Jane Jacobs, a thinker, activist, and writer known for her perspective on what makes cities work, is known for saying that “new ideas require old buildings.” When so many buildings in Phoenix’s core have been foolishly torn down, sometimes the best that can be done is to make a new place look and feel older than it really is. When local restaurateur Sam Fox unveiled his latest venture, the Arrogant Butcher at Downtown’s CityScape development, he told visitors that he wanted the brand new restaurant to feel like it has been around for decades.
|patio and entrance|
CityScape is the latest attempt at Downtown revitalization via big project. For the most part, its design is unimpressive, but the Arrogant Butcher’s location at the northwest corner of Jefferson and First Street is one part of CityScape that was designed with some true urban sensibility. Patio seating wraps around the corner, and extensive windows create a dialogue between the restaurant’s interior and the sidewalk. Light rail stations at Washington / Central, First Avenue / Jefferson, Third Street / Washington, and Third Street / Jefferson are all just a few blocks away.
|the new looking old|
Inside, there are design touches that try to make the restaurant look decades, rather than weeks, old. At the bar, lanterns with retro light bulbs cast a warm light. Nearby, a giant clock towers over the dining room. Art in private dining rooms at the back mixes Arizona history with some more generic images. The sounds are retro by only a decade or so. Expect a playlist that relies heavily on ‘90s rock. You won’t hear much Sinatra or Bennett here, but you’re also not going to hear a lot of Broken Bells or the National either. Free wifi is a welcome specimen of unabashed modernity.
|pretzel buns with melted provolone|
The Arrogant Butcher was originally planned as a high-end steakhouse, but was redefined prior to opening to align with the recessionary economy and the scaled-back plans at CityScape. Sam Fox may not get a lot of respect in some of the more rarefied “foodie” circles, but he’s to be commended for following through on a commitment to Downtown after having built his empire largely in Scottsdale and northeast Phoenix. It’s also impressive that Fox has at times been seen personally supervising the kitchen line at his newest creation.
The redefinition of the Arrogant Butcher has led to a mostly American menu with an emphasis on updated classics and a few flourishes from around the world. If if seems like that’s what everyone is doing these days, then it’s important to at least execute the menu well. For the most part, Arrogant Butcher is doing so, although with some room for growth and improvement as the restaurant matures. The staff are earnest and well-trained, although such a new eatery can’t have the veteran career servers who make a truly old place like Durant’s so interesting.
|sweet potato soup|
The restaurant borrows liberally from dining trends and even other Fox restaurants. Pretzel buns are big these days, and Arrogant Butcher offers them with melted provolone as an appetizer, or as the bread in a turkey pastrami sandwich. The kale salad recalls a similar dish at Fox’s True Food based on a green that has long been relegated to use as a garnish. Champagne vinaigrette might normally be too sweet as a dressing but offers nice a counterpoint to the slightly bitter leaves. Roasted cauliflower and marcona almonds add depth and crunch to the dish.
|salmon chopped salad|
Those almonds also make an appearance in one of the best items on the lunch menu: a grilled chicken tabbouleh salad. Spell tabbouleh any way you like, but the base is always a salad of soaked bulghur wheat with minced parsley, tomato, and mint. This version adds feta, almonds, cucumber, mesclun lettuces, and hearty slices of unexpectedly flavorful grilled chicken. Among the daily specials, Tuesday’s rainbow trout, cooked skin-on with green beans and a butter sauce, is a case study is preparing good ingredients with minimal adornment and fuss.
|sweet potato tortellini|
When the kitchen stumbles, it’s usually due to a heavy hand with the salt shaker. An NaCl overload is apparent in soups like the corn chowder, which is otherwise pleasing with firm pieces of potato and corn cernels in a velvety base. It’s also evident in the jambalaya. The generous serving is nice and spicy, full of chicken, sausage, and firm okra without slime, although a little light on the rock shrimp. Both dishes show genuine promise, but someone please page Dr. Weil, Fox’s partner at True Food, to desalinize some of the Arrogant Butcher’s menu stat.
|chicken tabouleh salad|
Given the consistent business at Arrogant Butcher during its first few weeks of life, this restaurant may be a pocket of success in a project sometimes seen as struggling. The unanswered question, both for the Arrogant Butcher and CityScape as whole, is if the crowds will persist or fade away as they did a few years after the Arizona Center opened two decades ago. It’s much too early to reach a conclusion about that, but for now, it’s at least possible to eat well while pretending what’s new is old.
2 E. Jefferson St., Phoenix AZ 85004
Jefferson / 1st Avenue or Jefferson / 3rd Street stations (eastbound)
Washington / 3rd Street or Washington / Central stations (westbound)