A neighborhood bar and restaurant — every neighborhood needs one, but not many are not lucky enough to have one. Until recently, that was the problem at Central and Camelback, a key intersection defining the area loosely known as Uptown Phoenix. Sure, there has long been an Applebee’s in Uptown Plaza at the northeast corner. Anyone who has seen Applebee’s advertising knows the restaurant uses a neighborhood appeal to define its brand, but without even discussing the food at Applebee’s, it’s hard to consider a central Phoenix restaurant truly “neighborhood” if it is an outpost of a large chain based in the Kansas City suburbs.
With a missed opportunity at the northeast corner of Central and Camelback, 2008 has brought a refreshing alternative in the form of Maizie’s Cafe & Bistro, located just south of the Camelback / Central Avenue station and transit center. Maizie’s occupies a ground floor retail space in the Landmark Towers, a condominium complex that has been part of the Phoenix skyline since 1963, when it opened as the Camelback Towers. A recent renovation gone wrong has resulted in turmoil among residents and the homeowners association, but the opening of Maizie’s at ground level has been good news even as some homeowners’ dreams have unraveled upstairs.
The food at Maizie’s is hard to categorize. With an emphasis on burgers, salads, pizzas, and pastas, it’s actually not that far removed from its chain competitor nearby, but the preparations show a lot more flair at Maizie’s. Starters include a soup of the day. A recent Italian potato soup didn’t seem obviously Italian, but was 100% delicious with a creamy texture, occasional potato chunks, and a smoky flavor. A ground beef and bean chili, available in both cups and bowls, is offered every day. There is a small house salad, but the emphasis here is on big salads that can serve as entrees. The ancho salmon salad is particularly good, with a nicely grilled, lightly spice piece of fish resting on a bed of spinach leaves interrupted by occasional slivers of jicama and carrot, wedges of tomato, and kernels of corn.
Entrees are all over the map in terms of original, although thankfully not quality. Expect some Southwestern creations, some Italian-influenced dishes, and a lots of sandwiches and burgers. Among the side dishes, the potato pancakes (right photo below), served with an unexpectedly savory apricot sauce, are good enough to function as an appetizer or even a child’s entree. There’s a limited menu of “late night grub,” mostly cold appetizers and desserts, available from 10 until midnight every night except Sunday, when the restaurant closes at 4 PM. On Fridays and Saturdays, the full menu is available until 11 PM, providing a small bit of hope to frustrated diners forced to settle for Denny’s when late night eating in on the schedule.
While Maizie’s relies on the same menu for lunch and dinner all week long, there are some day-of-week specials that add variety and value. Early in the week, there are specials like a discounted burger night on Mondays. Regulars at the event often recommend the inside-out burgers, in which items that might normally top burgers are cooked inside the patty, delivering the same flavors as usual, but in a pleasingly different sequence. On weekends, there is a brunch menu in addition to the regular menu. The brunch menu features distinctive items such as a breakfast pizza (center photo below), an indulgent concoction with eggs and Italian sausage among its myriad toppings. One improvement to the brunch might be fresh-squeezed orange juice, a missing touch that would improve an already good mimosa.
Maizie’s offers free wi-fi, although it’s not immediately clear how important that feature is in such a sociable place. The restaurant seems more a place to meet friends for brunch than to work in isolation. The interior has a slightly industrial look in a fairly tight space. Outside, there’s a patio with both shade and portable heaters. From there, diners can watch the trains pass by every few minutes. The exterior seating is probably the better choice for families dining with young children, although Maizie’s staff are happy to provide a high chair at any table. For the adults, there’s a full bar with signature cocktails, draft beer, and wine.
Despite the sometimes hazy identity of Uptown Phoenix and the recent troubles at the Landmark Towers, Maizie’s is the type of place that is badly needed in established neighborhoods of Phoenix. Its occupancy of a ground-floor space in a multi-story building is an urbanist’s dream, and the restaurant’s food, while not necessarily groundbreaking, is reliably good. Applebee’s may have been on the corner of Central and Camelback for years, but fortunately it hasn’t cornered the market there. A short walk south to Maizie’s shows what a real neighborhood restaurant looks like.
4750 N. Central Ave., Phoenix AZ 85012