When Cork opened in Chandler in 2008, the concept was simple — fine dining, a small-plates menu, and a kick-ass wine list. (You could almost hear a collective cheer from food lovers in the Southeast Valley: "No more haulin' it to Scottsdale!") Three years later, the owners of Cork have a new restaurant in Chandler that, according to its website, promises to be "virtually everything" that Cork isn't.
BLD (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) was opened in March by Cork's Robert and Danielle Morris and executive chef Brian Peterson, all formerly of Lon's at the Hermosa in Paradise Valley. Located in The Shops at Pecos Ranch, a new-ish, upscale retail strip on the corner of Dobson and Germann roads, minutes away from the affluent subdivision Pecos Ranch, BLD has a particular guest in mind, but this "virtually everything" concept gets in its own way of single-focused success. From the atmosphere to the menu to the food, BLD's concept of being all things has produced a restaurant with an identity crisis.
Laura Hahnefeld cafe review
1920 West Germann Road, Chandler
Hours: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday; 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday; 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
Prosciutto salad: $9
Hot roast beef sandwich: $12
BLD meatloaf: $16
The restaurant's interior is upscale casual contemporary — bright, spacious, and bathed in an inviting palette of grays and creams with light wood and metal accents. An indoor-outdoor bar, with a polished concrete counter and a roll-up window, leads to a comfortable patio. The dining area features an abundance of booths, tables, and plastic-like chairs, which a server told me were made from recycled soda cans. (An environmentally conscious gesture, but one that's a bit brutal on the behind.) A closet-size glass enclosure sports wines and curing meats and sits kitty-corner from a white, wall-size art piece featuring cooking words playfully arranged in block type.
The atmosphere is pleasing, though the one intrusive flat-screen TV in the dining room and blackboards listing specials (visible to only a third of the restaurant) are confusing décor choices. At center stage is a high communal table, which, given the abundance of space in the restaurant, seems more a showpiece than a functional dining table. There's even a drive-thru (a drive-thru?) offering barista-made coffees, juices, and smoothies.
Upscale yet casual eatery, intimate neighborhood gathering place, or on-the-go coffee stop? Answer: all of the above. And then some.
Like the setting, the menus at BLD struggle to find an identity.
Each of the three — in addition to daily specials, side dish selections, and a build-your-own entrée section during dinner — offers a wide array of choices, mixing classic comfort foods with more upscale fare and even a few Southwestern selections. Breakfast items include fried chicken and bacon-studded waffles, crab cake Benedict, and green chile pork tostadas; lunch offers a prosciutto salad, grilled chicken and Brie sandwich, and an open-face meatloaf patty melt; and, at dinner, there's a seared ahi appetizer, along with entrées such as vegetable pasta primavera, a chef's burger, and beef tenderloin.
Unfortunately, the "B" in BLD did not get me off to a great start. The breakfast burrito, packed with braised short rib, scrambled eggs, French fries, avocado, roasted peppers, and pepper jack wrapped in a spinach tortilla was put together in a most peculiar way — meat in one half and everything else in the other. Deconstructing the burrito and mixing its ingredients on the plate proved the best way to tackle this dish. Even then, the short rib barely made itself known.
The saving grace of the open-face breakfast sandwich was the velvety, house-cured prosciutto, which I plucked from the top to savor on its own. The overseasoned focaccia bread very nearly stole the show from the pleasant taste of egg, Dijonaise, and fontina cheese. A decent cup of cappuccino washed it down.
While the eggs Benedict arrived cold and sans hollandaise (returning from the kitchen, it had been sauced, but, sadly, was even colder than before), the most disappointing breakfast dish was the fried chicken and bacon-studded waffles. One of the most expensive breakfast items on the menu ($13), it too arrived cold, amounting to little more than a boneless slab of bland chicken breast coated in a thin and equally tasteless breading alongside hardened waffle slices that tasted more store-bought than house-made.
Lunch mixed the strange with the satisfying, with a side of overseasoning. In the strange category, the green pork chile dip appetizer was too watery to be truly scoop-able. And the spinach tortilla it was served with was useless as a scoop. Once I figured out the dip was best approached with a fork, I found it thin and briny, not at all what I would expect from the classic Southwestern dish.
And my expectations of gooey, cheesy goodness on the grilled cheese of the day were dashed by warm chunks of mozzarella between barely toasted wheat bread. Still, it fared better than the fried chicken sandwich, which, unfortunately, featured breakfast's same tasteless breaded chunk of chicken — this time on a dry bun. Even the slices of sweet pickles on top couldn't save it.
Hits included the chef's burger, a rich and flavorful house-ground patty comprising filet mignon, short rib, and top sirloin, topped with Gruyère, spicy Russian sauce, and arugula, as well as two outstanding salads: the prosciutto and the smoked salmon Cobb. The former featured BLD's house-made prosciutto with sweet strawberries and melons, crunchy cashews, a deep-fried dollop of goat cheese, and a light poppy seed vinaigrette. The latter was a successful variation on the traditional Cobb — light yet filling, with smoked salmon, tomato, avocado, hard-boiled egg, bacon, and Ranch dressing.
Lunchtime sides, such as the homemade potato chips, onion rings, and hummus, were way too salty. The rich potato salad was packed with sizable chunks of earthy purple spuds.
At dinner, still wanting more of BLD's prosciutto, I inquired about the charcuterie plate, a dish I'd heard was outstanding. Oddly, it was no longer on the menu. The server told me it had been pulled due to "a kitchen thing" — curious given its mention on BLD's website and that showcase of cured meat. Also not available was the fish of the day. The restaurant had run out of it. By 7:45. On a Friday night.
My apple and Brie bruschetta appetizer special certainly was tasty, but the diced apples swimming in a syrup-y sauce made the dish too sweet as an appetizer, seemingly better suited as a breakfast or dessert selection. The crab cakes with red pepper aioli appeared not as cakes but as a single, wet, over-salted mound hidden under a garden of arugula — not pleasing to look at and less pleasing to taste.
Vibrant, lively, freshly prepared — this is what diners expect from $15 or $16 entrées, but when my meatloaf, braised short rib pasta, and pan-roasted Arctic char arrived to the table, the food looked lifeless, shrinking into itself on searing-hot plates.
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The meatloaf was dry, salty, and covered in a skin of molten mozzarella cheese. At least the side of Boursin mashed potatoes was soft and buttery. The short rib tried to command attention in the pesto pasta but was overshadowed by a dull creamy pesto sauce that lacked any hint of basil. And the Arctic char, described by my server as a "light dish," was anything but, a too-large slice of the trendy fish resting atop thick linguiça sausage slices and chunks of overcooked roasted potatoes in a heavy — and heavily salted — sauce.
Dessert ended my meal on a high note. If pastry chef Danielle Morris is influential in the dessert department of her newest venture, it shows in the house-made rocky road bread pudding — a mouthwatering sweet treat of moist bread filled with marshmallows and chunks of gooey chocolate, drizzled in toffee sauce, and topped with vanilla ice cream from Crave.
I wish I could say BLD delivered on its ambitious concept, but, really, how can anyone deliver everything?
Like my server said, "It's a kitchen thing."