Don’t look for traditional burgers-and-brews bar fare; the Lodge, another May spot, is good for that. Instead, Praying Monk fills a niche in Old Town with mid-priced Southern-inspired cuisine, a culinary balance of comfort and creativity, and savvy service.
May – who was in the kitchen on all of my visits – serves seasonal, cliché-free dishes that can accurately, un-ironically and honorably be described as gastropub food. Where else in town could you find something like the “F” This PB & J, a peanut butter and jelly foie gras torchon ($16) served in a hinged mini-Mason jar? Or Kentucky fried quail with Brussels sprout slaw and “red, white and bleu” potato salad ($15)?
Oddball as they sound, they were my two favorite dishes. The heady foie paired with just-sweet-enough house-made peanut butter and blackberry jam struck a perfect balance. The crunchy quail – an “it” food fixture in San Francisco, but still cutting-edge here – would do the Colonel proud, retaining its juices and delicate essence while adding excitement with the batter.
Other items also qualified as elbows-flying, get-it-while-you-can delectable, like tender fried cauliflower with currants and smoked almonds ($5); a soft, golden Bavarian pretzel with tangy grain mustard ($7); glistening, olive oil-dressed, pan-seared Brussels sprouts ($5); beery, hearty fish and chips ($10); exquisitely-cooked salmon ($18) with peas, bacon and chives on a bed of braised sunflower seeds that could have passed for rich rice; and a knockout dessert aptly named “Chocolate and Beer” ($7) – cake and ice cream made with Old Rasputin stout and a bacon shortbread cookie.
Don’t feel left out if you want something light – the salads are superb. The oversized roasted chicken salad ($10) bursts with a veritable pantry of goodies – beets, dried cranberries, almonds and more – and minty citrus dressing. We couldn’t taste the promised goat cheese in the dressing, so if you’re not a goat cheese fan, try it anyway. The usually humble Cobb salad ($10) here is a work of art, impressing with a burst of colors, aesthetic-forward arrangement and top-of-the-line ingredients, including three tangy cheeses – blue, Swiss and cheddar.
I could find fault with a few items if pressed. The much-touted house-made pastrami ($9) on Karsh’s rye was OK, but it had no chutzpah – it needed something more. The burger ($12) sounded delectable on paper but didn’t deliver the promised flavors, including a nonexistent sriracha mayonnaise. Smoky Tasso ham (a misnomer; this cut is from the shoulder, not the hind) might be popular in Louisiana, but here, it overpowers the watery Creole shrimp & grits ($14). Lump crab, corn and bacon dip ($8) was fishy.
Also, some dishes – the scallops with fried sunchoke “tots,” most prominently – were over-salted. And nothing you do to pig ears ($5), not even dousing them with fiery rocoto chile sauce, will make me like them. If you’re hell-bent on ear, go during happy hour, when all appetizers are half price from 3 to 7 p.m.
Praying Monk – an homage to both the iconic rock and to beer-making monks, God love them – should have no trouble attracting a devout following, thanks to the soul-stirring menu.
Address: 7217 E. First St., Scottsdale
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Tuesday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday
Highlights: “F” This PB & J foie gras torchon ($16); Bavarian pretzel with grain mustard and pickles ($7); Brussels sprouts ($5); fried cauliflower with currants and smoked almonds ($5); fish and chips ($10); Cobb salad ($10); roasted chicken salad ($10); Kentucky fried quail with Brussels sprout slaw and red, white and bleu potato salad ($15); salmon with peas, bacon and chive on braised sunflower seeds ($18); “Chocolate and Beer” dessert ($7)
50 Best AZ Restaurants
We ate. Then we drove. Then we ate some more. ...
Where To Eat 2018
Another year, another glorious eruption of must-try restaurants, visionary chefs, hot food trends and celebrity recommendations. Find them all here, in our top o’ the year salute to Valley dining. ...
2015 Best New Restaurants
Our annual highlight reel of metro Phoenix’s most damnably delicious new restaurants. ...
Where to Eat 2017
Food trends, upcoming restaurants, rising chefs – the gang's all here! Plus: “Destination Dishes” throughout Arizona worth the drive. ...
75 Best Dishes in the Valley
The most iconic. The most creative. The best specimen of a beloved breed. ...