Remember the song “Escape” by Rupert Holmes? Even if you were born long after it was recorded, you’ve probably heard its memorable chorus, “If you like pina coladas…” There’s another line in that song in which the narrator sings, “I’m not much into health food, I am into champagne.” Do those two pleasures have to be mutually exclusive? At the Original ChopShop Co.’s new location in Tempe, it’s possible to have both: healthful dishes based on fresh produce, whole grains, and lean proteins to eat and beer, cocktails, and wine, including champagne of course, to drink.
|Danish salad with chicken|
Despite the name, the ChopShop is neither a place where stolen cars are dismantled nor a steakhouse. Instead, the name appears to be a reference to the chopping of vegetables that occurs in the preparation of the salads, wraps, and sandwiches that dominate the menu at this restaurant. This new location on University Drive, just three blocks south of the Veterans Way / College light rail station, is the second ChopShop. The first is in Scottsdale, but Tempe is the first with a liquor license, perhaps transferred from one of the many restaurants that have failed at this address.
The ChopShop has invested a lot in enlivening the site, especially the patio, which now features patches of artificial turf, comfortable furniture, a fireplace, a giant chess set, and a bocce court. A bike rack is nearby facing University. Right now, most customers still crowd inside, but expect this patio to be popular in the winter. Speaking of crowds, this restaurant has quickly become popular since its summer opening. There are now signs inside directing customers how to form a line that winds around the dining room before ending at the counter where visitors place their orders and receive a numbered placard.
|Moroccan turkey sandwich|
The menu begins with a section known as “the chops” — not pork or lamb despite the image of a cleaver in the restaurant’s logo, but instead a variety of big salads. Unsurprisingly, a kale Caesar starts the list. The hearty green is currently in fashion, as it should be given its versatility and nutritional benefits. The kale is diluted with romaine here, but perhaps that’s a benefit for those unaccustomed to kale’s stronger flavor and more assertive texture. Arugula is also popular at the ChopShop, it appears in a “Danish” salad named for the bleu cheese in the bowl and also in a beet salad with green apples.
|chicken kale wrap|
There’s another half of the menu labeled “between bread,” the restaurant’s nickname for sandwiches. There are eight listed with different combinations of greens and proteins served in what is described as “whole wheat low-carb bread.” In this case, low-carb seems to equate to low structural integrity because the bread is so thin and soft that it cannot always hold the weight of the sandwiches’ insides, making some of them knife-and-fork meals. A better option might be to request the sandwich as a wrap with a tortilla replacing the house bread. Any of the salads can be wrapped as well.
|chicken protein plate|
The chicken and kale salad works well re-imagined this way. The warm grilled poultry plays well with the cool, crisp greens with everything benefiting from a mustard dressing. Among the “between bread” sandwiches, the Moroccan turkey is mild and not quite as exotic as its name might suggest. Nevertheless, it’s a good meeting of greens, lean white meat, mayonnaise, and grapes. As with the salads, this sandwich benefits from being alternatively structured as a wrap. All of them come with a bit of greenery on the side, and while it’s always nice to have a salad as an accompaniment, having the greens in multiple places can seem a bit redundant at times.
|shrimp protein plate|
If many of the salads and sandwiches benefit from some modification, there’s one small but important category of the menu that works well just at it comes. Those are the “protein plates,” really meals in a bowl based on a combination of a specific protein source (chicken, tri-tip beef, shrimp, or tofu) with a matching sauce such as teriyaki or Thai coconut; forbidden rice, a black grain noted for its nutty flavor and high nutrient content; and roasted broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower. Alternative carbohydrates available by request include brown rice, quinoa, or a sweet potato hash.
|beet salad with tri-tip|
Although the ChopShop has a small but growing selection of wines, beers, and cocktails, it currently has an equally deep list of non-alcoholic beverages to suit its large workday lunch business. The house lemonade is assertively tart, with a huge lemon wedge placed in the cup to remind customers of the beverage’s authenticity. The only problem: the big piece of citrus blocks a straw and often has to be removed before the drink can be enjoyed. There’s also a stevia lemonade and a daily lemonade. Recent specials have been a gentle lavender and a bolder cucumber mint.
|tofu protein plate|
Likewise, there are multiple variants of iced tea each day. The best way to sample more than one: Simply ask for a small and then obtain a refill with a different tea. No, that’s not cheating; it’s encouraged by the staff. At a higher price point ($5 and up), ChopShop also functions as a juice bar. The Slim Squeeze is the fruitiest of the bunch with pear, strawberry, orange, apple, and kiwi given a gentle kick with lemon and mint. Others add vegetables to the liquified mix. The Beta Bliss relies on both cantaloupe and carrot for its orange intensity while the Green glory is powered by kale.
Dessert at the ChopShop is found in baked goods sold at the counter, most with some deviation from pastry tradition. That means quinoa flour in the peanut butter cookies, making them gluten-free, and agave nectar as a sweetener in the brownies. They’re good, but probably not quite the indulgence one might expect. Of course, those looking for cholesterol and calories are more likely to be found elsewhere. For anyone looking to combine health food and champagne, like Rupert Holmes over three decades ago, the Original ChopShop Co.’s Tempe location makes that possible.
222 E. University Dr., Tempe AZ 85281
Veterans Way / College Avenue Station