The comfort food trend has been around so long that it’s probably no longer accurate to call it a trend at all. Given the economic, social, and political turmoil of the past few decades, it’s a given that even the most adventurous diners will sometimes find solace in familiar foods — ones people remember from childhood, even if the renditions they ate when young weren’t always terribly good. Certain restaurants now exist in most cities primarily to offer updated, versions of home cooking classics, and in Phoenix, Bliss / reBar fits that niche at the north end of Downtown.
The location, four blocks from the Roosevelt / Central light rail station, has been home to more ambitious restaurants in the past, but since the recession and real estate crash put the brakes on some of Downtown’s bolder visions, the one place that has been able to succeed in these two adjacent vintage buildings has been a combination of a lively bar and patio scene at reBar and a moderately-priced menu of comforting classics at Bliss next door. A new bike rack, a little more artistic than functional, is located along Garfield, and the front entrance is on Fourth Street.
During the evening, the building to the north, “Bliss,” is open to the public. During the day, Bliss serves only as a kitchen, and all service in consolidated into the building to the south, “reBar,” and the adjacent patio with its own bar that opens during peak hours such as First Fridays. Inside either of the two houses, expect lots of natural wood, and reBar adds an artistic touch with its namesake metal in a large sculpture that hovers above the inside bar. When a host station is necessary, it’s found between the two buildings. At other times, seat yourself.
With the exception of breakfast items served only on weekend mornings and a truncated list of late night eats, there’s one all-day menu at the restaurant. It leans heavily toward salads, sandwiches, and shareable items, although there are a handful of more traditional large entrees. Among the starters, the most decadent and interesting might be the cheesy mac balls. Think of arancini, the Italian risotto balls, but made with fried mac-and-cheese rather than rice. The crunchy exterior contrasts with the molten interior of melted cheese and soft noodles.
Salads come in both half and regular sizes. The latter portion can be a shared appetizer or a meal in itself. “Hail Caesar” is a cute name for a basic bowl of Romaine with croutons and parmesan. It’s a simple and familiar item that can be made more interesting if ordered with spicy sriracha dressing. The quinoa and lentil salad is a token gluten-free item, but is hearty and satisfying, particular with an added protein such as chicken or salmon. The Southwest salad is equally filling, and the RoRo salad mixes nuts and fruits with arugula in a successful blend.
Hot sandwiches begin with the Buddha burger. If the name implies a meatless patty, think again. In reality, this is a meaty hamburger with Asian slaw, grilled pineapple, and wasabi aoli on pretzel bread. A steakhouse burger relies on bleu cheese, crispy onions, and steak sauce as its toppings. Of course there is an actual vegetarian burger. In this case, it’s a black bean patty on focaccia. The ordinary toppings don’t do this plant-based entree justice, but add avocado for a small extra charge, and the meatless sandwich’s potential is suddenly realized.
Beyond burgers, there’s a “Wildcat Chick’wich” in which poultry finds itself slathered in buffalo sauce, sprinkled with bleu cheese, and topped with apple coleslaw. The “Meatloaf Man’wich” is loaded with two grilled slices of the ultimate comfort food, placed, like so many other sandwich fillings here, inside pretzel bread. The “Shrimp BLTA” features tempura prawns, all the usual BLT ingredients, and A for an avocado spread. There’s also decadent grilled cheese with bacon to round out the menu. All sandwiches come with salad at no charges or fries for a little more.
Entrees run the gamut from dishes cooked by nearly everyone’s parents (e.g. meatloaf) to regional fare along the lines of shrimp and grits. Sometimes, classic dishes have their own unique and updated presentation at Bliss / reBar. Pot roast here is the familiar dish of braised beef, but in this case it’s served almost like an appetizer. Three mounds of mashed potatoes are topped with the stewed meat and fried onions and then arranged in a line. Chicken and salmon entrees are easily the safest choices, although both are well seasoned and prepared.
The ultimate comfort food, and also one of the most malleable in terms of contemporary updates, is perhaps mac-and-cheese. Bliss’ menu lists four options — a standard model, one with vegetables blended in, a spicy option with chorizo, and a meaty variant with chicken and bacon. In actuality, these are just a starting point because these options can be combined in various configurations. An off-menu half size is probably best for all but the most voracious appetites and combines well with salad and appetizers to form a complete meal.
Desserts are also straightforward perennials such as a brownie a la mode and a berry cobbler, although the creme brulee exhibits some playfulness via a parade of changing flavors. Drinks lean heavily toward vodka and energy drink cocktails, but some craft beer and wine offer a much-needed adult touch. Bliss / reBar may occupy a pair of old houses, but it’s next to several busy construction sites for both apartments and biomedical buildings. That combination of the old and new is a good match for the seemingly eternal trend of modern comfort food.
901 N. 4th St., Phoenix AZ 85004
Roosevelt / Central Station