Phoenix finally seems to be embracing the farm-to-table movement, using local animals and produce to craft artisanal dishes. A leading example is St. Francis, an indoor-outdoor restaurant near the city’s dividing line. Chef Aaron Chamberlin, who was the opening chef at Chelsea’s Kitchen and La Grande Orange Grocery, opened St. Francis last September with brother David, naming the restaurant for the neighborhood, which dates to 1936.
Wendell Burnette Architects left no trace that the building used to house offices. The industrial chic design includes brick walls, concrete flooring and a two-sided bar open to Camelback Road. A system of steel cables runs the length of the dining room and reminded me of a suspension bridge. Outdoors, a wraparound lounge is strung with lightbulbs and features green cushioned banquettes. Since the Chamberlin brothers describe their food as “wood-fired cuisine,” their wood-burning oven is central to the space, featuring stacks of apple and cherry wood.
My favorite decoration was a row of four cleavers that hung over the entrance to the kitchen. Another nice touch was the blackboard menu near the back door that lists seasonal vegetables, fruits, herbs & greens, fish & seafood, and meats. At St. Francis, components of dishes change once per month, and the entire menu changes quarterly.
We started with a cauliflower soup ($6) that hosted thin-shaved cauliflower, sweet hits from golden raisins, tangy hits from capers and pockets of curry spices. A sprinkling of chives added some necessary color.
Their Bacon Sandwich ($12) was an easy choice for that week’s Dose of Vitamin P. Chamberlin’s dinner special incorporated thick, smoky slabs of house-made bacon, a heap of arugula and a tangy topping of pickled onions that helped to tame the richness of the meat. Another highlight was the bread, a soft ciabatta that would have worked with almost any filling. There was even a bowl of crispy skin-on fries.
Prime Hanger Steak ($23) featured a good char and a rich sauce that I could see swimming in, but the meat was a little too sinewy. The accompaniments were probably more enjoyable, with parsnip puree, crispy salt-dusted fingerling potatoes, sweet cippolini onions and lip-licking braised kale.
It was impossible to ignore the sticky toffee pudding with sweet cream gelato, but we still had a second dinner lined up in Scottsdale, so we had to show restraint. Hopefully the pudding is still on the menu when we return, but it’s more likely that St. Francis will be focused on another season at that point.