Budget Beat: Carly's Bistro

By Jay Bennett

The missus and I were on our way to the Tom Waits show on Tuesday and needed something downtown that would be quick, inexpensive (those tix weren’t cheap), and reasonably healthful. I couldn't imagine a big ol’ cheeseburger or chili verde burrito lodging in my gut as Waits sang about Eyeball Kids, Black Market Babies, and Rain Dogs in his trademark croak of a voice for two hours.

I knew Carly’s Bistro would do nicely. The restaurant/bar on Roosevelt Street just west of Second Street has a fine selection of healthful hummus plates and salads, as well as some respectable panini and wraps. And besides the vittles, I’ve always liked the atmosphere at Carly’s, with its works by local artists on the walls, a small space for jazz combos to play tunes at night, and not a big-screen TV in the place. It’s got a big-city vibe without trying too hard to be cool.

We grabbed a small table by the window looking out on Roosevelt and ordered a couple of Stellas for $3 (a darn good price for that particular beer) and my favorite thing on their menu, the “Trio,” a small plate containing two kinds of hummus (regular and red pepper), olive tapenade, warm pita triangles, and Terra chips. I love this plate, especially the tapenade when it’s scooped up in those Terra chips. Highly recommended.

The Trio: A must-order at any Carly's visit

Next up were our salads. She got the Greek salad, which was fairly traditional but no less tasty, with mixed greens, cuke slices, tomatoes, olives, feta, and an excellent caper vinaigrette dressing. She also got a small bowl of tomato basil soup that was okay but not great.

I got the Cape Cod salad, which had lots of spinach leaves as well as candied walnuts, yummy Gorgonzola, dried cranberries, and about six thin slices of juicy red apple. And it was lightly dressed with balsamic. It was my first time ordering this salad but certainly won’t be my last. It really hit the spot.

Here’s another thing I like about these Carly’s salads: For $7.50, they’re the exact right combination of size and price. Thank you, Carly, for giving me a salad similar in size to the kind I would serve in the Budget Beat household. I hate it when you order a $9-$10 salad and out comes a 14-inch plate piled high with so much stuff that you just know half of it’s going to waste before the server has even set it front of you.

Salad, hummus, and a Stella — all for about $14. Nice. It’s a combo that pretty much works at Carly’s whether you’re ducking out of the office for lunch, doing a light dinner, or even getting a bite and a drink after the show (Carly’s is open until midnight Tuesday through Thursday and until 2 a.m. on the weekends).

We got in and out of there cheaply and quickly, with plenty of time to head down to the Orpheum (a real jewel in downtown Phoenix) to catch Tom Waits. If you’re interested, you can read Paul Rubin’s take on the show here. He nailed it: The show was great. And if it hadn’t been a school night, I mighta zipped right back up to Carly’s for another Stella and salad.

The Greek salad and tomato basil soup (Photos by Laura Hahnefeld)

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