Stephen Eldridge of Pink Pony: "I Think We're Moving in the Right Direction"
You can't talk about dining in Old Town Scottsdale without mentioning the Pink Pony. After all, the steak house has been a part of the restaurant scene since for more than 60 years.
You can imagine that means there's a lot of history there, history that for the most part revolves around the restaurant's role as a gathering place during spring training. Over the years the restaurant has served a star-studded laundry list of baseball players. And their fans.
Pink Pony's burger features two 5 oz. patties.
The point is that with all that history, you can understand why people were doubtful to learn the Pink Pony had been sold and would be made-over and re-opened as, well, not a steakhouse. The "new" Pink Pony debuted as a sort of gastropub in early 2014. The response was less than stellar.
Now there's a new management team in place; in the kitchen that means new executive chef Stephen K. Eldridge. Most recently he was executive chef at Gertrude's at the Desert Botanical Gardens.
Since leaving that restaurant earlier this year, Eldridge has been keeping busy. In addition to having a 15-week old baby, he worked for some time as culinary director for Doug Robson's Gallo Blanco and Otro Café. It "wasn't a match made in heaven," Eldridge says so he left and took some time off before landing at the Pony.
Though he just started the new gig at the beginning of the month, Eldridge has already made significant changes to the menu. The biggest of which is the re-introduction of some chophouse fare. Large cuts of meat have returned to Pink Pony, though with an updated twist -- think, a Niman Ranch New York strip, dry aged bison bone-in chop, and American Wagyu skirt steak.
"I opened up with what I would consider safe," Eldridge says of the menu.
But he'll be adding more soon. On November 11 the restaurant will launch a new lunch menu and Eldridge says he plans to expand the happy hour menu as well.
"We're still trying to figure out our identity," the chef says.
Part of that process also means figuring out how to make use of the restaurant's well-appointed kitchen. The last menu used the restaurant's impressive wood fried oven for little more than making pizzas. Eldridge sees endless possibilities including using the oven for bar snacks like flavored popcorns and roasted olives.
"I think we're moving in the right direction," he says.
The new bar at the Pink Pony.
Five words to describe the old Pink Pony: "Classic"...uh, I would say, "1982." I would say it was the definition of the old Old Town and would have to say, "baseball." It's nostalgic.
Five words to describe the new Pink Pony: "New" is one. I would say we're doing "good American food" and "good for you food." We're "different." We're than we were 60 years ago. We're different than we were in 2011. We're different than we were in March and I think - I hope - that we are defining ourselves.
Favorite dish on the new menu: My personal favorite dish I would have to say is the Beuller's Bone-In Pork Chop or the Smoked Fried Chicken with the tepary bean mash, the Oaxacan mole, and the pickled onion gremolatta. It's a lot of fun, it's different and it's good chicken. And also the burger. I like everything on the menu but the burger, the fried chicken, the pork chop are probably the three I could see developing into signatures over time.
Your favorite ingredient for fall: Kabocha squash. I like the good, richness of it. It's not overly sweet.
One trend that you're sick of: I think trends are a good thing. They challenge restaurants and I read what are the trends for next season and I think trends motivate and inspire and teach. I could say the whole kale thing, but I love kale. I love Brussels sprouts, all those trendy vegetables. I think to each his own when it comes to food and food trends.
One local chef that you admire and why: Oh geeze, there's a ton! I could say Justin [Beckett] for sticking to real, honest food; Cullen [Campbell] for his finesses in the way he cooks; and Gio [Osso] for taking Italian and making it so beautiful and great. Greg Reynolds for sticking to his guns and putting out beautiful food for catering events and galas. I admire so many of them and there's so many great chefs.
Who would you say is your biggest mentor in the kitchen? I learned a ton working for the guys that I worked for in Chicago. I worked for Michael Kornick, like Stephen Jones did, but I never really spent a lot of time with him myself - I was at his restaurant in the suburbs. But his chef de cuisine out there, David Connolly, and his chef de cuisine in the city, Todd Stein, during those days I learned a ton of stuff from them.
But Chris Pandell, learned a ton from him when I worked with him in Chicago. He was our corporate chef but he was brilliant.
Grouper with house bacon and bok choy.
What was one takeaway you got from your experience at Gertrude's? Work hard and give the guests what they want. I think going in I got some bad advice from that you have to have your hands on everything and that's just not possible. You have to trust in your staff and be confident that the team you build will put it out when you're not there. I think to be a better operator and a better chef you have to trust. I learned from my mistakes. I think differently here. I've grown tremendously in the last nine months.
The restaurant on the top of your list to visit right now or this year: I won't have a chance this year, but I haven't been to Girl and The Goat yet. I haven't been to Milk Bar; I would like to go there.
Most memorable meal to date: I want to say Momofuku was up there. But then, there are places in Chicago where I go and I get the best food. My friend and I were working on a concept, I came in for three days to help him, and there was this little tiny Cuban place and it had homemade ham and the best pork on a homemade baguette. It's those little moments. When you bite into a bahn mi like what's it's really supposed to be or a Cuban like it's really supposed to be.
But that one trip to New York when I had Babbo, Prune, and Momofuku in like, three days was great.
What is your favorite drink and your favorite place to get it? I'm an old man drink lover, so I like a good Manhattan with Maker's. Lux is probably my favorite place to have a Manhattan. I told my wife I loved her there over Manhattans...so I'm partial to that place. Or having a good beer on the patio with my wife.
How would you describe your style of cuisine? American cuisine. My personal belief when it comes to American food is our open border policy for all these hundreds of years have led to the influence of African food in the South, European food originally help kind define some of those original American classics. You look at the Japanese and Asian influences on the West Coast and in certain big cities the Latin American influences have helped define us. You'll see different flavors and things along there lines in my food. It's American food with influences from around the world.
Check out our past Chef and Tell interviews with: Stephen Jones -- Bootlegger Silvana Salcido Esparza -- Barrio Queen Matt Zdeb -- SumoMaya Felicia Ruiz -- Lola Tapas Aaron Pool -- Gadzooks Enchiladas and Soup Patrick Karvis -- TapHouse Kitchen Marisa Lown -- Radical Cupcake Brian Konefal -- Coppa Cafe Kelly Fletcher -- The Revival Bob Tam -- Bitter and Twisted BJ Hernandez -- Havana Patio Cafe Matt Taylor -- Gertrude's at the Desert Botanical Garden Jennifer Russo-Fitzgerald -- The Market by Jennifer's Jared Lupin -- Umami Michael O'Dowd -- Urban Vine Dennis Delamater -- The Post Doc Brown -- Doc Brown's Artisan Ice Cream Josh Bracher -- Second Story Liquor Bar Chris McKinley -- The Local Chris Mayo -- Central Bistro James Fox -- Bootleggers Jay and Christine Wisniewski -- Caffe Boa Joe Absolor - Clever Koi Jason Grossmiller - Arizona Distilling Company Chris Collins - Grassroots Kitchen and Tap Perry Rea - Queen Creek Olive Mill Adam Brown - Noca Steve Kraus - Press Coffee Roastery Jason Raducha and Claudio Urciuoli - Noble Bread Sasha Raj - 24 Carrots Nick LaRosa - Nook Joey Maggiore - Cuttlefish Country Velador - Super Chunk Sweets and Treats James Porter - Petite Maison Cullen Campbell - Crudo Mel Mecinas - Four Seasons Scottsdale at Troon North Meagan Micozzi - Scarletta Bakes Tyson Holzheimer and Joe Strelnik - Snooze, an A.M. Eatery Paul McCabe - T. Cook's at the Royal Palms Eugenia Theodosopoulos - Essence Bakery Cafe Eddie Hantas - Hummus Xpress Jay Bogsinke - St. Francis Dustin Christofolo - Quiessence Blaise and DJ Aki - The Sushi Room Sacha Levine - Rancho Pinot and FnB Andrew Nienke - Cafe Monarch Kevin Lentz - French Grocery Aurore de Beauduy - Vogue Bistro Justin Olsen - Bink's Midtown Marco, Jinette, and Edmundo Meraz - Republica Empanada Brian Peterson - Cork Brian Webb - Hey Joe! Filipino Street Food Lester Gonzalez - Cowboy Ciao Renetto-Mario Etsitty - Tertio German Sega - Roka Akor Marco Bianco - Pizzeria Bianco Brad and Kat Moore - Short Leash Hot Dogs and Sit...Stay
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