All right, already. After two years of avoiding ballyhooed Beckett’s Table, I finally dropped into the Arcadia hotspot dedicated to seasonal American comfort food. Even before the place opened, owner/chef Justin Beckett attracted such a frenzy of media attention, it sparked my suspicion. Why was this guy such a foodie darling? At splashy, now-defunct Canal in Scottsdale, I’d found his menu to be viciously overrated.
So it was with some trepidation I swept into the mister-flanked restaurant nestled in a strip mall on Thomas Road. Though I wasn’t to be swept away by the evening’s nosh, I did get a sense of what the hoo-ha is all about.
Beckett’s Table aims to be a sophisticated neighborhood restaurant, and it sports the trappings of a typical upscale Valley eatery: concrete floors, exposed brick and duct work, neutral tones, and wooden tables and chairs. A charming barn truss framing the space thankfully rescues the dining room from the routine.
And busy at work in the kitchen is the man Justin himself, signature bandana folded over his brow. A quick look at the menu tells you one thing for sure about this chef. He loves pig.
Inside the gooey innards of Beckett’s Original Grilled Cheese ($9), you’ll find twisted ribbons of pancetta—Italy’s salt-cured version of bacon. The sandwich is a gut-busting combo of Manchego, white cheddar and fontina
clutched in a dense, doughy focaccia bun encrusted with Asiago. It felt like all the dairy was talking at once, and I wished for a more exclusive invite list to the cheese party. You can’t argue bang for the buck, though. The best part is the accompanying cup of Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato Soup (available by the bowl for $6), deeply flavored yet clean and fluffy, swimming over and off the palate like a teasing mist.
My dining buds and I were lured by the whimsy of Deep Fried Deviled Eggs ($7) but ultimately deemed them a disappointing gimmick. Frying the whites made them chewy, and the bland yolk blend remained unpleasant
despite dredging through spicy, chipotle aioli.
When the Vegetable Chop Salad ($9) proved a bore as well, I began to wonder if soup was really going to be the highlight of my trip to Beckett’s Table. Then came the main event—vivid proteins that deliver in gustatory 3-D.
For hours and hours, the kitchen braises Pork Osso Buco Confit ($18) on the bone in its own juices, and the meat renders down to ropy threads that are chewy in the best way possible. They yield an intense flavor, an almost smoky richness that feels like pork to the power of 10. Traditionally, osso buco is made with veal, but this version also includes the “bone with the hole,” from which diners can coax a spoonful of buttery marrow. Beckett switches out sides for this staple on his seasonal menus, and ours came with a lackluster onion-apple spaetzle that added more calories than verve, though it hardly mattered.
Cast Iron Petite Chicken ($17) with bacon biscuit stuffing makes for a gorgeous plate, the fowl quarters snuggled in a yin-and-yang circle of crackling skin and moist flesh. Once again, Beckett’s expertise in using the meat’s natural juices to intensify flavor pays off, unleashing piquancy on almost a molecular level.
I’d recommend sticking with chicken, pork or short ribs vs. fish, if the Steamed White Bass ($16) with organic vegetables is any indication. Not only did the bed of squash noodles, kale and fennel fuse into a nondescript lump, the brash red-wine reduction should never have been introduced to the bass. Kardashian marriages have turned out better.
Desserts include a toasted coconut cake—that looks to be more coconut than cake—and chocolate-dipped bacon s’mores, featured for the shock value, one assumes, and the bacon.
We found the service to be perfunctory and cold, but I do like me a chatty waiter.
If I’m in the neighborhood, especially during “social hour” (5:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m.) when drinks and apps can be snagged at the bar for $3-$6, I’d sit at Beckett’s Table again. But I won’t be making a special trip.
In Other Food News…
Southern Rail Headed to Camelback
This fall, the group behind Beckett’s Table will open a second restaurant at 300 W. Camelback Road in Phoenix, near a light rail station. Inspired by the Transcontinental Railroad’s historical influence on the United States, Southern Rail will take guests on a gastronomical journey inspired by flavors of the American South. The restaurant is part of The Newton, a mixed-use community development housed in the iconic Beef Eaters restaurant. Plans call for the space to include a Changing Hands Bookstore and offices for mobile professionals as well. More: www.southernrailaz.com.
Grown-ups Table $39
On Wednesdays throughout June and July, take advantage of a sweet deal at Beckett’s Table: an intimate gathering at the community table with Chef Justin, featuring three courses paired with wines, served family style. Reservations are required (dinner starts at 5:30 p.m.), and seating is limited to 16.
3717 E. Indian School Road, Phoenix