In Phoenix, where does Downtown end and Midtown begin? Long ago, the city’s central core stopped at Fillmore. According to the city’s current official definition, it’s now McDowell Road. A more realistic modern boundary might be Hance Park. The owners of Portland’s, recently closed after a 13-year run, have moved a mile north to open a new place called “Oven+Vine.” Whether Portland’s was truly in Downtown may have been debatable, but the new restaurant on Vernon Avenue, just a half block from the Encanto / Central light rail station, is clearly part of Midtown.
Oven+Vine occupies the back half of a vintage building bordering the Vernon Avenue Pocket Park.The portion of the building closest to the street is used as inside seating for Rollover Doughnuts. Look for entrances toward the rear on both sides of the building for access to Oven+Vine. There’s a bike rack located right out front and a Grid Bike Share station next door. While the vacant retail space in the massive Tapestry building across the street continues to languish, these small businesses on the north side of Vernon have activated the block.
Inside, it’s open seating with a tall community table in the middle of the small dining room, smaller tables on the periphery, and a four-seat bar. Outside, there’s a counter and some patio space. The building is full of brick, both inside and out, and there’s a cozy fireplace inside the dining room. These touches go with the theme suggested in the restaurant’s name. Most of the food is roasted, braised, or baked in a brick oven in the open kitchen, and the menu focuses on dishes that pair well with the small bar’s wine offerings, along with a changing selection of craft beer.
Despite the emphasis on the oven, one way to start a meal is with a charcuterie-and-cheese board that doesn’t require any time inside the brick behemoth. Boards of three or four items are available in any combination from both the cheese and meat columns. Among the dairy selections, the goat cheese and the burrata are the smoothest options, manchego and fontina are of medium intensity, and cheddar and parmesan are stronger tastes. The cured meats include prosciutto, both sweet and spicy sopressata, and two varieties of salami.
Most salads here begin with a base of greens and then add roasted or smoked ingredients. They’re big enough to serve as light entrees, especially when accessorized with chicken. The Italian salad involves roasted vegetables and cured meats, and the Ashland salad pairs bacon with spinach leaves. With all the salads, the parmesan peppercorn dressing is the one to order. Other starters are mostly items that are also offered as side dishes, so order with care. There’s no need to order some crusty bread, for example, if it will be provided automatically with the meal.
Bread is not only served alongside many entrees, but also serves as a foundation for flatbreads, oblong pizzas ideal for two to share along with a salad or a side dish. Many, such as the margherita, the most traditional, and the bianca, white with no sauce, are familiar from pizza menus around town. Others like the spicy “Earl” involve more distinctive combinations such as fiery jalapeno slices contrasted with mild ricotta cheese. The sopressata and prosciutto found elsewhere on the menu are used often as toppings, as is local favorite Schreiner’s sausage.
While many items at Oven+Vine are meant to be shared, sandwiches make sense for weekday lunches for one. The sandwich selection is small but well crafted. The “Bacontrarian” is exactly as it sounds: loads of bacon with lettuce and tomato. The roasted vegetable sandwich is a meatless counterpoint, and the Italian sandwich is rich in sopressata and fontina cheese. Somewhat surprisingly, Oven+Vine’s appealing roasted chicken doesn’t find its way into a sandwich, even though it might work quite well between some pieces of the house bread.
The heartiest entrees on the menu are identified as “specialties.” These are braised meats, combined with assertive sauces, and served with vegetables or potatoes, either roasted fingerlings or au gratin, as a side dish. There’s also some slices of baguette on the side to soak up any extra sauce. Supple pulled chicken or pork are served in a mild green chili sauce that can be fired up with optional jalapeno slices, while the braised beef entree comes in a darker ancho chili preparation. In the case of the pork ribs, the sauce is a Southwestern barbecue.
One last category of entrees is a selection of baked pasta dishes. Baked rigatoni comes in its most basic and comforting format with ricotta cheese and marinara sauce, as well as a version augmented with roasted vegetables and pesto. Chicken lasagna layers sheets of pasta with pulled poultry enlivened with spinach and mushrooms. All pasta entrees are served in rustic metal dishes which do a good job of retaining the oven’s heat. They also come with several slices of bread and can be augmented with Schreiner’s sausage for an extra charge.
For dessert, there’s an indulgent chocolate torte and tiramisu, as well as two or three flavors of gelato. The drinks come in the form of wine and draft beer, but no cocktails. Non-alcoholic options include bottled Mexican coke and San Pellegrino fruit sodas. Given Oven+Vine’s origins a mile to the south, many visitors may compare this restaurant to Portland’s. They shouldn’t. Although the owners are the same, Oven+Vine has its own niche. The definitions of Downtown and Midtown may be muddled, but Oven+Fine has a clear focus that fits its neighborhood.
14 W. Vernon Ave., Phoenix AZ 85003
Encanto / Central Station