Relish Kitchen and Wine Bar has already been open for a whole year. Hard to believe it took us that long to revisit the space that used to house one of our favorite haunts — the quirky, family-friendly, decorated with mismatched furniture Create Cafe.
Perhaps it was the “wine bar” in the name that scared us a bit. Sounds very grown-ups-only, and the term conjures up images of big checks and too-small meals.
Happily, this is not the case.
Relish is fancier and sleeker than its predecessor. Burgundy and mustard-yellow paint bathe the walls. The furniture all matches, a mix of high and low-top tables as well as the money seat — a comfy L-shaped couch for larger parties. Three flat-screen TVs flash the top sporting events while pop music plays unobtrusively in the background. The open kitchen is still around.
It’s a comfy space that aims to please — just like its wide-ranging menu.
Chef/owner Stephen Hurd, who used to be clubhouse manager at Tucson Country Club, offers a little bit of everything: seafood, Italian, even ol’ fashioned steakhouse fare. A nice touch: Some entrees are available in half portions, a great option since not everyone feels compelled to supersize. While the wine selections are decent and cover the bases, there’s nothing to really excite an aficionado.
The fig and brie flatbread ($8) kicked off the meal. Fig compote added the sweetness to mellow caramelized onion, smoky bacon and creamy brie. A smattering of fresh sprouts offered crunch and brightness. The flatbread beneath it was soft and chewy enough but reminiscent of the lackluster stuff you get out of a package from the grocery store.
There was no such complaint about the brioche — glistening with buttery goodness — cradling the pulled pork barbecue ($10). Tender and bathed in a well-rounded sauce with a hint of sweetness, the slow-roasted pork tasted like true Southern goodness. In fact, it didn’t seem right to dilute that mouthwatering meat with crunchy coleslaw, which was well-seasoned and creamy without being gloppy, a fate too many slaws suffer. But we did let the stack of fried onion strings stay atop the succulent pork.
Relish also serves up a solid burger, topped with the standard fixings, on that same heavenly brioche ($10).
The Pasta Bolognese ($16/$11 for a half portion) was meaty and full-flavored, flecked with soft carrot and tomatoes, and it tasted pleasantly of wine. Fresh basil punctuated the penne while dashes of cream and butter richened things up but not too much.
Along with the expected standards, Relish offers some fun twists on its entrees, like the strawberry-onion jam accompanying the seared strip steak ($16).
Tender enough and pan cooked, the beef — served atop lightly dressed greens — got a nice boost from the savory-one-bite-sweet-the-next crimson jam. A heap of sweet-potato fries were crisp and soft and just right.
The blackened mahi ($16) was a touch overdone, but the thick spice coating packed just enough heat. A fresh pineapple salsa added tangy sweetness. The mahi was served over a sweet cornbread pudding, which was dense and seemed more like tamale pie. But it paired well with the fish.
Desserts, like the main menu, cover all the bases.
The warm chocolate cake ($5) smacked of, well, those single-serve microwave concoctions that you nuke only when you’re flat-out desperate. The fruit cobbler, though, was well worth the calories. Piping hot with a layer of moist cake on the bottom and a crunchy, perfectly tanned streusel topping, the juicy wild blueberries in between struck the perfect balance between sweet and tart. Shell out an extra $1.50 for the house-made vanilla-bean gelato, which is ultra rich and creamy, and that is truly something to relish.