Review: Neighborly Public House

Nikki BuchananMay 5, 2022
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Coconut cream pie; photo by Blake Bonillas
Coconut cream pie; photo by Blake Bonillas

Set on the Seventh Street dining drag, this one-off concept from repeat restaurateur Chris Collins is fully off the hook.

As a restaurant critic, I generally stay away from chain restaurants – even local chains with local owners – for two reasons: 1) Owners can’t be everywhere at once, so standards slip, and 2) Any entity with the deep pockets to operate multiple restaurants can afford the PR that wins them instant media attention. It only seems fair, then, to seek out David, since Goliath is all set.

But after a few recent visits to Neighborly Public House, a polished but comfortable modern eatery in Uptown Phoenix from serial restaurateur Chris Collins – whose Common Ground Culinary empire includes Grassroots Kitchen & Tap, The Macintosh, Twisted Grove, The Collins, Sweet Provisions, Wally’s American Gastropub and Arcadia Catering Company – I’m reassessing my long-held point of view. 

What’s fair about ignoring a hard-working Phoenician who’s doing a great job? When a local restaurateur aspires to create a comfortable, affordable neighborhood hangout with a touch of sophistication, and he hits the mark, he deserves recognition, whether he owns one restaurant or 100. 

What flipped my script? Lots of small but important things – like brightly welcoming servers and cushy barstools – but mainly a menu that makes weekday dining, or even date night, feel a bit special. I want to try it all.

 From the starter section come Brussels sprouts, a charred, crunchy rendition cleverly packed into a glass jar that spills onto a board. Sweetened with balsamic reduction, sharpened with black pepper and interspersed with fatty chunks of candied bacon and garlic cloves (the latter cooked so low and slow they’re sweet in their own right), these little cabbages are more vegetable candy than vegetable, famous throughout Collins’s restaurant group (who knew?).

interior at Neighborly Public House; photo by Blake Bonillas
interior at Neighborly Public House; photo by Blake Bonillas
oysters Rockefeller; photo by Blake Bonillas
oysters Rockefeller; photo by Blake Bonillas

I love everything I sample from the “seafood station” section as well, including the poke, an Old Bay-sparked mix of ahi tuna, shrimp, avocado, green onion and cucumber, bound with spicy bang-bang sauce and given a sprinkle of sesame seeds for nutty contrast. Brightened with Fresno chile and piled on crispy tortilla chips, it’s fresh and light, rich and creamy.

Collins gives oysters Rockefeller a modern makeover here, combining a judicious dab of creamy spinach – to represent the color of money, one might imagine – with nibs of fatty bacon and hot sauce instead of the usual Pernod. They’re terrific. Less soupy than the Rockefeller norm and more fun.

Nothing groundbreaking about a fillet of salmon, smoked over apple and cherry wood, then sliced thick and served with red onion, capers and dill-flecked mayo, but I love the simple, classic presentation, elevated by Saltines sprinkled with everything-bagel seasoning. See what I mean about the little things?

Salads are just as successful. The Dateland – littered with salty, sweet and earthy goodies such as Laura Chenel goat cheese, Arizona Medjool dates and cannellini beans – is dressed in Champagne vinaigrette and strewn with huge cornbread croutons so sweet and crunchy I could eat them by the dozen.

Those same croutons show up on my new favorite salad, the Gulf Coast Caesar, lightly dressed, sprinkled with Parmesan and, for an extra $15, augmented with the sweetest, crispiest fried oysters I’ve had in ages.

My first mild disappointment comes with the shrimp and bacon roll, which I’ve also pictured as the lobster roll’s more humble cousin. Although I love the buttery, faintly sweet Noble roll on which it’s served, there’s simply too much bread and too little shrimp salad.

However, crisp-edged Maryland-style crab cakes, packed with sweet jumbo lump crab meat and little else, are the best I’ve had in years. Citrus aioli, sharp-sweet watercress and tomato salad and shattered fries – a salty, addictive cross between crispy chips and french fries – make equally perfect accompaniments.

Brussels sprouts; photo by Blake Bonillas
Brussels sprouts; photo by Blake Bonillas

Collins is dialed in on comfort food as well, turning out moist rotisserie chicken, dripping in pan juices, and fork-tender short ribs, served with garlicky risotto and a sticky-sweet puddle of hoisin reduction. The chicken comes with more of those fabulous cornbread croutons, but in a perfect world, there would be mashed potatoes.

If you regularly visit Common Ground restaurants, you may already know what I only recently discovered. Collins’s coconut cream pie (award-winning, apparently) is ridiculously good, so ultra-rich and custardy I now fight a constant urge to run to get a piece of it – if not a whole pie. Rich butter cake, bearing a remarkable likeness to the legendary Mastro’s version, is excellent too, but for me, there’s only pie.

Over three visits, I find precious few misses: happy hour’s fried bologna sandwich (which begs for white bread, not a bun); a wilted Swiss chard side dish that comes off bland and snoozy; and a Southside Butterfly cocktail that seems light on booze.

When all is said and done, however, I’m shocked at how much I enjoy Neighborly. The food may not be mind-blowing, but it’s consistently well-prepared and creative enough to keep me coming back for more. Hello, Goliath. Fingers crossed you’ll operate at this level forever.

Neighborly Public House

Cuisine: Modern American
Contact: 5538 N. Seventh St., Phoenix, 602-675-1852, neighborlypublichouse.com
Hours: Su-W 4-9 p.m., Th-Sa 4-10 p.m.
Highlights: Brussels sprouts ($10); oysters Rockefeller ($18); ahi tuna poke ($16); Gulf Coast Caesar with fried oysters ($25); crab cakes ($34); coconut cream pie ($8)

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