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May, 2011, Page 151
Photos by David Moore
S'mores with chocolate-dipped bacon
Impeccable service and a mouth-watering menu full of instant classics make Beckett’s Table one blockbuster
of a restaurant.
The planets guiding new restaurants are a fickle lot. But in the case of Beckett’s Table, they’ve aligned in a downright cosmic way. This relatively modest mom-and-pop eatery, long in development and debuting in a rocky economic climate, is a blockbuster. Part of the credit is due to chef/owner Justin Beckett’s savvy use of pre-opening social media, but the biggest part is that it’s simply a damn good restaurant.
Beckett, his wife, Michelle, and hands-on partners Scott and Katie Stephens’ motto is “Come together.” To that end they’ve created a neighborhood hangout serving reasonably priced, high-end comfort food seasoned with sass. Diners have heeded the call.
Located in a homely strip mall, it’s a large room done in rustic brick and block with exposed beams and a polished concrete floor. The open kitchen dominates, as does the massive community table in front of it. On one side is an inviting bar and a witty chicken wire-encased wine closet; on the other is the dining area. Lighting is Goldilocks level – just right. Warm shades of brown, rust and gray, and the softening effect of the odd piece of furniture doubling as storage for extra plates and silver, add up to a look Scott Stephens accurately describes as “industrial chic.” It’s buzzy and convivial, drawing a diverse crowd. If noise is an issue for you, there is a quieter nook in the back of the room.
Perhaps because some or all of the four principals are always on duty (Beckett is the Eminem look-alike in the navy bandana choreographing the kitchen dance), this is one of the best service staffs I’ve ever seen. They have a combination of experience, responsiveness and what seems to be a genuine enthusiasm for what they’re doing.
chicken ’n’ dumplings
Skip the soft, gummy dinner rolls and splurge on over-the-top bacon cheddar biscuits with apple honey butter ($6). Then choose from the smallish but tight menu that already has birthed some instant classics. Among the starters, the Southern-influenced creamy grits and sausage appetizer ($8) gets a kick in the overalls from a swirl of mustard. Roasted Brussels sprouts ($6) have layers of unexpected flavor and texture, starting with a slightly smoky char and encompassing a bright lemon herb dressing, crisp pancetta and softened Manchego cheese.
In the mini-enchiladas ($10), the relatively delicate flavors of shrimp, sweet squash and corn are somewhat obscured by a smoky, assertive chile sauce. On the other hand, the coarse, rustic pâté ($8) accompanied by croustades, cornichons, grainy mustard, sun-dried tomatoes, smoked onions and the startlingly compatible pumpkin seed brittle work together like a symphony.
A cute take on the classic soup-and-sandwich combo ($9) offers a rich, deeply vegetal tomato/red pepper soup, but the accompanying cheese and pancetta on a toasted bun is missing the luxurious, mouth-filling quality of the other dishes. Beckett also reworks the traditional Caesar salad using romaine, Asiago cheese, and bits of pancetta instead of anchovy, with a pop of pickled beets and sweetness of basil all finessed in a satiny peppercorn dressing ($6). Butter lettuce with grapes and pecans in candied lemon vinaigrette ($6) isn’t quite as successful. It seems to be one coalescing ingredient shy of perfection.
Creamy grits and sausage with bacon cheddar biscuits
Chicken ’n’ dumplings ($16) is excellent and surprisingly elegant with al dente vegetables and smooth, rich gravy. Same for an inspired cross between shepherd’s pie and beef bourguignon ($16). Short ribs ($19) are fork-tender and satisfying, as is the petite chicken ($16) with a wealth of herbs massaged under its crispy skin. Perfectly done salmon ($18) on a sprightly bread salad with the sweet lemon vinaigrette is a knockout.
The “b” burger ($13) missed the boat only because it was medium well rather than the requested medium rare, and I thought the plump mussels ($18) were marred by the almost floral sweetness of the fennel broth, which lacked nuance.
Not a complaint, but the juicy, cooked-down pork osso buco ($17) comes with “butternut spaetzle,” which led me to believe squash was used in the dumpling dough (yum) but, no, cubes are tossed with it – still mighty good.
Desserts (all $5) are just as tempting: an inspired fig and pecan pie; over-the-top chocolate lava cake with milk chocolate ice cream; a classic if not killer crème brûlée; and the build-your-own s’mores with peanut butter, cloud-like house-made marshmallow and chocolate-dipped bacon.
The wine list, by the way, is intelligently chosen and fairly priced with all selections available by the glass, mini-carafe and bottle. Those seeking something a little fancier can ask for the secret “Super Sneaky” list with about 30 by-the-bottle possibilities.
Photos - Clock-wise from top left: petite chicken • Salmon on bread salad with a sweet lemon vinaigrette • shepherd’s pie • Inside Beckett's Table
Besides the obvious, what makes Beckett’s a terrific restaurant?
Great attitude, and I offer this example: On one of my visits I lost an earring. When my husband went to pick it up the next day, he mentioned how much he had enjoyed the Oreo truffles that had accompanied our chocolate dessert the previous night.
He was immediately presented with a little bag containing a half dozen of the truffles, and later, when I checked out the earring, I found that they had polished it to a shine.
: 3717 E. Indian School Road, Phoenix
: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday
: Creamy grits and sausage ($8), pâté ($8), roasted red pepper and tomato soup ($5), roasted Brussels sprouts ($6), bacon cheddar biscuits ($6), chicken ’n’ dumplings ($16), salmon ($18), pork osso buco ($17), shepherd’s pie ($16), short ribs ($19), petite chicken ($16), fig and pecan pie ($5), s’mores with chocolate-dipped bacon ($5), “death by chocolate” ($5)
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