In theory, that’s where Bourbon & Bones, an energetic new chophouse in the heart of Old Town, comes in. It’s the brainchild of Square One Concepts, the same conjunction-loving people behind Crab & Mermaid and Cold Beers & Cheeseburgers – all three operations sitting cheek by jowl on Scottsdale Road. And although B&B is unquestionably upscale, it aims to be more casual and cool than its elite steakhouse competitors – and just as delicious, at marginally lower prices.
Meh. Two out of three ain’t bad.
Housed in a refurbished AlphaGraphics building, the restaurant blends weathered wood with wrought iron and leather for a masculine yet refined look that’s Mad Men meets man cave. I find my bliss one late afternoon at the gorgeously backlit granite-topped bar, sitting on a plush leather chair and looking out wide windows to the bustling street beyond as I gnaw on Nueske’s bacon and sip a velvety Manhattan. But this brief shining moment is the pinnacle of my three experiences at B&B, which despite its good looks and best intentions, fails to rise to the level of Mastro’s, Dominick’s or Donovan’s. A Don Draper, it is not.
Clearly, the talent pool isn’t the problem. Bartender Richie Moe, best known for his splendid work at Citizen Public House and Citizen R+D, is in charge of all things beverage, pulling together a mostly New World wine list and an impressive compendium of bourbons and whiskeys. He’s also created a cocktail program built upon reinvented classics like the lovely house Manhattan made with Woodford Reserve, Carpano Antica and Moe’s house-made “black bone bitters.” Meanwhile, Square One kitchen maestro Isaac Carter’s résumé boasts a
12-year apprenticeship under celebrity chef Todd English, so we can safely assume he’s got the chops for the job. And general manager Nick Burbach brings steakhouse expertise and good juju from his days at Mastro’s.
Indeed, it’s hard not to think of Mastro’s when you see the bread service at B&B, combining the salt-flecked pretzel rolls and seed-studded crackers for which the original joint is famous. Served with honey butter, black olive tapenade and olive oil with balsamic, they’re great the first time, stale on two subsequent visits.
Appetizers are equally hit or miss. A half dozen Kumamoto oysters served on rock salt with mignonette and cocktail sauce are fresh and sweet, and it’s impossible not to like The Devils Cut starter – ultra-rich slivers of wagyu seared at the table on a smoking-hot rock, then dipped in jammy hoisin. What I expected to love – but don’t – is the beef carpaccio, offered up in a sloppy jumble of inexplicably hard blue cheese-polenta cakes overlaid with arugula and carpaccio, and drizzled with scallion crema and garlic aioli. It’s an unholy mess; not the clean, classic presentation it should be. Same sounds-great-but-isn’t story goes for the “Bacon and Eggs,” combining slow-braised pork belly over fried quail eggs with maple bourbon, rosemary johnny cake (renamed polenta cake) and smoked tomato water – which seems a bit precious for a steakhouse, no?
Our server one night gives us a spiel about the steaks being wet- and dry-aged and broiled at 1,600 degrees. He also says they’re USDA prime, which is untrue. They’re a high grade of choice, as has been publicly noted in local media. That’s still pretty good, but the truth? B&B’s corn-fed Angus beef can’t touch the steaks the big boys are turning out. It’s not as well-marbled, juicy or flavorful, nor has it been cooked with the same skill. Both the off-menu 32-ounce, bone-in tomahawk ribeye and the chewier 18-ounce, bone-in K.C. strip lack salt, char and that fatty mouthfeel that makes me glad I’m an omnivore.
The 14-ounce, double-cut, dry-aged pork chop is probably the best B&B entrée I sampled, but I can’t say I like it well enough to pay the $36 again. House-smoked baby back ribs, swathed in sweet, bourbon-laced barbecue sauce, strike me the same way: decent enough, but hardly memorable.
However, the kid in me loves the ritual of choosing your weapon (read: steak knife) from a varied selection in a box. Steak accompaniments such as Bordelaise and shallot jam are a fun idea, too, but unless each tiny ramekin is wrapped in edible gold leaf, charging $3 for a tablespoon of chimichurri borders on the absurd.
Sides are as mediocre as the steaks – bland creamed spinach, overcooked Brussels sprouts, hand-cut duck fat fries that don’t seem to have come in contact with any fat, duck or otherwise, and a goopy shuffle of a baked potato mixed with tarragon-heavy Béarnaise and bits of lobster. The only really good sides are Carter’s meaty wild mushrooms anointed with Jerez sherry and an adorable Caesar salad, topped with white anchovies and tucked into a crostini ring that serves as crunchy crouton. Bourbon pecan butter cake is pretty decent as well, although not equal to the legendary butter cake at Mastro’s.Look, I’ve got no bone to pick with B&B’s noisy hipster posture, thumbing its nose at the staid old-school steakhouses of yore. But that stance requires considerably lower prices, not a few bucks less for a lower-grade steak. And what are we meant to think about the menu’s Epic Cristal Dinner, a $35,000 extravaganza involving a limo, wagyu steaks and a Jeroboam of a rare vintage of Cristal champagne? Yes, it benefits charity, but it’s also an over-the-top gimmick that sends a mixed message. My message? For a good time, Bourbon & Bones works; for the best steaks in town, look elsewhere.
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