As the likable smart-ass behind the food scene blog EATERAZ and the guy who puts on both the Arizona Taco Festival and the Arizona BBQ Festival (all with considerable help from his equally likeable and possibly more smart-ass partner Dave Tyda), Rick Phillips is known for being a magazine publisher and a think-outside-the-box festival producer and promoter.
But he's about to put on yet another hat: restaurateur. Yep, the guy who has reported on restaurants since the '90s (he co-founded Desert Living magazine, you'll recall) is now going to own one, and verily, it shall be called Bootleggers, located in a strip mall at 3375 East Shea Boulevard. What's more, he's got big-name talent helping him with the menu, plus a bona-fide pit-master to handle the 'cue. Here's how it all went down:
Phillips became friends with KCBS-winning pit-master Kevin Slade through his AZ BBQ festivals, and one day, Slade suggested the two of them open a restaurant. Philips, who says he panicked at the thought, called Matt Carter, who keeps himself pretty busy these days with Zinc Bistro, The Mission, The House and soon, a new Zinc at Sky Harbor Airport. Carter immediately expressed interest in helping with the project, reportedly saying, "I couldn't resist being part of a place that serves a cold can of PBR."
Truth is, Carter himself is a bit of a 'cue buff, competing in barbecue competitions with his team called the Smoke Junkies, so Phillips' concept would have obvious appeal. As for Phillips, he says he was eager to see what a guy with Carter's culinary chops would do with, say, chicken wings. (Carter won't actually be in the kitchen but he will be involved with the project.)
Bootleggers' new executive chef will be James Fox, a former Carter protégé who most recently worked at Milagro Grill. The menu -- which will feature a serious barbecue program but won't be limited to 'cue -- will specialize in down-home cooking with a dash of complexity, expressed in dishes such as pot roast with sweet onion bread pudding and burnt ends jus; Dr Pepper-braised short ribs with black pepper Antebellum grits; blackened salmon with jalapeño-peach barbecue glaze and bacon dirty rice; Dutch oven bourbon peach cobbler-bread pudding (yes, you read that right) and Nutter Butter praline pie. Of course, the pièce de résistance surely will be the Bacon Board, featuring five types of bacon served with grilled toast points and a variety of mustards.
Meanwhile, the bar -- presided over by bar manager Jason Horton (who worked at T. Cook's for 12 years) -- will feature classic cocktails (which involve "more mixing than mixology," Horton says), a dozen seasonal craft drafts, eclectic wines and the only moonshine in town.
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Phillips has taken over the space occupied by the Dirty Drummer for so many years, and he says the décor will be as easy and comfortable as the menu, featuring distressed brick, reclaimed wood from Montana barn, galvanized aluminum tabletops, plush chocolate leather booths, two copper-topped community tables and Edison bulbs hanging from custom light fixtures. Slade's giant Southern Pride Smoker will not only crank out the barbecue but provide the requisite "atmosphere" (because you can't be a 'cue joint without smoke).
If all goes well, we can expect an early May opening. Bootleggers will be open for lunch and dinner seven days a week (11 a.m. to 11 p.m.). For more info, check out the website at www.bootleggersaz.com or call 602-996-4428.
Editor's Note: This post has been edited from its original version.