Update: The House at Secret Garden closed on April 12, 2014.
It’s easy to lose count of how many new restaurants in the Phoenix area have opened this year — easily a dozen or more.
One flew under the radar until just a few weeks ago, and now The House at Secret Garden, set in a 1929 historical mansion near South Mountain Park, is one of the most anticipated openings of the year.
The House has an old, Spanish colonial feel but the menu is decidedly up to date with a fresh, local slant — not surprising given the restaurant owners’ backgrounds.
Pat Christofolo (Santa Barbara Catering and The Farm Kitchen at South Mountain) and her son Dustin are behind the restaurant, which will open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday beginning this Wednesday.
Happy Hour runs 5:00 to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and the restaurant also features al fresco dining on the patio.
The barn on the property is getting an interior make-over, too, and will be called The Urban Bar.
It’s just for special events at the moment, but plans are to turn it into a lounge, serving cocktails and appetizers.
The modern American menu reads like a who’s who of local farmers and ranchers, with McClendon’s Select, Power Ranches, Fossil Creek Creamery and Black Mesa Ranch making appearances on the farm-to-fork menu.
For starters, there is a fresh take on “scampi” that seems more bread salad-like to me, with grilled focaccia, seasonal vegetables and crumbled goat cheese ($9).
Find entrees like jumbo shrimp and grits with bacon, and sweet corn and serrano sauces ($15), and lemon grilled chicken with rosemary, mint, feta and mashed potatoes ($15).
There is a seasonal, handmade pasta, (first up is parpadelle with local sausages, cherry tomatoes, basil and shaved Pecorino, $15), and an “Americana Style” pasta carbonara ($13) with crisped pancetta and smoked cheddar.
Saving room for dessert could be challenging, but then again, maybe not — desserts are designed and baked by longtime valley pastry chef Tracy Dempsey of Tracy Dempsey Originals.
Tracy worked for Pat at Santa Barbara Catering 15 years ago in between her teaching stints at ASU, and she says it was Pat who encouraged her to attend culinary school.
“It’s still a bit shocking to remember making sugar cookies with Dustin when he was just a kid, and to think now he’s going to be running his own kitchen and restaurant,” Tracy says.
She’s crafted an American contemporary dessert menu to compliment the modern fare at The House, including a chocolate cloud cake with fleur de sel caramel sauce.
“I’m keeping the desserts simple and familiar with a few of my twists,” she says.
“You won’t see the numerous accompaniments that I’ve been known to put on a plate. I want to keep it clean and simple. I think this will best reflect Dustin’s style of cooking, too. I really try to create desserts that reflect my chef’s style.”
Puddin’ and pie seems to illustrate her point. A miniature pecan pie is accompanied by sweet potato pudding topped with Tracy’s signature toasted coconut house made marshmallows.
So do the simple ricotta fritters with Queen Creek Olive Mill fig and balsamic syrup, and a small selection of Tracy’s original ice creams and cookies.
The secret is out: doors open Wednesday, October 27.
The House at Secret Garden (website under construction)
2501 East Baseline Road, Phoenix