At the southern edge of Hance Park, a mid-rise building formerly known as the Lexington Hotel has spent most its history as a boring beige box. The property was occasionally redeemed, however, by some unexpected bursts of brilliance from its restaurant. When the hotel was a Best Western, the kitchen served standard American fare but had a secret Indian menu available to those savvy enough to request it. Later, it became home to Cycle, a series of pop-up engagements in which its kitchen was taken over by a changing cast of local chefs.
After years of vacancy and renovation, the hotel has reopened and been re-christened as FOUND:RE, a more contemporary and stylish brand than anything found at this site before. With that transformation, there has been a corresponding attempt to create a restaurant that equals and ultimately exceeds previous culinary accomplishments at this address — only on a more steady and recurring basis with an ambiance on the same level as the food. The result is MATCH Cuisine & Cocktails, stylized in all capital letters just like the hotel it inhabits.
MATCH is diagonally across the street from the Central / Roosevelt light rail station, The FOUND:RE hotel has a corkscrew bike rack located right at the corner. While the hotel and its restaurant are easy to reach via rail, bicycle, or walking, the redevelopment of the building overlooked a critical detail: adding a second entrance facing Portland. As a result, customers arriving and departing must navigate a narrow sidewalk and driveway near the fast traffic on Central. Proceed with caution, especially after enjoying some of the cocktails suggested by MATCH’s full name.
Inside the one entrance, which is situated just off the flume created by the Central Avenue bridge over Hance Park, the artistic inclinations of the newly rebranded hotel are evident. The pieces on display may change from time to time, but during the hotel’s initial months of operation, a painting of Burt Reynolds over the front desk and an aquatic animation on the floor have been favorites. Look to the left for the hotel lounge, which leads to the bar. Around the corner lies the host station and the restaurant’s dining room. All these spaces blend together into one food service area.
As a hotel restaurant serving guests throughout the day, MATCH by necessity has a multitude of menus: breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, dessert, happy hour, kids, and maybe even one or two more. The dinner menu is the one that most obviously embodies MATCH’s culinary philosophy of shareable plates with global inspirations. That means not only fusions of two or more national cuisines in a single dish, but also juxtapositions of classic continental fine dining fare with gussied-up versions of international street foods from Asia, Latin America, or Africa.
Among the updated dishes is the restaurant’s signature soup, a rich lobster bisque replete with generous chunks of crustacean meat and diamond-shaped mascarpone-filled gnocchi. Escargot are in a similar vein with half a dozen tender snails served in a traditional six-chamber container. The escargot are served out of their shells and covered with a classic garlic butter and a bit of fourme d’Ambert, a French cheese with origins as far back as the Roman Empire. These dishes are clearly rooted in restaurant traditions of decades past, but MATCH makes them feel fresh.
From another part of the world entirely, a trio of samosas, usually seen among the appetizers at Indian restaurants, are stuffed with flavorful yet mild butter chicken inside a light but crisp shell. Jamaican patties are similar but stuffed with beef. A poke bowl, certainly in line with contemporary trends, is loaded with avocado, sushi rice, shredded carrots, pickles, raw fish, and seaweed. This dish is a success but a bit hard to share. It might be a welcome addition to the lunch menu, which emphasizes sandwiches and salads over the shared plates that prevail in the evening.
At midday, a “Bluto” sandwich of crispy chicken inside a toasted roll derives its vibrant tangy flavor from bleu cheese with sweet pickle slices on the side offering a bit of contrast. A lamb gyro sandwich features mildly flavored meat formed into a patty, rather than slices, but with traditional gyro flavor and accompaniments of iceberg, tomato, onion, and tzatziki. Daily soups such as butternut squash or saffron rice are available by the cup or bowl, as are salads such as Thai green papaya and a deconstructed Caesar with hearts of romaine topped with parmesan and dressing.
Pizzas are offered at both lunch and dinner. Served in relatively small nine-inch diameters, they include options such as the Grateful ‘Shroom with roasted fungi and a bit of truffle oil and the Filipino Kush with longaniza sausage (similar to chorizo), coriander, and garlic. Some varieties are noted as part of the “light rail express” menu, an array of dishes guaranteed to come fast during lunch service. Desserts, like some of the entrees, are deconstructed creations. The Oaxacan Wreckage with its emphasis on chocolate appears to be the customer favorite so far.
With the word “cocktails” in its full name, it’s no surprise that MATCH has a full bar with creations such as Purple Rain, a blend of currant, beet, Latvian herbal liqueur, and sparkling wine that is not excessively sweet. In a nice touch, wine is poured from the bottle at the table even when ordered by the glass. Like the hotel that houses it, MATCH feels contemporary, but it builds upon traditions from across the world, as well as earlier culinary experiments at this location. Cycle and the secret Indian restaurant are long gone, but their legacy lives in the kitchen of the FOUND:RE hotel.
10/14/2020 Update: Since the publication of this review, Match has become Match Market and Bar with a new menu and approach.
1100 N. Central Ave., Phoenix AZ 85003
Roosevelt / Central Station