Former Eddie V’s chef Tom Harvey sticks with the script at his palate-pleasing West Valley food pub.
In the 2014 sleeper hit Chef, the titular character reluctantly forgoes an adventurous menu in favor of cooking his “greatest hits.” Local chef Tom Harvey, formerly of Eddie V’s Prime Seafood, goes a similar route at Cuff, a newly-opened American eatery in the West Valley. The movie comparison probably ends there – Cuff owner David Chang (Zang’s Asian Bistro) doesn’t strike me as the kind of seething control freak Dustin Hoffman plays in the flick – but plating things safe is a wise move in downtown Glendale, where culinary piety, not experimentation, is most prized.
Inside, comfy red leather half-rounds contrast with sage walls. Panel molding and a white tin ceiling – carried over from the eatery’s former incarnation as a Latin-themed breakfast joint – lend a vintage vibe in keeping with the building’s circa-1895 construction. It’s an environment as homey and inviting as Harvey’s menu.
For starters, surprisingly lean pork belly chunks and tangy hoisin sass up a trio of tacos ($9), while the crispy calamari ($9) is elevated from “adequate” to “addictive” by the satisfying pucker of sambal aioli. The charcuterie board ($10) is equally memorable thanks to herbaceous pâté that tastes like blue-ribbon-winning meatloaf.
Cuff’s menu is refreshingly petite, with less than a dozen main dishes. Nearly all are worth ordering. The shrimp po’ boy ($11) is a little too po’ when it comes to shrimp quantity, but is otherwise flavor-packed. Sweet Carolina barbecue sauce and melt-in-your-mouth meat make the pork shoulder sandwich ($8) a must-try, though an over-buttered bun knocks it below Cuff’s eight-hour slow-smoked brisket ($12), which carried me on a carousel of salty, sweet, tangy, spicy and satisfaction – in that order. In the entrée category, creamy shrimp and grits ($10) gets a boost from poached egg, and Amalfi chicken ($11) succeeds thanks to garlicky lemon butter sauce that’s so decadent, every last drop deserves to be mopped up with bread. But it’s Harvey’s signature dish, Cuff Posole ($11), that really wows. Handmade pulled-pork-stuffed potstickers combine with starchy hominy and lip-smacking tomato gravy for a stick-to-your-ribs dish that seamlessly marries cultural comfort foods.
Crafted offsite by Mamma Toledo’s The Pie Hole, Cuff’s two desserts are tasty if slightly unimaginative. Sold out of the crisp apple pie on one of my visits, Harvey earned literal brownie points for providing a complimentary slice of chocolate cake in apology. Service can be slow, but such thoughtful concessions trump the wait.
“If you bought Rolling Stones tickets and Jagger didn’t play ‘Satisfaction,’ how would you feel?” quips Dustin Hoffman in Chef. Indeed, there’s something to be said for a chef who plays to his strengths. Perhaps Harvey will experiment more once established; until then, locals can enjoy the satisfaction of eating his greatest hits.
Cuff Cuisine: American
Contact: 5819 W. Glendale Ave., Glendale, 623-847-8890, cuffdowntown.com
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. M-Sa, happy hour 3-6 p.m. M-Sa
Highlights: Spicy-sweet crispy calamari ($9); pork belly tacos ($9); charcuterie board ($10); pork shoulder ($8); smoked brisket ($12); shrimp and grits ($10); Amalfi-style lemon chicken ($11); Cuff Posole ($11)
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