It’s no accident that Stock & Stable, a recently opened New American eatery on Seventh Street’s flourishing restaurant row in Phoenix, looks and sounds a bit equestrian. Both its rustic exterior and its alliterative name allude to the historic Murphy Bridle Path, a tree-shaded city treasure created along Central Avenue back when horse-riders were forced to give way to cars.
Don’t expect some corny, sawdust-floored ode to the Old West, however. Barring a handful of quirky cow paintings, references to Phoenix’s livestock-centric past are pretty much nonexistent. If anything, the energetic space is very 2016, revealing a pleasant jumble of reclaimed wood mosaics, ‘70s-era floor tile and a copper ceiling reminiscent of old-fashioned punched tin. A marble-topped bar takes up half the room, suggesting that Stock & Stable is as much modern-day saloon as restaurant, an upscale but relaxed place to drop by for a burger and beer or something trendier. On weekend nights, the demographic skews considerably younger than 40. Dressed up or down, they travel in small packs, ready to eat, drink and be married to their phones.
Who better to understand this particular market niche than owners Les and Diane Corieri, the Midwestern couple who almost single-handedly launched downtown Scottsdale’s nightlife district? As the founders of long-running Evening Entertainment Group and nightclubs like Axis/Radius and Bottled Blonde, the two have proved their profound understanding of that youth-oriented sector better than anyone in this town. Noting Seventh Street’s explosive growth in recent years, they snagged an adapted midcentury building near The Yard and hired Joe Absolor (formerly of Clever Koi and The Parlor) as their executive chef and business partner.
Although the Corieris have mastered carpe diem establishments – which is to say, bars that serve food – they’ve never tackled a chef-driven restaurant before, and it shows at times. With the skilled but possibly overburdened Absolor at the helm, the food ranges from delicious to unnervingly off-point.
Not surprisingly, Absolor’s eclectic menu has a snack-y orientation, featuring the small plates, salads, shared pastas and sandwiches that might appeal to millennials with first-world sensibilities and third-world wallets. These also happen to be the best dishes. For my own hard-earned money, it’s tough to beat the $25 salumi board, a carefully curated collection of excellent meats and cheeses served with charred Noble Bread, pickled veggies, tart-sweet rhubarb jam and a very good olive tapenade.
The carpaccio starter runs a close second. Drizzled with anchovy vinaigrette and topped with crunchy bread crumbs, Parmigiano and a still-oozy six-minute egg, it’s a satisfying, umami-heavy mashup of textures and flavor. Pork n’ Beans, a cold but tasty evocation of the canned comfort classic, combines haricots vert and guanciale (salted, cured pork cheek) with smoked onion, tomato and a schmear of cannellini bean purée. Oddly named, but good.
If you’ve recently been spoiled by the ethereal pastas at Chris Bianco’s Tratto, it’s a safe bet you’ll be underwhelmed by Stock & Stable’s clunky lamb agnolotti, which no amount of Mediterranean adjuncts such as yogurt, pickled grapes and ricotta salata can redeem. My friend and I pick at it without a glimmer of enthusiasm. Meanwhile, our friendly, mostly on-the-ball server fails to mention that the farfalle, customarily served with Schreiner’s sausage and clams, will instead be served with mussels on this particular evening – and subpar mussels at that. Bummer.
Our mood is restored by the smoked corn manti, Absolor’s summery take on the savory Turkish dumpling. All sweetness and light, the dumplings are dressed with asparagus, radish, crunchy pepitas and crumbly feta.
We’ve just started on our pastas when entrées and veggie sides arrive, and three out of four of them are barely lukewarm. Could it be that the kitchen pre-prepares most of the food and heats it (inadequately, obviously) right before service? Everything about this round is disappointing: the double-cut pork chop with roasted peaches (the latter so overwhelmed with baking spices they don’t even taste fresh); the beer butt chicken (crispy but way too salty); the mashed potatoes with schmaltz (probably OK when they’re hot) and the Tuscan kale (which amounts to a salt lick in a bowl).
There’s a reason nearly everyone in the room is eating sandwiches. They’re cheaper and better than the entrées – at least if the Cubano is any indication. I can’t wait to have this baby again – a luscious combo of smoked pork shoulder, mortadella, provolone, sweet-hot pickles and yellow mustard on toasted Noble bread.
As for desserts, people rave, apparently, about the cream cheese-topped cinnamon sticky bun; however, the lemon tart, cradled in an ultra-buttery graham cracker crust and topped with fresh blackberries, offers more tang for the buck.
Order right and dinner at Stock & Stable can be a pleasant if not particularly exciting experience. But to appreciate what the Corieris do best, take the back stairs up to Honor Amongst Thieves, a speakeasy complete with barred peephole and dress code. It’s a dark, masculine and thoroughly sexy space, furnished with black velvet couches and old-fashioned girlie prints, dominated by a gorgeous bar cut from one massive slab of oak. The still-evolving cocktail program, overseen by Lyndsi Hastings-Mundy, promises to be fantastic. The My Best Girl – St. George Pear Brandy and honey syrup, floated with Champagne – is playful and feminine without being cloying.
Expect plenty of macho cocktails as well – many of them reinvented classics – but not a lot of peace and quiet. Honor Amongst Thieves is likely to draw the rapscallions its name suggests.
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