The origin of a restaurant’s name isn’t always obvious, but sometimes after a while the name takes on a life of its own. In Midtown Phoenix, the restaurant named Switch has recently undergone a major switch of its own — a switch from being under the umbrella of the same group behind Fez and Bliss to its new identity as an independent chef-owned restaurant. After about a decade of continuous operation, Switch is now firmly under the control of chef Jason Peterson, who ran the kitchen for many years before recently acquiring the restaurant itself.
The restaurant occupies a one-story building, overshadowed by nearby office towers, on Central Avenue halfway between the Thomas and Encanto light rail stations. The latter offers a slightly more pleasant walking route to and from the restaurant since there are fewer arterials streets, vacant lots, and driveways encountered when approaching Switch from the south. At the restaurant, a well-placed bike rack is found in back, right outside the courtyard-style patio. Customers can enter from there or via another entrance right on Central Avenue.
Before the change in ownership, the menu at Switch followed a familiar formula: take a particular cuisine and reinterpret that style of cooking in a comfort food vein. Switch has always celebrated American classics and regional cuisines, particularly Southern cooking. Under its new ownership, the Southern influence has been taken even further. There are still a few Mexican, Southwestern, and European touches to be found, but the predominant feel is diner and road food elevated just enough to feel right for a business lunch or special occasion dinner.
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 has plenty of natural light from both sides and features a long community table, an L-shaped bar, and booths wrapping around the room. The ambience is nice enough for a business lunch but also sufficiently casual for family dining or weekend brunch in shorts and sandals.
Starters include a Southern classic, fried green tomatoes. Switch’s version begins with the usual cornmeal coating and then adds sliced radishes and a pico de gallo with corn and diced shrimp, a sort of Southern ceviche. Fried chicken bites come with a grand total of three possible sauces, including a spicy Nashville sauce that contrasts with the generous slices of sweet pickles on the platter. Also to be considered 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 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. The catfish po’boy exemplifies the semi-Southern style that prevails here. The fish is either grilled or cornmeal-crusted on the outside with a flaky interior and topped with house tartar sauce.
Heartier entrees again display the regional American emphasis that defines Switch. Catfish appears again, this time on a bed of creamy grits with tart cherry tomatoes. Shrimp and grits swim in a zesty sauce based on the “holy trinity” of onion, celery, and bell pepper. Two slices of meatloaf are topped with smoked adobo ketchup and paired with elote, or street corn, and served over a sweet potato puree. The chicken pot pie is a comfort food classic of a mushroom-shaped puff pastry with plenty peas, carrots, mashed potato, corn, jack cheese, and gravy below and a green salad on the side.
Despite the meaty nature of most of the entrees, vegetables are given plenty of attention at Switch. The Switch house salad is a blend of Southern and Italian touches with a base of arugula augmented with berries, fried onion strings, parmesan cheese, and praline pecans, all topped with a balsamic fig dressing. Family sides are simple vegetable dishes suitables for sharing. The Big Daddy collard greens are a slightly sweet take on a Southern staple, and the maple black pepper roasted baby carrots have just a touch of spice to enliven an otherwise sweet and mild root vegetable.
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, onion, and peppers 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 include a white chocolate blueberry bread pudding with vanilla ice cream on the side and a strawberry lemonade cake, a summery, layered mix of sweet and tart flavors.
Switch’s melding of comfort food with chef-driven creativity is generally successful. The approach is distinctive from other restaurants nearby in Midtown, but familiar enough to feel welcoming to both the weekday office lunch crowd and residents of nearby historic districts and new apartment buildings. It’s not clear what the name “Switch” originally signified. Any link to switches in train tracks is dubious since the restaurant predates light rail. After ten years, however, the name effectively describes a switch in ownership as the defining event in shaping the restaurant’s second decade.
2603 N. Central Ave., Phoenix AZ 85004
Encanto / Central Station