Restaurant Review: Phenix Bistro
Gay Street is a reliably bustling thoroughfare Downtown. During lunch hour, the parking spots are usually filled from High Street to Cleveland Avenue; the sidewalks are dense with pedestrians, going-to or coming-from one of its many eateries.
So the short-lived nature of Criollo, a build-a-bowl project from the owners of Si Señor, was a bit of a shock, especially when its sister sandwich shops do so well.
Lose some, win some, it seems. The space wasn’t empty for long: Cafe Phenix took over the space, launching a similarly-named Phenix Bistro and eventually combining both businesses at that new location. The bistro gives the team a chance to expand its fare — or spread its wings, if you like phoenix puns.
As can be expected in a quick turn-around, much of the physical structure in the restaurant is unchanged. What was once a long buffet line is now an open kitchen. The counter stools are a little high and tight for the height of the counter, but they also offer front row seats to a culinary team that carefully crafts a variety of sandwiches. You’ve never seen bargain burgers prepared with the same level of care as was applied repeatedly during one visit: lettuce and tomato thoughtfully arranged along with an artsy squiggle of mayo.
Breakfast is served all day. The signage posted on the wall suggests limited hours for breakfast fare, but the paper menu and serving team assure that you can have pancakes for dinner. Or French toast, or eggs, or omelettes. Phenix Bistro is a proper diner, in that sense; breakfast any time. As is befitting a proper diner, the biscuits and gravy ($5.95) are ridiculous. Those counter seats let you watch as the biscuits are split and get a finishing grill before being smothered, positively drowned, in a peppery sausage gravy. And yes, it’s gravy with lots of chunks of sausage. It’s astoundingly affordable for all this fine, belly-filling fare.
While biscuits and gravy aren’t the most photogenic of foods, the house waffle ($4.95) is more attractive. It’s made-to-order with that signature toasty smell, and deep squares into which you can dump real dairy butter and syrup.
The breakfast explorations could continue into the land of ommelettes and beyond, save for the fact that there’s a lot more non-breakfast menu to explore at Phenix.
The Croque Monsieur ($7.50) was not as fancy as hoped. This is no fault of the menu description, which was pretty accurate. It’s got good quality sweet ham, layered with a little salami and provolone, and a fine layer of herby mayo (creamy herb sauce). There’s also a requisite lid of cheddar melted on top of the sandwich. It’s a generous supply of cheese, so kudos for that. Ambitions, however, were for something a little more involved, perhaps in terms of the herb sauce — like a béchamel or something. This one is more of a straight-shooter: meat, cheese, bread, extra-cheese.
On the international scene, the Cuban ($8.95) is truly fun. Thick, juicy pickles squish around with a mustardy Cuban sauce and artsy squiggles of mayo with more ham, salami, and a layer of tender roasted pork. The sheer messy lushness of this one makes it a winner.
The eatery does a nice job with chicken salad ($7.50) too, with right-sized chunks of chicken that are big enough to keep their poultry identity, but small enough to merge with cranberries, super-crunchy celery bits, and almonds. Those additional pops of flavor and texture offer appreciated brightness in every bite.
Phenix Bistro offers a case of baked items as well, remnants from the former cafe. There’s also a cooler at the front with juices, sodas and other beverages. You can find it all Phenix Bistro at 51 E. Gay St. For more information, visit cafephenix.com.