Anyone who has read “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” knows that the seemingly ordinary number 42 turned out to be the answer to “the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything.” While the number 42 may have cosmic significance, it also sounds like it might fit in closer to home among the cocktails on the menu at recently-opened Windsor. In actuality, there is no cocktail named “42” at the restaurant, but with specialty drinks listed as “No. 89,” “No. 11,” and even the “No. 1,” a refreshing blend of vodka and watermelon aqua fresca, it’s natural to wonder what’s behind the numbers here.
The origin of the numeric names remains a mystery, but the formula behind Windsor, along with neighboring ice cream shop Churn, seems clear: Take an interesting but underutilized building (a relatively old one by Phoenix standards), renovate it and open it up with a patio, and turn it into a popular bar and restaurant. It that strategy sounds familiar, it’s exactly what happened two years ago when Postino opened across the street. Now Postino’s owner, Craig DeMarco, has crossed Central Avenue with a new creation that has quickly become another Uptown dining destination.
That destination is easy to reach via light rail. Take the train to Central / Camelback and then walk a quarter mile north on the east side of Central. To be safe, make sure to cross Central at Camelback rather than braving the unsignaled crosswalk at Colter. There are also large bike racks on the restaurant’s patio for anyone using two-wheeled transport to reach the restaurant. Windsor and Churn occupy two storefronts facing the street, but the real action is in the back on a shaded, mist-cooled patio that is comfortable even in summer heat.
|No. 1 cocktail|
The bar, located toward the rear of the dining room relative to the street, is also a popular spot. From there flow not only the inventive cocktails with herbs and fruits muddled on site, but also impressive selections of wine on tap, beer on tap, and even alcohol-free beverages such as lemonade infused with fresh seasonal berries. The beer selection is craft-oriented with drafts from breweries like O’Dell and Four Peaks offered in pints, pitchers, and even “shorties” for anyone wanting just a taste. Happy hour pricing makes most drinks available for just $5 prior to 6 PM.
|halibut bahn mi|
Windsor has been marketed as serving “pub grub” or “glorified bar food.” To an extent, that’s true. A smorgasbord offers thickly-cut smoked salmon alongside hummus, pickled vegetables, nuts, pita bread, and cheese. It’s an assertive assortment of tastes and the best way for a table to share a generous starter. Simple foods like hamburgers, however, are cleverly reinterpreted as updated classics. Choose to have a burger “Windsor style” to elevate the flavor with sharp cheddar, caramelized onions, and garlic aioli. The soft bun verges on brioche, and the accompanying fries are rough cut with skin-on.
|country vegetable chop|
Sandwiches branch out beyond burgers into fare based on fish and poultry. The halibut bahn mi is a clear success, even though it’s less authentic and more expensive than the Vietnamese sandwiches served just a mile or two west along Camelback Road. It works its own magic with a generous slab of fish instead of more familiar pork fillings and via the substantial heat added by spicy sambal mayonnaise. The crab cake BLT sounds at first like it might be a case of the overplayed bacon fad, but the dish relies on minced bits of bacon judiciously mixed into three small crab cakes. The result is a smoky flavor that does not overpower the distinct taste of the crab meat.
|burger and fries|
A “Brown Bag Chicken Sandwich” lands somewhere halfway between pulled barbecue and a deli salad on a bun. As weird as that sounds, it works, largely due to sun-dried tomatoes enlivening the flavor while watercress and avocado provide contrasting crisp and smooth textures. Besides the obvious fries, some of the other side dish options for any sandwich include cheesy “church potatoes,” creamy mac-and-cheese, a cold bean salad, a hearty slaw made with savoy cabbage, and a daily vegetable such as grilled asparagus or corn on the cob with an intense herb butter.
|chicken sandwich with slaw|
In fact, it’s Windsor’s approach to vegetables and grains that makes its bar food indeed “glorified” — in the most sincere sense of the word. Kale, a vegetable that until recently was often relegated to neglect as a garnish, is used in abundance here. Kale chips are an interesting trend. It’s unclear how much of the leaves’ considerable nutritional power survives the preparation, but they’re an appealing starter nonetheless. A kale Caesar salad blends a little romaine with a whole lot of kale, chunky croutons, and a relatively light dressing to create a more nutritious take on a typically indulgent salad.
|mixed grain salad|
Grains get special attention via a hearty and flavorful entree salad that combines quinoa, kamut, and barley with roasted vegetables and just a bit of ricotta salata cheese. Eat this to atone for a burger indulgence during a prior visit or in anticipation of a rich dessert at Churn next door. The short walk at the end of the meal is a necessity for anyone wanting dessert because there’s none on the Windsor’s menu. Instead, stroll for ice cream and enjoy the wall of old cassettes that connects the two establishments. If dining with children, who are welcomed and given their own menu at Windsor, take this opportunity to show them a discontinued medium they will never own.
|ice cream sandwich|
Churn is an old-fashioned ice cream shop with traditional flavors and a few innovative ones like Vietnamese coffee. There are also baked goods, including big chewy cookies and Rice Krispies treats with M&Ms, and even some candies and novelties. Any two cookies can be combined with any flavor of ice cream, or even a mix of half-scoops, to create an original ice cream sandwich. The shop definitely has a retro feel, as if it’s been around for years despite just having opened. Speaking of things that have been around for years, the supercomputer that figured out 42 was the ultimate answer took 7.5 million years to arrive at that conclusion. If we’re lucky, Windsor and Churn can last least a few millionths of that time span.
5223 N. Central Ave., Phoenix AZ 85012
5223 N. Central Ave., Phoenix AZ 85012