Change can be good.
Back in March, locals mourned the unexpected loss of Palatte, a charming, casual brunch spot located just blocks from downtown, in the roughly century-old Cavness House. At the time, the closure seemed to be a poignant reminder of the recession, leaving a void in the area's burgeoning but still spotty dining scene.
But it didn't take long for something else to come along and breathe new life into the historic property. By early May, Local Breeze opened its doors, preserving Palatte's leisurely patio scene but bringing a broader menu of comfort food to the downtown mix.
606 North Fourth Avenue
Paradise hummus: $8
Fire Island: $10
Roast beef sandwich: $10
French toast: $10
Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday; 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday
Turns out, Local Breeze is a blast of Scottsdale past. That's right, Scottsdale. Owner Sid Campbell was a longtime cook at Pischke's Paradise, the now-shuttered Old Town eatery whose founder, Chris Pischke, passed away in 2006. In tribute, Campbell has revived some favorite Pischke's dishes here, and even spells out a heartfelt thank you to his former employer on the menu. ("Life is better because of you!") And as the restaurant name suggests, Local Breeze keeps the island-themed spirit of Pischke's Paradise alive.
The tropical vibe is subtle, though. Aside from a few island motifs here and there, plus the occasional bartender donning an aloha shirt, the atmosphere is pretty spare, with cool beige walls and faux-weathered wooden tables.
Instead, Local Breeze simply capitalizes on a great location with an amazing patio. Sprawling from the front porch around to the side of the building, it's got outdoor seating galore — clusters of comfy couches fit for a beachfront property, intimate two-tops, and tables big enough for sangria-sipping groups.
Right about now, hardly anybody's eating outside at restaurants around town. Yet on a recent evening, settled into a patio spot beneath misters and a huge fan, I honestly forgot that it had just been one of the hottest days in Phoenix's most sizzling month on record. In a city where climate-controlled hangouts are a precious commodity, that's saying something.
Also, if you can interpret sheer friendliness as island-style hospitality, then Local Breeze has plenty of that as well. Over the course of several visits, my friends and I always got a warm hello, attentive service, and copious drink refills. I appreciated that the servers seemed to genuinely like the food here, making personal recommendations of favorite dishes and sympathizing with our efforts to keep noshing well after we were stuffed.
There's plenty to pig out on, and almost everything on the menu is super-sized. For example, consider the lahvosh appetizer. Our waitress said that even the half-size portion was enough to feed four people, and she wasn't exaggerating. It resembled a flat, crispy pizza and was definitely sharable, gently pulling apart into whatever size pieces we wanted. Among a few different topping combos, we chose the LB Favorite, smothered in sweet roasted corn, diced tomato, creamy melted cheese, green onion, bacon, and fresh cilantro. Eventually, I had to stop devouring it when more food landed on the table.
Paradise hummus was another generous starter — three variations on the traditional Mediterranean dish served with a long platter of crispy pita triangles. The plain chickpea dip was plenty tasty, but arugula-pesto hummus (as bright-green in flavor as appearance) and zesty roasted red pepper hummus disappeared more quickly. Like many of the bread products at Local Breeze, the pita were housemade — a nice touch.
Entree salads were anything but ladylike, heaped so high that you could feed two people with just one. The chopped salad wasn't quite as chopped and tossed as I'd expected, but it nevertheless contained all kinds of goodies — tomatoes, Kalamata olives, cucumber, jicama, roasted red pepper, bacon, feta, black beans, fresh basil, and greens, with white balsamic vinaigrette. Bacon and basil made a surprisingly scrumptious duo. Just as good was the LB Paradise Toss salad, lime vinaigrette-tinged greens laden with chunks of spicy grilled chicken, mango, jicama, roasted red pepper, green onion, and cilantro.
Local Breeze does spicy food quite well, from the roasted green chile cheeseburger and Atomic Burger (topped with horseradish and pepper jack cheese, and served with chile-lime fries) to the Fire Island pizza, a holdover from Pischke's menu. It was gloriously cheesy and rich but undoubtedly hot stuff, topped with chicken, red onion, and green chiles in a tangy ooze of white wine and cream cheese. (To make it even more gooey, you can get it with two eggs on top.)
Like all the burgers, the ahi tuna sandwich came on a wonderful housemade English muffin, bigger and softer than the store-bought kind. A hint of wasabi cream jazzed up the clean flavor of the seared, ruby-red fish. Crispy fried onions and apple-horseradish chutney made the roast beef sandwich unique, while fresh basil enhanced moist chicken bathed in yogurt-feta sauce, tucked into a fresh roll.
Again, house-baked bread stole the show during the weekend brunch, with fragrant challah as the foundation of memorable French toast. It was tough to choose from four different varieties; Bananas Foster French Quarter Toast was heaped with sautéed bananas and drenched in a buttery, ultra-naughty sauce made with rum and brown sugar — insanity. And so good.
Omelets made up the savory half of the brunch offerings (along with some dishes from the regular lunch menu), and again, you could feed two hungry people with a single four-egg omelet. While most of the food at Local Breeze was rich and comforting, the namesake omelet was considerably lighter (relatively speaking). Topped with translucent slices of prosciutto, the thick half-moon of egg was filled with roasted asparagus, tomato, basil, and goat cheese.
Meanwhile, the Cholla Bay omelet should've been the namesake. Stuffed with sautéed shrimp in a creamy, green chile-studded sauce, it was every bit as spicy and luscious as the Fire Island pizza. Depending on how much more heat you can handle, I recommend it with either a sweet, Grand Marnier-kissed mimosa or a potent Bloody Mary.
And be sure to sit under the misters on the patio, summer be damned.
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