Eats & Drinks
Disclosure: I am not a food writer. I only like to eat.
So, when my favorite dining companion and I had the fortunate opportunity to experience Chef Stephen Jones’ new menu at Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails this weekend it came as a pretty big surprise when I started writing my thoughts on the wonderful evening.
While “wonderful”may seem too general a characterization for the food readers (and writers) out there, the statement wouldn’t stand up if the food, service and ambiance didn’t each deliver to their fullest potential. Wonderment doesn’t come if the food is just OK, or if the service is inefficient, or worse, indifferent.
Mind you, this visit was not wrapped in incognito subterfuge. There were no wigs worn to disguise our appearance. They knew we were coming.
We know many people who own or work in restaurants in downtown Phoenix. Knowing the proprietor or the chef doesn’t guarantee a good experience. We’ve had plenty of awkward moments when we visit a place we love, only to have the too-casual service fall short…resulting in a feeling resembling a slightly broken heart. Sigh. Our fondness of the establishment or the people behind it bar us from expressing this “fail” out loud. Everyone has a bad night.
On this evening at Blue Hound, we cruised through the menu, the Buffalo Trace Old Fashioned limbering up our taste buds while we perused.
The new menu is described as “spring” and “simple.” One of those adjectives is more honest than the other, but more on that later.
[We purposely skipped most of the snacks section of the menu. We are *ahem* well-acquainted with these offerings. (The corner booth in the lounge has many tales to tell.) We also skipped the flat bread. This isn’t why we go to Blue Hound. There are too many stellar pizza and bread options in this town.]
The Farm cheese plate delighted (featuring a white French cheese whose name I must chase down, as I was immediately taken by its sophisticated swiss-like flavor). The asparagus salad was a chilled refresher, and the roasted cauliflower, a favorite veggie, made me wish I had ordered it a couple months ago, as it seemed a bit out of place in this spring tableau.
Three dishes became instant favorites. First, the gazpacho. Simply the best I’ve ever tasted. The chilled soup is so perfectly suited to Phoenix’s climate, it makes you wonder why every restaurant doesn’t offer it, although, they would be challenged to match this flavor.
The Crow’s Dairy Goats Milk Yelllow Corn Cake was nothing short of fantastic. Not a cornbread, this is truly a moist cake. Delicious.
Then came the arrival of the Jerk Cured Scottish Salmon. You know those dishes that seem to make time stand still? With that first bite, the world fades to the background and your soul is exposed. Served with shaved celery, apple and fennel salad, with a potato puree, this dish is the taste of spring.
Given that, the Bay Scallop Ceviche had a tough act to follow. While the tangerine, fennel, heart of palm and dried lime delivered on the ceviche preparation, not to mention the dish was probably the most aesthetically pleasing of the night, the sweet/spicy tang of the drizzled sauce (interestingly not listed on the menu but described by our waiter) added a twist that didn’t quite work for my ceviche-loving taste buds.
The lamb meatballs were delicious. All you gyro lovers out there, this is your mecca. The perfectly cooked meatballs were matched with a tangy red onion yogurt and accompanied by dandelion greens.
The bone-in pork belly, a far cry from its cured bacon cousin, melts in your mouth upon arrival. The richness is cut here by a “peanut ghost chile gremolata.” The mix of textures was purposeful but the nuts took me away from the melting action. My companion however loved the contrast, as I suspect most would.
On to desserts (yes, we were there a while…don’t judge). The Carmelized Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, is a welcome carry-over from the old menu. If you haven’t yet experienced this caramelized decadence with medjool date ice cream, you’re missing out.
But we had to try a whimsical addition: the Willy Wonka. Imagine a swirl of pulled chocolate accompanied by truffles, beet “soil” and avocado ice cream. Preferring my avocados in a good guacamole, my favorite ingredient happened to be pop rocks. Yep, those fun pops you enjoyed as a kid mix and mingle with this psychedelic dessert that leaves you wondering if a crew of Oompa Loompas are working in the kitchen.
A take on the so-called simplicity of this spring menu.
This is a thinking-man’s menu. Oftentimes, you go to a restaurant to order a taste you’re looking for. This menu delivers tastes you didn’t know existed.
It made me think about the man behind the journey. Artists share something of themselves in unexpected ways, and Chef Stephen Jones exposes his thought process in his approach to this menu.
Like that proverbial hound, Chef Stephen guides you on a culinary path that only he has sniffed out. He provides little entry points along the way for those who love a good salmon or lamb, but then leads you to his discovered destination.
I don’t typically think about a menu following a dinner as much as I have following our evening at Blue Hound. Simple? Try cerebral.
Photo of Stephen Jones courtesy of J. Lauren PR & Marketing.
Downtown Phoenix restaurants are a point of pride, and two chef-owners in particular have not only helped redefine their respective culinary corners but have earned international recognition as masters of their craft.
Read on for a Q&A with these Historic Heritage Square neighbors Chris Bianco, of Pizzeria Bianco, and Nobuo Fukuda, of Nobuo at Teeter House, originally published in the Aug/Sept 2011 edition of DPJ Magazine.
This Sunday, they will be joined by Chef Christopher Gross in Eight’s Check, Please! Arizona Festival’s James Beard Award winners panel moderated by “Check, Please! Arizona” host Robert McGrath. (See festival details here.)
James Beard Award Winner Chris Bianco is known the world over for his creations. Pizzeria Bianco is critically, and tastefully, the country’s best pizza. And, he’s been a part of Phoenix for some time now, growing and changing in concert with his environment. Bianco is passionate about food, Downtown and the building that houses his baby, Pizzeria Bianco, and he’s flexible and ready for what the future may hold.
DPJ: When you decided on this building for Pizzeria Bianco, was it because of the demographic of the area?
CB: It wasn’t as much the demographic as the uniqueness. The synergy. The juxtaposition of something of this genre of the late 1920s, utilitarian machine shop that we could build and use with an intention that was uncompromising of the space. It wasn’t me coming and spray painting it black. This was something that demands to be celebrated. It was about bringing something back in a way but not necessarily denying the history of the journey itself.
DPJ: Were you nervous about the decision to plant yourself in Downtown Phoenix, when at the time, it wasn’t nearly as alive as it is now?
CB: Not really. I always use the analysis of four friends. Ask four friends if they would and you kind of build your demographic around that. It’s maybe a small study. You can’t essentially serve the world. If you can serve a part of it and serve them well with clear intention and the opportunity to build a relationship. I have a relationship with my clientele. I have a relationship with this building. I have a relationship with my staff. I have a relationship with my farmers and artisans. It’s very relationship built. These spaces represent something really specific in the human experience.
DPJ: What does it mean for you to be housed in a historic building?
CB: These buildings are really special, so I love being in here. I love the experience. We had to be as good as the space, essentially. You want it to be a place where…all the stars align. For us, it’s been a wonderful journey but a journey that’s ongoing. There’s an accountability. We’re continuing to remodel, internally and in some ways externally, we’re continuing to be relevant.
DPJ: What brought you Downtown?
CB: I wasn’t really driven to Downtown, as much as I was driven to the opportunity to help, and be maybe a raindrop and not the flood, you know what I’m saying? You don’t open up lofts, or grocery stores and then build lofts. You build lofts and you let people live there and it dictates a need for a barber shop, a flower shop or a grocery. Part of what we were trying to do was this size. What I was trying to achieve, was not feed 3,000 people a day.
DPJ: What do you think of how Phoenix has evolved over the years?
CB: It’s evolved nicely. We try to support…Nobuo actually having a chef of his caliber is unbelievable, but also Matt’s Big Breakfast. There’s a lot of things Downtown from a culinary point, and just as a point as a city, we’re getting there. When we say we’re not there yet, it shouldn’t be a negative. It should be a positive. Look at the opportunity. There’s a wonderful opportunity. We’ve continued to be a part of the growth itself.
Nobuo Fukuda may be the new kid in town, but he’s not new to the Valley’s culinary scene. He is a James Beard Award winner and is ever evolving, still tinkering with presentation and preparation, on a micro scale (in his kitchen) to a global scale (following the nuclear disaster in Japan).
DPJ: How is your Phoenix location different from Sea Saw in Scottsdale?
NF: The energy level is totally different. The place in Scottsdale, the dining room is our kitchen. We have a grill and we make everything on counters. When you’re in the restaurant we have a U-shaped counter. Anybody can sit down and watch me cook. [It’s a] totally different kind of atmosphere. Here we started out a little more casual, street-type food. Small bites. Here, it’s more of a casual, sit-down dining.
DPJ: Has the downtown area accepted your casual dining idea? Do you have regulars?
NF: We do have a few regulars who are coming here or have business here. And they’ll keep coming back for us, which is very, very nice. As more people start to live in downtown, a lot of people [including] my employees, have moved downtown. We have a very good feel for the future in Downtown Phoenix. Nice energy.
DPJ: Have you run into any challenges at Teeter House?
NF: We’re still trying to adjust the kitchen size. It’s challenging. And when it’s crazy busy, we don’t have enough space. It’s a small space to work with. We’re going to see what we can do, so we’re still working every moment. Our food is not going to be different but the style of how we serve, we still like a tasting, paired wines, but we have to be careful how we do it.
DPJ: How have you had to adjust?
NF: My vision will be a lot of organic, local, and high-end Japanese fish. It’s very difficult for me to get Japanese fish right now because of the nuclear disaster. Eventually we’ll be able to do it again, [with] interesting Japanese fish and an interesting local vegetable. It’s a mix of different ingredients, one way with the casual style and the other will be more high end. We do get Japanese fish from southern Japan, which is not affected by the radiation. It’s not easy, but still those fish are available. The northern Japanese fish is not available. We do a lot of local vegetable and we use a fish as an accent. But main character is a garden vegetable. That’s what I’ve been doing for a little bit.
DPJ: What do you think about your new space?
NF: The building, compared to other restaurants in Scottsdale, they’re just buildings, minimum designs. Just buildings. We were going to move across the street, but there was a brand new designer building, but that was not my intention. I feel very moved to the old buildings because they have history and give us more ambiance and warmness. It makes me more special.
Lisa Nicita and Justin Lee contributed to this article.
Photography by Jack London.
The most popular locally produced TV show on Eight, Arizona PBS is taking its show on the road, and bringing dozens of restaurants and James Beard Award winners along for the ride.
The event will feature cooking demonstrations, panel discussions, wine & craft beer sessions, and the chance to audition for a spot on Check, Please! Arizona. Producers are seeking “congenial fans who are passionate about their favorite local restaurant, articulate about food and honest about their dining-out experiences.” Cameras will be present to tape the auditions.
A highlight of the schedule is a panel discussion led by Check, Please! Arizona host and James Beard Award winner, Robert McGrath. McGrath will be joined by fellow James Beard Award winners Christopher Gross, Nobuo Fukuda and Chris Bianco. The discussion will be about Phoenix emerging as a culinary destination, each chef’s unique culinary journey and the experience of receiving the James Beard honor.
Tickets please! DPJ readers: get a $10 discount off your tickets by entering the promo code “Check.”
THE FEST FACTS
Eight’s Check, Please! Arizona Festival takes over CityScape for a live food event exploring its show-inspired lineup of independently owned, Arizona restaurants. From five-star dining establishments to tucked away cafes, the event showcases Eight’s Check, Please! Arizona favorites.
CityScape, 1 E. Washington St.
Get light rail/parking info
Sunday, April 28, 2013, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
America’s Taco Shop
Amuse Bouche Gourmet Bistro & Catering
Cornish Pasty Co.
Coup Des Tartes
Four Peaks Brewery
Frasher’s Steakhouse & Lounge
Haus Murphy’s German Restaurant
Hob Nobs Café & Spirits
LON’s at the Hermosa
MacAlpine’s Soda Fountain
Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Café
Phoenix City Grille
Pittsburgh Willy’s Gourmet Hot Dogs
Shugrue’s Hillside Grill
Thee Pitts Again
SAMPLING OF RESTAURANT MENUS
America’s Taco Shop. Grilled meat tacos
Durant’s. Brioche crostini & horseradish cream; roast sirloin and basil pesto; chocolate indulgence cake
Amuse Bouche Bistro. Meatloaf sliders w/tomato glaze; smoked bacon & onion aioli; chocolate éclair cake
Betty’s Nosh. Mushroom soup; stuffed mushrooms
Eddie’s House. Israeli Fattoush couscous
Frasher’s. BBQ pulled pork; gooey butter cake
Haus Murphy’s. Beefy Bratwurst w/sauerkraut
Hob Nobs Cafe & Spirits. Gourmet pizza
MacAlpine’s Soda Fountain. Velvet Elvis Ice Cream soda; pulled pork sandwiches & potato salad
Pittsburgh Willy’s. 2 of their gourmet hot dogs: Freddie G. and Wing Ding Willy
Shugrue’s. Seafood gumbo
Thee Pitts “Again.” Pulled pork
Chow Bella Stage
Noon. John Cavanagh of Tuck Shop – The Art of the Perfect Mixer
1pm. Andy Ingram of Four Peaks Brewery – Craft Beer Seminar
2pm. JAMES BEARD AWARD WINNERS DISCUSSION PANEL
Four of Arizona’s James Beard Award Winning chefs will participate in a panel discussion about Phoenix as a culinary destination, each chef’s unique culinary journey and what the James Beard honor has meant to them.
- Chef Robert McGrath. Check, Please! Arizona show host will lead this panel. Executive Chef of Market Street Kitchen, McGrath was awarded Best Chef Southwest in 2001.
- Chef Christopher Gross. Gross, of Christopher’s & Crush Lounge, was awarded Best Chef Southwest in 1995. Gross will host an exclusive wine seminar for VIP guests.
- Chef Nobuo Fukuda. Recently acclaimed for Nobuo at Teeter House, Fukuda won Best Chef Southwest in 2007. Chef Fukuda will serve exclusive VIP samples.
- Chef Chris Bianco. Best known for his world-famous pizza at Pizzeria Bianco, earned Best Chef Southwest in 2003.
3pm. Exclusive Wine Seminar with Mark Tarbell, Tarbell’s
SubZero/Wolf Chef Demonstration Stage
Noon. James Porter – Petite Maison
1:30pm. Eddie Matney – Eddie’s House
3pm. Jeremy Pacheco – LON’S at the Hermosa
1pm. Private Wine Seminar with Christopher Gross
Select tastes by Chef Nobuo Fukuda
Safeway Grill Master Stage
11:45am: Brett Hoffman, Haus Murphy’s German Restaurant
12:30pm: Robert McGrath, Host of Check, Please! Arizona and Executive Chef, Market Street Kitchen
2:45pm: George Frasher, Frasher’s Steakhouse & Lounge
‘Check Please! Arizona’ Audition Stage
12pm- 4pm Opportunity for guests to try out as a ‘people’s critic’ for the popular Channel 8 TV sho
Purchase tickets at www.azpbs.org/checkplease
- General admission is $60. Tickets include food, wine and beer sampling.
- VIP tickets are $100. VIP ticketholders will enjoy exclusive wine tastings; 30-minute early entry (10:30am) to the festival (before general admission); and VIP Valet Parking.
- DPJ readers: get a $10 discount! Enter the promo code “Check” when buying tickets.
DPJ’s Wire series delivers news and information straight from the source without translation.
SEVENTH URBAN WINE WALK IS SATURDAY, APRIL 20
Spring in Downtown Phoenix means two things: 1) The Diamondbacks begin their pursuit of an NL West championship and 2) The return of Urban Wine Walk, Downtown’s seasonal celebration of the grape.
Wine enthusiasts from all over the Valley—with palates ranging from rookie to refined—will pour into the streets April 20 from 1-6 p.m. to sample wine and snacks from 18 restaurants located in close proximity to METRO Light Rail as Urban Wine Walk makes its seventh appearance in Downtown Phoenix and the Central Corridor
Whether you’re passionate about food and wine or just looking for a good time, Wine Walk encourages urban adventurists to safely park-and-ride while soaking up some sunshine and our vibrant central city scene. With $4 all-day light rail pass in hand, Wine Walkers can pick a starting point and let their stomachs lead them from restaurant to restaurant to taste a wide variety of wines. Urban Wine Walk restaurants are strategically clustered to allow Walkers to maximize their experiences at each stop along light rail.
Participating restaurants will pour three featured wines from 1 to 6 p.m. but Wine Walkers will need to get to Tom’s Tavern & 1929 Grill early to get a gift. Commemorative Urban Wine Walk glasses will be handed out to the first 300 folks who purchase a wine sample at Tom’s, beginning at 1 p.m.
Participation is FREE and wine samples cost between $2 and $3.
In addition to Tom’s Tavern, featured Urban Wine Walk restaurants include 1130 The Restaurant, Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails, Bonjour Vietnam, Brick Pizzeria, Cheuvront, District American Kitchen, FEZ, Hula’s Modern Tiki, ICON, Kincaid’s, LUSTRE, Networks, Province, The Rose & Crown, Steve’s Greenhouse Grill, The Arrogant Butcher, The Duce and The Strand Urban Italian.
For all things Urban Wine Walk, including maps and menus, visit downtownphoenix.com/winewalk
At last! Today was the day we got official word on the mysterious goings-on at the old Beef Eaters building at 3rd Ave. and Camelback Road.
Rumors have abounded and well over 100 people, including families from the neighborhood, business people, bankers, builders and just plain folks, gathered at 10 a.m. this morning to celebrate the plans to revitalize the site. The excitement was palpable on everyone’s smiling faces.
From 1961 through 2006, Beef Eaters was a central gathering place for Phoenicians to share meals, celebrate special events, and craft the business deals that shaped our Valley. When owner Jay Newton died in 2006, the restaurant shut its doors and the building sat empty. Now adaptive reuse developers Venue Projects have stepped up with a remarkable vision to bring the site back to life.
Central Phoenix-based Venue Projects principle Lorenzo Perez told the crowd of Venue’s dedication to finding and adapting buildings with history, a story to tell, and a strong sense of place. Jon Kitchell, another principle with Venue added, “We’re salvage hounds and love finding materials worthy of putting back into place, like black leather booths and the Queen Creek adobe bricks of this place.”
Working with John Douglas Architects, they’ll be uncovering the bones of the building and incorporating the treasures they discover back into the new uses for the site.
“Jay Newton’s Beef Eaters legacy will continue with a new interpretation of his iconic gathering place,” said Kitchell. To honor the past, the new complex will be called The Newton.
The Newton is co-owned by Venue Projects and two of the three businesses that will comprise the site. Co-owners include the nationally renowned, independent, community-based bookstore, Changing Hands, which will open its second Valley location at the site; and Justin and Michelle Beckett, current owners of Beckett’s Table, who will open a new neighborhood restaurant concept at The Newton. The third occupant will be The Lively Hood, a co-working space for creative professionals. Construction has begun and the goal is to reopen on November 1.
These three businesses will continue Jay Newton’s Beef Eaters legacy. Located just across the street from the light rail station, the bookstore, restaurant and co-working space will be active community gathering spaces that energize the neighborhood and encourage people to work together.
Shannon Scutari of Sustainable Communities Collaborative summed up the thrill experienced by everyone gathered when she referenced an old African proverb. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others. This place,” said Scutari, “is going to be about going it with others.”