There’s a saying that friendship and business don’t mix. That doesn’t seem to be the case for siblings Craig, Mark and Trevor McDowell and their longtime buddy, Chad Ahrendt. The foursome, who attended Saguaro High School and started the CleanFreak Car Wash empire together, clearly had a well-defined vision when they tapped a stellar team of restaurant management pros to open Drexyl in Scottsdale’s Gainey Village Shops.
Just a few weeks after debuting in February, Drexyl was operating like a finely-tuned Ferrari. It’s a bit too casual to qualify as fine dining – no snooty maître d’ or dress code here – but there’s an air of refinement that makes Drexyl a place to impress a date or a client from out of town. It’s a classy joint. The cocktail list is well-curated (and impressively discounted $3 per cocktail or glass of wine and $2 per beer during happy hour), the meals are innovatively designed and servers quick to remedy issues like missing silverware or overcooked steaks.
Drexyl’s stacked-stone pillars and wooden patio planters lean toward the rustic, yet its interior is as sleek and polished as the Beemers and Lexus sedans parked outside. Blue leather bar stools and teal accent walls provide cool contrast to warm wooden tables, and a funky honeycomb pattern splashed behind the hostess’ desk and above the bar lends mid-century modern flavor without descending into kitschy flocked wallpaper territory. Masculine brown leather booths and delicate black-and-white patterned floor tiles balance masculine and feminine elements. The place looks like it was plucked from the pages of a design magazine.
Executive chef Robert Eckhardt’s eats are equally trendy, yet accessible for the average eater. Chicken arancini ($9), Italian-style crispy rice balls, are rich and creamy with a lightly golden exterior. Normally fairly bland, these babies are punched up with smoky fire-roasted chicken and candied jalapeño nibbles. Buttery pretzel sticks ($6) are fairly standard, though the accompanying peppery queso is worth a dip, and I fell for the ahi tuna taco trio ($12) hook, line and sinker. The fish is moist and savory, barely kissed by the grill. Crispy wonton shells and cabbage slaw add textural contrast, with tangy jalapeño syrup for a spicy-sweet kick that sneaks up after each bite.
The lone stinker among Drexyl’s appetizers is fried ravioli ($12). Normally filled with ricotta, herbs and Italian grandmotherly love, Eckhardt’s beef tenderloin version suffers from an unfortunate iron tang reminiscent of the liver filet my mom once tried to pass off as steak. “It tastes like licking a vitamin,” quipped one of my dining companions.
Eight salad offerings might be overkill, but veg-heads will delight in the savory kale chopped salad ($10) with briny feta and mild cucumber dressing and a non-traditional caprese ($10) that’s deconstructed into a virtual Picasso on the plate. Thick buffalo mozzarella chunks and tart tomatoes make this simple salad a safe bet.
Meat lovers aren’t ignored, either. Drexyl’s steak frites salad ($18) satisfies the healthful greens quotient while delivering dry, grassy beef tips that mesh well with the bold flavor of peppercorn dressing. Sadly, there are no actual fries involved, just a disappointingly thin nest of potato straws. Another potato foible is the lasagna-like block of tasteless Lyonnaise potatoes that come with Drexyl’s cola-braised pork ($20). Fortunately, the rest of the dish is great: vibrant, whimsical chile-lime fried pork rind topper and fork-tender pork cheeks braised in savory gravy.
Eckhardt’s sandwiches are surprisingly solid, from a crunchy Korean fried chicken offering ($12) with sticky, tangy barbecue sauce and pungent pickled radish, to a twist on the Reuben substituting smoked brisket for corned beef ($16). Yes, it would make a Jewish deli owner cringe, but the woodsy flavor of the shaved meat is a perfectly balanced base for sweet-hot “fire & ice” pickles and refreshingly not-so-sour sauerkraut. Each ingredient shines separately, even toasty housemade rye.
Main dishes include a scallop-prawn combo ($27), fresh pappardelle pasta ($19) and an ultra-thick pork chop ($23) with flesh so juicy and succulent it falls off the double-bone. Drexyl’s scallops are beautifully cooked, their sweet and tender interior flesh soaking up buttery cilantro pesto. In contrast, the pasta’s Marsala garlic sauce flounders; even perfect al dente noodles and earthy wild mushrooms can’t overcome its lack of seasoning. For more palatable pasta, order a side of truffle orecchiette ($7). Loaded with chèvre and Parmesan, the creamy “little ear” pasta is a decadent, grown-up version of mac and cheese. If they could box its robust cheese flavor, Kraft would make an even bigger fortune.
Drexyl’s salted caramel brownie ($8) is even more over-the top, a warm and gooey half-baked brownie that’s the upscale equivalent of Oregano’s pizza cookie. Desserts are rounded out by a simple gelato and sorbet dish of five mini cones ($6) and thick, rich bread pudding ($8) topped with a strong whiskey-maple butter sauce that nearly got me as tipsy as the Nolet 75, a sparkling gin libation with a subtle fruit undertone that reminds me of mixed berry Jell-O ($10).
Overall, Drexyl offers a smooth and relaxing dining experience. Sandwiches and salads are surprisingly well designed for an upscale eatery, and Eckhardt isn’t afraid to push the Modern American cuisine label to its edges with Korean fried chicken or jalapeño-studded rice balls. While it’s true that sometimes friends and family make bad business bedfellows, this team seems to be as well-balanced as Eckhardt’s untraditional Reuben.
Cuisine: Modern American
Highlights: Chicken arancini ($9); ahi tuna tacos ($12); caprese salad ($10); crispy fried chicken sandwich ($12); smoked brisket Reuben ($16); scallop and prawn duo ($27); heritage pork chop ($23); truffle goat cheese orecchiette pasta ($7); salted caramel brownie ($8)
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