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).
Restaurant: Ten Handcrafted American Fare and Spirits Location: 2501 E. Camelback Road Open: About two weeks Eats: American, Southern Price: $15 to $20 per person at lunch
"Ten" isn't exactly the most Google-friendly name for a dining spot, so until you consider that it's the middle three letters of chef Jeff Hostenske's last name, it doesn't make much sense. But aside from a strange, numeric name, the latest restaurant to try its luck at the Camelback Esplanade seems to have a few good things going for it.
Hostenske, a former corporate chef for Z'Tejas Southwestern Grill, has firsthand experience with Midwestern and Southern cuisine. That means that unlike other spots in town, he's not just jumping on the comfort food bandwagon, but rather using his experience to cook food that he knows. And you can taste it.
We stopped by the restaurant for a weekday lunch and found the lightly renovated space buzzing with diners. The updated look (Ten took over the space recently occupied by Fuego del Mar) includes exposed brick, Edison bulb lights, and artwork of city skylines and other generic metropolitan themes. All together the vibe is somewhere between a dark Irish pub and a sleek urban restaurant. Somehow, it works.
The lunch menu is limited but doesn't feel limiting, meaning there's probably enough variety to satisfy most diners: appetizers, salads, and a variety of sandwiches for fuller entrees. The dinner options are certainly more wide spread, and include heartier dishes such as pot roast, steak and fries, and pan roasted fish.
We started with an order of the shrimp and gritcakes ($9), one of four appetizers on the lunch menu. The starter was a perfect size for sharing and featured a pile of plump shrimp over a corn gritcake, which was something along the lines of a cornmeal pancake. The vinegary tomato sauce served over the shrimp and on the plate offered complex layers of flavor and just a little bit of heat. When sopped up with the barely sweet gritcake it made for an easy-to-like flavor combo. We finished every crumb.
We tried both the Pulled Pork Sandwich ($10) and the Pressed Cuban ($10.50) from the sandwich section of the menu. At first our server delivered the former with a Cordon Bleu, but promptly and courteously corrected the mistake.
The Pulled Pork made for a messy meal. So messy, in fact, we would have ditched the bread and eaten it with a fork and knife except that the toasted bun was too good to pass up. It was sweet and flaky like a good French croissant, but toasted to a nice dark brown on the inside.
On the downside, the bun didn't do the best job of supporting the heavy load of juicy pork. We loved the subtle sweetness of the saucy meat, particularly when paired with the restaurant's vinegar-based apple slaw. The thin layer of melted pepperjack cheese on the bottom of the sandwich didn't add much, but didn't take away from a satisfying sandwich, either.
For a side dish, you have an option of soup, salad, and fries. We'd recommend going for the first two.
We tried a cup of the daily soup, a ham and chowder, and liked it. The thick chunks of ham and potato swam in a creamy, almost buttery base lit up with fresh herbs. Salad is also a good option particularly if you go for the Vidalia dressing. It's made with sweet onions -- you can see and taste the freshly pureed pieces -- but isn't cloyingly strong.
The pressed Cuban didn't win points for authenticity but was packed with well-roasted pork and thick slices of ham. The best element was probably the housemade bread and butter pickles, which were crunchy and sweet. We could have easily eaten a whole bowl.
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In a day and age where "housemade" and "handcrafted" can mean very little, Ten at least maintains the integrity of the word. The food may not be the most innovative in town, but in several cases we could taste the time and care that went into making each individual element. The service on our trip was right on point. Hopefully it's enough to give this new spot lasting power in a notoriously difficult location.