It’s hard to believe that just a few decades ago, any “big city” restaurant lineup would always include at least one fancy French restaurant. Today, French food seems harder to come by in America. Maybe it’s because we’ve turned our attention to non-European cuisines that reflect our nation’s diversity, or maybe it’s a reaction to stereotypes of French restaurants as fusty and formal establishments. The reality, however, is that modern French food can be more casual and light than cliches would suggest, making it well-suited to contemporary dining trends.
In Phoenix’s Evans-Churchill neighborhood, the Farish House blends a mostly French menu with a celebration of the historic home it occupies. Named for the vintage building itself, one of the few to survive the clear-cutting of nearby blocks, the Farish House is found on Third Street between Garfield and McKinley, four blocks from the Roosevelt / Central light rail station. A fence in front makes a suitable bike rack. Behind that fence is a patio for outdoor dining, and just beyond there lies a front door that leads to a foyer, one of many rooms in the restaurant.
The Farish House is refreshing not only for facilitating the return of French food to central Phoenix, but also for embracing a leisurely, full-service approach to dining. That doesn’t mean tuxedoed waitstaff or pretentious presentations. Instead, it means staff that are friendly and responsive in a setting in which dinner unfolds at its own pace. Gaps between courses are long enough to allow conversation but not so lengthy as to prevent the restaurant from functioning as a pre- or post-event dinner option, especially with FilmBar and The Nash nearby.
The food served in the three small dining rooms comes from a small kitchen that is actually detached from the main house. With those space constraints, the Farish House is wise to base its menu on a few essentials that are combined in myriad ways to create appetizers and main dishes. A standout from the appetizer menu is the pomodoro soup, which is as much about caramelized onions as it is about roasted tomatoes. Both components attain a natural sweetness that contrasts well with a slightly salty broth and a topping of crusty Noble bread.
That same bread is available to order on its own. Grilled slices are served with an assortment of olives and a puddle of pesto, balsamic vinegar, crushed garlic, and olive oil for dipping. This appetizer could be a meal in itself if paired with some of the Farish House’s a-la-carte charcuterie and cheese selections. Among the salads, the Bitter and Blue mixes arugula, endive, and gorgonzola in a savory combination, but the sweet orange marmalade vinaigrette dressing seems almost an overcompensation for the not-so-bitter flavors of the greens.
The entrees at the Farish House defy antiquated stereotypes of heavy sauces in French cooking. Instead, most dishes incorporate meats, legumes, vegetables, and fresh herbs in vibrant and balanced combinations. Duck meat makes two appearances on the menu. In one instance, it’s in a rustic cassoulet. This traditional French dish is a thick stew of white beans, sausage, and roast pork topped with a duck leg. The cherry lavender duck involves the same confit on a bed of lentils accentuated with tart fruit and sprigs of the named herb.
Short rib also fulfills two roles on the menu. In one instance, it’s served with peppercorn gravy and plated with potatoes and haricots verts. Another dish, Peposo, combines the meat with tiny gnocchi in a stew with carrots, potatoes, onions, and bell peppers. Le Mac is the restaurant’s take on mac-and-cheese, meatless by default but available with an optional bacon topping. Save for the tuna in a Nicoise salad, another French classic, the menu is surprisingly lacking in seafood. Perhaps that’s something to be added later as the restaurant becomes settled.
The dessert menu is brief but polished. A tart is filled with frangipane, a sweet almond cream, and a seasonal choice of fruit, which was apricot when sampled recently. Given the restaurant’s fondness for figs and dates elsewhere on the menu, their inclusion in desserts is no surprise. A fig upside down cake features a moist, tender bit of cake surrounded by slivers of sweet, soft fruit. Vanilla ice cream on the side seems almost superfluous, but offers a bit of textural contrast. A tiramisu, more Italian than French, offers a filling blend of coffee, pastry, dairy, and chocolate.
The Farish House has a full, albeit small, bar situated right in the center of the historic building. The brief cocktail menu is thematically linked to the structure’s 1899 origin but also complements the French food on the menu. The turn-of-the-century cocktails include a Farish House Cup, a Third Street Manhattan, a Cuba Libre, and Whiskey Smash. About half a dozen beers are on tap, but the emphasis is on wine with a two-page list that is heavily, but not exclusively, French. There are happy hour specials, but the best bargain is a three-dollar coupe of Prosecco.
The Farish House has had many identities over the years. It began as a residence back when Evans-Churchill was one of Phoenix’s original streetcar suburbs. A decade ago, it was a tavern known as the Roosevelt. It then remained inexplicably empty for years. Now that the building is once again occupied, there is a feeling of a prior era restored in the mostly French menu and relaxed pace. At the same time, the restaurant feels thoroughly at home amid all the new construction in the area. From 1899 to 2019, a 120-year-old house never felt so young.
816 N. 3rd St., Phoenix AZ 85004