First Taste

First Taste: Unpretentious Fine Dining at Oak on Camelback

A landmark uptown Phoenix restaurant has a new name, a new owner, and an updated vibe, complete with a revamped menu inspired by global flavors. Oak on Camelback, led by chef Robert Bogart, opened earlier this month in the historic building on Camelback Road just east of Central Avenue that was once home to St. Francis restaurant.

The food is delish. The vibe is upscale yet approachable. But the journey hasn’t been easy for the chef.

“I was closing on the purchase of the property in January 2020," said Bogart. "A week before I was supposed to sign, the restaurant had an electrical fire.”

As Bogart put it, the entire wall of the former St. Francis kitchen burst into flames. Luckily, chefs were there to call the fire department and, despite the horrific situation, he called it a blessing.

“I could’ve bought it a week earlier and had a fire that would've ruined me,” he said. Bogart said he didn't have any insurance yet. He'd thought he'd wait until after he finalized purchasing the building, and signing the paperwork, to handle that. The fire happened a week before he was going to be the proper owner of the building.

Bogart redid the kitchen, fixed the water damage, and then pivoted to online orders when the pandemic hit. It was a rollercoaster ride for an experienced chef who trained at the Scottsdale Culinary Institute before serving as an executive chef at Elway's Steakhouse inside Denver’s Ritz-Carlton.

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Chef Robert Bogart bought St. Francis and is the owner of Oak on Camelback.
Allison Cripe

Honestly, I expected a stuffy old-money vibe because of the Ritz mention. But the music was low-fi hip hop, the walls were a homey red brick, and colorful paintings made the atmosphere whimsical. Mostly, I stared at a pig sculpture wearing clown makeup.

The chef waved at me from the kitchen and introduced himself. I even went behind the curtains, so to speak, to chat with him near the wood-fired oven.

“My grandfather was my inspiration for cooking,” Bogart said. “I grew up in Dallas, and we’d go camping with a wood-fired Dutch oven.”

Having worked recently on opening restaurants in California, he has returned to Arizona, in the town where he started his career, and back cooking food in St. Francis’s custom wood-burning oven. Bogart said his cooking felt tied to structure for a long time. But, in the last three to four years, he's been experimenting, and feels his most recent efforts have yielded a better outcome.

At the table, my server, Rachel Shively, immediately suggested the fried chicken and waffles. Other popular brunch items include the Lox pizza (everything bagel crust, smoked salmon, cream cheese spread, and capers), or the steak and eggs with horseradish cream and crispy potatoes.

Soon, the mascarpone French toast and chicken and waffles arrived. The chicken was crispy and wasn't greasy, and the gravy tasted like curry. It married the sweet maple syrup and chile-stuffed waffles perfectly. I took one bite and set down my fork.

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Mascarpone French toast topped with fresh berries and powdered sugar.
Allison Cripe

“Holy shit.”

Bogart said he enjoys an occasional kick of spice to his cuisine. The chiles were a welcome surprise.

For presentation, lovely slices of French toast were made from Hawaiian sweet bread, mountaintops with a valley — a little vanilla mascarpone lake accompanied by fresh berry boats. Yes, I'd become a child while eating. But, wasn't this fun?

Families and couples sat around me, a couple of luxury brand bags, and bottle service at 11 a.m. A super-chic grandma (leather leggings, faux fur vest) accompanied a little girl to the chalkboard in the back. I asked Rachel what that was about.

“We started the drawing as a team and people have added onto it,” she said. Then I asked how she'd found Oak.

“I used to work at a bar, and it was crazy. I came and ate here, and thought this was definitely somewhere I could see myself working. It had a good feeling of family and friends.”

If you go – and you should – new menu items also apply to dinner like the scallops and risotto, the Thai peanut salad, and the Banh Mi Pho Dip; pork belly, hoisin, vegetables and unagi aioli served on a baguette with house-made dip. Mmm Mmmm.

For updates and specials, follow Oak on Camelback on Facebook and Instagram.

Oak on Camelback
111 East Camelback Road
Open 3-9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 3-10 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; and 3-10 p.m. Sunday.