters, but that's a kitchen issue.
We didn't get a chance to try the breakfast offerings ($7 to $9), which are also served every day.
Unique may be a bit of an exaggeration when describing Wilko, but there's no arguing that Wilko offers Tucson diners something that's well-executed and different.