We interrupt our regularly scheduled format to bring you this glimpse of four new restaurants at The Churchill food hub in Downtown Phoenix.
901 N. First St., Phoenix
This month, rather than voyaging to the remote edges of the Valley, I crisscrossed the southeast corner of Roosevelt and First streets in Downtown Phoenix, where The Churchill – a new hipster mini-mall made of upcycled land-sea shipping containers – now resides. First up of four dining options: this purveyor of “organic, vegan-friendly and locally sourced when possible” bowls and smoothies. The Berry Bliss ($9.50 as a smoothie, $11.75 as a bowl) is an impressive concoction – blueberries, strawberries and the like mingled with local dates and other goodies, and topped (if you get the bowl) with granola, bananas and a drizzle of dark chocolate. It’s not too dense, not too sweet, nothing artificial in the flavor. Lighter drinks include Blue Mango Tea ($5), which neither looks blue nor tastes like a mango, but which is refreshing. Later, I opted for the bracing, pineapple-infused Wellness Blend ($6) over the Beauty Blend, figuring the latter was a lost cause.
Must try: The vegan Bliss Balls ($3.50) candies aren’t misnamed – try the pecan-embedded Cherry Chocolate.
The Churchill’s metal exoskeleton encloses an open-air food court with picnic tables and cornhole games, serviced by a handful of bars, boutiques and walk-up eateries. With refuse containers that offer an orifice each for trash, recycling and compost, it’s impressively utopian. (Though not canine-friendly – a boy and his dog were run off by management during one of my visits.) At this Jalisco-centric Mexican joint, even the forks are compostable. So, for that matter, is the cob left behind from the elote ($5), a tasty iteration of the street-food classic, but perhaps over-slathered with Tajín seasoning and mayo. Conversely, the vegetarian taco ($3.50) – a pleasant assortment of squash, chayote, etc. – is a bit under-seasoned, with the sparest hints of salt and pepper. The highlight of the entrees was birria ($9.50), with a powerful chile sauce to stand up to the braised goat meat, served with tortillas or crusty bread. The menudo ($10; Saturday and Sunday only) was a mixed bag – the tripe was tender and first class, but the broth was watery and un-savory.
Must try: The Jiracalla ($4.50), a moist, berry-topped, Jalisco-style flan, was a soulful finish.
Probably the best eats, across the board, that I had on my tour came from this sandwich shop on The Churchill’s north side. El Pato ($15) was a highlight, sort of a south-of-the-border, one-story Dagwood sandwich with duck carnitas, mole, pickled red cabbage, avocado and more on a soft, yielding telera roll. Despite its stern-sounding name, The Puritan ($10) was a similarly bountiful choice – a take on those Thanksgiving-dinner-on-bread sammies, with fresh roasted turkey breast, cranberry sauce, Manchego, onions and greens on whole grain. It will make you want to fall asleep on the couch in front of football. The Mummy ($8) is Breadwinner’s refreshing vegetarian whole-wheat wrap, with feta and hummus supported by cucumbers, tomatoes, piquillo peppers and other flora. With dairy, vegetables, bread and proteins, this Mummy contains the whole food pyramid.
Must try: The best of the side dishes is the Amarillo Papa ($6), fingerling spuds topped with cotija, pepitas, red onion and, best of all, aji amarillo, a mild, fruity Peruvian hot sauce. Beats french fries.
Freak Brothers Pizza
Best known for their food-truck pizzas, the brothers Freak have parked a permanent spot on the southwest side of The Churchill. They offer a variety of traditional pies, with variable results. The standard pepperoni ($11) or the build-your-own pepperoni and pineapple feature a competent crust but mediocre execution up top, with sharp, overly acidic sauce and skimpy toppings. That said, La Miabella, touted on the menu as “our most beautiful pie,” convincingly demonstrates that beauty isn’t always skin-deep: The ensemble of olive oil and Kalamata olives, veggies, sliced almonds and balsamic dressing is at once tart yet nutty and rich. All of these pizzas can be made vegan or gluten-free for a slight upcharge. Creamy hummus ($5.50) and a mild tabbouleh salad ($5.50) are among the few non-pizza options – both are available in “taster” versions ($1) should you wish to drop some on your pie.
Must try: The sea salt brownie ($5) – genuinely chocolatey, genuinely salty and, we’re assured, genuinely vegan.