Call me the Benedict Arnold of Phoenix boosterism for saying so, but the thought of light rail does not titillate me. Nor does the prospect of ASU Prez Michael Crow spilling more of his Mormon seed money all over downtown. Bioscience Center? Sounds too much like "Biosphere" for me to get excited about it. As for real estate speculation, that leaves me colder than one of those ice volcanoes on the moons of Saturn or Jupiter.
Why? Because I fear all of the above will only equal more Babbitts, more dining options like the Quiznos that went up at Seventh Street and Roosevelt (as part of that fancy condo complex), and therefore more reason to stay away from the city's center when my belly grumbles. As we all know, dining options in downtown bite tailpipe. Not to knock everything in the area, but I imagine downtown Baghdad could give the PHX a run for its moola in this department. Or at least it seems that way sometimes.
I'm more encouraged by the emergence of quality, indie establishments like Carly's Bistro on Roosevelt, just east of Central, in the spot previously occupied by Paisley Violin (now on Grand, near 10th Avenue). Indeed, if I were considering relocating to those environs, Carly's is just the sort of neighborhood eatery/wine bar I'd want within walking distance. It's brought to us by two Phoenicians well-known in the arts community -- Carla "Carly" Wade, for some five years a barkeep at Chez Nous, and her partner John Logan, the affable front man for the MadCaPs (www.themadcaps.net), that rock trio famous for performing First Friday concerts on the back of a moving truck.
Wade, 30, and Logan, 35, have converted the former Paisley corner into a colorful, airy soup-salad-sandwich shop, with brightly painted walls of blue and tangerine. One side is hung with the playful oil pics of artist Tato, and above the bar on the other side, there's a four-by-six-foot Steve Yazzie painting of a half-nude woman with flowing brown hair holding a bottle of wine as a strapping Native American fellow presents her with a corkscrew. Interesting symbolism there, Steve-O.
The rest of the space is pretty straightforward: simple tables and chairs, an area for acoustic musicians to perform, and a bar-top where the sketches of more than 30 artists have been coated over in resin. Curtains are drawn to keep the sun out, and black ceiling fans do double time overhead, offering respite from the heat outside.
Most of the menu is light and refreshing. Appetizers include a straightforward bruschetta of tomato, basil, olive oil and garlic, a "medley" of different Mediterranean olives, and a duo of hummus dip and a tapenade of crushed olives served with grilled flatbread. The last of these was delish, although the hummus could've used something to make it a bit less bland, some olive oil, lemon juice, or garlic. The tapenade, however, was a perfect condiment, especially when mixed with some of the hummus.
Carly's also serves a soup du jour, which, when I visited, was gazpacho. Carly's gazpacho was not strained, and so had the texture of a relish or salsa. However, a bowl flows down the gullet so well on a hot day with a dash or two of Tabasco that I'm inclined not to kvetch about this gazpacho's chunkiness. After all, if it tastes good, the rule book is flung out the window, per my command.
I've very few gripes regarding the salads and sandwiches, considering the fact that I spent the better part of a week noshing my way through the list of them. Salad-wise, I liked the tuna Niçoise, the Cape Cod, and the "Carly's salad," in that order. Wade's version of the classic French Niçoise is a bit pared down. No anchovies, black olives or hard-boiled egg. But her mix of albacore and capers over mixed greens with haricots verts and sliced tomatoes, with a light, vinegary Niçoise dressing, was terribly refreshing.
The Cape Cod was lovely, too, with walnuts, Gorgonzola and dried cranberries over spinach, and topped with a balsamic dressing. And Carly's eponymously titled salad was worthy of praise, even if my own form of praise usually resembles a clean bowl and a dribble or two of foodstuffs down the front of my shirt. Romaine topped with an Italian "slaw" of zucchini, apple, jicama, and carrot mixed in a creamy vinaigrette is a winning combo, even if the Niçoise remains my fave.
Sandwiches are served with either taro chips or tabbouleh, but the tabbouleh here is long on the bulgur, and short on the other ingredients. I can't say I was very fond of it. So I stuck with the taro chips after trying the tabbouleh once. In general, the sandwiches were grilled, Italian-style panini on ciabatta bread, and as good as anything you'll get at Pane Bianco. Loved the Italian sandwich, with salami, mozzarella, tomatoes and pesto, and the Europa, with tomatoes, roasted red peppers, spinach, and marinated artichoke hearts.
I'm guessing Wade (who seems to be the main foodie on deck) really, really likes sliced turkey, as she includes it on many sandwiches that I think taste better without it, such as the Ex-patriot, with Brie, tomato and a yummy sweet onion relish, and the Cuban, with ham, Swiss, grainy mustard and sliced pickles. Why, she'll even put it on the Europa if you let her! Granted, I am prejudiced against that poultry, and would be more than pleased to see it go the way of the dodo. Not that I gagged on any of it, but why not do a straight-up Brie sammy? Or employ some birds on the bill of fare other than just Tom Turkey? For instance, I've never met a duck dish I didn't like, and it is high time someone in this town named a sandwich after me. Hint, hint.
Dessert-wise, the house-made lemon bars are okay, but could use a bit more zest (word is Wade's working on them). Can't really go wrong with the brownie à la mode, though I'd suggest topping it with some hot fudge to prompt some real oohs and aahs from patrons. I should note Carly's has a full liquor license, but the place mainly sells beer and wine right now. Cork dorks should definitely pull up a chair on Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m. when Carly's pours lip-smackin' vino at $3 a glass. Now there's a reason to move on over to Roosevelt, if there ever was one.
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