Sitting in Phoenix's Jacksonville Manor Shopping Center between a Safeway and a Rite Aid, on the site of the old Henry's Bistro, Chops Restaurant and Lounge was ablaze with white lights. The inside was bright as well — and busy. On a recent Friday night, my wife and I snagged the last table for two.
The dining room area, actually two big rooms, was filled with families, many obviously having dinner after the kids' basketball games. The lounge, tucked behind the dining area, was even livelier and louder. Folks gathered to sip a few beverages and gab, and based on the amount of table-hopping going on, everyone seemed to know each other.
Employees at Chops use a team approach to service. When the hostess saw our waiters were occupied, she jumped in and took our drink orders and brought us our beverages, rather than leaving us parched and pining. Nice touch.
Chops' menu features mostly American fare — steaks, chops (of course), chicken and seafood — with a few ethnic dishes tossed in.
Following the adage that you should always order the dish a restaurant is named after, I started off with the lollipop chop appetizer ($12.95), lamb chops that had been marinated and grilled. They arrived cooked as I had requested, rare, and with pleasing piquant notes, thanks to their herb bath. They were well-matched with a bold horseradish dipping sauce. This, as it turned out, was my favorite dish of the night.
My wife started with the Sweet Air Sushi ($11.95), a melodious dish that takes its name from a nearby road. My dominant memories of Sweet Air Road are of the cattle farms I'd once visited nearby. I wasn't sure at first about ordering sushi in cattle country, but the crisp, clean and fresh tuna wrapped around crab meat proved me wrong.
Baby back ribs ($15.95) were falling-off-the-bone tender but presented little evidence that they'd been in the vicinity of a smoky fire. Likewise, the homemade hickory barbecue sauce covering them was more sweet than smoky.
Sticking with my order-the-restaurant's-namesake plan, I tried the bone-in pork chops ($15.95). Unlike the lamb, these were dry, though they were helped by an apple topping that was described as a chutney but seemed more like applesauce. Tired side dishes of corn and broccoli florets didn't add anything.
Though service started out great, it faded as the evening wore on. It took a very long time to get our dessert, an ice-cream sandwich ($5.95), which was basically a large chocolate-chip cookie covered with ice cream.
As we left Chops, a teenager and her family were also departing. The girl was mortified that her dad had spoken in the restaurant to a boy whom the family had once known. "I knew he wouldn't remember me," the teenager complained to her dad, "I hate you." Her father laughed off his daughter's embarrassment. "That," he explained," is what fathers do."
We left with the thought that Chops is a restaurant filled with family fare — and family moments.
Where: 3493 Sweet Air Road, Phoenix
Open: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily
[Key: ✭✭✭✭: Outstanding; ✭✭✭: Good; ✭✭: Fair or Uneven; ✭: Poor]Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun