The idiom of “the pot calling the kettle black” has been around for centuries and always implied hypocrisy — someone criticizing another’s person’s flaws while ignoring the same failings within oneself. The more literal meaning of the phrase, however, has to do with the accumulation of soot on the surfaces of both vessels. When it comes to pubs, customers usually expect soot in a figurative sense, a sort of patina, but not a literal one. A good pub feels well worn and unpretentious, but is not the same sort of place as a dive bar or a greasy spoon diner.
In the core of Downtown Phoenix, a new pub called the Kettle Black is trying its best to look and feel like it has been around for a while, even if it is housed in a relatively new building. There’s no soot to be found, although the conversion of the space from its former usage as a Burger King outlet may have involved cleaning up a fair amount of grease. The location is a shoebox space on First Street, located just a block or two from the following light rail stations: Washington / Central, 3rd St. / Washington, 3rd St. / Jefferson, and 1st Ave. / Jefferson.
Look for the red doors on the block of First Street between Washington and Monroe. On nice days, they’re wide open. There’s a small patio and some counter seats that look outside. Bike racks, both standalone and integrated into parking meters, are plentiful on this block. Inside, there’s a lot of dark wood, a community tables, some booths, and a long bar. Bits of Anglo-American pop culture such as portraits of the Gallagher brothers of Oasis fame and the Notorious B.I.G decorate the walls.
In terms of food, murmurs of the widely overused phrase “gastropub” were heard when Kettle Black first opened. Is that an accurate description of what’s served here? It all depends on the definition. If “gastro” means high-end, innovative, or farm-to-table (itself another overused phrase), then probably not. The menu at Kettle Black is generally composed of items local diners have seen before. Very little will challenge anyone’s palate. On the other hand, the quality of food preparation here is well above average in comparison to typical “pub grub.”
If ordering a pint from the bar, either a traditional pub favorite like Guinness or one of the rotating craft beers listed on a chalkboard, then the Bavarian pretzel is a good match. The large, soft braid is served with its two traditional pairings of spicy mustard and cheese sauce. Also easy to share is the crab cakes, two simple paddies full of crab meat with a garnish of diced red bell pepper and a small salad on the side. Daily soups such corn chowder, seafood chowder, or a hearty corned beef and cabbage provide another option for an appetizer or light meal.
The lunch menu, as expected, is built on a foundation of sandwiches. Corned beef, never out of place on a pub menu, appears again with thick cut sauerkraut in reuben sandwich made with marble rye. A blackened chicken breast with bacon comes on chewy ciabatta. Bacon also makes another appearance atop a hamburger, but there’s a lighter turkey burger paired with pepperjack cheese and avocado. A meatless black bean burger is also available. Sandwich sides include crisp fries with plenty of potato skin, a side salad, and a coarse coleslaw.
At night, there’s another sandwich choice, a First Street burger that incorporates a juicy beef patty, served within an airy brioche bun. Toppings of roasted red pepper and an onion ring accentuate this burger but do not overwhelm it. The only downside is that this particular dish is no longer on the lunch menu. Of course, fish and chips, a pub staple, is available throughout the day. One large slab of fried cod with a crisp coating is presented over a bed of fries with a side of slaw and the expected condiments of tartar sauce and a lemon wedge.
Evening entrees branch out a little more with choices such as chicken-and-vegetable kabobs with a sweet chile glaze; a peppercorn steak with fries and vegetables; and a filling plate full of corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes. Unexpectedly, the two pasta entrees offered are both gluten-free. While such an option is undoubtedly helpful for those with special dietary needs, it does seem incongruous to have gluten-free noodles as the only pasta choice side-by-side on a menu otherwise loaded with the abundant gluten of bread and beer.
Lighter fare available at both lunch and dinner includes a steak salad and a citrus chicken salad. Both incorporate spring mix greens, roasted red pepper, and a corn salsa, or fresca. The main differentiator, beyond the protein choice, is the dressing — bleu cheese on the chicken and cilantro jalapeno on the beef. For dessert, there’s currently just one choice available. It’s a bread pudding made from the same brioche used to hold some of the burgers and topped with a bit of caramel sauce and creme anglaise flavored with whiskey.
As at any pub, there’s no need to wait for dessert for whiskey, though. Plenty of it is available behind the bar, along with tap handles. In contrast with some of the dark beers traditionally favored on pub tap lists, the changing selection of craft beers leans toward IPAs, pilsners, and witbiers from breweries such as Deschutes, Goose Island, and College Street. Neither Kettle Black nor the building that houses it has been around long enough to have accumulated much soot, but the new pub has settled in nicely amid the somewhat shinier landscape of First Street.
1 N. 1st St., Suite 102, Phoenix AZ 85004
Washington / 3rd Street and Washington / Central stations (westbound)
Jefferson / 1st Avenue and Jefferson / 3rd Street stations (eastbound)