Written by Wynter Holden Category: Food Reviews Issue: August 2015
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Night owls rejoice! The owners of FEZ expand their repertoire with globetrotting comfort fare.

Central Phoenix isn’t known for after-hours eats. The sidewalks are all but empty at the end of business hours. By 9 p.m., midtown’s skyscraper-laden core looks like the set of I Am Legend.

Sensing the need for quality midnight munchies, FEZ co-owners Tom Jetland and Mark Dillon unveiled a late-night tapas spot in the circa-1920s Pay’n Takit Market building adjacent to Switch Restaurant & Wine Bar and Durant’s. Corduroy is as warm and welcoming as its fabric namesake, with toasty orange walls, stained glass, misted wraparound patio and booths big enough to seat a flag football team. Servers feel like old friends by the end of the night.

To be honest, “tapas bar” is a bit overreaching. Though most dishes are shareable, Corduroy’s menu bears little Spanish influence, save for a handful of appetizers spotted with words like “Cuban” and “jamón.” Debatable verbiage aside, its diverse offerings perform quite nicely on the tongue.

PHM0815EBSD02Barbecue pork empanadas ($13), for example, deliver a sharp tamarind tang inside buttery pastry, while juicy Serrano ham provides a deliciously baritone note in the restaurant’s airy potato croquettes ($12). A three-fingered-pinch of Middle Eastern spices makes Corduroy’s spanakopita ($11) a crowd pleaser, though creamy feta dressing would add a palate-soothing element the dish lacks.

While most chefs shy away from chicken – the “boring beige” of culinary meats – three of Corduroy’s most enjoyable mains feature this most pedestrian of poultries. Thin-pounded cutlets are thickly breaded and fried in Japanese-style katsu ($15), served with a hearty brown gravy instead of the insipid ketchup-based concoction typically associated with the dish. (It’s a definite improvement, reminiscent of a classic Southern fried chicken platter.) The piquant glaze of chicken piri-piri is fit for an African queen, and citrus lovers will go gaga for the bright, zingy caper sauce of lemony chicken ($15 each).

Seafood is a hard sell in the desert, but Corduroy does right by beautifully seared scallops ($17) and smoked trout tartine ($13). Both are imbued with smoky flavor, the latter topped with creamy herbed Boursin and earthy nuts for a highly textural, classy take on the traditional lox-and-bagel. The scallops are dressed beautifully with ripe roma tomatoes and pancetta nuggets – creating an exciting dance of acidity and crunch – though the promised “potato purée” looks like a scoop of school cafeteria potatoes. Avoid lunch lady fare by substituting crisp black pepper potatoes or an à la carte side like Corduroy’s creamy cabbage slaw with sweet bacon chunks ($6).

Offered as an appetizer, Corduroy’s crab balls ($13) are flavorful and crisp despite the mushy “mystery meat” texture common with seafood croquettes. If your date will be crabby without them, try pairing the fried cakes with a crisp salad such as the Toluca roasted corn with manchego and crunchy asparagus bites or the Supatra with kiwi-like dragon fruit and sugary cashews ($10 each).  

Corduroy’s rotating dessert selection is a bittersweet game of Russian roulette. One day, my tablemates nearly choked on dry, crumbly chocolate ganache cake; other dice rolls yielded creamy mango-topped cheesecake and a to-die-for banana cake blanketed in sugary caramel sauce and rich vanilla bean ice cream ($8 each).

With Downtown restaurants multiplying faster than desert bunnies, rivalry for dining dollars is fierce. But thanks to lively global dishes, personable servers and late-night hours, Corduroy has a pant leg up on the competition.

Cuisine: Eclectic
Contact: 2601 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-374-7585,
Hours: Tu-Su 11 a.m.-midnight
Highlights: BBQ pork empanadas ($13); spanakopita ($11); chicken katsu ($15); seared scallops and pancetta ($17); smoked trout tartine ($13); Supatra dragon fruit salad ($10); banana cake ($8)

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