Posted by cmh gourmand on February 23, 2010
En route from Puerta Vallarta to Port Columbus I had a six hour layover in Phoenix. That was not my original plan but it did become my fate when USAir altered my flight. The change required an early morning departure which is not my way of ending a vacation but I decided to look on the bright side and use the forced downtime to explore a city I have not seen in fifteen years. After some quick research I discovered there is a Phoenix Light Rail system that connects to the airport and I sleuthed Phoenix Rail Food, a blog devoted to restaurants within easy walking distance of the rail stops. This was all I needed to feel good about how I could enjoy my Phoenix free time.
A free shuttle runs from the airport to the light rail stop every 12 minutes. There are stops at each rail station about every ten minutes. The stations cover an expanding area of the Phoenix/Tempe metro area with each stop connected to an easy to use bus system. A day pass cost $3.50. I picked a few potential restaurant options and set out on my journey of discovery.
The ride allowed to to see the heart of the city. There are stops at all of the significant downtown destinations. It took about 10 minutes to arrive at the Central Avenue and Van Buren station near Arizona State University downtown campus. It was a five minute walk to my lunch selection, Cibo.
Cibo is a perfect lazy lunchtime hangout. It is located slightly off the beaten path in a residential setting. The restaurant is in a restored, historic house crammed full of character, charm and well crafted woodwork with a big brick wood-fired pizza oven in the center. The outside features a large, tree lined patio. The menu offers a medium sized selection of pizzas, sandwiches, salads and a few sides. All of the wines are well chosen Italian selections while the beers are mostly Arizona area microbrews (I sipped on a Nimbus Dirty Blonde). The atmosphere was ideal. My service (a team approach is used) was good except for my emotionally detached server who submitted the wrong sandwich order for me. However I was so hungry I ate what I was presented and enjoyed it. Cibo is known for their crepes and I was not disappointed by a succulent Nutella crepe which filled me until the next day.
603 North 5th Avenue
On my way to the restaurant I saw a market in the distance and decided to investigate on my return journey. My curiosity served me well. If I was to create the CMH Gourmand Emporium, my model would be the Phoenix Public Market. (Well mostly. I would add in elements of The Cheeseboard in Berkeley because I am a sucker for great cheese and fresh, artisan bread). There is a modest selection of organic foodstuffs at the market, not enough to meet all your shopping needs for the week but all of the right items for the weekend. In addition to groceries there is an adjoining fair trade coffee shop, a four seat wine bar featuring only Arizona wines and a deli with a variety of items including baked goods, gourmet goodies as well as plenty of lunch entrees and carry out food.
One area where this market excels and exceeds even my high expectations is in the marketing of the stories of purveyors and staff. Every section features signs sharing the history and origins of the wine gal, the farmer that grows corn, the cattleman that tends and butchers his cows and etc. Most of the foods are local. Customers instantly know where it comes from and who at the market can guide them in their additional education and choices. There is a special connection that is created when one can to connect all of the links in the foodchain from farm to market to belly. This market hit the mark.