Review: Star Spangled Tavern - Scottsdale
This is the new place co-owned by the folks from Cowboy Ciao and Blue Wasabi. It's located in DC Ranch Marketplace right by Eddie V's, Blue Wasabi and Patsy Grimaldi's. I think they hoped to open on July 4th, but it was set back a couple of times. It opened on Aug 3rd and we ate there on August 12th.
The concept is all American. I mean everything in the place is American grown or made, from the glasses, silverware, etc to every ingredient in the kitchen. Even the bar is all American down to only American made gin, vodka, beer, wine, etc.
We arrived 30 minutes early for our reservation, and went to the small bar after checking in at the hostess stand outside. The bar consists only of the bar itself and maybe 10 stools. They were all occupied when we arrived, but as we pondered whether to stand or go around the corner for a drink, the hostess returned and said she could seat us immediately. She said they saw us standing there, so decided to get us in quickly. Very nice of them.
The restaurant looks great with wood floors and trim. Kind of like a contemporary ski lodge. It's one room and the small bar with a high window along one wall allowing you to see the chef's faces, but not much else. The decor fits the overall theme quite well.
After talking to the waitress about the available gins and vodkas, we ordered cocktails and wine. The restaurant has access to Cowboy Ciao's huge wine list, and offers flights and wines by the glass. We ordered two of the house gin drink...I forget the name but it muddles basil, pineapple juice and the gin ($10). Tasty, but a little sweet for me. Gin and tonic for the second round. The pinot noir flight of three 3 oz pours was $27. A nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc was about $9.
We were all starving and frankly ordered too much food. We started with the homemade potato chips with gorgonzola melted over the top ($3 and a great bargain). The waitress brought out a huge bowl of chips with not really enough cheese, but it was very good. Everyone liked it and we finished it off over time. The bread basket we saw on other tables, including pretzel bread, looked great, but was listed as a nosh for $6. A little steep for something they give out free elsewhere.
Next we picked 3 cheeses from the modest list ($11). We chose a gorgonzola, camembert and aged gouda. All were delicious, but the camembert was everyone's favorite. The cheese comes on a huge platter that my wife pointed out made the servings look very small. The platter included a somewhat dried fruit salad, nuts and water crackers. It was good, but frankly we had a 3 cheese plate at Zinc Bistro the night before that blew this one away. Some good bread, crostini or something interesting would have been a welcome addition.
The menu includes three sections that could be called appetizers. It's a good place if you want to share some small plates and some wine. We next ordered a couple of chopped salads ($11). Obviously a play off the incredible chopped salad at Cowboy Ciao, this one includes turkey, greens and 6 other ingredients. It was very good, but not as good as the one at Ciao, although it seemed bigger.
Entrees were next. I ordered the flat iron steak ($27). It was excellent, although I ordered it medium and it came out closer to medium rare. Delicious, beefy, sliced on the plate over blue cheese mashed potatoes with snap peas and asparagus. Very good! My wife ordered the pulled pork sandwich, mostly because she loves pulled pork, wanted to try they're version, and knew she would be too full by then to eat an entree. I think the sandwich was around $10, and it came with coleslaw on top, and a ton of the chips on the side. I tasted the meat, and it was good with a nice spice. Others thought it was too spicy and a little dry.
Our friend ordered the meatloaf ($22). It was a giant slab and very tasty. Although it was too much food and very dense and rich. I liked my couple of bites, but he seemed sick of it half way through. It came with a corn pudding of some sort that he said was awesome and wouldn't share.
His wife ordered one of the starters...crabby fried green tomatoes ($14). Three breaded and fried slices of green tomato topped with fresh crab. It was a great combination. I don't know if the crab is traditional or not on fried green tomatoes but it was really good.
We shared a Michigan blueberry pandowdy ($9) for dessert mostly because I had never heard of it before. It's biscuit dough baked and then pushed down (?). This version had a ton of small blueberries, like a pie, in the bottom of a small dish with the cooked dough on top, topped with a scoop of lemon sorbet. Interesting flavor combination, and I kind of enjoyed it. No one else thought it was too good, and everyone said the dough was very dry (it is biscuit, afterall). Glad I tried it, but I wouldn't order it again.
Overall, I enjoyed it more than everyone else, but I like trying new places. The service was very friendly, if still a bit rusty. For example, our waitress constantly referred to her notes, but she was very accomodating, competent and nice. The menu is full of references to the farm, grower, state or whatever for many ingredients. It's a bit much. More importantly, the food and menu is all over the place. It's got the Ciao type of style, desserts up front, under noshes, little funny references, etc. The food is different styles from all parts of the USA. It's a little hard to get a handle on what they are doing. I understand the concept, but the others thought it was difficult to get through. The food is also quite heavy (although in fairness we over ordered and ate too much). Not much, if any, fish on the menu, but a lot of beef (flat iron, meat loaf, short ribs, strip steak, etc). I think I recall seeing a salmon but not much else.
Overall, the others said it was ok, but not great, and they probably won't be back unless I drag them. I'd rather eat at Ciao, Sea Saw, Blue Wasabi, Sol y Sombra, but it wasn't bad. Maybe a little more time and tweaking is in order.
Thanks for the review, Barry.
I'm thinking this is the former location of the Unlikely Cowboy. I saw some construction going on there about 4-5 weeks ago when I was in DC Ranch, but didn't notice any signage.
I have to say I find the name Star Spangled Tavern a little hokey. It sounds just corny to me, a little low-end even.
I checked out the menu online and found it to be all over the place. Some of the items seemed to be super reasonable and others a little high. $22 for fried chicken or for meatloafs seems really high to me.
I'll have to poke my head in next time I'm in the area, but I have to say, nothing on the menu has me calling for reservations immediately. But, with the backing, I'm guessing it'll be a success!
I also appreciate the review, barry.
I think it's a little odd that they're restricting the bar to American liquor but using the global wine list from Ciao and Sea Saw. I mean, if you're going with a gimmick like this, why not sack up and go all the way? And it's a little sad they aren't sourcing more seafood.
I hazard to guess that the menu here will go a little like Cowboy's -- where there are the standbys that stand out, and some things that more just fill a niche. Time will tell what the can't-misses will be.
I believe the wine list is all American, but from the Ciao list. The place is very serious about having only American products everywhere.
The meatloaf was very good, but I agree $22 is high for meatloaf. The menu was like that...some things seemed very expensive and others seemed more reasonable. The $6 bread basket was over the top, though. Overall, the prices aren't too bad...dinner for 4 with drinks and wine was just under $200 before tip and we over ordered.
Bank it: Based on just two "appetizers" on our visit last week, Star Spangled Tavern will be gone by the time summer '07 arrives. What a joke.
1. Chips and gorgonzola cheese; please. The potato chips were burned and oily. The minimal, poor quality gorgonzola barely could be seen, let alone tasted. We would have done better at home with a bag of Poore Bros. chips and real gorgonzola thrown in the microwave.
2. Olives and almonds. Honest, it appeared the kitchen opened a jar of pimento stuffed green olives, pulled the pimento out from each of perhaps a dozen, then inserted some crummy, flavorless, unidentifiable chunky substances. To add "flavor", it tasted as if they then stuck them in a mesquite oven to burn for a minute or two. The accompanying almonds? We've had better outta the little silver bags on SW flights to Vegas...these were stale, soft, bbq MSG seasoned disasters.
We absolutely could not believe the total lack of ability in these two simple presentations...which really required no ability at all...only taste buds and common sense. No way were we going to waste our Saturday evening time trying main courses after they couldn't get these two pedestrian items right.
Parting shot: If you're going to serve imported wines...how about putting some Grey Goose on the back bar. What, vino from Italy and France is OK...but hold the vodka? Come on. The hook to your place, shouldn’t be what you DON’T serve...(we’re an American place, get it?)...but what you DO serve, well. With many, many excellent choices in a town top heavy in culinary expertise/experiences...be sure to miss this one.