2020 has been a terrible year for the restaurant industry, and while everyone has suffered, some of the biggest impact has been felt at hotel restaurants. With travel a fraction of what it was before, many properties have shuttered entirely while others have had to reduce operations. For hotel restaurants to survive, they’ve had to rethink their operations and adapt. In the case of the artsy FOUND:RE hotel at the north end of downtown Phoenix, its former full-service restaurant, MATCH, has reopened as a combination of a casual restaurant, a gourmet shop, and a bar.
The FOUND:RE hotel is diagonally across the street from the Roosevelt/Central light rail station, and a helical bike rack is found along Portland Street. Although the restaurant is advertised via signs near Central Avenue, a small set of steps found near the hotel pool along Portland is for many customers the best way to enter the restaurant. From there, a quick right turn leads right to the counter where orders are placed. Anyone needing an accessible path should instead use the hotel’s main entrance facing Central and then turn left to reach the restaurant via the bar.
Although the space occupied by the restaurant is the same as before, it has been reconfigured for current needs. Knowing that many customers will order their food as take-out, the seating has been reduced. The space between tables is not empty, though. Instead, it’s filled with merchandise displays featuring chocolate, pastas, books, and other products for sale, most of them focused on food and many of them of local origin. Full service is available to customers seated at the bar; otherwise, guests order their food at the counter and then find a seat.
Although most of the seating is indoors, the restaurant has an open-air feel due to the south wall being made almost entirely of floor-to-ceiling windows that are generally kept open during pleasant weather. A fire pit on the patio facing Central Avenue ensures some warmth for customers seated outside on winter evenings. A few small tables next to the hotel pool provide another option for outdoor dining. From almost any seat, there is a view of the green space of Portland Street’s grassy center islands and the Roosevelt Square apartments across the street.
The menu is divided into a breakfast section and a “Noon to Night” listing of lunch and dinner entrees with 11 AM being the transition time from the former to the latter. Like the full-service restaurant that preceded it, MATCH has international influences. An appetizer trio of dips includes not only the ubiquitous favorites hummus and guacamole, but also muhammara, a spicy red pepper puree. Shrimp ceviche features minced crustaceans marinated in a spicy tomato broth with lime and pico de gallo. Both sides are accompanied by fresh tortilla chips.
Sandwiches are a large part of the menu with a crispy chicken creation involving a battered breast that retains just enough structure to thrive under toppings of pickles and coleslaw, all stuffed into a soft brioche bun. A curried chicken sandwich has a mild but satisfying flavor. The presentation is visually impressive but might have benefited from some time inside a panini press to fuse the ingredients into a less messy assemblage. A grilled cheese sandwich shines with a mix of yellow, white, and ricotta cheeses inside slices of crusty, hearty Noble bread.
All sandwiches come with a side dish of regular or sweet potato fries or a cup of the daily soup, usually a seasonal creation like a sweet potato bisque subtly flavored with a bit of coconut milk. Sweet potatoes figure prominently throughout the menu, including the marinated potato salad in which they share the spotlight with red potatoes and greens tossed with grape tomatoes and roasted onions in a mustard-tinged dressing. A smoked salmon salad excels with fish from local purveyor Chula Seafood mixed with a lot of greenery, a little quinoa, and a lemon herb dressing.
Twelve-inch pizzas are another area of the menu in which cross-cultural influences are liberally mixed. Several pies have familiar Italian and Mediterranean toppings like roasted peppers and fresh basil. The Mexican pizza replaces those classic ingredients with corn, jalapeños, chorizo, cilantro, and cotija cheese. The resulting pie has just a bit of heat, but a drizzle of Cholula takes the pizza to another level. The Bianca pizza is a slightly tamer offering, but still inventive with its use of roasted sweet potatoes and sprigs of arugula over a white base of ricotta and mozzarella.
Rice bowls come in three variants: a vegetarian Buddha, a Southwestern “burrito,” and an Asian-inspired teriyaki bowl. The last item is cleverly presented as spilling out of a classic Chinese takeout container, even if consumed on the premises. It’s a playful acknowledgment of circumstances in which some guests may feel more comfortable eating food in their own rooms. Among a handful of plated entrees, the Mediterranean chicken enlivens a safe choice of white breast meat with crumbles of feta and sides of roasted potatoes and Brussels sprouts.
Desserts are displayed in a case near the counter with seasonal choices like mango cake or a “Shades of Autumn” pie with pears, apricots, and mixed nuts. Gelato and sorbetto are available in flavors like roasted pineapple or pistachio. There’s a bar with cocktails and craft beer, as well as bottles and cans sold for off-premises consumption, another way in which MATCH has rethought the hotel restaurant. As 2020 ends and the hospitality industry hopes for a better 2021, MATCH seems an effective bridge between a bad year and whatever comes next.
1100 N. Central Ave., Phoenix AZ 85003