Photography by Angela Adams
After years of mystifying disuse, a historical home in Roosevelt Row roars back to life as a seductively sparse pan-European bistro.
When it comes to historic preservation, Phoenix has a horrible track record. Count the Fox Theatre, the Hotel Adams, the wonderful Art Deco Fleming Building and, more recently, the iconic 307 Lounge on Roosevelt Row among the brick-and-mortar artifacts that have fallen to the wrecking ball over the decades.
So running across a charming new restaurant like The Farish House, located near Roosevelt Row and named for the 1899 brick home in which it resides, warms the cockles of my vintage-loving little heart. In its most recent former life, the atmospheric old Victorian played host to a hip arts-district restaurant called The Roosevelt Tavern, from Matt’s Big Breakfast founder Matt Pool, which shuttered in 2012. After that, it fell into a strangely prolonged period of disuse. Evidently, one enterprising soul wanted to turn it into a cocktail bar called The Monocle, but was waylaid when his sex-offender past came to light, spooking his investors.
His loss is our gain, because chef-owner Lori Hassler – who owned dearly departed Tuscan-inflected Radda Caffe-Bar in Scottsdale – has done a fabulous job of bringing this 120-year-old gem back to life, adding art, tapestries and antique furniture to make her retro bistro a serene retreat for grown-ups. This is just what Downtown Phoenix needs: a go-to for cocktails, wine, cheese and charcuterie, and a date-night place for a semi-fancy but affordable dinner featuring simple renditions of French and American classics.
My friend finds a bottle of Chateau Montelena Chardonnay on the small but impressive wine list, the same wine (in a different vintage, of course) that took first place in the 1976 Judgment of Paris, the blind tasting in which California proved its prowess to snooty French winemakers. Hassler’s list is fun like that, featuring affordable wines, many from venerable wineries more than 100 years old.
We order that Chard, and build our own cheese and charcuterie boards (each meat and cheese selection costs $5), both arriving with greens, pickled grapes, caper berries and cornichons. The bread could be toasted, the accompaniments more interesting, but I can’t complain about good cheeses at this price.
The menu is rife with salads, sides and small bites, including an app of brandied chicken pâté, served in a jar with a topping of raspberry jam, which comes with pickled onion and dainty toast points. Also good: rustic pomodoro soup, brimming with caramelized onion and chunky hand-crushed tomato, the bowl anchored by a Parmesan-dusted hunk of grilled bread.
Bitter & Blue, a chopped salad of bitter greens accented with pecans and creamy Gorgonzola, comes slicked with orange marmalade vinaigrette for sweet punctuation, while a side dish of herb-laced French lentils, sautéed with carrots, onion, fennel and kale, has a homey quality I like. Ditto for roasted duck fat fingerlings I could eat all day.
There’s a lot of fun to be had on Hassler’s spare, well-curated entrée menu, beginning with a French-y, crispy onion-topped mac and cheese – playfully dubbed Le Mac, thank you very much, Pulp Fiction – that seems lighter and creamier than goopy, cheese-heavy American versions.
The only disappointment on the menu, or with any part of my Farish House visits, is an eggplant stack, whose multitude of vegetables cannot save it from blandness.
You’ll be in much better shape ordering Hassler’s homey cassoulet, that soul-soothing French-Mediterranean classic, made by slow-cooking white beans with pork skin and other meats in an earthenware pot. This version may not rival Charleen Badman’s bar-setting cassoulet over at FnB, but it works – combining creamy twice-baked white beans with roasted pork, sausage ragout and duck leg confit.
If you’re a persnickety foodie who craves adventure, The Farish House may seem a bit tame. But for good wine and a simple, affordable meal before a show Downtown – if you hoof it the six blocks to Crescent Ballroom after your meal, it’s probably a calorie-neutral proposition – it’s pretty hard to beat.
Let’s just hope it isn’t turned into a condo someday.
The Farish House
Contact: 816 N. Third St., Phoenix, 602-281-6659, farishhouse.com
Hours: Tu-Sa 4-10 p.m.
Highlights: Build-your-own cheese platter ($5 per cheese); Bitter & Blue salad ($11); pomodoro soup ($9); duck fat fingerlings ($8); Le Mac ($13); French lentils ($8); cassoulet ($28)