Cafe Reviews

The Original ChopShop in Scottsdale Caters to the Healthy Crowd

The Original ChopShop Co. is a kind of casual convenience mart for the health-conscious. It's an easy-to-find quick-service spot where salads, wraps, and protein shakes (thankfully) take the place of microwave hot dogs, day-old doughnuts, and Big Gulps.

And the good-for-you dishes — served from sunrise to sundown and late into the evening — are affordable enough that you can pitch a few extra coins into the jar next to the cash register.

Located on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Scottsdale Road in Old Town Scottsdale, the fast-casual eatery opened in February. The "chop" portion of its name refers not so much to meats (although it has them), but to its handling of vegetables, which you can hear being chop-chop-chopped in the kitchen. Here, carrots, kale, and cucumbers are pressed into juices, placed in bowls, and packed into sandwiches and wraps. They're part of a small menu of all-natural offerings that don't go over the $10 mark. And the fact that it's open nearly all day every day means the food's ready when you are.

But I don't want to oversell the place. Original ChopShop Co. is mostly average when it comes to the food. Some dishes are better than others, and the good news is that the portions are ample and you never feel you're paying too much for any of it. For those on the go looking for wallet-friendly, healthy eats in the area, the place will do in a pinch. The trick is in knowing what to order.

If you've popped in for a sandwich, take note that the default housing is low-carb whole wheat bread. Dry and bland, it seems to disintegrate as soon as you try to pick up your sandwich, spilling its contents onto the plate and rendering itself useless. Best to go the optional wrap route (white or wheat) for a tastier meal without the mess.

Of the eight styles of sandwiches, you could skip the Moroccan turkey creation, a flavor-starved stack of meat with traces of veggies, grapes, and yogurt sauce that sounds better on paper than it tastes. There's also a chicken and prosciutto with not very much prosciutto. It would be better if weren't for a heavy-handed application of fig mostarda. Better is the grilled tri-tip, in which juicy chunks of beef meet with very good caramelized onions, Fontina cheese, mushrooms, and a nice horseradish crème. It could probably make do without the apple slices, but they aren't a deal-breaker. The best sandwich of the bunch may be the tuna salad, whose strong (but not too strong) flavor is cut with an olive tapenade and mixed with veggies for a light, earthy taste with a crunch.

And because your sandwich will be accompanied by a side salad of mixed greens nearly small enough to be considered a garnish, adding on a bag of healthier-style chips (selected from a small grocery rack in front of the counter) seems a more satisfying solution for a heartier meal. The chips are a better option than forgettable side dishes like quinoa with trace amounts of asparagus and snap peas and underseasoned sweet potato hash with wilted pieces of kale.

Overall, the salads, or "The Chops" as they are referred to on the menu, would be more successful if the kitchen simply backed off on the amount of house greens and put in more of the good stuff, like smoked almonds, radishes, and Danish blue cheese. There are some decent selections here, but they're not allowed to shine. Adding a protein to the mix helps, but it isn't long before your steak, chicken, shrimp, or tofu is swallowed into the leafy abyss along with nearly everything else, resulting in several bites of nothing but dressed greens.

The Danish, a pleasantly sweet creation of shaved pears and apples, dried currants and dates, smoked almonds, and Danish blue cheese in red wine vinaigrette, might be the salad that suffers the most from the unfortunate greens-to-goodies ratio. Better is a salad studded with chunks of chicken in a light barbecue sauce with cheddar cheese, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and gummy corn nuts that stubbornly (and unfortunately) stick to your teeth. Also good is an Asian chop (with an addition of shrimp) whose ingredients like bok choy, snap peas, cashews, and radishes get slightly spicy with a dressing of red chili vinaigrette.

You might think going the route of a salad wrap instead of a bowl might help in the reduction of greens. It doesn't. More or less an encased package of leafiness, the familiar flavors of the American — bacon, corn chips, and egg — are rarely enjoyed together and the wrap requires a dunk or two in its Thousand Island dressing to boost its flavor.

For those looking for an affordable, fill-you-up meal, you could do worse than a protein plate, a colorful mix of grilled chicken, beef, shrimp, or tofu with rice, roasted broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, onion, mushrooms, and a ramekin of sauce to add as you please. If the beef tri-tip option is not overcooked, it's pairing with the chunky vegetables and rice with a sweet soy-sesame sauce is gratifying. It's tough to go wrong with a plate featuring plump pieces of grilled shrimp served with a light and mildly spicy red chili-lime sauce.

And fans of forbidden rice — the goopy, black, and chewy rice rich in fiber and other nutrients — will be happy to know it's a standard part of the protein plate equation. For everyone else, it can be swapped for quinoa or brown rice, both of which seem to absorb the sauces better anyway.

Muted paint tones, wooden-framed chalkboards, and glass vases with a single fresh flower on every table ensure the feel of the Original ChopShop Co. stays on the quaint side, and its electronica soundtrack makes certain that those on the go, well, keep going. Friendly counter service folk run orders of pressed juices, breakfast wraps, and bowls of a.m. eats to business types rushing off to work, while lunch and evening fare and protein shakes go mostly to those who've stopped in to re-fuel from a busy day of shopping or a spirited workout, or for a health-minded lunch or dinner with friends.

And because it's open until midnight on Friday and Saturday, post-drinking food never tasted healthier.

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Laura Hahnefeld
Contact: Laura Hahnefeld