Last week, I shared some of the dining highlights along the light-rail path. And while many of those restaurants have been around for years — and struggled as the streets in front of them were torn up during construction — some have cropped up more recently, almost as if in anticipation of the new business that the light rail could bring.
Maizie's Café & Bistro, a family-owned spot that opened earlier this year, is a great example of the new wave, a stylish, urban neighborhood joint that's friendly and down to earth.
Situated right on Central Avenue, just south of Camelback, Maizie's occupies one space in the street-level retail in front of the Landmark Towers. It's a short drive from downtown, although parking is a bit of a problem — if you don't snag one of the few spots out front, you have to circle around to park on the street. But then again, if you're taking advantage of the light rail (there's a station within easy walking distance), this isn't an issue. From the looks of the diverse crowd eating here, word is definitely getting out about Maizie's.
Maizie's Caf www.maiziescafe.com
Hours: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to midnight; Saturday, 9 a.m. to midnight; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Inside, it's set up to be an easy gathering place, no matter what your mood. There's a variety of seating — at the bar, around a communal table, at a cozy, lounge-y couch in one corner, and at tables filling the rest of the room, as well as on the outdoor patio just beyond a wall of windows. High ceilings with exposed ductwork, sleek bar stools, and a large metal wine rack screening off the kitchen area lend a trendy vibe, but caramel-colored wood tables and vibrantly colored wall panels give it warmth. A staff of amiable servers adds to the comfortable atmosphere, too.
Maizie's casual American menu is accessible in more ways than one; most items are about 10 bucks, give or take, and there are lots of choices, from shareable starters to pizzas, sandwiches, and entrées. Nobody's reinventing the wheel here, but there are some interesting novelties mixed in with standards like bruschetta and chicken alfredo.
One pleasant surprise was an appetizer called the grilled mozzarella kebab. It was definitely tasty, but not for the reason I'd imagined. I expected gooey cheese to dominate the dish, but soft chunks of buffalo mozzarella were only one component. The skewers also held pieces of bell pepper (which I could've done without) and Roma tomato, and rested on a huge bunch of fresh, lightly grilled romaine lettuce. Drizzled with olive oil and slightly sweet balsamic vinegar, the lettuce had a wonderfully delicate, smoky flavor that really made the dish.
Crabby Cakes weren't distinct from other crab cakes I've had, but they were still quite good — three small, browned patties packed with fresh crabmeat, served on a pile of fresh greens tossed in a sweet raspberry vinaigrette. And as for the dish pimped on the menu as Not Your Average Quesadilla, well, it definitely lived up to its name, thanks to creamy melted Brie, pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts, tucked into a large, lightly grilled spinach tortilla. There was an interesting pineapple salsa served on the side, more an optional palate cleanser than a necessary topping for the quesadilla.
Salads are a big part of the menu; there are 10 different entrée-size choices that won't leave you hungry. I was pleased with the California spinach salad, a giant wooden bowl full of tender baby spinach, goat cheese, dried cranberries, mandarin oranges, and slivered almonds, as well as some plump grilled shrimp that were extra. The sherry vinaigrette had a lip-smacking flavor; like all the dressing choices, it was homemade.
Savannah chicken salad sandwich was decent, thanks to the unusual addition of grapes, almonds, and dried apricots, while the Groovy Grilled Cheese was definitely groovy, man. Melty Brie would've been good enough, but it contained smoked bacon and thinly sliced, grilled Granny Smith apples as well — a wonderful juxtaposition of sweet and savory, creamy and crispy.
Burgers are a big deal at Maizie's. For one thing, the place is mobbed on Monday nights, when the charbroiled Bistro Burger goes on special for only three bucks — seriously. I can't think of a better deal in Phoenix. (Mondays are also a good time to order wine, because every bottle gets a $10 discount.) But beyond that bargain, the inside-out burgers are also noteworthy. I loved the Bleu Burger, a half-pound behemoth stuffed with an oozy mix of blue cheese and smoked bacon. Yum.
Fresh grilled salmon, glazed with cranberry-apricot sauce and teamed with creamy, cheesy, barely browned potato cakes, satisfied my comfort food urges, while marinara-topped fettuccine, packed with veggies, was merely filling.
If you want dessert, plan ahead and save room. I mustered a tiny bit of discipline so that I could order a slice of Cherry "Oh My" Pie, a homey, appealing combination of cheesecake and cherry topping in a graham cracker crust.
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On the weekends, there's brunch. Considering how limited the morning options are in this neighborhood, brunch alone makes Maizie's worth a visit. But to be sure, there are some good bets here, like the breakfast pizza. Nice crispy crust, flavorful toppings (tomatoes, Italian sausage, green chiles, and mushrooms), and two eggs on top, cooked any way you want. It's a lot of food. In contrast, the French toast, made with pecan raisin bread, seemed like a tiny portion — two small-ish slices, with a blob of blackberry cream cheese on the side. That's all.
But the fluffy, build-your-own omelet was anything but skimpy, served with toast and potatoes. And the breakfast burrito seriously was big enough for two, packed with scrambled eggs, green chiles, potatoes, ham, cheddar cheese, and onion. Creamy country gravy, flecked with green chiles, made it even richer.
From stick-to-your-ribs brunch dishes to simple, satisfying eats for lunch and dinner, Maizie's is quite the versatile restaurant. And when city officials predicted that the new mass transit system would start a renaissance for new businesses along the light-rail route, I think this is just the kind of place they had in mind.