Roosevelt Row is going through a bit of a transformation. Some of it is pretty great, like having a walkable downtown with more than one business that is open. Some is not so great, with favorite local spots being gentrified and priced out of existence. In the middle of this existential crisis comes The Dressing Room.
This aptly self-described “micro restaurant” is the second venture from the team behind Be Coffee + Food + Stuff. Located inside monOrchid, The Dressing Room is shockingly tiny. Without the charming spillover patio, I’m quite sure I’ve fit more people in my car than can sit inside. If you up the ante and add the bar, we have barely hit double digits. From any part of the interior no conversation goes unheard. After my repeat visits, I’m quite certain I know everyone’s business—patrons and staff. There are no secrets here. To sit inside is to hear everything, and for me, that is a good thing. Fans of privacy should sit outside.
But this is part of the charm, as is the menu. The odd piece is where they get their inspiration. Nothing cements a concept having jumped the proverbial shark more than when it appears in print. I can safely say that this is the first restaurant I have been to that cites menu influences including both carts and food trucks. (Streets and beaches, too.)
First off, I must commend The Dressing Room on the improvements they have made during their short life. On my first visit, the excellent Fries with Three Sauces ($3) really only had one of note, the amazing malt aioli. The previously mediocre avocado crema is now excellent, and their spicy Russian is vastly improved. And that malt aioli is amazing. The umami flavor is 11, and it maintains a brightness from the acidity. On one visit our server indicated that they vastly underestimated the success of said malt aioli and now make it by the vat. They should consider bottling it. I would be first in line to buy it.
The compelling Tostada & Ceviche ($6) is a kicky mix of citrus-cured fish, not quite enough to share but more than a nibble. The thick, salty tostada never loses its crunch, which is essential since it replaces silverware.
Not to be confused with the Peruvian Ceviche Salad ($10), which is an entirely different concept and, apparently, dish. I think The Dressing Room should punt the tostada version and stick to this one. In my view, it’s the most special menu item. Loaded with sweet potato chunks, perfectly brined fish, hominy and Peruvian corn, this tasty and interesting creation isn’t one easily replicated, and it is a great indicator of the highs a small place like this can achieve.
The Korean Yakitori ($9) is a near miss. There is nothing Japanese or Korean about this dish. Well-prepared but mild chicken comes on top of an excellent Asian slaw, made better by pouring the Thai-inspired peanut sauce (that comes with it) on top. It’s good enough, but the name lends itself to expectations the dish can’t deliver. I would happily eat an entire bowl of the slaw/sauce combo, but on their own they need some help.
The Classic Burger ($9.50) is an excellent burger, served on a tasty toasted English muffin, with more of the excellent fries. I’ve enjoyed lesser burgers for more money all over town. My only issue is with the plastic diner basket it is served inside. Handmade burgers are delectable, juicy messes. The muffin holds up to these juices, but a flat-bottomed plastic basket gives you no escape from the pooling juices, and mitigates the benefit of the heft of the English muffin. Your only recourse is a knife and fork and 300 napkins.
I loved the All Day Burrito ($8), a tasty tangle of hash browns, Tender Belly bacon, avocado and eggs. This is where that side of the aforementioned avocado crema comes in handy. Sure, it’s gilding the lily, but it takes it from yummy to oh my god.
I’m hopeful that The Dressing Room’s willingness to improve as they go will be true for the dessert selection. I have no issue with a small menu; to me, it’s a great indicator of a kitchen that understands that you can’t have 100 dishes and have them all be fresh or executed well. But one dessert option seems stingy. I know that ice cream sandwiches have taken hipsters by the culinary hands, and our server was no exception, based on his reaction. But the Churro Ice Cream Sandy ($5) isn’t a winner. The churro isn’t made to order, so it doesn’t come to the table warm. That means by the time it is served, the churro has started to freeze and, as a result, is impossible to cut with a steak knife. And if you can’t cut it with a steak knife, you certainly can’t bite into it easily or effectively.
Our server noticed we were struggling and indicated this dessert wasn’t meant to be shared. Is there any dessert NOT meant to be shared? To me, any churro not served fresh and warm is a crime against cinnamon-sugar-coated deep-fried dough. This should be an easy enough fix—nix the dish or find a way to serve the churro fresh out of the fryer.
While Roosevelt Row gets more fancy, I’m prepared to see more upmarket, expensive spots in that neighborhood. This is one of the reasons I am happily surprised by The Dressing Room—nothing on the menu cracks $11, and the charmingly tiny interior and adorable back patio you don’t expect to see add up to a place that is more than the sum of its parts. I’m confident that they will fix the churro situation. Until that happens, I’ll eat $3 baskets of fries dunked in delectable malt aioli.
The Dressing Room
220 E. Roosevelt, Phoenix
Sunday to Thursday 11 to 11
Friday and Saturday 11 to 12