By Jay Bennett
Since being turned on to Paisley Violin by a co-worker a couple of weeks ago, I've been raving about the place to just about anybody who will listen. I know I'm a latecomer to its greatness, but better late than never, right?
Situated in an old, standalone building in a semi-desolate stretch of Grand Avenue in downtown Phoenix, Paisley Violin El Museo Café (yeah, I'm not crazy about the name, either) is a real diamond in the rough, serving salads and top-notch sandwiches at Budget Beat-approved prices, all in a setting dripping with multi-media eclecticism.
If you enter through the back door, you'll walk through a small, wrought iron-adorned courtyard surrounded by brightly colored houses, presumably used as artists' studios. There's a bird cage out there and a pretty fountain, too.
Upon entering the eatery, you'll see an attractive wooden bar running nearly the length of right side of the room. If and when this place ever secures a liquor license (it's strictly BYOB now), it could be a stellar drinking hole on a street that could another one besides the Bikini Lounge and Chez Nous.
The bar: Oh, for a booze license . . .
There's a neat, elevated DJ booth in the middle and a little bit of room for bands to set up and play, which occurs occasionally, including on First Fridays. On the night I went there, a movie screen had been pulled down for Paisley's weekly movie night, during which writer/director Terry Swann screens a classic flick and discusses it afterward. Nude drawings by artist Eric Hodgins lined the wall.
The sandwiches are what makes this place great, especially the Cuban panini, something I've ordered a couple of times now. The Cuban consists of prosciutto served over a black bean paste, chunks of red onion, and melted Swiss cheese. That all sounds great, but what hits this one out of the ballpark are bites of sweet dill pickle and an astounding chipotle mayo dressing. It comes on a toasted baguette that, while tasty, makes eating the sandwich a crunchy, palate-scraping, sometimes sloppy, affair. As I've stated before in this space, I prefer the soft roll, but what are you gonna do? The $8 Cuban is among my favorite sammies in all the Valley.
The Cuban panini: You can't see 'em, but there are pickles in there!
Each sandwich comes with a side serving of uniquely tasty potato salad. (There are other side options, too, but I can't even remember what they are because I'm so fixated on their potato salad.)
The missus enjoyed the Greek Peasant Salad but did not rave about it, so let's move on. Our dining companion, Andi (new to these parts from Big D), ordered another PV specialty, the eggwich. This particular eggwich was of the French variety and featured spinach, Brie, olive oil, and garlic pepper on a big ol' croissant. She gave the $4.25 creation a big thumbs-up. Other eggwiches, which PV serves all day long, include the Greek, American, Italian, Mediterranean, Norwegian. and Cajun.
The eggwich: Good any time of day. (Photos by Laura Hahnefeld)
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I'd be remiss if I didn't mention PV's hummus plate appetizer, which comes with a generous serving of reddish, dill-flavored hummus that is unlike any I've had before. It's garnished with a couple of yummy stuffed grape leaves, tomato wedges, and cucumber dill sauce, as well as some toasted pita wedges.
It was really cool to see the small place fill up with an assortment of folks for movie night. Young couples, hipster dudes, middle-aged folks toting bottles of wine, and a couple of families with kids settled in to watch The Magnificent Seven and discuss it afterward with Terry Swann, who will resume movie night on Wednesdays in September with films about the dark side of politics.
I can't say enough about Paisley Violin. This kind of place was a dime-a-dozen in my previous city of residence, Chicago. Ditto for Brooklyn, the former home of the fella who took me to PV in the first place, New Times art director Peter Storch. No wonder we've been gravitating toward Paisley Violin: It's a reminder of all the arty places in those world-class burgs. I'm just happy there are peeps in PHX that get it. On the whiteboard where the daily specials are listed, they've written as a message to diners, "Thank you for feeling the love." No, PV, thank you.
Paisley Violin El Museo Café 1030 Grand Avenue 602-254-7843