Espresso bar and “upscale”/offbeat convenience store Wilko, located directly across from the University of Arizona’s main gate at the intersection of Park and University, re-opened last week. It had been closed for renovations since mid-summer, and when it failed to re-open in August and again, following the posting of new signs, in October, it became unclear whether or not it was still in business. Perhaps the plans merely got “bigger”; Wilko is almost entirely new. Only the two refrigerator cases, prominent stained-glass clock, and espresso bar remain from last Spring; a dining area and open kitchen have been added to the restaurant’s north end, and the furnishings have been upgraded with track lighting, mellow and slightly asymmetric pendant lamps, and much honey-colored hardwood and brushed metal.
No longer just a place for refrigerated to-go food and espresso, Wilko is now a full-service restaurant and wine bar, almost a “bistro” but a bit more formal. A small but well-thought wine list–offering something for all moods and tastes–anchors the menu; this is rounded out by five microbrew beers. As a civilized touch not seen often enough, olives, eight cheeses, nuts, and salumi are offered, for $3-$5 per portion, for those who just wish to drink.
Three soups, four sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, and something called a “Sonoran bratwurst” are available for those seeking more substantial fare. On my first visit, on Wilko‘s (understandably) chaotic opening day, I had the curried chicken salad sandwich ($8). Served on a substantial, crusty piece of toast, it had the right balance between bread, meat, and greens (arugula, in this case), but the salad could have used a bit more curry. Hot, freshly-made french fries, seasoned with thyme, salt, and pepper, were a nice touch.
On the second visit I was able to have what drew me in on the first night but wasn’t available: posole ($5/cup, $8/bowl). Wilko‘s posole is poultry based, with a lot of tomato in the broth, and seasoned primarily with cilantro. It’s a bit low on posole–in my bowl there were only perhaps six hominy kernels–but very substantial nonetheless. Quite different than the usual, it could almost be said to be a chicken stew with tomato and hominy. Whatever one calls it, it was delicious.
Aside from the usual new-restaurant inefficiencies, the only way in which Wilko seemed lacking was in not having any house wines in the $3-4 range. At $5.50 per glass, Aveleda vinho verde and Valdevieso merlot are the lowest-price wine on the menu, putting Wilko in the “date night” price range if one wants to have more than a single glass. Perhaps this is deliberate, to keep the rowdies away. So far the crowd has been a rather mellow mix, roughly half U of A students and half from elsewhere in the area; the restaurant joins Vila Thai, Saigon Pho, and Sultan Palace in adding a (much needed) touch of class to fast food and bar-dominated University Boulevard.
It’s certainly a step up from the old Wilko, but the elimination of grab-and-go food from Yoshimatsu and Time Market that used to make for convenient lab lunches or suppers at the University is no improvement. Although still owned and run by the owners of Time Market, there’s no plan to start stocking hummus, tabbouleh, and stuffed grape leaves again, and the open-air refrigerator where takeaway food used to be kept is scheduled for removal next week. I was told, however, that Wilko will start offering its own takeout, probably including pre-made grab-and-go dishes. Check back here for a review of such offerings, as well as a full review of the restaurant in a few months, after they have time to start running smoothly.
For more information: Visit Wilko’s website or call (520)792-6684 during business hours.