Long before I stepped foot in the PHOENIX magazine office (back when our headquarters was at Scottsdale Quarter), I was a PHOENIX magazine fan. I especially savored the dining section, with its beautiful food photography and evocative writing that made me feel as if I was eating chateaubriand in a Scottsdale steakhouse or kebabs in a Tempe hole in the wall even as I was making do with chain restaurants in the West Valley (I was a kid! I couldn’t drive myself to Radio Milano). The grande dame of PHOENIX food writing, for most of those years, was Nikki Buchanan. Now that Nikki is back, I find I still get excited to see what she’ll think of a restaurant she’s reviewing. Our palates don’t always align, but when she’s bowled over by a place, it moves to the top of my list. Thus my visit to Hush Public House (just a few blocks south of our old Scottsdale Quarter stomping grounds), which she raved about in her May review.
My GPS took me to the wrong part of the shopping plaza. “Does ‘Hush’ refer to the secrecy of the location?!’ I kvetched to myself as I drove in circles, finally spotting it near Arizona Leather Interiors. At first glance, it reminded me of CRUjiente Tacos – long, rectangular, dark and intimate, with a bar bordering a good portion of one wall. Because my gal pals and I got there right when Hush opened at 4 p.m., there were only two other customers and a couple of food-and-bev industry types chatting with chef-owner Dom Ruggiero at the bar.
There’s a limited food menu during “social hour” (see The Details, below), but though the dishes are few, they are mighty. We ordered three of the available noshes: chicken liver mousse ($18), crab hush puppies ($16) and white bean hummus ($12). Nikki glowingly called the chicken liver mousse “poor man’s foie gras,” but I’m foie-averse and I loved every silky scoop piled on grilled rounds of Noble bread with drunken cherries. We ordered even more bread to squeegee the mousse from the sides of the jar.
The crab hush puppies were light and crispy, with sweet notes from the luscious crab and the sweet corn remoulade. If anything, my friends and I craved a bit more acid with this one – perhaps a bit of vinegary kick in the sauce, or a squeeze of lemon. But fried food is magic, and I was not complaining. I could have eaten five more and called it a meal.
The hummus was a last-minute impulse order, and it was so yummy that it made me grateful – for once! – for my lack of self-control. White beans (beloved ingredients in my home kitchen) are blitzed with pine nuts, luxurious glugs of oil and what tasted like generous splashes of fresh lemon juice, and topped with a puddle of more oily goodness and toasted pine nuts, salty pecorino romano and zesty gremolata. It’s difficult to achieve brightness and creaminess in equal measure in one dish, but this one did it handily. I will definitely try to re-create this at home.
We’ll have to try the salumi board ($22) next time.
All drinks are $2 off during social hour. I sip from the Love Bucket (regularly $12), a refreshing and slightly sweet mix of vodka, gin, strawberry, lemon and Bertina, an elderflower-based Scandinavian liqueur. The slight tartness goes gangbusters with the hush puppies, in particular. My girlfriends drink the light and summery Zona Pilsner from 12 West Brewing, one of four brews (all local) on the drink list. (The wine selection leans heavily toward California grapes, with a French, an Italian and a Kiwi here and there.)
THE INSIDER SECRET
The lovely hostess tells us that regulars (and the staff) get excited for the informally dubbed “Not Your Avocado Toast,” a weekly rotating toast special that showcases countless toppings superior to that mild green fruit. During the week of our visit, the menu boasted seasonal peach toast with house-made ricotta, hazelnut dukkah, yellow peaches, local honey and mint.
Happy hour is called social hour at Hush, and it runs Tuesday-Friday from 4-5 p.m.