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 Gladly Location: 2201 East Camelback Road Open: Over three weeks. Eats: New American Price: $30 to $60 per person
The Gladly, opened over three weeks ago at 2201 East Camelback Road (formerly Ruth's Chris Steak House) in the Biltmore neighborhood, has a lot to live up to.
Its owners, chef Bernie Kantak, Andrew Fritz, and mixologist Richie Moe are the trio behind Scottsdale's Citizen Public House, which, soon after opening in 2011, became noted for its inventive cocktails, kicked-up versions of familiar American foods, and outstanding desserts (courtesy of Tracy Dempsey Originals).
So it stands to reason that expectations for The Gladly are high -- that it will be a kind of Citizen Public House 2.0.
For now, it isn't. At least not entirely.
You could start and stop with a Richie Moe cocktail. The mixologist remains on his game here, serving up intriguing concoctions like a Negroni on draft, a Thai Margarita, and the Salute, a lovely gin-based cocktail with notes of floral and citrus and a Prosecco float.
On the food side, The Gladly's menu reads a lot like Citizen Public House's: an eclectic mix of familiar American foods with a twist, many with inspirations from around the globe. Some dishes are more straightforward than others. And if, like mine, your server recommends them over the restaurant's more intricate plates, it's probably because, for now, they are the most successful.
Consider the Pigstrami ($14).
Featuring pecan wood-smoked pork butt, Swiss cheese, Brussels sprout sauerkraut, and Dijon mustard on rye, this lively, pig-centric sandwich is enough to make you wish Kantak would just open up a sandwich shop already. Get it with a side of very good fries with housemade ketchup or spring for an excellent bowl of Bernie's Mac 'N Cheese ($10), lit up with stewed tomatoes.
Perhaps wanting to be what the pork belly pastrami starter is to Citizen Public House, The Gladly's very-little-paprika paprika-cured pork belly appetizer ($12) with beets, horseradish, and forgettable housemade Hungarian cheese doesn't quite hit the mark. It does, however, fare better than the octopus salad ($13), which, despite listed ingredients such as Szechuan peppercorn, avocado, and bitter orange, tastes mostly of fennel.
On the entree side, an unfortunate Five-Spice Duck ($28) seems to have forgotten its Asian spice mixture altogether, leaving the bulk of the flavor job to some nice greens and a fermented black bean mole. The three or four pickled raisins and a pile of bland, whipped masa (also accompaniments to the duck) are barely worth mentioning.
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The most disappointing dish of the evening, surprisingly, came during dessert via a peach cornmeal cobbler ($10). Essentially a sloppy mass of tasteless fruit slices (the peach in my cobbler seemed not quite ripe) and bits of grainy cobbler that featured a texture similar to sand, this unpleasant dessert tops the list of the worst I've had in a while.
It should be noted that The Gladly's team of servers are top-notch. Friendly yet highly professional, they glide about the spacious and minimally adorned beige room interacting with guests who may be already seated, making their way to the bar, or just entering the restaurant. They will tell you nearly everything you need to know about the menu, perhaps mention that a patio is on the way, and let you know that The Gladly purchased several parking spaces next to its space so that, next time, you don't have to use the parking structure unless you'd prefer a longer walk.
I'm hoping that on my next visit, I'm just as confident as where to park as I am about what to order. The Gladly, for now, might not be meeting expectations, but given the team behind it, it's chances of doing so are better than most. I'm looking forward to returning.