When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out — and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Location: 4385 East Indian School Road
Open: Less than a week
Eats: Mostly pizza and rotisserie
When you talk about the food scene in metro Phoenix, sooner or later the name Sam Fox will find its way into the conversation.
Fox is Arizona's James Beard-nominated restaurant mogul, and the brains behind Fox Restaurant Concepts, the Scottsdale-based group with a growing empire that includes 16 unique concepts and more than 50 restaurants, spanning across at least eight states.
It's difficult to write about a Fox restaurant without regurgitating the stats, and without mentioning the ubiquity and popularity of Fox restaurants like Zinburger, Culinary Dropout, The Arrogant Butcher, and Flower Child.
Even harder, though, is to go to a new Fox restaurant and not bring a certain set of expectations to the table. The name carries a lot of weight in this town. More than likely, you know that at a Fox-brand restaurant, you will be seated in a very pretty room. The allure of the menu will probably not be rooted in novelty or excitement or personal expression, but it will be carefully calibrated to please as many folks gathered around the table as possible.
The prices will be higher than you might normally pay for, say, a half-rotisserie chicken. But you don't really go to a Fox restaurant for the value. You probably go for the same reasons that fast food and chain restaurants are so deeply comforting — you know more or less exactly what to expect. At a Fox restaurant, that means a certain level of service, and classic dishes dressed-up with culinary panache.
Doughbird, which opened this week at the Arcadia Gateway plaza, is the first new Fox concept to open in the Valley since Flower Child debuted in 2014. The concept — pizza and rotisserie — might strike you as a bit unwieldy, or maybe even a little weird.
The pairing makes sense if you come to understand Doughbird as a sort of a big tent of a restaurant. The menu, credited to Sam Fox and longtime FRC chef Clint Woods, reflects a something-for-everyone philosophy, so that everyone from your vegetarian sister to your steak-loving dad to your pizza-obsessed friend will probably be appeased. Doughbird, in other words, is a crowd-pleaser. It also feels slightly more homespun than other Fox favorites, like (for instance) Culinary Dropout. Once take-out service kicks in next month (the restaurant's website says to-go service starts on April 10), the restaurant should become even more appealing to busy families in the area.
There are about a dozen wood-fired pizza options; rotisserie that includes free-range chicken and prime rib; salads and sandwiches; classic starters like wings and hummus; and a healthy selection of Southern-tinged comfort food sides like buttered corn and macaroni and cheese. There is also a daily roasted fish option.
The only thing that could possibly amplify the restaurant's popular appeal even more would be to add a curated menu of sushi, or maybe tacos.
The 200-seat restaurant is open, bright, and crisp, with natural wood accents and a gorgeous, Old World-inspired tile floor. Floor-to-ceiling windows offer views of Camelback Mountain, along with the nonstop hustle of Arcadia traffic. There's also patio seating that wraps around part of the building.
The best seat in the house might be at the bar, where you can watch chef Chris Barch (formerly of The Henry) and the kitchen crew in action from the restaurant's wrap-around wooden bar. Servers wear preppy navy blue, and zip briskly across the dining room — be careful where you step. It's a loud room, but the acoustics are decent enough so that you can hold a conversation.
Service on the restaurant's opening night was attentive, friendly, and relaxed, no small feat for any restaurant on opening night.
The house stromboli already seems to be emerging as the essential house starter. At $12, its price starts to veer into entree territory. Odds are, you won't be thinking about value once it lands on the table, though. It's an extravagantly cheesy, gorgeously crackly loaf, embellished with wispy, crunchy shreds of cheese, and erupting with a molten-hot blend of six Italian cheeses. There's no meat or vegetables to distract you from the cheese. It's a simple, well-designed dish, as timeless in flavor and appeal as hot melted butter.
My server also recommended the house-made hummus, another well-crafted starter accented with spices, fresh herbs, and tomatoes, and a fine swirl of good-quality olive oil. It's very creamy and fresh, and comes with a small hearth loaf, presented in a paper wrapper to preserve its warmth.
The most popular rotisserie option is an order of the half- or whole chicken. The standard order comes with your choice of side and one marinade sauce.
The marinade sauces represent one of the more interesting things happening at Doughbird. There are currently nine different sauces to pick from, including selections like Jamaican jerk marmalade, cucumber feta yogurt, and chipotle barbecue. The sauce you pick can change the whole profile of your meal. If you don't want to settle for just one sauce, you can order extra at $1 a pop.
A half-chicken with a side of macaroni and cheese, plus the house jalapeño pesto sauce, turned out to be a strong combo on a recent night.
Roasted chicken is not exactly a remarkable or exciting meal, but it has a homey, enduring appeal — and it's a good test of any chef's mettle. The rotisserie chicken here is slow-cooked, simply seasoned, and neatly carved out. More than its flavor or smoke, it's the bird's texture — its fresh, plump juiciness — that really stands out.
The chicken, already good, is even better with a side of the jalapeño pesto marinade. It contains all the fresh, herbal appeal of pesto, its flavors enlarged by the measured addition of jalapeño. And the mac and cheese is very good, too. It's creamy and extra-buttery, although it won't probably become the most memorable part of any meal at Doughbird.
Pizzas are cooked in the restaurant's enormous wood-burning oven, the centerpiece of the restaurant's open kitchen, and feature Bianco DiNapoli organic tomato and Central Milling organic flour. The pies are more creative than traditional, with options like Asian Chicken, Bacon & Truffled Eggs, and Crispy Pastrami.
I ordered the crispy pastrami, a white pizza that features a crust rubbed with rye salt, to help evoke the flavors of a classic pastrami sandwich. It's a clever and inventive pizza, a salty-rich fusion of flavors and texture that revolves around long strips of crisped-up pastrami. It's topped with wispy, oven-roasted leaves of purple kale, which are not intrusive at all, but add a nice pronounced crunch to every slice. A dash of aromatic pickled mustard seeds meld beautifully with the pastrami and the pie's garlicky base of aged Gruyere. The crust is wonderfully chewy, too.
Leftover slices hold up well in the next-day reheat test, too. Fair warning, though, the pizza leans to the greasy side of the pizza spectrum; a paper napkin turns into a transparent sheet in seconds.
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SHOW ME HOW
There is a dessert menu, and if you're like me, you will inevitably end up ordering anything that includes chocolate, or perhaps an Elvis reference.
Behold, then, the Fat Elvis, one of the signature desserts at Doughbird. It was the most clunky dish of the night, unfortunately, a cloyingly sweet and rich peanut butter and chocolate parfait served with banana slices. It's topped with whipped cream, and a couple of bacon sandies. The cookies, brittle and dull, held little evidence of the promised bacon.
Still, though, with its menu of very polished and popular, tried-and-true classic dishes, it's hard to fathom that Doughbird will be anything but another Fox hit.