“Drinking lunch with wine is not a crime.” That’s the wording of a bumper sticker distributed by local wine bar Postino. It’s a clever retort to a culture that discourages any alcohol consumption during business hours, but it comes at a time when the National Transportation Safety Board has questioned if the existing .08 standard for blood alcohol content is low enough to eliminate impaired driving. When driving is taken out of the equation, the message on the sticker is easier to endorse, especially at the two Postino locations easily reached by light rail, as well as bicycle.
Since its beginnings at a quasi-Arcadia address in 2001, Postino has expanded to half a dozen locations either already in operation or opening soon around the metropolitan area, as well as its first restaurant outside Arizona — in Denver. In terms of access by multiple modes of transport, the two sites to keep in mind are Postino Central, located three blocks north of the Central / Camelback light rail station in Uptown Phoenix, and Postino Annex, located a block-and-a-half south of the Veterans Way / College Avenue light rail station at the Tempe Transportation Center.
With the sole exception of Kierland in northeast Phoenix,, Postino restaurants have opened in updated vintage buildings, and the Central and Annex locations each fit that pattern in distinctive ways appropriate to their sites. Postino Central occupies the former home of an insurance agency and, more recently, Katz’ Deli. Postino Annex is built at the site of the former Art Annex building of Arizona State University (ASU). The redevelopment of that structure is part of a broader effort to activate College Avenue as a gateway to the campus via the eastern edge of Downtown Tempe.
The renovations of both buildings have opened them to the outside, embracing the patio scene that is an essential part of the culture at Postino and its parent company, Upward Projects. At Postino Central, a fairly plain facade along Central Avenue hides a lively dining room, an indoor / outdoor bar, and a patio with a bike rack behind the building. In Tempe, Postino Annex directly addresses College Avenue with a long L-shaped patio. The smaller portion that wraps around the northern portion of the building sometimes offers a view of ASU swim team practice.
Despite some talk of honoring the heritage of Katz’ Deli at Postino Central, the wine bar mini-chain has settled on a common menu for all locations. It’s wine-centric in terms of its emphasis on cheese, nuts, and cured meats, but it’s also more casual than stereotypes of fussy wine tastings or winemaker dinners might suggest. There’s even a kids menu for those visitors not yet old enough to drink wine at any time, much less lunch. There’s a lot of hand food to be had, both in terms of panini and what might be the restaurant’s signature dish, the bruschetta board.
Mix-and-max bruschetta assortments are widespread, but Postino was early to popularize the concept in Phoenix. The appeal of the dish is easy to understand. It’s enough food to serve as a filling entree for one, but also easy for a party of two or more to share as an appetizer. The variety of toppings, including perennials such as smoked salmon or tomato and mozzarella and rotating specials such as mortadella, provide a mix of tastes. The underlying bread provides just enough structure to support the toppings and enough absorbency to soak up some of their flavors.
The only potential negative about the bruschetta is the Americanized pronunciation — with a sh sound instead of an Italian k sound. It’s a habit of both the staff and owners at Postino. In fairness, this practice is no worse than the frequent alteration of the restaurant’s name by its own customers. To be clear, the dish’s traditional pronunciation is bruˈsketta, and the restaurant’s name derives from the old Arcadia post office that became its original location. Postino is Italian for postman and not a person’s name, so there’s no need to make it possessive and say Postino’s.
Nitpicking aside, the rest of the Postino menu is appetizers, sandwiches, salads. Olives, a cheese plate, and a “Butcher’s Block” charcuterie plate are obvious starters with their salty, savory tastes that complement most of the vintages poured at the bar. A grilled cheese sandwich appears among the appetizers only because it has been cut into several small wedges, all of which can be dipped in one of three accompaniments: mustard, pesto, and ketchup. The soup of the day often seems stuck on white chicken chili, but a recent broccoli cheddar was a welcome change.
The sandwich menu comprises eight panini, which range from a vegetarian model built upon white bean spread and tomato to the indulgent Autostrada, a meaty combination of four Italian cold cuts. Salads include Hannah’s Field, full of fashionable ingredients like quinoa and kale that add up to a satisfying entree. Soups, salads, and sandwiches can all be configured in various combinations based on half sizes. A brunch menu offered on weekends add French toast, granola, and egg dishes. For dessert, vanilla is the dominant flavor, whether in a sundae or a creme brulee.
Of course, Postino is about wine. The list is not voluminous but instead focused on less commonly encountered choices such as hearty Hungarian reds or sparkling roses which work well on a warm day on the patio. If no wine is desired at lunch despite the bumper sticker slogan, the cucumber honey lemonade is a refreshing non-alcoholic choice. Drinking wine with lunch may not be a crime, but drinking and driving often is. Fortunately, two of Postino’s growing number of locations offer a variety of transportation options to ease wine appreciation at any time.
5144 N. Central Ave., Phoenix AZ 85012
Central / Camelback Station
615 S. College Ave., Tempe AZ 85284
Veterans Way / College Avenue Station