In an effort to make Mom proud, Chow Bella's taking a good, hard look at the most important meal of the day in the form of Scrambled, a weekly review of local breakfast spots
Somewhere among the spawning of three new locations, the creation of a new website, and the rapid spread of distribution, Cartel Coffee Lab went through an identity change.
The charming, small coffee shop we once knew is becoming a super force in the Phoenix (and Tucson) community. There's even rumors of a brewery in the works! The latest adaptation? These master coffee brewers apparently can cook breakfast, too. And of course we had to give the coffee-shop-gone-rogue a taste. But don't get too excited, only the downtown Phoenix location -- with quite possibly the worst hours EVER -- has a kitchen.
Does the food live up to the coffee? Find out after the jump.
The Sunny Side: We arrived on the downtown scene expecting the typical terse Cartel treatment and maybe some glorified pastries. Boy, were we wrong. After waiting in the cold at 6:55 a.m. for the golden doors to open, we were instantly relieved by the smiling, peaceful employee who greeted us and unlocked the door. The shop is big -- much bigger than any of the other locations. Taking in the warm décor and the indie-pop soundtrack, it took about 30 seconds for us to realize this was going to be a good experience.
We ordered the omelet filled with seasonal veggies like eggplant, zucchini, and peppers and a smoky seasoning. It was gracefully plopped on a bed of spinach and topped with fresh tomatoes and a smoky aioli sauce. (That's what we get for having extremely low expectations.) The earthy combination of eggplant and seasonings made for a delicious combination.
Well, why stop there? We next dug into a homemade lemon scone. Topped with a sugary icing, it was a wonderful combination of sweet and doughy. The light lemon flavor made it taste more like a breakfast than a dessert (in this instance it was both). Of course, we washed it all down with a steaming hot Americano with an earthy, unique taste that only Cartel can create.
Save Your Bacon: Our experience at Cartel made it difficult to find criticism -- the food was delicious, the ambiance was warm and
welcoming, the staff was extremely friendly, and obviously the coffee was great. But then we remembered the early morning wait for the doors to open --- and to think we had almost forgotten. They are only open from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Why would such a wonderful restaurant with so much potential have the same hours as a pre-school?
The Check: The experience was surprising awesome. We just wish you didn't have to be unemployed to catch the shop open.