First Taste

The Strand at CityScape Off to a Good Start for Fast Casual Italian Eats

When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions. Share a few photos, some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).

Restaurant: The Strand Location: 2 East Jefferson Street (CityScape) Open: Since December 12. Eats: Italian Price Point: $11-$30

In December, The Strand Urban Italian, a lunch and dinner (and coming soon: breakfast) concept of fast casual Italian for folks on the go, opened at CityScape in downtown Phoenix, joining neighbors like Fox Restaurant Concepts' The Arrogant Butcher, Lucky Strike Bowling Lanes, and Aaron May's Vitamin T.

From Tempe-based Maven Hospitality Group, who also plan to open a pan-Asian restaurant at Central Avenue and Jefferson Street called Silk Sushi and whose partner is Jimmy Carlin, owner of Pearl Sushi Lounge in Scottsdale, The Strand offers affordable Italian dishes -- think personal pizzas, soups, salads, sandwiches, and pasta -- along with beer, wine, and cocktails ordered up counter-service style then brought to customers in, according to restaurant, within 10 minutes of ordering.

Let's take a bite, shall we?

The interior is very well done. It's contemporary decor -- including creative lighting, wall-sized photography, and bright red dining "pods" -- exist in a layout that provides the maximum amount of seating options, including an outdoor patio, without feeling like you're sitting on top of your neighbors.

When it comes to the food, The Strand has some hits as well as misses. Due to a flavor-lacking crust and barely-there tomato sauce, my chicken Parmesan pizzette, one of several options of 10-inch personal pizzas, was disappointing despite the chunks of nicely breaded chicken breast. My capicola panini fared better, a little bread-heavy, but boasting tasty capicola and salami along with roasted red peppers and onions, arugula, olive tapenade, provolone cheese, and a nice citrus vinaigrette on a toasted ciabatta bun. Too bad the fries dusted in Parmesan weren't out-of-the-fryer fresh. Next time, I'll try the side of pasta salad.

Recommended by the friendly counter gal, my pasta dish of Penne Alla Vodka was the clear standout. Cooked to order, served up al dente, and tossed with pancetta, shallots, zucchini, and basil in a light but creamy tomato sauce, the result was a flavorful and satisfying dish that would do in a pinch for a quick and affordable meal.

The Strand is certainly making good on its concept of a stylish, fast casual-style restaurant offering affordable, Italian fare. And despite a few so-so dishes, it's a nice option for those in the downtown area to score a decent lunch or dinner of Italian eats while staying on schedule.

The Strand 2 East Jefferson Street (CityScape) 602-253-1600

What say you, downtown denizens? Have you been to The Strand yet? What did you think?