They’re less obvious that shiny rail cars and whimsical station art, but one feature of all railroads is switches. Since trains have no steering wheels, mechanical contraptions that guide rail cars from one track to another are necessary. Locally, they’re used most often near the ends of the light rail line and in places where extra train cars are sometimes parked during special events. That means less reliance on switches in Midtown, where trains usually just run back-and-forth in a straight line. Still, there is one prominent switch in Midtown; it just happens to be a restaurant.
Switch actually predates the opening of light rail in late 2008, so the association with railway technology may be nothing more than coincidence. Switch the restaurant, which is now about a decade old, is found on Central Avenue halfway between the Thomas / Central and Encanto / Central light rail stations. The Encanto station near the Heard Museum offers the more pleasant walking route to and from the restaurant. At the restaurant, a well-placed bike rack is found in back, right outside the courtyard-style patio.
Switch is owned by the same people behind Central Phoenix favorites Fez, Bliss, Pizza People Pub, and Corduroy. The formula at all those restaurants is to take a particular cuisine and reinterpret that style of cooking in a comfort food vein. If Fez is vaguely Middle Eastern and Corduroy slightly Spanish, Switch’s origins are found in American classics and regional cuisines, particularly Southern cooking. There are also a few Mexican, Southwestern, and European touches added, but the predominant feel is elevated diner and road food.
The music played on the speakers reinforces that theme. Listen and you’ll hear plenty of classic rock, Southern rock, and even a little country. The sound level is moderate and audible on both the rear patio and in the dining room with its view of Central Avenue. The dining room features a long community table, an L-shaped bar, and booths wrapping around the room. The ambience is similar to the owners’ other restaurants in terms of being nice enough for a business lunch but also sufficiently casual for family dining or weekend brunch in shorts and sandals.
Starters include a Switch rendition of an American classic: potato “tots.” In this case, the tots are identified as “jumbo,” but they’re not supersized versions of the familiar frozen food. Instead, they’re essentially towers of hash browns, well seasoned on their own and even better with the accompanying “Switch Sauce,” a condiment that seems somewhere between ketchup and sriracha. Also not to be missed is the daily soup. There’s impressive variety here with classics such as beef and mushroom and more innovative fare like shrimp cornbread pudding bisque.
Switch has an all-day menu. At midday on weekdays, when the restaurant fills with Midtown office workers, sandwiches and salads are seen at most tables. The catfish po’boy exemplifies the semi-Southern style that prevails here. The fish is crisp on the outside with a flaky interior. It could use a bit of hot sauce, but there’s a nice hot pepper garnish on top. The apricot BBQ feta chicken sandwich strikes an effective balance between spicy BBQ sauce, sweet apricot, and tangy feta cheese. The Jalisco panini is essentially a torta, Switch’s version of a Mexico City sandwich.
All sandwiches come with a small field or Caesar salad on the side, although sweet potato fries or potato wedges are available as an upgrade. Larger, entree-sized salads include the new blue poblano, a bed of bibb lettuce topped with cucumber, tomato, corn, radish, bleu cheese, poblano peppers, and avocado ranch dressing. The restaurant’s namesake Switch house salad has a blend of Mediterranean and Louisiana influences from the contrast of arugula and parmesan cheese with praline pecans and fried onion strings, all of it topped with a balsamic fig dressing.
Heartier entrees again display the regional American emphasis that defines Switch. Fried chicken with a peppery breading is paired with a sweet potato mash. The same crispy poultry shows up, as expected, in the form of boneless tenders on a children’s menu. Brunswick chicken is pulled meat in a stew with beans and andouille sausage over golden rice. The grilled chicken on top seems superfluous in addition to the chicken already in the stew, though. The pot pie galette is a variation on a classic with a more horizontal presentation than usual and airy puff pastry around a creamy filling.
On weekends, Switch augments its everyday menu with a selection of brunch offerings. A decadent breakfast mac-and-cheese places the familiar mix of pasta and dairy over eggs with a bit of bacon and onion added for a savory breakfast touch. Carafes of mimosas and other morning drinks add to the experience. At all times, Switch has a full bar with wine, draft beer, and its own cocktail creations. Desserts like a brownie sundae and the King, an Elvis-inspired indulgence, are meant for sharing. Dessert specials such a poached apples with puff pastry are more restrained in size and sweetness.
Switch’s melding of comfort food with chef-driven creativity is generally successful. The approach is distinctive from other restaurants under the same umbrella, but familiar enough to feel instantly welcoming to fans of the owners’ other establishments. The trains running along Central Avenue outside the restaurant usually run in a straight line with little need for switches along the way. Inside the restaurant, the American regional comfort food is mostly straightforward but the kitchen adds a few switches of its own to ensure an interesting journey throughout the meal.
2603 N. Central Ave., Phoenix AZ 85004