Despite notable culinary progress in recent years, Glendale is still generally a land of chain restaurants. For every Cuff, which made PHOENIX magazine’s 2015 Best New Restaurants list, there seem to be a dozen Carrabba’s or Applebee’s.
Entrepreneurs Peter Gliniak and Teresa Outzen (Old Towne Glendale Wine & Beer Bar, Gaslight Inn) possess the kind of brash, ambitious spirit that may yet turn the tide. The husband-and-wife team invested in an old welding shop last year with the goal of turning it into a chic, locally owned eat-and-play hub. Named Desert Rose, the multipurpose gathering space is reminiscent of The Yard and The Newton with its outdoor courtyard, pizza gastropub and manly cigar lounge. But where the aforementioned adaptive reuse projects have hipster appeal, Desert Rose is a bit more austere and family-focused.
Its flagship is Desert Rose Steakhouse, which aesthetically hovers somewhere between modern brewery and Black Angus with its wooden trusses, exposed ductwork and black leather booths. The space is surprisingly bright and open, with a petite exposed kitchen that seems better suited to the neighboring pizza pub than a pricey steak joint. Still, it fills a conspicuous void for upscale carnivore dining in the downtown area – a palace of red meat to complement nearby institutions La Piazza Al Forno and Haus Murphy’s.
That being said, everything isn’t rosy at Desert Rose. The juicy secret about the steaks is that they’re not always… well, juicy. Consider the New York strip ($42). Thick and meaty with a naturally smoky, charbroiled flavor, the well-marbled, well-trimmed strip is dry-aged for about a month, imparting a somber mouthfeel with a slightly bitter, mineral finish. That’s fine – aging is a stylistic choice, after all, and one to which I’m personally not opposed – but Desert Rose’s tiny kitchen sometimes seems overmatched. On my first visit, one of my table’s dinner orders was left under a heat lamp for several minutes; I had to watch it languish until the table’s other entrée was ready. As a result, the once-tender beef might as well have been a suede boot. Even the fattier prime rib ($32 for 16 oz.) – which gets a pleasant flavor boost from crusted black pepper – suffered from pronounced dryness. The fix? Have each dish brought out the second it’s ready. It worked for me on subsequent visits.
For an experience worthy of Las Vegas steakhouse prices, splurge on the 10-oz. filet mignon ($46), paired with crisp, salty heirloom carrots and garlicky mashed potatoes – and request it be served as soon as the meat stops mooing. Delivered fresh, the filet is velvety and rich, its sturdy flavor intensified by the acidity of red wine reduction. Equally impressive are rosemary-scented lamb osso bucco and a simple yet elegant double bone-in pork chop ($23 each). Thick and juicy, the latter offers a delicate pink center that proves its chef’s chops, while the herbaceous treatment of lamb leg tames any potential gaminess. Both meats melted onto my fork at first cut.
Less scrumptious is the Mediterranean-spiced lamb burger ($14), which waxes dry and mealy if cooked beyond medium-rare. Opt instead for the lobster roll ($20) with plentiful chunks of chilled, succulent tail meat, or the peppered rib-eye Philly cheesesteak ($12). Pro tip: Order an extra dose of melted provolone to balance the Philly’s avalanche of vegetables.
Cheese plays a central role in several Desert Rose staples, including au gratin potatoes, housemade cheddar mac and bacon-wrapped shrimp ($15). Offered as a side dish, the thin-sliced spuds are creamy and comforting, if slightly greasy, while DR’s Mac & Cheese ($10) – said to be the “best in the West Valley,” according to the menu – has a pungent Asiago tang that works well with add-ins like sweet crab meat and sun-dried tomato. Its clumpy cheese is a bit off-putting, but with a little more melting, the dish would be delish.
The shrimp appetizer boasts a delightfully silky mouthfeel, the creamy Mexican cheese seducing plump white shrimp cloaked in crisp bacon. These fried poppers go down so easy the accompanying spicy aioli is, literally and figuratively, just gravy.
Speaking of sauces, Desert Rose’s pizza and pasta dishes boast excellent bases. Chicken blanco ($14) is a Mediterranean feast of grassy artichoke and tangy black olives in luxurious white wine sauce, while seared salmon with two sauces ($22) presents a dining dilemma with its competing flavors. The fish is flaky yet moist, with a salty crust that provides just enough resistance to hold in the salmon’s natural ocean flavor. My tablemates were torn between the yang of piquant red pepper sauce and the delicate yin of its cousin, pesto so buttery you’ll want to slather it on bread.
Pizza, initially offered only as an appetizer, made a lunchtime appearance on my latest visit. The peppered beef pizza starter delights thanks to crunchy green pepper and pungent garlic sauce ($13), and the 8-inch Mediterranean with grilled chicken wins crowds with intense Greek salad flavors. Desert Rose’s light, airy pizza crust balances the weight of creamy béchamel, with salty feta and tart veggies for added depth. This pie is an eye-opener.
With entrée prices averaging $20 to $25 – even higher for steaks – Desert Rose Steakhouse is squarely aimed at upper-crusters, which could prove brilliant or ruinous in an area of the Valley where middlebrow chain restaurants control the conversation. If the owners’ vision of a massive brewery and live entertainment venue come to fruition, the Desert Rose project may prove novel enough to draw patrons from across the Valley. Until then, the “great for the neighborhood” label will have to suffice.
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