Chef Stephen Jones, Photo Robert Sentinery

One of the great things about the Phoenix culinary scene is that it is quite possible to follow chefs throughout their careers. That might seem like a small thing, but it isn’t. If you eat around often enough, you can find a food cart that moves into brick and mortar. Or follow a chef who reinvents their persona, food or culinary language. This is why I love The Larder + The Delta so much. Food aside, which is great, I’ve loved watching Chef Stephen Jones evolve and settle in. The Larder + The Delta feels like his home, at long last.

Once the executive chef at Latilla at the fancypants Boulders Resort, Chef Jones then became the first executive chef at Blue Hound Kitchen when it opened at Hotel Palomar downtown. He left to start The Larder + The Delta as a tiny food stall at the adorable De Soto Market (RIP). So yeah, I’ve been a fan girl for a while. At one point, I even named his crave-able cauliflower and buffalo wings as my top pick from Uber Eats. So you could say I was ready for this spot to open.

To find The Larder + The Delta, ignore the street address. If you do, you’ll reach it easily, because it’s just on the other side of the Found:Re Hotel’s valet parking lot. I’m bringing this up because my companions and I wandered aimlessly and had to ask the poor hostess to come out and wave to us before we found it. Inside, you’ll find an open kitchen concept with lofty ceilings. Five or six tables dot the window area, with church pews for seating against the windows. You’ll find more seats at the bar, where cheery yellow barstools beckon. I’ve heard rumors of the restaurant adding outside seating – which is great, because if 50 people fit here, I would be mightily surprised.

Photo Robert Sentinery

Chef Jones has a deft hand with spices, and his whole experience for diners is a nod and wink to soulful Southern flavors. There’s even a 20-foot-tall mural of a jazz musician, which is gorgeous. It made the disco soundtrack slightly puzzling, although I will never protest hearing MFSB being played anywhere.

I loved the iced tea – it’s a mellow sun tea. Ecowarriors like me will adore the raw bamboo that replaces the straw. It’s a sustainable and earthy choice, and I hope we’ll start to see these everywhere. Fans of mixed drinks will love the long and impressive house-made cocktails list. With a small curated food menu, it’s not hyperbole to say there are about as many cocktails as menu options, and the highly trained staff will walk you through the best pairings.

The Cauliflower ($10) is the smoky, spicy, blue-cheesy masterpiece it always was. Now it feels a titch spicier, and I’m happy about that. The Vegetable Beignets ($11) are puffy perfection – the menu hints at vegetable ash in the mix, but I’m not sure. The holy trinity (carrot, onion, celery) tucked inside was so well flavored, we ignored the black garlic mustard. Big mistake: It’s grainy, kicky and yummy. The Whole Roasted Broccoli ($13) is a smoky, roasted meal in itself. Notes of lavender and citrus round out the flavor, while some super-spicy chile flakes will make you hit high C. Use the house-made labneh (a tangy Lebanese yogurt cheese) for a cooling effect. You’ll love the fermented mustard that appears on the plate (someone loves mustard here, and I love that).

Cauliflower, Photo Robert Sentinery

The Crispy Pig Ears ($8) come fresh out of the fryer and coated in Cheetos dust. I’m almost wondering if they should level up to Flamin’ Hot Cheetos at some point, but these are yummy and exactly what you’ll remember if you had them at the De Soto location. The Pimento Cheese and Ham ($14) is probably my favorite thing on the menu, after the lovely cauliflower, of course. A fantastic cheesy spread is loaded with pimentos and served alongside strands of ham, so lovingly cured, unctuous and perfectly fatty, it’s like the best American charcuterie. I might give up on prosciutto if I could find this locally.

We threw caution to the wind and tried the Farm Raised Smoked Catfish Dip ($14), which was probably closer to a catfish rillette – a spreadable meat and fat dish that is now super glamorous. Honestly, it’s probably the most upscale version of catfish you’ll ever have. Perfect pieces of dark brown bread are grilled and loaded with butter. It’s the dark, atmospheric rustic bread that is almost naturally sweet. Chunky smoked fish schmeared along the top is a fabulous flavor pairing and somehow seems fancy. The pickled treats that come alongside almost seem like gilding the lily but do manage to cut some of the fat. We loved it. And believe me, I had to beg my companions to order this. Catfish dip as an entree raises eyebrows. But I raise my glass: It’s superlative.

The Butcher’s Steak ($24) varies, and on our visit it was a perfectly cooked skirt steak. Our charming server didn’t give us an option on cooking style. When we pressed, we got the full rundown on meat preparation based on cut, and we agreed with her choice. The steak was perfect. The vinegar-based potatoes underneath were good, but the cold temperature was an odd choice under a hot steak. The arugula came in two pieces, which made the salad aspect nonexistent. But I’d definitely try this again. Considering it’s been less than a month since the restaurant opened, this dish was impressive.

Collard Greens Salad, Photo Robert Sentinery

And the Chicken ($26) was quite an approach. An entire half of a spatchcocked bird appears on the table, including the clutched foot. It was artistic, slightly macabre and a total conversation starter. The bird was cooked to smoky perfection. I loved what seemed like Chinese five spice, and the slight salt crust was amazingly well executed. We inhaled it. The cornbread panzanella was bereft of the salad portion (we noticed a theme of marginally missing greens) and felt more like handfuls of cornbread croutons. Tasty, but odd.

As Phoenix changes and kicks into overdrive, I hope we don’t lose our sense of culinary community. I have absolutely adored watching Chef Stephen Jones and his career evolve over time. I’ve loved following him and cheering as he branched out on his own. It’s an adorable touch that he’s hung photos of himself through the culinary ages on the side wall – a nod to his skill and tenacity. The Larder + The Delta is delicious and adorable. And I can’t wait to see what Chef does next. I’ll be watching and waiting. And dreaming about that amazing cauliflower.

 

The Larder + The Delta

200 W. Portland, Suite 101

thelarderandthedelta.com

Monday: closed

Tuesday to Thursday: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Friday: 11 a.m. to midnight

Saturday: 4 p.m. to midnight

Sunday: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.