When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out and let you know our initial impressions. 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: Old Dixie's Location: The Welcome Diner: 924 East Roosevelt Street Open: Almost a month Eats: Southern Price: $11 to $30 per person
What happens when one of the best food trucks in the Valley food scene switches from four wheels to four walls?
If you're Old Dixie's, owned and operated by Michael Babcock and Jenn Robinson, you keep on making the same killer Southern eats but in a retro-cool, 200-square-foot Depression-era diner in Central Phoenix.
The menu is mostly the same as it was on the truck: Southern-style sandwiches and sides made with locally sourced ingredients. There is dinner, a weekend brunch, and, because of its diner home, there are burgers, too -- one even topped with peanut butter -- but they are not why you've come here. You've come for Babcock's fried chicken biscuit sandwich ($9).
The chunks of fried chicken in this standout sandwich would make the Colonel blush. They're topped with crispy bacon, melted cheddar, and thick, peppery Southern-style gravy and are barely contained between biscuits with a moist, rich crumb. It definitely eats like a meal. The same could be said for the Kiltlifter braised pork sandwich ($8), in which the biscuits hold moist and tender braised pork, a smoky onion slaw, and a sweet and tangy mustard sauce.
The red beans and rice ($10), Babcock's interpretation of the classic New Orleans favorite, is pretty much perfect. Made with seasoned beans slow-cooked with ham hocks and mixed with rice and slices of smoky and peppery Andouille sausage from Schreiner's, it's as filling as it is flavorful.
If you don't mind eating your greens off a paper plate, there is a decent salad ($7) with veggies from downtown's Roosevelt Grow House tossed in a light lemon honey vinaigrette. But for those who wish to continue down the Southern path, a side of buttery braised collard greens ($4) should do nicely.
And thanks to a liquor license, diners can wash down the Southern eats with a craft beer or Old Dixie's boozy, fruity version of the classic hurricane ($7) featuring light and dark rums; pineapple, pomegranate, and passion fruit juices; and hand-squeezed orange juice.
With just nine seats inside the tiny, narrow diner (there's also patio seating outside), it's nearly a given that you'll get comfortable fast. And in these close quarters, it's good to know that those behind the diner's bright red counter are having as much fun as you and your new best, stool-seated friends on the other side: Sharing stories, laughing when the bell rings to signal another hurricane request, and moving to the funky beats coming from a suitcase tricked out as a boombox in the corner.
Old Dixie's 924 East Roosevelt Street (Welcome Diner) 602-495-1111 www.welcomediner.net
Hours: Dinner: 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday - Saturday Brunch: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
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