New Summer Menu at St. Francis
"I wanted a restaurant that fed the community. I wanted to do simple food, food that people can eat every day and come back to." That is exactly what Phoenix restaurateur Aaron Chamberlin created when he founded St. Francis. It was a decision he made after a career that spanned New York, Boston and San Francisco, and working for culinary luminaries such as Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Michel Richard, and Daniel Boulud. After time spent in Phoenix with LGO Hospitality Group, he realized he no longer wanted to do fine dining. "I worked from small 14-seat restaurants to massive hotel restaurants and everything in between. You learn who you are and what you want to be."
At St. Francis, the kitchen is anchored by a custom wood-burning oven, and the menu features dishes cooked with mesquite and almond wood while sourcing extensively from local purveyors such as Maya's, Abbey Lee, and Crooked Sky farms, Two Wash Ranch, and Duncan's Trading Company. While heartier fare such as the signature roast chicken with fingerling potatoes and salsa verde and pork chop with corn polenta and succotash are always best-sellers, this summer it's all about the vegetables. "We want lighter dishes. We want to have more vegetables on the menu. We’re really trying to focus on that," Chef Chamberlin explained. "We're also going to roll out a meatless Monday menu and let everyone start the weekend off fresh with vegetables. We love them and we just want to get more out of them. We want people to think about us as a fresh and healthy place to eat."
As seasons change, so will the soup, but hopefully the current Carrot-Ginger Soup lingers. It's a vibrant and flavorful bowl of sweet roasted carrots pureed with zippy ginger and garnished with chives, a drizzle of crème fraiche, and a toasty crouton.
Multi-hued carrots from local farmers also make an appearance in the Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad. Tossed in olive oil, they are roasted in the wood oven before being layered with sliced avocado, mixed greens, crumbles of Arizona goat cheese, and dressed with a bright orange-poppy seed vinaigrette.
The Fire-Roasted Eggplant Dip is likewise packed with flavor. Roasted eggplant is peeled and chopped and its savory smokiness mixed with charred onions, smoked paprika, fresh herbs, and a pop of red wine vinegar before being topped with fruity extra virgin olive oil, yogurt, pickled fresno chiles, and pine nuts.
What is summer without juicy tomatoes? The Heirloom Tomato Salad at St. Francis brings colorful Arizona tomatoes tumbled on chewy-crunchy crostini with creamy burrata cheese, sliced cucumbers, and red onion. A simple dressing of red wine vinaigrette allows all the flavors of summer to shine.
The Pan-Seared Rainbow Trout is now one of my favorite dishes in town. Delicate, crispy-skinned trout is perched on purple potato puree and crunchy green beans and napped in a brown butter-lemon sauce embellished with briny-tangy capers and chopped almonds. Filling and satisfying, it's still light enough for a perfect summer entree.
Leave room for dessert, especially the new olive oil cake with lemon and rosemary topped with sweet cream gelato and homemade caramel sauce.
Seven years old, and St. Francis remains popular and profitable. "Every day, working hard, that’s what got me to where I am today. What fuels me is to have this open for 20 years," Chef Chamberlin says. "What’s important to me is creating a good business, having people be regulars, being good to my employees. I learned very quickly that you have to surround yourself with good people.” His recipe for success includes his valued team. "I love watching other people grow. My chef was 15 years old when I met him and now he can run a 3-1/2 million dollar restaurant. He delivers every day, every single day. I want to give back and create a good environment for them. When I first opened this business I thought it was all about me, but now it’s all about them."
What's in store for the future? Chef Chamberlin also owns the beloved Phoenix Public Market Café, and while additional projects are in the works for downtown Phoenix and Tempe, he notes that he truly loves being a mentor. "My goal is to get more into education. That is what I really want to do. I love the business. I love cooking. I love everything about it. It has really been a great and phenomenal career. And I love being in Arizona."
St. Francis is located at 111 E Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85012. Phone:(602) 200-8111
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