Justin Beckett and his team at Beckett’s Table are taking the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic one day at a time, as long as those days give the popular chef a chance to do what he loves – creating delicious food.
They’re practicing the recommended precautions – socially distant tables, small parties, disinfecting surfaces, masks and gloves, health checks for staff members – but Beckett doesn’t let that get in the way of the priorities: great food and warm hospitality.
“My joy, my love, has always been playing with food,” said Beckett, a graduate of California Culinary Academy in San Francisco.
When Justin, his wife Michelle, and friends Katie and Scott Stephens – both sommeliers – decided to open their restaurant 10 years ago, his deal with his co-owners was that he got to be in the kitchen every day.
It’s been a successful arrangement. Administrative duties are largely the purview of Michelle Beckett, and the Stephens’ efforts have led to Beckett’s Table being honored by Wine Spectator magazine for its carefully crafted wine service, winning Awards of Excellence nearly every one of those 10 years.
“I get to be in the kitchen, and that’s what keeps me excited about this business,” Beckett said.
It also has helped keep him and his team focused during the months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Beckett recalls the afternoon when Arizona restaurants were ordered to cease in-person dining.
“We were prepping for dinner,” he said. “At that point, we sat down and said, ‘How do we deal with this? What do we do with our staff? How do we get them as whole as possible so they can deal with the next week?’ We took two days off and went to living life day-by-day, as far as business goes.
“We reopened on that Friday with a limited menu of to-go food,” Beckett said. “Now it feels like – I hate the term – but it’s our ‘new normal.’ We keep saying it could be worse and that we feel lucky just to be here.”
These days the restaurant is at about 50 percent capacity. The communal table – one of Beckett’s most popular seating areas in days past, when strangers would sit side-by-side to enjoy drinks and the day’s specials, is “basically nonexistent,” Beckett said.
Part of the restaurant’s success during the COVID-19 crisis has been attributed to it creating new takeout options. Beckett said another key to its success is putting together the right team.
“I know that the people who we have in our company now have great attitudes,” he said. “They’re flexible. They’re committed to staying healthy and keeping the restaurant healthy.”
Takeout innovations have been “incredibly popular” with customers, Beckett said.
He developed a curbside menu that includes dinners featuring regular menu items packaged for a family of four, available Wednesdays through Sundays, and chef’s special dinners, just for weekends, which allow him to spread his creative wings.
The dinners are a bargain at $99, including a bottle of wine. They sell out, so order early.
“My creativity and my play time goes into those chef’s dinners,” Beckett said.
A recent menu included smoked white bean and pancetta deviled eggs; arugula salad with Armenian cucumber, fennel puffed corn, dried cranberries and lemon vinaigrette; herb and shallot roasted chicken; roasted vegetable ratatouille; garlic Parmesan Yukon gold potatoes; a pizza cookie with vanilla ice cream and wine.
“Sometimes it can be Asian satay sticks with noodles,” Beckett said. “It doesn’t necessarily belong on a table in this restaurant, but it’s fun to eat and delicious, and you trust me that I can make good food, so you’re going to try something different.
An unusual dish is bacon that is roasted, cooled and dipped in chocolate and frozen, served with house-made marshmallows, peanut butter mousse, graham crackers and caramel sauce – s’mores taken up a notch.
Another customer favorite is pork osso buco. Juniper berries, mustard seeds, pickling spices and sugar combine for a dry rub in which the pork marinates overnight. Then the pork goes into pork fat for five hours in a 200-degree oven. The resulting confit is beyond succulent, with flavors from the brine, and the richness from the fat keeping it tender and moist. Right now it’s served with roasted poblano spaetzli, corn and caramelized onion but that may change as Beckett develops his fall menu.
Beckett’s Table, at 3717 E. Indian School Road, is open from 4 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. For more information, call 602-954-1700 or visit beckettstable.com.