Last night while casting about for not-so-heavy, not-so-expensive dinner options in Phoenix proper, we decided to give Tuck Shop a try. I'm glad we did.
Comfortable "neighborhood place" vibe; reasonable prices; friendly service; high quality spirits, but fairly limited bar offerings; generally good quality food occasionally misses the mark, but the small plate format invites exploration
The converted "ranch rectangle" of a house is a generally unassuming presence in a mostly residential area, so unassuming in fact, that I almost completely missed it while driving past on 12th Street. Despite its clean modern lines, the interior of the restaurant actually has a welcoming feeling. The "reading room", a waiting/seating area with easy chairs and a sofa, is separated from the main dining room only by a low bookcase, allowing those waiting to feel like they are part of the scene without being in the way. The kitschy lamps and vases give the reading room a true living room feel, making the wait a bit more relaxing.
We arrived around 7:30 on Saturday night and were told it would be a 45-minute wait for a table. We put ourselves on the list and retired to the reading room where we planned to enjoy some pre-dinner drinks. I opted for a girly concoction comprising Flor de Cana rum and the restaurant's housemade ginger ale and lemonade, while M decided to give the eponymous Tuck Shop Ale (from Four Peaks Brewery) a try. My cocktail was a bit of a bust, as I was expecting more ginger and lemon kick from the housemade syrups. The host/manager(?), however, did his best to salvage my non-standard drink order by adding more of the ginger syrup and rounding up some more lemon wedges for me. We were only about 15 minutes into our 45-minute wait when we were asked if we would care to dine at the bar. I never pass up a chance to watch a kitchen at work, so without hesitation, we followed the host to the end of the bar.
During our wait, we planned out our meal and decided we would start with the mixed greens salad with salametti, pickled shallots, fried goat cheese, and grapes. Very good. A simple mix of frisee and baby spinach perfectly dressed. We both agreed the salametti didn't add much, but the crisp crust and warm centers of the goat cheese balls were a great contrast to the cool tender greens and grapes and slightly tart shallot rings.
Next up was the clam cakes and corn chowder. Good, but didn't wow me. The clam cakes were puffy fritters, crisp on the outside, soft and eggy on the inside. I couldn't really detect much clam flavor, but the fritters made a good vehicle for the romesco-esque (romesque-o?) dipping sauce. The chowder, heavy with black pepper and studded with finely chopped carrot, had a texture and flavor much like creamed corn. The bits-of-bacon garnish helped offset my displeasure with creamed corn flavor.
For our main dish, we selected the grilled Pine AZ spiced skirt steak with lentil Parmesan mashed potatoes and mushrooms. Fantastic. The steak was perfectly cooked (rare - medium rare) with spicing that carried a bit of western Mediterranean vibe . The sauteed mushrooms were similarly seasoned and served atop the steak. We both wondered how the unusual combination of lentils and potatoes would work. Well, it would seem, as we both enjoyed the mix of silky, well-seasoned potatoes and toothsome pulses. We restrained ourselves about 2/3 of the way through, so as to save room for dessert. As a result, we ended up with nice snack for the following morning.
If it wasn't for my aversion to shaved coconut, we would have finished up with the chai panna cotta, but alas, we decided instead to go with a piece of the Irish cream "nearly flourless" chocolate cake, dressed with a spots of whipped cream and a chocolate ganache. We liked the flavor of the cake right off the bat, but the somewhat chewy texture took a while to grow on us.
While I didn't think every dish was a home run, I did enjoy the meal overall. The pre-tip tab for the meal, including 1 draft pint of beer, 1 large improvised cocktail, and 1 glass of wine ([Year?] C.G. Di Arie Primitivo, Shenandoah Valley, CA), came to roughly $72. Despite being harried, various members of the staff checked in to see how things were going and to chat us up throughout our visit. All in all, I'm glad we decided to give this new restaurant a try, and I'm sure we will return soon.
2245 N 12th St, Phoenix, AZ 85006