Cafe Reviews

Chef Michael DeMaria’s Mid City Kitchen Provides Speedy Meals Downtown

If you haven't heard much about two-month-old Mid City Kitchen, don't hold it against the restaurant.

It's likely that it's under the radar because the place is tucked amid those three high-rise towers at Thomas Road and Central, invisible from the street. Geared to time-pressed businesspeople who need a bite to eat in the middle of the workday, Mid City Kitchen is more about feeding the masses than getting a foodie buzz.

But for a delicious, cheap, speedy meal if you're in the vicinity — a light-rail station is right out front — it's one of the best bets around.

I rounded up some co-workers to check it out one day, and we were pleasantly surprised, mostly because the food was so much more homey than we'd expected from a fast-casual joint like this (from the looks of the no-frills setup here, institutional cafeteria food wouldn't have been a much of a shock). The prices are easy on the wallet, too — nothing tops $7.50.

Of course, the tasty eats are no surprise at all if you know that an award-winning chef is responsible for bringing midtown Phoenix this new place to nosh. Chef Michael DeMaria is famous for his upscale dining ventures, including Heirloom, his year-old spot at North Scottsdale's DC Ranch, and the now-defunct Michael's at the Citadel, but at Mid City Kitchen, he keeps things casual.

However, he doesn't sacrifice quality in simple, well-prepared dishes that use local ingredients. From the crisp, chewy crust of a pizza to the satisfying al dente consistency of pasta dishes, small details made a difference.

De Maria's cooking team works the L-shaped open kitchen efficiently, dishing up entrees and making sandwiches to order for customers who check their choices off a list and hand them in at each station. Even when they're slammed during the lunch hour, the service is welcoming. There's also a well-stocked salad bar (surprisingly hard to come by in these parts), self-service beverages, grab-and-go sandwiches and side dishes like potato salad, plus a small selection of pre-packaged hot entrees.

An espresso counter with bar seating stretches across the front of the restaurant, making for a quick pit stop if you prefer a sweet treat like a muffin or Danish with your morning latte. (There's also a small ice cream fridge next to the pastry case.)

I was game for something a little more substantial on a day I met a friend here before work, settling on a plump breakfast burrito packed with scrambled eggs, chorizo, chunks of potato, and creamy refried beans that oozed when I took a bite. Wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla, with a cup of salsa on the side, it fueled me well past lunchtime. More burritos should have potato in them.

My dining companion's breakfast club — basically a BLT with egg — was another good pick, with plenty of crunchy, thick bacon layered between two thick slices of 12-grain bread.

While there were only four breakfast sandwiches to choose from, the lunch menu was expansive — a dozen cold sandwiches, a dozen hot ones, Italian pasta dishes, pizzas, and a few other entrees. It was a lot to consider.

I followed my stomach straight to the brightly lit display of miniature gourmet pizzas, which tasted as appealing as they looked. (I hesitate to call them "personal pizzas" because that still reminds me of lukewarm Pizza Hut from a food court, although the size was definitely a single serving.) Pesto, roasted garlic, onion, eggplant, ricotta cheese, and vinaigrette-tinged fresh arugula made a delicious combination of toppings on the white pizza.

Another day, I couldn't resist the hot pastrami sandwich, piled with tender, thinly sliced meat, melted provolone, and coleslaw on fat slices of mustard-slicked marble rye. The sage chicken sandwich was also great, thanks to a floury, sweet-smelling potato roll, and grilled chicken breast that was nice and juicy, dressed up with sage aioli, tomato, and red onion. And even the basic tuna sandwich — creamy albacore tuna salad, lettuce, and tomato on 12-grain — hit the spot.

Rotisserie chicken here was just awesome — super-moist and flavorful, even the breast meat. Besides ordering it at the counter, you can grab a half or whole bird from the display of hot, ready-to-eat chicken packed to go. All I had to do was look in the general direction of the chicken and I was salivating.

The same rotisserie chicken was put to good use in a couple of the pasta dishes I tried, including toothsome orecchiette tossed with roasted peppers, Kalamata olives, and garlic cream sauce, as well as spaghetti slathered in mouthwatering pesto cream.

In both instances, the poultry was tender and the pasta was cooked just right. Honestly, if they'd simply swap out the plastic container for a pretty plate, this pasta would probably go for double the price at a sit-down restaurant.

Chef Michael DeMaria might be famous for his upscale dining ventures, but at Mid City Kitchen, he's branched out well beyond white tablecloth territory.

What a smart move.

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Michele Laudig
Contact: Michele Laudig