An Essential Phoenix Shop that Remixes the Sandwich

A Zookz stuffed with pulled pork, slaw, and cheese.
A Zookz stuffed with pulled pork, slaw, and cheese. Chris Malloy
44: A Zookz from Zookz Sandwiches

Consider the architecture of a sandwich. The blueprint is so simple. Bread, filling, bread. This simple blueprint has led a profusion of forms. It has led to between-bread meals of many shapes and sizes: sandwiches eaten hot, cold, toasted, pressed, open-faced, close-faced, singled-decked, double-decked, on pitas, on circular rolls, on long rolls, on buns, and ranging in size from tiny (tea sandwiches) to monster (12-inch hoagies).

There are so many kinds of sandwiches. There are so many ways of approaching the sandwich. Do you add on mayo or mustard, and chipotle mayo or standard mayo, and on the top bun, bottom, or both? What's the ratio of fillings to cheese to bread, and how long should you melt the mozzarella?

We all know how different and excellent sandwiches can be. And, knowing this, still, when your sandwich arrives at Zookz Sandwiches in Phoenix, there is a brief moment of childlike amusement.

What the hell is this crazy breaded thing?

A Zookz sandwich, for the uninitiated, has a blueprint like ravioli. The entire filling is encased in a wheat-based exterior, in this case, bread. The bread is crimped on the circumference, making fillings invisible and creating a sandwich in the shape of a flying saucer.

Carole Meyer, owner of the shop, calls this method of sandwich a "Zookz."

Meyer is from North Africa. Growing up there, she remembers her grandmother making Zookz-style sandwiches using a stovetop cooking device. Later in life, Meyer attempted to recreate this device. She succeeded after an 18-month effort. Today, she uses custom cylindrical pans to make Zookz at Zookz.

click to enlarge The unconventional architecture of a Zookz - CHRIS MALLOY
The unconventional architecture of a Zookz
Chris Malloy
The structure of a Zookz sandwich has advantages over your typical sandwich. Encased in bread, hot fillings seem to retain heat better. The convex exterior of the sandwich has a little bit of the lightness of bread, and a little of the thinness of a pressed sandwich. Its soft shell is somewhere between both. The bread, being thin, exists in low proportion (but not too low) to the fillings, which are highlighted. You also get some crisp laces on the rim.

The pulled pork sandwich, number 60 on the menu, takes full advantage of a Zookz design. The pork stays warm due to its bread blanket. The bread leads you nicely to the interior flavor without getting in the way. Flavor-and-texture-wise, the clean, crispness of ample slaw pairs nicely with the headiness of long-cooked pork and melted Monterrey jack cheese.

A Zookz sandwich is smartly, differently designed. The backstory is endearing, and the restaurant prominently displays this story on its back wall, which adds to the communal vibe and the one- or two-minute experience of making a Zookz disappear. Though a more classic sandwich brings its own set of pleasures, it's nice to have novel options in town. It's nice for mixing things up at lunch, and for the idea that, even now, people can newly remix the time-tested sandwich.

Zookz Sandwiches. 100 East Camelback Road; 602-279-0906.
Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Essentials so far:
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49: The Bear at Short Leash Hot Dogs + Rollover Doughnuts
48: Grilled squid and other specialties at Andreoli Italian Grocer
47: I-10 Nachos at Cocina 10
46: Coffee made from ROC2 beans
45: The Haturo Sub Sandwich at Cheese 'n Stuff
44: A Zookz from Zookz Sandwiches
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Chris Malloy, former food editor and current food critic at Phoenix New Times, has written for various local and national outlets. He has scrubbed pots in a restaurant kitchen, earned graduate credit for a class about cheese, harvested garlic in Le Marche, and rolled pastas like cappellacci stuffed with chicken liver. He writes reviews but also narrative stories on the food world's margins.
Contact: Chris Malloy