Budget Beat

Budget Beat: Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge

By Jay Bennett

Last week, I wrote in this space about the budget-tastic happy hour at Fenix Eatery & Bar, an otherwise pricey bistro in the Arcadia neighborhood. After that posting, a reader named Joel steered me toward another pricey joint that just happens to have a happy hour for the wallet-watching diner.

The place? It's Christopher's, a welcome reinvention of the unfortunately named Christopher's Fermier, at the tony Biltmore Fashion Park. I'd been to Christopher's Fermier one time for dinner, when the eatery was on the second floor of the east end of the mall. It was a pleasant experience and a fine, if a bit spend-y, meal, but I left the restaurant wondering whether I'd ever have reason to go back.

I'm pleased to report that, with the happy hour at the better-named Christopher's, I can assure you I'll be back for more. When I popped in for a visit, the mall itself was as dead as Dillinger, but Christopher's (now on the ground level, near Macy's) was hopping. The restaurant is really two establishments in one: On the left, as you enter one of the biggest glass doors you'll ever see, is Crush Lounge, a dimly lit and happening room full of attractive folks enjoying adult beverages. On the right is the restaurant itself, a cool and contemporary space with high ceilings, lots of windows, and an open kitchen as the focus of the room.

The missus and I were seated at the marble counter, facing the open kitchen, where we watched the cooks create all manner of beautiful entrees, salads, and appetizers as we sipped Stella Artois and munched on a never-ending supply of bread. Seating diners around an open kitchen is a great concept. Watching the cooks wield knives, sear scallops, and make the stove flare up is great fun.

On to the grub . . . The happy hour menu isn't huge but it doesn't need to be when you consider the quality of the food on it and the prices. Besides half-off on cocktails, wine, and beers, the burgers, some of the pizzas, and a couple of appetizers are also half-price.

The missus ordered one of the pizzas, a roughly 10-inch pie topped with plump, roasted tomatoes, roasted garlics, and big globs of goat cheese. The pizza was pretty excellent, with a thin and crunchy, wood-fired crust. The tomatoes were intensely flavorful and the goat cheese . . . what else is there to say? Goat cheese on pizza is the best. Oh, yeah, it cost about $7.

The pizza: Good good good.

I ordered the hamburger, which was what reader Joel recommended. I left Christopher's wondering whether I'd had a better burger in 2008. I'm pretty sure this one was the best. Like the pizza, it didn't conform to a conventional shape. It was a loosely shaped chunk of flavorful ground beef (cooked medium-rare, thank you very much), topped with melted Gruyére(!) cheese, and served on a "bun" that was more like a toasted pita. One of the cooks explained that it essentially was flattened baguette dough that was cooked a bit longer to make it crunchy. Good idea, y'all.

The burger was served with a mix of wonderful herbed sweet potato fries and French fries. All this for about $7. Seriously, I'm getting hungry for another Christopher's hamburger as I type this.

The hamburger: Great "bun." (Photos by Laura Hahnefeld)

I must point out that the service was not impeccable. After being seated at the counter, there was a lot of awkward maneuvering as the busboys set our places, filled our water, gave us bread, etc. It would probably be easier to set places from inside the counter instead from behind us. And our server wasn't exactly the most attentive waiter we've had.

But those are minor complaints for a place with so much upside. I'm looking forward to going back. If you go there, I'd love to hear your thoughts on your food or the experience. Feel free to post a comment on this blog post.

If you have any suggestions on places you'd like to see written about in this place, hit me up at [email protected]

Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge 2502 East Camelback Road (in Biltmore Fashion Park) 602-522-02344 Hours: Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 10 p.m. Happy hour: Monday through Friday, 3 to 6 p.m.