Cafe Reviews

Night Foods

Western Pizza

In most circles, any person venturing out of the house after midnight invites suspicion. Little good can come from folks rambling about at this dark hour. Late-night frolickers are getting drunk, they're cruising the opposite sex with purely physical intent, or they're looking to pick a fight.

How boring. As one who cherishes life in the liquid black, I can attest that while some late-night warriors are indeed seeking trouble, many of us night owls simply operate on a different body clock. For us, evening welcomes in the velvet time, when the harsh edges of day slip away. Fewer phones ring. Street traffic disappears. The Internet unclogs, and we can actually sign on without being kicked off every few minutes. We can return voice mails at 2 a.m., and have our co-workers agog at our dedication to working so far into the night (just don't try to reach us before noon the following day). Plus, in Phoenix, it's hot as hell during the summer daylight. And some, like nightclub employees, are simply forced to exist within the swing shift.

But night owls are ostracized. Hundreds of restaurants cater to the chipper freaks who are up and out of the house by 7 a.m. People of the evening, meanwhile, have so few dining choices. Denny's. Whataburger. Stale deli leftovers from Safeway. Filibertos, Rolbertos, Dogbertos. A scary microwave burrito from Circle K.

But Western Pizza has heard our hungry cries in the darkness. The parlor, which opened early last year, celebrates the joy of vampire vamping, staying open until midnight on Sunday, 1 a.m. on weekdays and 3 a.m. on weekends. Located a few minutes' drive from Scottsdale's nightclub district, this is where our local hospitality employees go for good food when they've punched out -- including staffers from Lon's, Mary Elaine's, Windows on the Green, Sanctuary and Royal Palms Hotel. Here's where you'll find ultra-trendy nightclubbers, including a customer who, worried about security at the late hour, once parked his $50,000 Harley-Davidson inside the pizza place.

It's not just glitz and yuppiedom, though. Western Pizza also is the place you'll find some of the Valley's best Italian pies, no matter the time of day. It's high energy, but civilized.

Designed by Nelsen Architects, one of Scottsdale's premier shops, Western Pizza has a much more cosmopolitan look than we'd expect from a strip mall shop next to Arcadia High School. Walls are fashioned of steel and strewn with colorful magnets. A wood-slat ceiling tops a concrete floor, decorated with natural-wood tables and servers flitting by in cow-print aprons. Our waitress has to lean in to take our orders under the din of techno music.

A bar takes center stage, and pours such classy sips as Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio (Italy), Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Village (France) and Symmetry by Rodney Strong (California). The house is an acceptable Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi.

Beers go beyond the boring, too, keeping us awake with interesting choices like Celis White, Shiner Bock, Negra Modelo and Molson Ice; plus on tap, Fat Tire and Dos Equis Amber. Café? Of course -- all the favorites are brewed hot, iced or decaf.

Okay. It's true that some late-nighters are on the prowl, and more than likely, you'll find a few of these amateurs flexing at Western Pizza. That's the case at 11:30 on a Thursday night, at least, when college is on winter break, and the eatery is flush with fine young animals who are as intent on picking up fellow partiers as they are on the food before them. No complaint, really, the guys next to us simply want us to sample their Popeye's dip starter, and we're more than happy to oblige. Such cooperation allows us free tastes of good, zesty spinach, served in a black bowl and ringed with sticks of puffy, buttery, garlic-salted toast.

Souvlaki are must-orders, they swear, acknowledging that Western Pizza is one of their favorite after-hours haunts. No dispute on the souvlaki's success, even if we only receive two skinny skewers of tender pork marinated in Greek herbs and spritzed with lemon juice. I like the meat's char-grilled edge, appreciate the drizzle topping and puddle bottom of lemon crème, plus the side of excellent garlic bread.

Mushroom hats are our own call, and they're a good one. The 'shrooms are meager buttons, but still juicy, and nice when dipped in our choice of Caesar or ranch dressing. The star touch is the batter -- a light, sweet pillow that reminds me strongly of Krispy Kreme casing. If restaurants in the '80s had prepared deep-fried veggies in this fashion, the trend might still be around.

Western Pizza has more: fries and gravy, chicken wings, rib appetizers, entree salads. Pizza, though, is what encouraged owners Brent and Lisa Wolfe to create their own spin-off of the 18-store Western Pizza based in Canada. They claim it's not a chain -- the only corporate influence is in the dough and tomato sauce recipes, they say. I don't care who invented it, I'm just happy to eat it.

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Carey Sweet
Contact: Carey Sweet