Cafe Reviews

Snooze in Central Phoenix Can't Live Up to the Hype

Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day, whether it's first thing in the morning or at 3 a.m., because there's something fundamentally optimistic about the act of eating it — even if it's just a humble scrambled egg on toast in your own kitchen.

Colorado-based Snooze, which opened in November at the Town & Country Shopping Center in Central Phoenix, makes breakfast its business. Describing itself as "an A.M. eatery," Snooze offers breakfast and lunch (but mostly breakfast) until 2:30 in the afternoon every day of the week. While the cute factor is a little cloying — "Snooze was born April 2, 2006, seeking to evolve the A.M. dining experience," the menu says — it's easy to root for a place that advertises "Peace, Love, Pancakes."

The prospect is exciting. It's after 11 a.m. on a weekday? Never fear: At Snooze, you can still order a nice eggy dish, or some OMG! French Toast (French brioche stuffed with mascarpone and topped with vanilla crème, salted caramel, fresh strawberries, and toasted coconut) at a place that doesn't feel like a generic hotel off the highway or a dim dive with dishwater coffee.

But it's the food that makes or breaks a restaurant, and Snooze, for all the hype, is kind of a snooze itself, serving an ambitious menu that ends up feeling slightly anonymous.

Founded in Denver in 2006, Snooze looks to have its heart in the right place. According to the menu, they "compost, recycle, use recyclable materials, are carbon neutral, and dedicate a % of each sale to our community." They use local ingredients where possible. Their organic coffee is picked, roasted, and flown in directly from Guatemala every week. The restaurant's ceramic coffee mugs have a pleasant heft, as do the plates; it turns out that they are handmade by artisans in Southern California.

The décor, like the menu, is perky and welcoming, Jetsons retro-futuristic mixed with a superficial nod toward sustainability (the walls are the pale green of avocado, the floors look like repurposed pine planks but likely aren't). A counter for single diners and/or people watchers runs along the large window that opens onto the parking lot and there's a large bar area beyond it. After you've waited your turn — and you probably will wait, even on a weekday — you may find yourself seated at an expansive high-backed booth or on a circular banquette at a round table in the center of the restaurant.

The service is unfailingly cheerful, competent, attentive — so much so that I wonder whether there's a cult of Snooze into which these young people have been inducted, one in which they're allowed to have tattoos and the other trappings of hipsterdom, provided they look healthy and smile.

All of Snooze's meats, including breakfast sausages, ham, and chorizo, come from the San Francisco-based Niman Ranch, and the meat dishes I tried, with the exception of the corned beef hash (which is overwhelmed by potatoes), lived up to expectations.

The slightly peppery sausage patty made the Sandwich I Am, a soft pretzel roll piled with scrambled eggs and cheddar cheese; there was no need for the side of smoked cheddar Hollandaise, which is good, because it tasted like mayo. Unfortunately, the hash browns that accompanied the egg dishes turned out to be cute little pucks of disappointment. They weren't billed as low-fat or low-salt on the menu, but they tasted that way.

Of the items strongly recommended by servers, the chilaquiles Benedict in particular lived up to the hype. The barbacoa was as flavorful as advertised — tender and smoky, the right base for perfectly poached eggs, roasted poblano Hollandaise, pico de gallo, and cotija cheese over "ranchero sauced tortillas." But the Breakfast Pot Pie, also recommended, didn't fare as well. I love both breakfast and pot pie, but a few bites in I had to concede that this was a soulless mess. The puff pastry on the bottom was flaky but lacking in substance, and the rosemary sausage gravy, ladled over a few pieces of undercooked carrot, didn't pack the kind of punch gravy has to when it's the star of the show.

Scrambled eggs with jack cheese, pico de gallo, and avocado came out creamy but solid, and the quinoa porridge with bananas was satisfying but unexciting. Our server, a young woman with a star tattoo behind one ear, braids, and a bandanna offered that the quinoa is what she eats because it's less sweet than most of the stuff on the menu.

I ordered the French Toast Neat as an afterthought, only to find that it was pretty much the platonic ideal of the thing: French-toasted brioche with mascarpone whipped cream, seasonal fruit (strawberries, in this case), and real maple syrup.

On a Saturday morning visit with two teenagers, the wait was more than an hour long. The woman at the front of the restaurant who takes names said it's like that at the Colorado Snoozes even on the weekdays, which is why Snooze has the wait thing down to a science: You give them your cell number, and they text you as soon as your table is ready.

When our table was finally ready, we sat outside on the patio and ordered a flight of pancakes — three different kinds, from the extensive pancake menu (which, like the rest of the menu, changes seasonally) — corned beef hash with over easy eggs, and the Snooze Spuds Deluxe. And then we waited.

As a peace offering, our friendly server brought us a caramel apple pie pancake, announcing that it was a gift. We dove in like wild animals. The toppings were delicious (I could have eaten a bowl of the mascarpone whip), but the doughy pancake underneath was bland, and there weren't enough apples to make up for that. We left the last bites.

When they finally arrived, the Snooze Spuds Deluxe — billed as " a heaping portion of our hash browns, covered with melted cheddar and jack cheese" — proved dull, and eating them was something of a chore, relieved only by the wild mushrooms that dotted the starchy pile. The corned beef hash was also "meh," and the over easy eggs barely warm. The flight of pancakes went mostly uneaten — the most interesting of the three was another caramel apple pie pancake, and the other two, including a much-vaunted pineapple upside-down pancake, couldn't compete.

Overall, like that state between waking and sleeping, Snooze is neither here nor there. Because although there are some winners on the Snooze menu, many of the dishes look better on paper — not because they're bad but because they're unexceptional.

Maybe that's what happens when you take something "local" and try to expand too far beyond that. At what point do you lose your local flavor? What is local, in the end? Can you franchise it? The owners of Snooze clearly think so. In addition to the five Snoozes in Colorado, two in California, and one in Phoenix, another one is on the way later this year, in Old Town Gilbert. It's slated to go into a new building just north of Liberty Market.

In case you aren't familiar with it, Liberty Market is a one-of-a-kind place serving up fresh breakfasts (and lunches and dinners) in style, in an airy rehabbed former grocery store. Featuring the story of their historic building on their website and Arizona favorites such as Schreiner's sausage on the menu, Liberty Market does local just right. It's not its fault if that flair only serves to underline Snooze's anemic quality.