The team behind the popular Central Phoenix restaurant Ocotillo — chef-owner Walter Sterling, chefs Sacha Levine and Alex Levine, beverage director David Johnson, and general manager Brad Twigg — announced last week that they will be opening Starlite BBQ in Scottsdale this fall.
"People know what to expect when it comes to barbecue," Sterling says of the new restaurant, which he sees as the casual, fun counterpoint to the finer dining format at Ocotillo. He says Ocotillo can be intimidating to diners and go over their heads.
The restaurant will be at 7620 East Indian School Road at the corner of Miller Road in Scottsdale.
"I'm not a fan of the corporate stuff, the 6,000-square-foot restaurants. I wanted to do something different, more updated," Sterling says. "There is a lot of great barbecue in Phoenix, but no venues that also offer a place to get a drink and hang out."
(We can think of a few restaurateurs who might beg to differ.)
Even though the new restaurant is housed in a strip mall, efforts have been made to give the exterior a look similar to Ocotillo's, featuring oxidized metals, and the interior has been designed to be a sleek, current take on a barbecue joint. It will feature a drop ceiling of torch-burnished Spanish oak over the 40 indoor and 17 bar seats, and the patio will be home to 30 seats and a few communal Spanish oak picnic tables.
"It's not on Scottsdale Road, so it's a little away from the hustle, but still in a good, accessible location. And there is plenty of parking," Sterling says.
The menu, he says, will run the gamut from light, healthy options, to dishes that are "totally bad for you." Usual suspects like beef brisket, beef ribs, pork ribs, pulled pork, and chicken will be smoked over pecan and mesquite along with more unusual offerings, like smoked turkey and smoked meatloaf.
The brined, smoked turkey is destined for an over-the-top turkey sandwich, dressed up with bacon, avocado, and tomato, while the meatloaf will be served in plate, sandwich, and Hawaiian breakfast forms. Loco Moco is a dish Sterling encountered in Hawaii, a breakfast classic composed of a hamburger patty served over a starch, like macaroni salad or rice, topped with fried eggs, and smothered in a brown gravy.
"We will do a 'smoko loco' here for brunch, using the smoked meatloaf topped with fried eggs and a really nice gravy," Sterling says.
Lighter options will included a pickled green tomato sandwich, grilled or fried, as well as a coleslaw made with a mix of cabbage varieties, grain mustard, and vinegar, in place of the more common mayonnaise base.
Another signature highlight of the menu will be Rancho Gordo heirloom beans. According to Sterling, these beans, cultivated by a Napa Valley farmer, were discovered by Thomas Keller. The grower only sells in small quantities to the public, and for larger, restaurant-quantity orders, there is a long application process. Sterling he says is the only person in town who has been approved to source and serve Rancho Gordo beans. And he has plans for them.
"For the corona beans, these beans that are larger than limas, we are going to make a bean salad with Dijon mustard, vinegar, chives, sliced green beans, and a few other bean varieties folded in. These heirloom beans are meaty and really flavorful, so they are almost like a meal on their own," Sterling says.
Richer sides will include miner's potatoes, which are double-fried for a crisp exterior and a creamy interior, and served either "dry" or "wet" with a dressing of thinned down barbecue sauce. Macaroni and cheese will be par boiled, mixed with bechamel, cheese, and breadcrumbs, then baked before being cut into cubes that will go into the fryer. "They are not healthy, but they are delicious," Sterling says. "When you cut into them, the cheese just oozes out."
As a savory riff on the skillet pancake at Ocotillo, a cornmeal skillet "hoecake," studded with green chiles and served alongside butter and maple syrup, will be served on the brunch menu, with the option of adding Tennessee hot or regular fried chicken.
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The brunch menu will also feature a BLT Bloody Mary, with house-smoked bacon inside the cocktail, served with a side of white bread and sliced tomatoes for a make-your-own-sandwich appetizer of sorts.
Speaking of cocktails, the whiskey list at Starlite is set to be the restaurant's crowning glory. The team already has developed great relationships with whiskey makers, from Pappy Van Winkle to WhistlePig, so they plan to offer brown liquors you won't find anywhere else, as well as innovative cocktails that incorporate the likes of WhistlePig whiskey maple syrup.
Sterling plans to keep the hours "casual," operating Wednesday through Sunday, 4 p.m. to close, as well as on Saturday and Sunday for brunch. The tentative grand opening is scheduled for Halloween or November 1.
"It's going to be fun, and not expensive," Sterling says. "This will be a gathering place."