Phoenix rises in downtown Davenport
RESTAURANT REVIEW: EMBERS OF THE PHOENIX

Phoenix rises in downtown Davenport

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• Embers of The Phoenix, 111 W. 2nd. St., Davenport. thephoenixofdavenport.com, facebook.com/phoenixofdavenport, 563-323-23435.

In Greek mythology, a phoenix is a bird that lived for 500 years before dying in a show of flames and combustion, then obtaining a new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor. In downtown Davenport, The Phoenix gave new life to a building where other restaurants had failed, inspiring its name. The restaurant's diverse menu, talented chef and staff, and friendly atmosphere assure that this Phoenix is here to stay.

Employee-owned, The Phoenix opened in December 2009. Many of the employees have been there since the beginning. The restaurant's relaxed vibe and casual upscale food at reasonable prices have been a great addition to Quad-Cities dining scene.

Part of the charm of this restaurant is its location in a historic building in downtown Davenport. The building is rumored to have been home to the grocery store owned by musician Bix Beiderbecke's family in the early 1900s. Built in 1912, it boasts the original German scrollwork above the entry to the bar area.

Claudia Anderson has been the general manager since The Phoenix opened. She is a gem. Her collaborative spirit makes her more of a team player than a manager. The exceptional head chef, Justin Burns, started out as a line cook on opening day. Both Claudia and Justin were instrumental in designing The Phoenix's creative menu. Its contents range from pizza and sandwiches to pasta, salad and entrees.

Be sure to look over the martini, cocktail, wine and beer list as you contemplate your meal. The Phoenix has 12 beers on tap, an award-winning martini and cocktail list, and an impressive wine list. Claudia hand-picks all of the wines that are served, and she does an excellent job creating a well-balanced selection. We were impressed that they had 18 wines available by the glass, including many wines that are normally hard to find by the glass.

The restaurant has a wine-pairing dinner once a month, featuring a five-course meal that showcases Chef Justin's food and Claudia's selection of wines. It is usually sold out, so be sure to book ahead.

We enjoy a cocktail list that steers us away from our usual go-tos. We started with the Smoking Jacket and the Lemongrass Gin Martini. The Smoking Jacket is an unique twist on a typical Manhattan. It starts with five drops of homemade bitters, which are shaken with Makers Mark bourbon and sweet vermouth. The glass is inverted over smoking bark on a cedar plank before the cocktail is poured. What a delicious combination! It had the depth of a sweet bourbon with a touch of a smokey Islay scotch.

Infused gins have become a creative trend on the bar scene. The Phoenix's Lemongrass Gin Martini begins with a lemongrass-infused gin and muddled cucumbers, shaken with a smoked lemongrass simple syrup. The excellent martini really showcased the talents of the bartenders.

All of the restaurant's entrees are made from scratch at the time of ordering. The offerings begin with the ordinary and end with the chef's creative twists.

The appetizer section features unique options, including Pineapple Teriyaki Shrimp Skewers, Smoked Bruschetta and Stuffed Jalapeno Poppers. We chose the Jalapeno Poppers. Large, fresh jalapenos are stuffed by hand with Spanish rice, smoked cheddar cheese and ground beef. The jalapenos are then dipped in batter and fried, and they're served with a creamy garlic dressing. The presentation was the piece de resistance, since they are filleted and served ready to dip.

The rest of the menu features both casual-dining and fine-dining selections. Even though the menu has casual-dining sections, all the options are more than fine!

Individual pizzas, such as Toasted Pesto Chicken, are $11. The salads can be ordered as a side dish or a full meal. The Teriyaki Chicken wth Asian Slaw sounded delicious. Chef Justin creates a homemade soup each day. On the night we dined there, we overheard a customer complimenting Claudia on the mushroom soup.

All of the burgers begin with a hand-formed, 8-ounce, seasoned ground beef patty. The pasta section includes five choices, ranging from tortellini to fettuccini to penne — all served with homemade sauces.

Some of the standouts on the menu are the entrees that showcase the creative juices of Chef Justin. They include beef, pork, wild salmon, tuna and swai (a type of fish). A favorite of our server, Grace, who was really the Jane of all trades, is the Traditional Grilled Chicken Marsala. Some of the other entree choices include Black and Bleu Filet Mignon, Grilled Rib-Eye, Port Wine Top Sirloin and Sesame-Encrusted Ahi Tuna.

Fans of anything local, we could not resist the Iowa Pork Producers' award-winning Cody Road Bourbon Pork Steak. A pork rib-eye steak — not to be confused with the drier, leaner pork loin — is grilled, served with a Mississippi Distillery Cody Road Bourbon sauce, and accompanied by mushroom rice pilaf and fresh vegetables. It was one of the better pieces of pork we have had in a while, both juicy and flavorful.

Pesto and chicken go together like peanut butter and jelly. The Stuffed Pesto Chicken Trio features chicken breasts stuffed with basil, sun-dried tomatoes and walnut pesto. The breasts are wrapped in prosciutto, pan seared, baked, then drizzled with a garlic cream sauce. They're served with real garlic mashed potatoes. 

On the dessert menu there is only one thing, but that is all they need: Chef Justin's homemade cheesecake. Normally we are not fans of cheesecake at the end of a meal. It is too heavy to enjoy after a good meal. Not in this case.

His rotating cheesecake selections are all light and fluffy. He creates more than 25 cheesecakes that can be ordered as full or half slices. It was the perfect ending to an excellent meal.

The Phoenix has a daily happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. and from 9 p.m. on, featuring drink and appetizer specials. The four-story building has unique spaces for special events that offer seating for 60 to 200 guests in private dining areas.

Located next to the skywalk on Davenport's 2nd Street, The Phoenix opens at 3 p.m. daily and closes at 11 p.m. during the week and at 2 a.m. on the weekends. It is closed on Sundays. Reservations are recommended on Friday or Saturday evenings.

The Phoenix is a welcome reincarnation of what was old to something new.

He said: The word bourbon always draws me in. The Smoking Jacket with homemade bitters and the Cody Road Bourbon Pork Steak were excellent. I really enjoyed the tender, juicy pork tenderloin.

She said: I am a fan of gin. The infused Lemongrass Gin Martini is my way of getting a daily dose of vitamin C. Their daily selection of homemade cheesecakes are exceptional. The light and fluffy texture was a great way to finish an excellent meal.

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