The once-predictable post-game dinner joint for the spring training crowd makes a major comeback with creative spins on steakhouse standards.
When Pink Pony rode into the sunset in 2009, its departure marked the end of an era. The downtown Scottsdale landmark served its first meal in 1949, and over the decades little had changed from the tried-and-true menu based on steaks served with soup or salad and a baked potato.
When Pink Pony reopened last spring under new owners, diners cheered – and, almost as quickly, stopped cheering once they discovered that nothing had changed on that simple menu. Nostalgia, it seems, can take a steakhouse only so far.
Management quickly realized that a major shake-up was needed to recapture more demanding modern appetites. The owners sold the restaurant to legendary chef Reed Groban, who ran the nationally-renowned Marquesa in Scottsdale for two decades. He immediately “Grobanized” the menu, keeping the meat motif but expertly modernizing it with magical dishes like braised short rib crêpes made silky with bone marrow flan and painted with a rich red wine reduction ($17).
The new Pony feels like the old Pony, in all the right ways. It’s still Pepto-Bismol pink, with dark woods and curved booths that wrap around you like a hug. The steak still shines, and it’s a higher quality prime grade and much juicier than it used to be, grilled over mesquite charcoal and dripping juices waiting to be sopped with homemade pretzel bread. One standout, the prime rib ($26-$48), is rubbed with pastrami spice for a slight tangy-sweet punch, and diners can choose mouthwatering sides like crisp-edged polenta cakes ladled with creamy corn fondue ($4).
It’s clear that Groban, his crew and, most importantly, customers, are having fun with this fancier pedigreed place.
“Yep, that’s exactly what I’d call it,” my server said with a grin, when I asked if the “brined turkey and five-spiced duck confit with garden bites in butternut squash crust” ($19) was a glorified potpie.
A plethora of flavors are at play throughout the lengthy menu, and they work wonderfully together, as does Groban’s often over-the-top style. Classic meatloaf ($15) comes as a savory “cupcake” frosted in whipped potato, while a retro lobster Thermidor and stuffed shrimp DeJonghe platter ($27) gets a 21st century kick from squid ink ravioli.
Deviled eggs are hip again across the foodie world, but Groban ups the style factor with toppings like tobiko flying fish roe, crab and curried lobster ($8). There’s also sumptuous creamed spinach – folded with mascarpone, dried apricots, candied ginger and pine nuts ($4).
Pink Pony was once a haven for baseball players and their groupies. Thanks to Groban, it might be the hot spot again for spring training 2012. Fittingly, pastry chef Dave Blom (formerly of the Fairmont Princess) offers a delicious salute to Cactus League history with his dessert The Nostalgia of Baseball ($8), layering milk chocolate and peanut butter cream beneath toasted meringue and finishing the plate with a chocolate stenciled baseball player swinging a bat.
That sound you hear? It’s fans cheering for Pink Pony, back and better than it ever was.
Address: 3831 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale
Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Saturday; happy hour 3-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday; dinner 5-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
Highlights: Braised short rib crêpes ($17), prime rib ($26-$48), meatloaf ($15), lobster Thermidor and stuffed shrimp DeJonghe platter ($27).
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