The name Roosevelt Row has become prominent in the lexicon of Phoenicians describing the lively and quickly gentrifying neighborhood at the north end of downtown Phoenix. Chances are most people using the phrase think it’s based on Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but it’s actually named for his fifth cousin and fellow president Theodore Roosevelt. After years of ambiguity and misconceptions, there is now one office building, Ten-O-One, and its restaurant tenant, Rough Rider, that not only acknowledge, but also embrace, the image of Teddy Roosevelt.
The Ten-O-One building, cleverly rechristened by True North Studios based on its address of 1001 North Central Avenue and repainted on its south wall with a giant mural depicting Teddy Roosevelt himself, is situated directly across the street from the Roosevelt/Central light rail station. A bike rack is found nearby at the corner of Roosevelt and First Street. Due to some slow-paced construction involving an unsightly tagged trailer, the building entrance must be reached via the alley on the north side of Roosevelt between Central Avenue and First Street.
Finding Rough Rider involves not only navigating the alley to the building lobby, but then finding one’s way to the restaurant’s basement location. Look for the middle of three elevators, press the down button, and then descend one floor. As that occurs, the quiet of the building lobby is replaced by the chatter of the lively restaurant below. Turn left upon exiting the elevator and approach the host station with a portrait of Teddy himself on a wall behind. A raw bar full of seafood and the open kitchen are to the right, and the dining room and bar are to the left.
The decor is designed to be evocative of Roosevelt and the rough riders volunteer cavalry that he led before becoming President. Some taxidermy adorns the walls, and there’s a 48-star flag, even though Arizona and New Mexico didn’t become states until after Roosevelt’s presidency. Since this is a basement, there are also exposed pipes and a lot of concrete. A fireplace, bookshelves, and leather furnishings add some warmth. One decidedly non-period element is the music: Artists like Haim and Thundercat emerged about a century too late for Teddy.
The menu, like most of the aesthetics, is designed to recall an earlier era, both in terms of food and beverage selections. The cuisine might be described as classic American with some contemporary updates and an interesting focus on foams and creams. That approach is evident in the appetizer of roasted potatoes and artichokes, in which mascarpone cheese, maybe a bit too much of it, functions as an effective counterpoint to the salty umami of chimichurri. A lobster roll with fries is unexpectedly present among the starters, but it’s really a meal for one by itself.
Old-school entrees with updated flair include a veal schnitzel with a mustard cream sauce and a roasted half chicken with celery root puree. A meatless pasta entree of wild mushroom taglierini is seasoned with abundant sprigs of tarragon. A pan-seared sea bass entree incorporates a pleasing contrast between a smooth cream sauce, tangy heirloom tomatoes, and flavorful springs of fennel One entree that is now gone but not forgotten is the shrimp and grits, a successful rendition of this Southern classic that one can only hope will be resurrected soon.
The relatively succinct food menu also incorporates items as meaty and timeless as a pork chop with black garlic and apple slaw and a ribeye steak with horseradish crema. For customers not inclined towards so much meat and dairy, a vegan cabbage newburg entree is an alternative. One surprisingly effective vegan touch is found not among the entrees, but instead on the dessert menu, where a lemon meringue dish is the unexpected star. The dollops of meringue are fashioned with aquafaba, the water drained from canned chickpeas, rather than egg whites.
Although the lemon dessert is the assertively flavored champion here, a s’mores cake and a cotton candy pot de creme both offer somewhat sweeter and more conventional approaches to ending a meal at Rough Rider. Regardless of which dessert is chosen, it’s also worthwhile to include a cocktail or two when budgeting either dollars or calories. Although the specific drinks change periodically, the categories on the bar menu are consistent. “Cobblers” are refreshing and powerful beverages that incorporate fruit preserves and crushed ice served in tall glasses.
Punches are made with a combination of spirits and tea. The King George blends jasmine with Baller whiskey, adding subtle notes of peach and lemon. Classics are updated interpretations of old-school mixed drinks, while the label “cocktails” is applied to original and contemporary creations of the bar. Gone Postal is a spicy beverage, more so than expected. Cacao shavings on top added a slight note of chocolate and sweetness to offset the fire elsewhere in the glass. A few “fancy features” include a big punch to be shared by groups of four or more.
A distinctive set of cocktails not drawn from the regular menu constitute a set of happy hour deals. They’re complemented by reduced prices for beer, wine, oysters, mussels, a charcuterie board, and several vegetable dishes from the appetizer selections. Theodore Roosevelt may seem an unusual choice for a restaurant theme, and the early 20th Century nostalgia in the basement of a modern office building only adds to the uniqueness of this restaurant. Still, the blend is a successful one, resulting in a smooth dining experience rather than a rough ride.
1001 N. Central Ave., Phoenix AZ 85004