By Alison Bailin Batz
We could all use a little comfort these days. Or, perhaps even better, comfort food.
Thanks to the newly opened High & Rye Southern Kitchen & Bar, there is now prime comfort food (think hush puppies and fried chicken) in our own backyard – but not from where you might think.
“I grew up in a very rural part of Minnesota where, I kid you not, we even had a ‘Drive Your Tractor to School’ day,” says general manager Robert Gregg. “People don’t always realize this, but we country kids of the Midwest grew up with the same rich, flavorful foods as our cousins to the south in Louisiana or Georgia.”
Gregg, along with executive chef Brice Niehaus, moved to the Valley earlier this year as part of a vision their parent company (aptly named Snowbird Hospitality) had to join Arizona’s ever-growing culinary scene.
“The talent is here. The infrastructure is here. The world is starting to realize Arizona can cook – and more than just eggs on the sidewalk in summer,” says Gregg, whose team scouted the area for nearly a year before investing in a 14,000-square-foot-venue with an ample dog-friendly patio and private event space.
“We worked to re-imagine the venue to make it feel part Southern kitchen with barn doors and a clean, white color palette and part country patio, complete with strung-up lights and even a tree inside.”
They spent even more time on the food than the stunning space makeover. The result is a two-page menu with noticeably elevated dishes including blue crab hush puppies with creole aioli, tempura-fried okra with remoulade, brisket, shrimp and grits and – an early favorite – the pastor plate with Southern country ham.
“For those unfamiliar, we country types call this ham – which is straight from Tennessee and cured, smoked and aged for a year and a half – a ‘hillbilly prosciutto,’” says Gregg, noting it is a definite conversation starter along with the grilled pimento cheese and the unique drink program.
Speaking of drinks, rather than simply hand guests a wine and beer menu (which they do have and it is sizeable), High & Rye makes things interactive with build-it-yourself versions of an Old-Fashioned, Manhattan or martini.
“For these, we let the guest choose the base spirit and style – dry, classic or dirty, for example,” Gregg says. “We also have a cocktail program wherein all the signature items use spirits infused in-house with everything from strawberries and peaches to jalapenos and ginger.”
They also boast a whiskey menu with more than 120 labels, primarily focused on bourbon and, of course, rye and have 20 beers on tap.
Guests can enjoy live music Friday and Saturday from 8 to 11 p.m. and happy hour is offered Monday through Friday (3-6 p.m.), Sunday through Thursday (10 p.m.-12 a.m.), and Saturday and Sunday (11 a.m.-4 p.m.). Brunch takes place Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
High & Rye Southern Kitchen & Bar, 5310 E. High St., Phoenix; 480.634.4143; www.highandryeaz.com.