When Crudo burst onto the scene in 2012, and into the hearts of Arizona diners, Co-Owner/Chef Cullen Campbell, Co-Owner Maureen McGrath-Campbell and Co-Owner/Mixologist Micah Olson wanted nothing more than to deliver crisp, chef-driven menus, a cocktail program worthy of tenure, and hospitality that wrapped it’s arms around you. Now, three years later, the trio is duplicating the tenets of their own success by opening the doors of their sophomore effort – Okra Cookhouse & Cocktails – opening on Wednesday, September 16th. The results are sure to be downright tasty.
Serving up authentic takes on classic Southern-style fare inside a stylishly restored midcentury modern space in the heart of uptown Phoenix (5813 N. 7th St.), Okra’s casual yet food-forward intention blurs the lines between Southern and Italian cooking. Think sharable starters such as Country Ham, Pimiento Cheese Aioli & Hoe Cakes and entrées such as Eggplant Parmesan with Stewed Okra. Not to mention an expansive selection of house-baked Focaccias topped with everything from creamy Italian crescenza cheese & pecan-honey, to pork belly, peperonata, egg & Okra Hot Sauce. A collaboration between chef Campbell and Jacob Cutino, owner of Phoenix’s own Homeboy’s Hot Sauce, this custom bottled hot sauce features the spicy, bold flavors of Fresno chilies, cayenne pepper, red bell pepper and the perfect hint of vinegar for that true Tennessee-style tang.
Okra represents a return of sorts for Cullen, who was inspired to reconnect with his family’s deep Southern roots that occupied his formative culinary years. After splitting time between Phoenix and his family’s cotton farm in Forrest City, Arkansas, Cullen attended college just across the Mississippi River in Memphis, where he was steeped in the city’s classic culinary traditions, including the secret to authentic Southern Fried Chicken. In fact, at Okra guests are able to enjoy crispy yet tender fried chicken served three ways: Buttermilk-brined, Tennessee Hot or topped with a rustic Umbrian meat sauce. Plus savor rib-sticking eats such as Ham Hock Osso Bucco, Pig Cheek Pot Pie or Catfish al Forno, accompanied by classic accouterments such as Mississippi Comeback Sauce and Alabama White BBQ Sauce.
Wash it all down with an expansive collection of wines and craft beers and of course cocktails, with co-owner/bartender Micah Olson having built a tidy menu backed by a selection of some of the South’s finest small-batch bourbons. The cocktail portion of the menu is broken into three sections, beginning with “Southern Standards,” staples that honor the historic culture of simplistic, highly quality refreshing cocktails. The “House Cocktail” section brings southern elements into modern mixology, with more complex cocktails like Milk Was a Bad Choice (Brown Butter Washed Hamilton Jamaican Pot Still Rum, Banana Syrup, Crow’s Dairy Goat’s Milk and Mi Casa Bitters) and Dog Will Hunt (Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Vida Mescal, Bigallet Amer and Okra’s Pecan Falernum). Perhaps the best reflection of its southern roots, Okra’s seasonal Julep section wows with interpretations both classic and expressive. The Okra Julep serves as an ice cold reminder that all you need is bourbon, sugar and mint to find cocktail salvation, or itch your creative side with the Piña Tail on the Donkey (Appleton VX Rum, Bacardi 8 Rum, Smith & Cross Rum, Mint and Pineapple Syrup).
Housed inside the Crown on 7th, a striking rehab of a midcentury modern strip in Phoenix’s buzziest restaurant corridor, Okra’s cozy 100-seat space blends indoor and outdoor environments while sporting an open kitchen, a first for this culinary team. Enter through a wood-ensconced breezeway before opening the farmhouse door and stepping into the welcoming space boasting exposed brick and wooden ceiling trusses strung with oversized yarn-ball chandelier lighting. Or kick back inside a mix of booth and tabletop seating back-dropped by wood plank walls with built-in glowing lamps and accented with mirrors and a crimson red colors inspired by fresh red okra. Looking for something a little more casual? Belly up to the custom wooden bar-top, or step through the folding accordion-style doors out onto the expansive outdoor dining deck.
Okra opens to the public on Wednesday, September 16th for both lunch and dinner 7-days a week.