Fernandes knows how to set a scene. Astor House – set in a tiny bungalow and named, somewhat snarkily, after the famous luxury hotel in New York City – oozes cool: Mod-’70s furnishings, indie music, and laid-back counter servers clad in black add an air of hipness. When temps return to anywhere south of searing, the cozy back patio will be a prime place to chill with reasonably priced craft beers ($4), boutique wines ($6/glass, $24/bottle) and mix-and-match cocktails ($6). Astor House also serves excellent sparkling lemonade ($2) and Japanese cold-brewed iced coffee ($2).
For breakfast (or brunch on Sunday), pay special attention to the biscuits and grillades ($7). Smothered in extremely flavorful cayenne-spiked beef gravy and topped with an egg, this dish is the best across the menu – provided you get the sunny-side up “baked” egg, not the rubbery scramble. The red flannel hash ($7), a mélange of beets and carrots, could use a boost of onions to balance the herbal punch of rosemary. Skip the patatas queso ($4), roasted potato wedges suspiciously missing a crisp exterior and smothered in a floury cheese sauce. But don’t skip the crunchy-outside, tender-inside Portuguese doughnuts ($2), similar to beignets, right down to a dusting of powdered sugar for a touch of sweetness.
Lunch, mostly sandwiches and salads, lacks the pizzaz of breakfast. The roast beef po-boy ($8) doesn’t exude the flavor of the original New Orleans staple. The Mexican gyro ($6) – a pita stuffed with timid green chile pork, corn and red peppers – lacks kick. That tangy muffaletta ($7), with salami, cheese, and olives on rosemary focaccia, is the way to go.
From the evening small plates, the warm focaccia ($6) delectably riffs on grilled cheese, with creamy taleggio and a whiff of truffle oil sandwiched between toasted focaccia. Welsh meatballs ($6), blanketed in gravy and brightened with chopped olives, should come with a slice of that focaccia for sopping. Spinach pie ($5) – two triangles of golden puff pastry filled with spinach, onions and garlic – is bland even with smoky, spicy marinara on the side.
Desserts include a couple cookies and iced lemon pound cake ($2). They’ll satisfy a sweet tooth but won’t elicit any moans.
Even if the grub needs flavor boosting here and there, Astor House is undeniably a gem in the making, and a cool place to meet friends for a cold beverage and a snack.
Address: 2243 N. 12th St., Phoenix
Hours: 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Sunday
Highlights: Biscuits and grillades ($7), muffaletta ($7), warm focaccia ($6), lemonade ($2), iced coffee ($2)
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