As a native, I love all things Arizona – except for the politics. Newly opened Southern Rail Restaurant is steeped in Arizona history, as it takes over the former location of Jay Newton’s Beef Eaters restaurant. Built in 1961, Beef Eaters was a sprawling English-themed celebration of steak and prime rib. This special occasion restaurant and Sunday brunch mecca hosted Hollywood stars, political heavyweights and adoring beef lovers celebrating birthdays and anniversaries.
What a pleasure it was to discover pieces of the old restaurant intact in the stunning makeover by the people of Beckett’s Table (reviewed in AZJL March 2014). The grand foyer still stands and the Beef Eaters logo is still etched into the concrete near the entrance; best of all, there is a row of original leather booths under the giant chandeliers from the old restaurant. You will also find the grand fire place intact if you explore a bit. It’s a perfect marriage of the old and the new, making the place quite stylish. There is a ton of outdoor seating that Beef Eaters never had, a Changing Hands bookstore (also Phoenix based by the Shanks family) and a rentable venue as part of the renovation. All of this is under one roof called The Newton Phoenix. All great stuff, but my friend and I are focused on one thing because neither of us has eaten all day.
Southern Rail boasts “flavors of the American south,” but I’ve never experienced twists on the classics like they have accomplished.
Over the course of a couple of visits, here’s what we had:
Mama’s Ruin, $9
(Aviation and Half Moon Orchard apple gin, apple juice lime juice, housemade honey syrup, Arizona Bitter Lab orange sunshine bitters)
Served chilled in a martini glass, this refreshing drink was deemed “dangerous” on the first sip. There was definitely alcohol in there, but it was undetectable. Instead, it seemed like biting into a juicy apple with hints of citrus. Look out!
Pull-Apart Brioche Rolls with Apple Butter, $6
Again with the apples, but it seemed an appropriate follow-up to soak up the cocktail. The buns come cutely delivered in their baking dish with a side of decidedly homemade apple butter. “Just like my grandma made,” my friend said of the apple butter. No higher praise than that. The rolls were golden brown, slightly salty and firm. I would have liked them a little softer, but we ate every single one.
House-Smoked Trout, $12
(sweet pea cake, spiced tomato jam)
A beautifully presented small plate arrived, and I tried to dig in before it had been set down. My friend had to stop me to remind me to “take a picture first.” Let’s face it, I’m a sucker for anything smoked, and I love trout. I will save you time by telling you upfront that I never put my fork down. The trout fillet was served cold over a warm bed of sweet pea cake with a dollop of tomato jam. The fish was wonderfully smoky, delicate and flavorful. The real surprise was the sweet pea cake, a mixture of cornmeal and mashed peas, formed and sautéed to a crisp on the outside and a delightful mush on the inside. The spiced tomato jam was a sweet, almost candy-like condiment that complemented the explosion of flavor and textures on the plate. This is a must have.
Chicken and Biscuit Dumplings, $18
Another wonderfully presented dish arrives, and I am again reminded to take a picture first. I promise to describe this in full detail because it deserves to be, but I can sum it up pretty quickly. It’s like all the flavors of thanksgiving packed into one bite. Yes, it’s that good. I know Thanksgiving is about turkey, but the biscuits are seasoned like stuffing, and it’s all swimming in gravy with generous portions of tender poultry. The tongue tricks the mind and “Voila!” – all the comfort of a thanksgiving meal sits in the bowl in front of you.
It’s like a stew with all of the flavors melding together over chunks of seasoned biscuits that retain some crispness. There are heirloom vegetables and you have to make a decision whether to eat this with a fork or a spoon. I used both.
Two Beignets with Powdered Sugar, $6
Our plate came with three on it, how smart was that? Our server knew one wasn’t enough and playfully left us one to split. What is there to say about fried cake covered in powdered sugar except “Yum!” They were hot and made fresh, but I had one regret. Our server offered us coffee of course, but it was late in the evening and I turned it down. The first bite of beignet made me want coffee. As we were leaving, I gave the menu one last glance and noticed they serve chicory coffee. “Oy!” I would have loved that. Now for sure I’m going back.
Southern Rail is a refreshing take on both classic southern cooking and classic Phoenix. It’s a successful marriage of food, architecture, business partners and those of us fond of both the past and what the future will bring. There’s a nod in the name to the light rail running by the restaurant. This place is just as smart as it is delicious. I will see you there.
Contact a. noshman at firstname.lastname@example.org