Federal Pizza: Wood-Fired Fare, Corn Coins, and Growlers to Go

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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, and dish about 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: Federal Pizza Location: 5210 North Central Avenue Open: One week. Eats: Pizza, apps, and salads. Price: Between $11 and $30 per person.

Maybe more banks should sell pizzas -- or more pizza places should be banks. In any case, Federal Pizza, the latest restaurant from Craig DeMarco and his Upward Projects team, seems to have come right out of the gate with some great food, an inviting scene, and a growler program that's hard to pass up.

See also: Tastemakers 2012 - Craig DeMarco and Tastemakers 2012 - MJ Coe

Located in Central Phoenix, in the historic First Federal Savings & Loan building, Federal Pizza, which opened last Monday, joins three of Upward Projects' other restaurants in the area: Windsor & Churn and Postino Central.

And like the rest of Mr. DeMarco's neighborhood, Federal Pizza is a pleasant (and tasty) place to spend some time.

If you choose to start with a libation, chances are you'll find something to enjoy. Maybe a wine, a housemade wine cooler, or one of several small-batch craft beer selections that, if on tap, can be put into custom 64-ounce growlers or 32-ounce chubs to drink at home.

The menu of starters, salads, pasta, sandwiches, and, of course, wood-fired pizza, is nearly as interesting as the beverage program. Featuring e11 specialty creations as well as a build-your-own section, Federal's 'za comes courtesy of bread master MJ Coe; and the crust is as excellent as you would expect it to be: delicate yet strong enough in the center to hold the toppings, slightly crispy, and with a thick, pillowy soft edge.

I gave in to my love of Brussels sprouts and tried its namesake pizza ($13) which comes topped with pancetta, Manchego cheese, roasted garlic, and lemon zest. Sadly, my favorite veggie proved too strong for all of the them -- even the garlic. My bad. Next time I'll go with the server-recommended Big Star ($14) featuring Schreiner's Sausage, pepperoni, peppers, mushrooms, olives, roasted onions, and a red sauce.

Federal uses MJ Coe's bread for its sandwiches as well as its pizza crusts and the result is equally stellar. Aside from a minor complaint of too much arugula, the porchetta sandwich ($10) is one hell of a hoagie. Pieces of lusciously moist and fatty pork with caramelized onions and a hint of lemon feel right at home inside the light and crispy housemade bread.

Those wishing to add a salad to their meal could do worse than the Federal Chop ($10). Like an Italian sub minus the bun, this lively creation features greens, sopressata, pepperoni, provolone, pepperocini, tomato, and red onion in a light dressing of oregano vinaigrette for a fresh, spicy, salty, and bitter taste in every bite.

And don't ignore the side dish of the highly addictive corn coins ($5). A variation of the Mexican street food elote, corn on the cob is rolled in fennel, herbs, and salty peccorino cheese before being sliced into thick, flavorful discs. Completely share-worthy, I'd like to see this tasty snack move up into starter territory.

Cool enough to be a scene, but not so much so that it feels pretentious, Federal's space is larger than you might think, and with lots of windows to let the light in. A 30-foot-long butcher block bar runs down one side, much of the kitchen down the other. And dim lights, warm decor, and '80s beats make it easy to get comfortable in a hurry.

And the service? On my visit, the Federal team was in top form. Highly knowledgeable, efficient, and friendly, my server took the time to ensure I was well taken care of without ever letting on that the place was packed.

Which may be a good reason to familiarize yourself with Federal's pick-up area (in place of the bank's old drive-thru lane) just in case the old bank-turned-restaurant is maxed out on seat currency.

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