By Eric Schaefer
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By Rachel Miller
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By Heather Hoch and Lauren Saria
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Chucky's Bar-B-Q is another table pleaser -- sauce-marinated chicken breast chunks crunched up with pine nuts, leafed with fresh cilantro and onions, then entombed under a cloak of gouda and mozzarella. There are a lot of tastes to maneuver, but the result is well done, given the light hand with the barbecue sauce and the aggressive, slightly smoky tinge of the poultry.
Popeye and feta pie I just plain love. Forget the adjectives -- mounds of fresh spinach and feta cheese, sun-dried tomato and a swash of pesto couldn't be more satisfying. And garden pizza -- no need to bore you with forays into a culinary thesaurus -- just imagine a dynamite combo of fat mushrooms, grilled purple onion, green pepper, tomato, broccoli, avocado and olives over cheese.
Western Pizza's sweeter stuff is broad, but unfortunately banal. Pecan flan, while nutty and creamy, looks and tastes more like pie than flan. A raspberry flan is pie-eyed, too, topped with a dollop of whipped cream and swarmed by a star pattern of whipped cream. The sweet tastes of good raspberry, but is too dry to recommend. Carrot cake also is achingly dry, tasting commercial with nuts and raisins plus shaved almond topping -- and who puts whipped cream on the same plate as carrot cake? Chocolate cake, finally, served on a blue flower plate with more whipped cream, is fudgy, soothing like birthday cake, but exceedingly average.
4801 E. Indian School Road
Phoenix, AZ 85018
Region: East Phoenix
602-954-1333. Hours: Lunch and dinner, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 a.m.; Sunday, 11:00 a.m. to midnight.
Cosmic Pizza & Deli
Spinach rolls: $5.99
Nirvana sub, 8-inch: $5.49
Crater pizza, 10-inch: $9.99
Apollo 13 pizza, 18-inch: $19.99
480-966-5555. Hours: Lunch and dinner, Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight.
Before people judge those of us who prefer to stay up all night, they should try a visit to the dark side first. It's okay to start slowly -- maybe with a midnight feast -- before working up to the really wee hours. And it's certainly all right to experiment in the safety of your own home -- Western Pizza delivers, too.
Cosmic Pizza & Deli
True night owls salute the glow of the moon -- the fuller the better. That is, as long as sick companies like Pizza Hut restrain themselves from advertising on our celestial bodies. Can you believe it? The Hut wanted to burn its logo onto the orb's surface with a laser last fall. But since that plan turned out to be too expensive, they've now simply bought ad space on the Russian Proton carrying equipment to the International Space Station's service module. When the moon hits your eye like a big Pizza Hut pie, that's deploring.
No, for moonstruck munchies, I'll stick with Cosmic Pizza & Deli, which has been serving starving students at ASU for the past two years. Perhaps in consideration of students' attempts to make their morning classes on time, Cosmic closes earlier than Western Pizza -- 11 p.m. on school nights, and midnight on weekends. But that's ample time to snag a pie and scoot -- lingering isn't a large part of the experience in this casual place. It's nice, with wooden floors, sponged orange walls and huge canvases of modern art. Chrome-topped tables are dolled up with fresh flowers in bud vases and votive candles. But ordering takes place at a single counter with a cut-out window, overlooking the kitchen, and there are only five tables for on-site feeding.
The menu is amazing for such a simple operation, listing 51 pizza toppings (soy cheese, pastrami, bleu cheese, roasted almonds, breaded eggplant, among others). More than 30 pie combos are available, plus 25 hot and cold subs. A calzone is another filling option -- the small original is Nerf-football-size, oozing with lots of ricotta, mozzarella, provolone and served with marinara dipping sauce.
Among the two dozen appetizer choices, spinach rolls shine. These are a half-dozen chubby, snail-shell-like wads of buttery browned dough stuffed with mozzarella and chopped salty spinach. Tear off a piece and dip it in the warm marinara served alongside, a thick, tasty tomato paste purée with a few bits of real tomato and slits of garlic. Don't waste time on the antipasto salad, though, even at just three bucks for a half-order that fills an oversize soup bowl. Chopped romaine, too few pepperoni slices, sports pepper, purple onion slivers, tomato wedges, sliced black olives, green olives and meager whispers of mozzarella are strictly routine.
There are better subs available all across town, too. A Hercules doesn't have any of the promised pastrami, and only a single slice each of turkey, ham, provolone and American cheese. The Sicilian's capicola, salami and buffalo mozzarella are ruined by an unwieldy slab of prosciutto with the rind still on. A skinny Reuben has no sauerkraut. And the nirvana features too little marinated chicken, although ham, avocado, Swiss and Havarti fill in the gaps nicely.
Pizza is stellar, though, hand-tossed, seasoned with garlic salt and baked on stone slabs. Pick your crust thickness.
A thin crust is marvelous for the lighter-natured Crater pie, not detracting from thin slices of roma tomato, fresh tears of basil, shards of chicken breast, and tangy mozzarella. The Big Dipper can handle a thick crust, ladled with what's essentially lasagna -- dollops of ricotta, roma slices, scoops of soft garlic, basil, nuggets of ground beef and stretchy Romano (ask for extra marinara). The original crust, meanwhile, is a fine vehicle for the Apollo 13, a clever combo of chunky roasted red peppers, roma slices, fresh basil, green pepper and artichoke hearts on a bed of tangy pesto.
Night owls on the prowl will want to add Western Pizza and Cosmic Pizza to their late-hour feasting choices. Pizza's a much tastier solution, after all, than developing infrared vision to hunt mice on the desert floor.