This has been the year of the Fox.
Sam Fox that is.
Fox Restaurant Concepts opened or expanded 15 restaurants in 2014, and the latest to open, Culinary Dropout at the Yard in Tempe, may just be the best yet.
Just like The Yard in Phoenix, the Tempe location is an infill project. It is, reportedly, the company’s most expensive opening to date at $11M. A refurbished warehouse building in the Farmer’s Arts District brings some life to an area that once only attracted fans from the, now closed, Sail Inn bar and music venue and not much else. This version of The Yard has a lot going for it — and if the Phoenix location can get packed on most nights of the week, the ease of location and nearby transportation, not to mention the demographics of the neighboring houses and apartment complexes are a recipe for success going into 2015.
The Yard in Tempe differs from the popular Phoenix location a few ways, the most noticeable from the get-go being the ample parking (though complimentary valet was also present). It’s also just a brief jaunt from a light rail stop — another plus for people who have fought to hard to find parking spaces near The Yard in Phoenix.
The Culinary Dropout space is noticeably larger than its Phoenix counterpart sand feature two rentable areas — the Coop (a private bar just beyond the corn hole courts and ping-pong tables) and the Showcase Room, which meant for larger receptions at 4,500SF and is a bit more private than the Coop, despite sharing windows with the restaurant Culinary Dropout.
Culinary Dropout’s neighbors in the warehouse include a soon-to-be-open Over Easy breakfast restaurant and the Madison, a spin and yoga studio.
The Culinary Dropout menu remains unchanged with the same checklist of antipasti meats, cheeses and snacks (we recommend the oil and vinegar ciabatta bread with spicy pimento spread and capicola). The locations are also known for their pretzel bites and fondue — it’s worth trying on a chillier night at The Yard.
While most of the weekday menu (the weekend menu features breakfast dishes) is a mashup of trendy food combos (the delicious and somewhat heavy-though-healthy sweet potato and kale salad) and familiar American pub fare (fish and chips), we suggest skipping the underwhelming grilled cheese sliders for the interesting clash of sweet pulled pork atop Frito-styled nacho chips. Another popular appetizer, according to a server named Jay, are the Thai chile hot wings. The entrees and some of the other items are probably double the price of most dinner plates you’ll see on the nearby Mill Avenue restaurant menus, The most expensive item on the menu is the $25 Korean style ribeye cap, which has limited availability, but is a few cross sections of tender Angus beef with a peppery bark served with bean sprouts, cilantro and a sesame oil sauce. It was the highlight of the menu and the meal.
As for the drinks, you can grab a Coors or Pabst Blue Ribbon for under $5, and most craft beers (some local with a modest smattering of other national craft breweries, including one of our favorites — Hess Brewing Company, out of San Diego) go for a dollar or two more.
The cocktails, listed on the “Vices” menu, like the overall fare are creative but still identifiable. The Between You and Me is light and easy — a vodka, grapefruit, cranberry and lemon juice concoction. The Velvet Death is a tart corpse reviver.
All in all, The Yard is a necessary pellet of “culture concentrate” in Tempe. It activates a previously vacant industrial building on the other side of the tracks of Mill Avenue. The only problem with a project like The Yard is that no matter how much delicious food we eat at Culinary Dropout, we already want more! More tastes of downtown Phoenix in Tempe, more adaptive reuse and more Fox Restaurant Concepts.