Breakfast at Cartel Coffee in Downtown Phoenix

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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. 

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