Michael O'Dowd of Urban Vine: "I'm Trying to Be Normal, But It's Hard."
Michael O'Dowd Executive Chef/Owner Urban Vine www.urbanvinephx.com
If you've experienced chef Michael O'Dowd's food already it was probably in one of two different contexts. Either you dined at Kai, when the chef was heading up Arizona's only Forbes five star and AAA five diamond restaurant, or you dined at Renegade by MOD, the short-lived restaurant that closed last year.
Now he's a opened new restaurant, Urban Vine -- and it's not like what he's done in the past.
But that's not a bad thing. The restaurant, located in a historic home in the Coronado neighborhood that used to house the Coronado Café, is a blank slate for the chef and he's already putting his own stamp on the space. O'Dowd spent about a month gutting the building and refinishing it. He moved the bar, replaced nearly everything in the kitchen, and painted just about everything. He even brought artwork from his own home to put up on the walls.
For O'Dowd the 80-seat space means the opportunity to interact with his customers in a way he never could before. Come in and you might see him seating diners, running food, or, of course, working in the small but functional kitchen
"It's really like we're at home for me," he says.
The menu is concise but unique. There is a handful of set dishes that are available all day, but the real action happens in the evening when the chef serves up his Chef's Special menus. It changes daily, but dishes are divided into three categories (land, air, and sea) with two or three dishes in each.
Chicken sandwich from Urban Vine.
O'Dowd says he gets the ingredients himself every day at farmers markets and local stores so he can give diners truly fresh, seasonal food.
The set menu, which you can order from whenever the restaurant is open, is meant to be a series of small, fast plate so diners can enjoy them as a quick lunch or happy hour snack. It's tame, at least if you're familiar with what he was doing at Renegade by MOD, but the chef says that might not last long.
"I'm trying to be normal, but it's hard," O'Dowd says.
He says he'll spend the summer getting a feel for what the neighborhood wants, so he's ready to unleash everything he's got in the fall.
For O'Dowd, cooking is a personal endeavor during which a chef has the chance to interpret a memory or experience through food. The idea at Urban Vine will be to create food that captures the culture of the Coronado neighborhood in a similar way he did with Native American cuisine at Kai. The ultimate goal will be to open several restaurants in different neighborhoods, each of which will reflect the culture of its own locale.
"I'm not trying to convince you. I'm just trying to show you my beliefs on a plate," he says.
One song to describe Urban Vine: Sam & Dave, "Hold On I'm Comin'"
The dish on the menu that best showcases your culinary style: Probably the Pulled Pork Scented with Mole. Simple yet hard to do right accented with bold flavors.
What's your ultimate vision for the restaurant: To be connected to the local neighborhood while offering great food, excellent service and to be a hang out slash watering hole for people looking to enjoy great wines, local and global beers and unique elixirs.
The biggest lesson you've learned over the last year: Stay away from big talker partners with zero knowledge of food & beverage. Big talker Betty Crocker types.
Would you do anything differently if you had another chance? Nope...Life is about learning, growing and adapting to ones environment.
What drew you to this location: The neighborhood, the historical relevance and the unique cottage-like house situated on a busy, up-and-coming corridor.
What was the inspiration/s for the concept: Simply a local food & beverage hang out that anyone at any age can enjoy. Low key, fresh ingredients, friendly service, great wines, cocktails & beers. Welcome to my house.
One thing you want everyone to understand about the new restaurant: That we are not KAI and that we are not trying to be a five star, five diamond restaurant. Been there done that many times. A 5/5 venue will come and when it does you'll be sure that I will announce it as our push to be a 5/5. If you are looking for 5/5 quality ingredients yes we have it but you may not find a water bottle sitting in your car when you leave.
In your mind, how will it be similar and different from Renegade by MOD: It is already morphing into a whimsical place for food as it's in my DNA. It has elements of my lasts jaunts but again it's a new canvas, new location and a new beginning. I like to listen to the feedback then design around portions of the local voice.
What's the target demographic for Urban Vine: Local and surrounding valley patrons looking for a relaxed hang out that offers quality food & beverage. Artists, historians, museum staff, healthcare, hipsters, LBGT community, wine snobs, beer nuts, foodies, hood friends etc. etc. Our doors are open to everyone.
When it comes to the Chef Special's what sort of things can people expect: A range of products that are sourced fresh daily.
What's your favorite kind of cuisine to cook: It's all good. I like to cook anything from any culture because it is within the culture is where we find the people, flavors and ingredients that represent each geographic region.
What's your favorite kind of cuisine to eat: I love all food that is my problem...addiction.
Ten years ago I was...in a triple wide trailer office pod on the reservation building menus for Kai and Sheraton Wild Horse Pass resort while the resort was being finished. When someone fired up a burrito in the microwave the whole pod of computers would shut down...Good times!
One thing most people don't know about you: I love to race cars for adrenalin and fly fish for serenity. I'm a frustrated writer.
Your personal mantra or catch phrase: I don't really have any one phrase but I do like to live life to the fullest, laugh as much as possible, love more each day, and give as much as I can to my family and team as well as others in terms of what I know, have seen, or want to do. Brainstorming is a blast.
Your favorite local restaurant right now and why: That's a tough one but Binkley's, Petite Maison, and Christopher's are solid. All have a great vibe you can bank on.
Your favorite cookbook right now: Too busy to read now and don't really read cookbooks. I like learning about a chef's world meaning what they do for a hobby, how they think about food, what motivates them, etc. For me it is life that dictates my food, not books. It's the smell of the damp grass in the morning or the aroma of a wild jasmine plant. It is life's voice that I listen to and past experiences in life combined with memories as a child growing up.
The one cookbook you think everyone should read and why: White Heat, Marco Pierre White is a cool cat with a twisted good mind.
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