First Taste

The Dressing Room on Roosevelt Row Has Fun with Elevated Shack Food

The Dressing Room's novel take on ceviche is just one of its many ways of tinkering with classics.
The Dressing Room's novel take on ceviche is just one of its many ways of tinkering with classics. Robert Isenberg

When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out — and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. 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: The Dressing Room
Location: 220 East Roosevelt Street
Open: One month
Eats: Elevated shack food
Price: $10-$30/person

The afternoon was perfect: an outdoor seat, a cool spring breeze, and every table lively with banter. The place was packed with beards and man-buns and ironic T-shirts, but no one was acting like a hipster. Everyone looked, well, happy. The air crackled with possibility.

The tostadas also crackled, specifically when we broke them apart and scooped up hunks of ceviche, in this case a medley of fish, sweet potato, and giant corn kernels.

The Dressing Room is a tiny new gastropub in the heart of Roosevelt Row. The dining room has only a few tables. The petite bar overlooks an open kitchen. Most of the action takes place outside, on a concise patio partially hidden from the street. The Dressing Room is wedged between a high-rise apartment building and the sizable monOrchid Gallery, making it look even smaller than it is. Even its origins are humble: Troy Watkins and Kyu Utsunomiya wanted to create "elevated shack food," and they funded the eatery with a Kickstarter campaign.

click to enlarge The veggie taco: so good, you'll be licking juices off your forearms. - ROBERT ISENBERG
The veggie taco: so good, you'll be licking juices off your forearms.
Robert Isenberg
Well, they've done their duty.This is elevated shack food, and it's great. The menu is brief, but every item we tried was playful and addicting: The veggie tacos consist of beer-battered Oaxaca queso, which translates as "deep-fried cheese." The cold soba salad incorporates Japanese noodles and a miso vinaigrette. The All-Day Burrito basically wraps every bad-for-you breakfast ingredient into a single tortilla.

The current menu standout is the Korean yakitori, two hunks of tender barbecued beef on skewers. Coupled with a miso slaw, the entree already exceeds expectations. But the kitchen recently started adding sheets of iceberg, and the dish works even better as a lettuce wrap. We devoured it so quickly that we forgot to take a picture.

If you're wondering why it's called "The Dressing Room," the wait staff is happy to recount the local lore: The same real estate used to belong to an early Phoenix gay club. This tiny cinderblock structure was the establishment's dressing room, where everyday Phoenicians would metamorphose into drag queens. Aside from the name, there's no other reference to the building's past life, but it's fun to ponder how many feather boas must have passed through those doorways.

So far, the best part of The Dressing Room is its eagerness to please. Its parent company, Conceptually Social, already owns Be Coffee next door, another hospitable little spot. The staff is upbeat and good-humored, and they're overflowing with recommendations.
click to enlarge Rosemary & The Sage, the ultimate herbal remedy. - ROBERT ISENBERG
Rosemary & The Sage, the ultimate herbal remedy.
Robert Isenberg

The kitchen also offers a range of clever cocktails, including the Mexi-Cold Brew, which combines tequila, Mexican Coca-Cola and cold brew coffee, making it exactly as dangerous as it sounds. We will be returning soon to try the Spiked Chai, and probably during the daily happy hour, when every drink is half off. Our waitress recommended Rosemary & The Sage, which includes both of those ingredients as well as bourbon. She said it was her favorite cocktail on the menu so far. One sip later, we could see why.

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Robert Isenberg