Keeler’s Neighborhood Steakhouse It’s All in the Family
Writer Amanda Christmann
Photographer Carl Schultz and Submitted by Keeler’s Steakhouse
The Keelers have a way of turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. With a turn of a key and the light of a grill, they have a knack for turning sleepy retail spaces into the kind of go-to places where regulars meet after work and where simple occasions become something special.
Paul Keeler has confidence and competence that comes through in all he does. He’s used that finesse to develop his popular Spencer’s for Steaks and Chops in Omaha, Neb. plus two Liberty Station American Tavern and Smokehouse restaurants on Market Street at DC Ranch and the Terravita Market Place in North Scottsdale—and a third Liberty Station on the way in Madison, Wisconsin.
It would seem he’s got the winning formula for creating casual yet quality dining that people love.
The Keelers’ magic is not slowing down. Their latest Arizona endeavor, Keeler’s Neighborhood Steakhouse in Carefree’s Historic Spanish Village, has proven their versatility and fully validated the notion that upscale food can be served in unpretentious surroundings.
Serving Up Something Special
Perhaps its only fitting that Keeler and his son Matt, who is director of operations for family-owned Keeler Hospitality Group, have now made their mark in one of Carefree’s first buildings. They are making history of their own among Carefree’s growing list of great mom and pop eateries working hard to define a dining scene in a town known for its dark nights.
Keeler and his wife Judy spent decades learning and growing in the hospitality business together. Matt and his brother Ryan grew up in the business, and both have turned their lessons into careers: Ryan in Washington D.C. and Matt here in the Valley of the Sun. Daughter Jessica even worked in the hospitality business before opting for a career in Physical Therapy.
For two years, Paul and Matt Keeler scoped out potential locations to add to their growing list of family-owned restaurants. Their target was the North Valley upward from Dynamite Boulevard, where, though there are a handful of good restaurants, there was very little like what the Keelers wanted to offer.
The Keelers’ Liberty Station restaurants had been warmly embraced by their respective communities. The father and son were on the lookout for a spot where they could launch a restaurant with the same inviting atmosphere, only with a nod to high-quality steakhouses they enjoy.
They found that spot in Historic Spanish Village, where owners Bruce and Kim Raskin, who acquired the plaza in late 2016, completed extensive renovations in recent years.
“The way that this whole thing came together is an answer to prayer,” Keeler said. “I feel really blessed.”
The Raskins needed an anchor, and the Keelers needed a location where their brand could shine, so it was only a matter of time before they would find each other.
“When we first agreed to come see it, we’d never been in the location before. It was so close to Liberty Station, but I said, ‘Let’s take a look at it,’” Keeler said. “I walked in with my son and we knew immediately that we could convert it into the atmosphere we were looking for.”
The Keelers got to work, assisted by Mike Rose, project manager, and Davina Griffs, interior designer, completely remodeling the inviting island bar, adding beautiful custom lighting and fantastic local artwork, spiffing up the rooftop deck, activating a satellite kitchen in full view of diners, and doing what they do best: creating the kind of warmth and appeal that makes guests feel right at home.
They also brought a few welcome surprises to the menu, shifting from the down-home comfort food of their other endeavors to aiming their spotlight on certified Angus prime steaks, huge double-cut pork chops, and market-fresh seafood.
They worked at a fast and furious pace to get the restaurant ready for a New Year’s Eve opening. Their plans for a fun, outdoor party were thwarted when, on the afternoon of Dec. 31, Paul looked out the window to see snow falling. They successfully moved the events indoors instead, and business has been booming ever since.
Only the Best
Keeler’s Neighborhood Steakhouse is an unpretentious younger brother to its high-priced counterparts across the Valley. Quality is always at the forefront of all they do, but so is value. Their prices are reasonable and entrees include two sides, for example—a value-add that other high-end steakhouses have stepped away from doing.
With Certified Angus Prime beef as the star on the menu, educating guests about why it’s special has been half the fun.
“Only 2% of the cattle being processed today can qualify as Certified Angus Prime beef,” Keeler said. “It’s very high-quality beef, and Keeler’s offers it at a reasonable price point.”
Among the favorites are prime top sirloin baseball-cut steaks—the perfect size for a healthy appetite—and juicy 10-ounce or 14-ounce slow-roasted prime rib. Their tender and delicious 18-ounce ribeyes and heavenly rack of lamb are popular treats among the many guests who make Keeler’s a regular stop.
Add Brussels sprouts topped with white wine, bacon and garlic sauce or their popular truffle fries—or choose two of any of their 11 side options—and it’s a meal worth remembering.
Keeler’s Neighborhood Steakhouse has a tempting small plates menu that includes PEI mussels with sautéed onions, celery, Schriner chorizo and tomato sauce, garlic toast points; seafood bruschetta topped with butter-braised lobster and sprinkled with cherry tomatoes and red and green bell peppers, then drizzled with citrus aioli; and prime rib sliders made with shaved certified Angus prime rib, cheddar cheese, and a zesty horseradish cream.
The well-rounded menu features delightfully unique takes on burgers and sandwiches, ocean-fresh seafood selections like sea bass and diver scallops, salads, and indulgent desserts.
From the bar comes a fun list of imaginative cocktails, and a substantial wine list for more refined palettes. Their happy hour menu runs 3 to 6 p.m., seven days a week and includes $4 local drafts and $5 small bites, among other great deals. Their bar menu, available for bar and rooftop seating, features smaller versions of some of their most popular dishes. A Sunday Brunch, served from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., has been added.
There’s even live music on the rooftop every Thursday night, and monthly winemaker dinners to showcase some of the area’s favorite libations.
Local organizations have discovered that Keeler’s is a great place for meetings and events. One of the dining rooms accommodates board meetings, special events and more.
Rehearsal and anniversary dinners, birthday parties and other occasions are welcome at Keeler’s. The restaurant has even hosted a wedding in the courtyard with the help of Matt’s wife, Maren, who handles the booking and execution of special events.
Not bad for a previously quiet corner of Carefree.
“We learned from the success of Liberty Station that, if you build it and provide good quality, personable service in a comfortable atmosphere, you get repeat clientele,” Keeler said.
“We have a great management team, led by Mike Fischer, general manager, and Anthony Apolinar, executive chef, who really embrace the culture of making regulars out of every person in that restaurant,” Keeler said.
“Things like getting to know people by name, knowing where they like to sit, what they like to eat, and what kind of wine they prefer are very important, and people notice. We have people returning three and four times a week, due in large part to our outstanding team members.”
On any given night, the restaurant is hopping, and one of the Keelers can often be found among the crowd.
“In the restaurant, you’re more than likely going to see a Keeler or interact with a Keeler, which is important when you have your name on the restaurant,” Keeler said with a smile.
This month, Keeler’s is decorated for the holidays, thanks to a few shopping trips and Judy’s creative talents and enthusiasm for this time of year. The family is hoping for a rooftop celebration because of the sweeping sunset views, but even if the weather doesn’t cooperate, there’s sure to be a good time at Keeler’s Neighborhood Steakhouse.
After all, it’s what they do—and what they’ve done all along.
Keeler’s Neighborhood Steakhouse
7212 East Ho Hum Rd., Carefree