First Street Café

Dining at the First Street Café is like having dinner at a good friend's home. You may not know what's cooking in the kitchen, but you can anticipate sitting down to a meal that's made with care.

Proprietor and chef Jill Keller's restaurant in Phoenix is situated in a modest house just off the Pacific Highway. A comfortable parlor has been added to seat guests, and there also is shaded seating outdoors along one side of the house and on a covered deck at the back.

We chose a table on the deck to enjoy the pleasant weather and quiet atmosphere, and a personable young woman named Caitlin brought us water, menus and a list of specials.

Though the menu items change a little every week at First Street Cafe, there are a few mainstays. And there's usually something for everyone. Keller often selects foods that are in season from local suppliers and some organic ingredients for her dishes, according to her Web site at

The dinner entrees for this particular weekend included pasta dishes, ahi, strip steaks, lamb, grilled organic eggplant and an all-beef dog served with a spicy Asian slaw and sweet potato fries. All come with soup, salad and house side dishes.

The specials were equally tempting, as were the appetizers.

There also are wine pairings suggested on the menu for several of the appetizers and entrees.

We started with soup. Keller's soups are made from scratch, right down to the broths. The soup selections definitely change each week. Keller was offering her D**n Good Turkey Soup and Mulligatawny, along with two cool summer soups: a cucumber yogurt soup and a gazpacho. Since we had arrived late, we had missed out on the summer soups. We gladly settled on the turkey soup, and it was indeed d**n good. It was hearty and full of flavor, with tender bites of turkey, mushrooms, celery, carrot, green peppers, onion and winter squash. It was more than delicious. It tasted nutritious and healthful, too, like something you would make at home if you had the time.

We also enjoyed our salads. They were small mounds of fresh, mixed greens topped with sliced red onion, pecans, dried cranberries and creamy, organic dressings from Toby's.

The cafe usually serves flat iron steaks, Caitlin informed us, but this evening New Yorks were on the menu. My boyfriend, Rob, leapt at the chance to sup on a tender, medium-rare strip steak ($18), and I ordered the wild-caught tuna ($14).

We munched on our salads and enjoyed looking around the shady garden area beyond the deck. The garden looks as though it is a work still in progress, and Caitlin told us that there are plans to add live music on weekends.

Our meals arrived, and I quite enjoyed the ahi. It was lightly breaded, slightly seared, then sliced and presented on top of a small bed of greens. It was served with wasabi paste, or Japanese horseradish, and a bit of pickled ginger, some tuna caper sauce, soy sauce and an attractive garnish of wasabi mayonnaise. It was delicious paired with the recommended glass of Viognier. I devoured all but two slices of it, which our host graciously wrapped up in a paper tray along with an extra dab of pickled ginger and sent home with us.

The one bite of strip steak that Rob shared with me was delectable, and he liked the house sides of summer squash and potatoes that accompanied the entree. But he didn't enjoy the chimchuri sauce that topped his steak. The Argentine marinade is made of flat parsley, garlic and other ingredients including vinegar. Unfortunately, Rob has no palate for vinegar — the heathen.

Not that it spoiled our dining experience. We forged ahead and ordered dessert, a slice of old-fashioned chocolate cake with chocolate frosting served a la mode ($5). The cake had a coarse, crumbly texture that blended nicely with the two scoops of ice cream melting around it.

I think it's fun that Keller varies her menu. Register at the café's Web site to have the weekly soups and specials menus e-mailed to you.

— Laurie Heuston

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