As I get older, I find myself ruminating about how so often we are the products of our time and place. For example, I grew up in the West Valley in the 1990s and early 2000s. In my sprawling slices of suburbia (I lived in Peoria, Glendale, Surprise and Avondale at various times), there weren’t a lot of independently owned and operated places – restaurants nor retail. I came of age with birthday dinners at Macaroni Grill, family meals at Olive Garden and back-to-school shopping at Forever 21 at Arrowhead Mall (pardon me, Arrowhead Towne Center, which absolutely zero people I know call it). It was a big deal when the first Chipotle, Chick-fil-A and In-N-Out locations opened in the bustling complexes at Bell Road and 83rd Avenue, in the area now known as P83. Back then we just called it “Bell, by the mall.” Mom-and-pop restaurants would spring up and my family would eagerly support them, only to see them close within a year or two.
I voraciously read The Arizona Republic and dreamed of going to all the cool restaurants Howard Seftel and Barbara Yost wrote about. One day I’d make it to Kierland Commons to eat at the upscale lunch counter that served homemade Pop-Tarts (I forget its original name, but I eventually made it to what replaced it, Chloe’s Corner, which I loved; it closed and now The Buzz Eatery & Treats occupies the space). When I was a fancy grown-up, I’d dine at the grand dame of Valley fine dining, Mary Elaine’s (never made it before it closed, sadly). I didn’t really have the autonomy or means to check out indie places until college, when I became a regular at Cartel in Tempe and at the original Phoenix Public Market in Downtown Phoenix, before it closed, was resurrected by Aaron Chamberlin and then closed again.
When I started working here at the mag, I felt a bit of shame about my chain-restaurant-choked childhood. I’d read about a lot of the restaurants in our dining guide. I just hadn’t been to any of them. Or so I thought.
Last year, I learned that one of my childhood favorites, Streets of New York, was not the national chain I had long assumed it to be. It is, in fact, a local chain, established here in the Valley in 1976 and still family-owned and -run. Unbeknownst to my little suburban self, every time I was eating a cheesy triangle of chicken and meatball pizza (my custom pick for its DIY slices) while Dean Martin crooned in the background at our go-to Peoria location, I’d been living the #supportlocal life all along. Retroactive vindication surged through my veins.
When my PR pal Erica invited me to join her for a media happy hour at the Camelback Road and Second Street location, I was like, “Sì, signorina!” And when I entered the dining room, it was like stepping back into my childhood. Everything looked and felt familiar, from the wooden tables and deep booths to the baskets of bread on tables and the iconic streetlight logo on the paper menu.
For a carbohydrate connoisseur like me, not much beats a traditional Italian American joint. These people love bread and pasta, and they love feeding you a lot of those things. In me, they have an ardent appreciator of their comfort-food love language.
You can find plenty of carb-y delights at Streets of New York during Apps Hour, its answer to happy hour. Offered Monday through Friday from 2:30 (so early!) to 6 p.m., Apps Hour showcases signature appetizers at steep discounts, from seasoned fries and a garden salad ($5.50 each) to boneless wings and a one-topping pizza ($9 and $10 each, respectively).
We started with cheesy passion bread ($5.50), four soft and stretchy squares of golden bread topped with melted mozzarella and sided with perky tomato sauce. I could eat a whole basket by myself while watching Queer Eye and be an incredibly happy girl. Instead, I “forced” myself to try the other generously portioned nibbles, like the trio of gigantic meatballs ($6.50) awash in a sea of sauce, with more melty mozz on top. They’re so tender and juicy that they break apart at the merest impression of your fork. Smash one of those bad boys and stuff it into a cheesy passion bread pocket and you’ve got yourself a party.
You could also smash one and spread it on one of the planks of “garlic-buttered pizza bread” (have mercy) that come with the sublimely cheesy artichoke spinach dip, for a little meatball bruschetta moment. But definitely plunge those pizza bread slabs – firmer than garlic bread, softer than crostini – into the lava-like depths of the dip. The spinach to artichoke ratio is spot on, and the sheer volume of formaggio is fantastico.
Cheese is the glue that holds another Apps Hour highlight together: pizza rollups. These aren’t the crusty little nuggets of pizza goo you probably have in your freezer (no judgment; I stock them for my partner, too). They’re stretchy rectangles of thin dough brushed with garlic butter and topped with Parmesan, Italian herbs (I detected basil and oregano) and two toppings of your choice, rolled up and baked until golden. They reminded me of piadina, the thin, rustic Italian flatbread that tastes like the lovechild of a crêpe, a tortilla and a boule and is typically stuffed with fillings to make a sandwich/taco sort of situation. I loved the elasticity of the dough. For our toppings, we went veg after the carnivorous pleasure of the meatballs. Sun-dried tomatoes and spinach were the perfect bedfellows in this cheesy treat. They also harkened back to my ’90s childhood.
Apps Hour brings $3.50 domestic pints of beer, $5.50 house wines and $8.50 specialty cocktails. We went with crisp glasses of the house white and toasted to work friendships, the Real Housewives and rediscovering old favorites. I’ll be revisiting these Streets again soon.
Apps Hour runs Monday-Friday from 2:30-6 p.m. Dine-in only.
Multiple Valley locations, streetsofnewyork.com
Streets of New York has two weekly specials that draw legions of regulars:
- Monday: Buy any pizza (any size) and get another for 50 percent off
- Wednesday: Spaghetti and meatball dinners are just $7.95 each.