Cafe Reviews

After a Year, the Food at Phoenix’s Stock & Stable is Still Hit or Miss

The frutti di mare is a good small-plate option.
The frutti di mare is a good small-plate option. Jackie Mercandetti

Eating at Stock & Stable sometimes feels like tuning into a radio station where your favorite song is followed in quick succession by one of your least favorite songs. Or, to mix analogies right at the top, it’s like a classic hot-cold, on-off relationship, the kind where you never know exactly where you stand, and where your very own heart seems to vacillate between love and indifference. Is Stock & Stable into you — will it deliver what you want and need at dinner tonight?

Maybe more importantly, are you into Stock & Stable?

When you come to Stock & Stable, in other words, prepare for the full gamut of emotions that comes with anything slightly perplexing or uneven: happiness, disappointment, the occasional thrill of utter delight.

Judging by the teeming patio crowd on a recent weeknight, many people are very much delighted by Stock & Stable. The uptown Phoenix restaurant, a self-described “modern American gastropub,” feels well-loved by the neighborhood happy hour crowd. It’s situated at the heart of The Colony, the shiny adaptive reuse complex on Seventh Street that somehow keeps finding the space to add more new restaurants.

The restaurant’s calling card is its imposing sign, and its large and lovely patio outfitted with striking navy-blue French bistro chairs, a major draw on mild weather days. The outdoor seating is well-shaded, and situated just far enough from Seventh Street to keep traffic noise levels tolerable.

click to enlarge Stock & Stable boasts a stylish interior. - JACKIE MERCANDETTI
Stock & Stable boasts a stylish interior.
Jackie Mercandetti

Inside, the interior dining room is darkly handsome, with livestock-themed modern art and wood mosaic accents that pay tribute to the nearby historic Murphy’s Bridle Path (as does the restaurant’s name). The centerpiece of the dining room, though, is a marble-topped wraparound bar, lit warmly by Edison bulbs that hang from an old-fashioned, copper tin-punched ceiling. To fully appreciate the restaurant’s polished design, you’ll want to make a trip to the restroom, where the short hallway offers a neat peek-through view of the brightly lit kitchen.

Stock & Stable comes to us from the folks at Evening Entertainment, known for stylish party spots like Bottled Blonde and Hi-Fi Kitchen & Cocktails. This might be the team’s first chef-driven gastro-fare effort, and the restaurant boasts well-established talent like chef Joe Absolor (The Parlor, The Clever Koi).

The menu, updated periodically, is most easily described as creative gastropub food, which here means anything goes. Asian-inspired veggie dishes, house-made pastas, sandwiches, burgers, and steak — they all show up in some permutation or other. The selection is divided pretty equally between shareable small plates and mains, with a few salads thrown into the mix to balance out the protein-heavy menu.

It’s a big, stylish restaurant, and like many other big, stylish restaurants, the ambition at Stock & Stable sometimes outpaces the execution. Still, as the restaurant nears its first anniversary, it feels like there have been marked improvements on all levels. The first time I visited Stock & Stable, early last fall, I ordered something called a sloppy joe tostada and the Philly cheesesteak eggrolls. Both dishes registered as newfangled and clunky, their general appeal dampened by an excess of goopy, fatty flavor. Adding to the general sense of disappointment was the lack of service; my server deposited the first round of small plates, then disappeared for almost 40 minutes while plates sat empty.

Things have gotten better. Service on a handful of recent visits was attentive and knowledgeable across the board, and the sloppy joe tostadas were no longer on the menu.

You’ll still find Philly cheesesteak eggrolls, though, and on a second try, the mashup still feels clunky. The deep-fried rolls are packed with dullish, sort of greasy ground beef, sliced into meaty wedges, and served with a too-heavy Calabrian chili aioli. A slightly greasy wedge of food dipped in orange-hued mayonnaise is not particularly appetizing on a warm night, or most other nights.

Another small plate that misses the mark is the house mac ’n’ cheese, dressed in an extra-spicy chipotle cheddar sauce that oversaturates and overpowers the pasta.

click to enlarge The kung pao cauliflower is a creative dish. - JACKIE MERCANDETTI
The kung pao cauliflower is a creative dish.
Jackie Mercandetti

Just when you’ve given up on Stock & Stable, though, you get a spate of highlights to fill you with hope.
There is a creative kung pao cauliflower plate, for instance, the florets tossed in a sweet-tangy chili sauce and garnished with cashews and cilantro. How did the kitchen manage to get cauliflower to taste something like the orange chicken at Panda Express? And how did they manage to get such a fine, delectable crisp on such a soft, bland veggie? They somehow managed it, and it’s great.

A subtler but equally delightful small plate is the frutti di mare, an assemblage of chilled clams, shrimp, and calamari, brightened up with some preserved citrus and celery leaves. It’s gorgeously simple and refreshing.

You probably won’t come for the Brussels sprouts, but they are pretty solid: gently charred and lightly sweetened with honey butter and pickled craisins, dusted in breadcrumbs. And a fermented beet salad is more than you might ever expect from a beet salad. It’s served with a smear of marcona almond butter, ribbons of heirloom carrots, and a scattering of fried goat cheese curds — the goat cheese feels at once playful, but also a touch halfhearted. The beets are simple and pleasing, and delicious enough to stand all on their own.

There’s a revolving selection of shareable fresh pastas on the menu. Recently, the pasta dish inventory included a very good short rib stroganoff, featuring a house-made rigatoni. It featured a rich, silky gravy sauce, deeply flavored with onions and mushrooms and melty tendrils of beef. It’s delicious enough that you’ll want to use any leftover slices of Noble bread on the table to sop it all up.

At lunch, you’ll find a credible Cubano sandwich — it’s not pressed, but comes so generously stuffed with smoked pork shoulder, provolone, and yellow mustard, you might not entirely notice or care. And the “No Baloney” sandwich is wonderful, an upgraded, mortadella-packed rendition of a classic deli sandwich, dressed up in a lovely herb aioli.

click to enlarge The beer butt chicken is serviceable but unexciting. - JACKIE MERCANDETTI
The beer butt chicken is serviceable but unexciting.
Jackie Mercandetti
Dinner mains are more of a mixed bag. There’s the beer butt chicken, which is marinated in beer for 24 hours, then dressed in preserved lemon and herbs. It’s a good, succulent dish, but also lightly seasoned and unexciting. And there are no accompanying sides to temper or complement the half-bird on your plate.

There’s a very nicely cooked black cod, paired with a handful of baby clams, calamari and shrimp, and served in a lovely and rustic San Marzano tomato sauce. It comes with thick, sponge-like hunks of Noble bread, an important component of the dish, because you use the bread to soak up every last trace of that sweet, lightly acidic sauce.

click to enlarge The rib eye steak is skillfully cooked but unremarkable. - JACKIE MERCANDETTI
The rib eye steak is skillfully cooked but unremarkable.
Jackie Mercandetti

Rib eye steak, on a recent visit, was also skillfully cooked. It looks kind of lonely on the plate though, served only with some horseradish and a cup of the house-made steak sauce. It’s another fine yet unremarkable dish, a food memory that may start fading before you’ve even begun digesting it.

Then there are dishes you might never forget, but maybe not for the best reasons. There’s the house pork belly, which is cut into delectable-looking, extra-fatty segments, then layered over a bed of apple and sweet onion stuffing.

Like so many things in life, it sounds wonderfully indulgent on paper. In reality, though, the pork belly is very fatty — so much so, you can’t easily ignore the thick oil that oozes out when you pierce it with a fork. Before too long, your fingertips are oil-stained. You try to find relief in the apple stuffing, but it’s been doused in an apple cider vinaigrette that is far too robust, too notably acidic, to be truly enjoyable.

By the time the bill comes around, you have ridden both highs and lows. You have probably felt both delighted and disappointed, thrilled, and bored. You leave wondering if you should stay loyal to Stock & Stable, or if there are other, better patios, somewhere out there waiting for you.

Stock & Stable
5538 North Seventh Street
Hours: Monday to Thursdays 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Fridays 11 a.m. to midnight; Saturdays 10 a.m. to midnight; Sundays 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Frutti di mare $15
Kung pao cauliflower $12
Beer butt chicken $18
Rib eye steak $28

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Patricia Escárcega was Phoenix New Times' food critic.