Local Fave: St. Francis
Owner: Aaron and David Chamberlin
Opened: September 2009
The Concept: An “Urban Neighborhood Restaurant.” That straightforward notion is prominently featured on the outside of this mid-century former office building turned loft-style eatery. At the helm is chef-owner Aaron Chamberlin, who has an impressive resume working under Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Nancy Oakes of Boulevard in San Francisco. Since day one, St. Francis has strived to serve the best, local seasonal ingredients in modern (but recognizable) cuisine. Family owned, they strive to keep their staff educated and efficient while warm and welcoming to anyone who dines there.
Have a Seat: Upon entering St. Francis, you are greeted with a “Pow!” at the door by the adorable chef caricature that comes from one of Chef Chamberlin’s cookbooks. The hip, sleek interior and exterior designed by Wendell Burnette Architects showcases original brick walls and beamed ceilings. Beautiful bistro style tables and bar stools fill the dining area facing your choice of artwork, the semi-open kitchen, the patio, or bar. The bar is an indoor/outdoor spot with a garage style door that lets the warm AZ sunshine in. Large swivel glass doors open the dining room to a shaded patio, complete with heaters and a fireplace. You can also enjoy dinner, a drink or even a movie as it projects onto the patio wall. A beautiful mural decorates the upstairs wall along the mezzanine, providing eclectic scenery for the diners as they overlook the dining areas below. Two local artists, DOSE and Hector Ruiz, collaborated with Chamberlin to transform that space and give it some unique character. You can also find their artwork at Bentley Gallery and the Heard Museum.
The Eats: Though most of the menu is inspired by Chamberlin, day to day operations and execution are overseen by Executive Chef Chris Barch (promoted in March 2012). Many have raved about the St. Francis staples like the Pork Chile Verde or Baked Goat Cheese appetizer but there are many enticing things on the menu. Some probably won’t ever go away, but new items get added for the regulars to try. One new addition is the The Pig Dip sandwich on the lunch menu: wood roasted pork loin, prosciutto, bacon, caramelized onion, and gruyere cheese on a house baguette. The ingredients are layered neatly and in perfect proportion. A surprise house-made mustard cuts all the richness and brightens it up. This sandwich is accompanied by a dipping jus but it’s so delicious it really doesn’t need it (however it provides a nice dip to soften the crunchy bread). If you’re looking for some lighter fare, try the Farm Salad that is packed with healthy, local veggies like white beans, pickled onion, fennel, kale, and baby carrots dressed in a sauvingnon blanc vinaigrette. It’s beautiful, balanced, and filling – all the qualities of a great salad. Proof that Chamberlin is keeping careful track of seasonal ingredients, a market list blackboard is adorned with the growing seasons of respective fruits, veggies, and meats/seafood along with approximate months/time frames. See for yourself that what you are eating is truly the freshest you can get.
FUN FACT: The custom wood fired oven was designed to provide a focal point in the restaurant as well as being the heart for many menu items. Almost every dish has some element coming from the mesquite and almond wood burning machine, designed using a 19th century bread-making blueprint. This has to be why St. Francis’s San Francisco style homemade (almost daily) sourdough bread is so delish (take one home for only $3)!
The Drinks: HAPPY HOUR IS OFFERED EVERYDAY from 3-6! This is great not only for those looking to take a load off after work but also for local food industry people looking for a good deal on any given day of the week. Specialty cocktails are $5, and made with fresh squeezed juice, fresh fruit mixes, and homemade house syrups. Have a simpler palette? Get your well drinks, beer, and wine (by the glass) at half off. Aside from happy hour, their regular drink list offers a variety of quality wine and beer at reasonable prices. All are hand selected to complement the current menu and you can find some AZ wine and beer in the mix as well. Also, enjoy the lush Cartel coffee after a meal or during your morning brunch offered on weekends.
Report: With so many offerings, from brunch to happy hour to dinner, it would be difficult to leave St. Francis unsatisfied. The focus on a variety of locally driven food in a comforting, neighborhood, home-away-from-home concept invites people to re-visit Chamberlin’s restaurant over and over again – each time with the possibility of a different experience. Even the kiddos can enjoy quality, tasty food FOR FREE. There are always fun things happening there (including live music for Sunday brunch from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.) so check the website often for details on the changing, seasonal menus and events.
And stay tuned – as Chamberlin’s second restaurant is scheduled to open in the former Urban Grocery & Wine Bar space (14 E. Pierce St.) in April 2013!