When big initiatives get bogged down in corporate project queues, sometimes an organization will look for a “quick win” to maintain momentum and boost morale. It’s hard to say if such a businesslike motivation was at work, but the Cornish Pasty Company (CPC), which is in a slow expansion process, recently scored a quick win with the rapid opening of a new scaled-down location in Downtown Tempe. The new mini-CPC is located just two blocks south of the Mill Avenue / Third Street light rail station on a section of Mill with bike racks on every block.
Some readers may ask if CPC hasn’t always been in Downtown Tempe. To be clear, this is not a review of the restaurant’s original location. That site is at Hardy and University — near Downtown Tempe but not quite within its boundaries. The original location remains in business and has in fact expanded over a decade of existence. The new location on Mill actually recalls the original CPC the way it was 10 years ago, before the expansion of both its space and its menu. Anyone who remembers the shoebox setup circa 2006 will appreciate the narrow setup on Mill Avenue.
The mini-CPC on Mill occupies a small storefront that has housed pizza and baked potato joints in recent years. It has been reworked with rustic wood furnishings, but a large window behind the bar lets in a little natural light, one thing the original location never had. The room is dominated by a bar shaped like a question mark, with the bulge making room for a cluster of tap handles. Besides the bar, there are tiny two-top tables, and a larger table in a corner. The result is a good place for solo dining or meals with one or two friends, but not large groups or families.
The core of the CPC menu at any location is, of course, pasties, the stuffed pockets of pastry originally associated with the miners of Cornwall in southwestern England. This handheld food designed for easy portability has been refined by CPC, which offers not only the traditional Oggie full of beef and root vegetables, but also myriad variations. At full-size CPC restaurants, the list of pasties, both traditional and creative, is extensive. At this smaller location on Mill, the offerings are by necessity more limited but still varied enough for almost any appetite.
There are three favorites always available: the stalwart Oggie with its side of red wine gravy (or ketchup), chicken pot pie with its comfort food appeal, and the Cajun with its spicy mix of chicken and ham inside. Beyond that hearty trio, the mini-CPC on mill offers a rotating selection of pasties. Among them, carne adovada is full of tender pork, rice, and beans a in spicy chili-based sauce. There’s some salsa on the side to increase the heat even more and some sour cream to tame the fire. Some vegetarian and vegan options are always among the choices as well.
Once in a while, the restaurant features a special creation that does not exist at any other CPC restaurant. A recent Cuban pasty featured spiced pork, pickles, Swiss cheese, ham, and yellow mustard. Also unique to Mill Avenue is the simple pleasure of a grilled cheese sandwich. The bread used for these creations comes from the same house-made slices that accompany any of CPC’s four soups: cream of leek, potato and Stilton; cream of tomato with croutons; mushroom, walnut, and spinach; and red pepper, black bean, rice, chicken, and jalapeno.
All of these soups are available in cups or bowls. The larger option is a meal in itself, particularly when paired with slices of bread. The small vessel works well when paired with one of the salads on the CPC menu. Chicken tikka masala salad, an Anglo-Indian mix, works well. Greens are topped with chicken prepared with a tandoori-ish red coating. A few grapes in the bowl help offset the serious spice of the poultry. Garden, Caesar, and pasta salads are all meatless meals; however, the sausage salad heads in the opposite direction with links of pork flavored with sage.
What’s missing at this CPC? Mainly, it’s the side dishes. Appetizers such as the chips (fries with optional toppings of garlic and jalapeno) are present, but quintessentially English accompaniments such as mushy peas or baked beans did not make the menu on Mill. Still, there’s plenty to choose from here, and if there’s any room left at the end of the meal, a dessert pasty is always an option. A peanut-butter-and-jelly pasty is a logical extension of the menu into sweet territory. Additional choices include an apple caramel pasty and banoffee pie with bananas in a graham cracker crust.
Because the restaurant’s layout is centered around its bar, it’s not surprising that the Mill CPC has a drink selection about the same size at its food menu. That means 16 tap handles, most of them identifying regional craft beers from around the United States. There are also a few classic cocktails such as “proper” Tom Collins and a traditional margarita. Among the non-alcoholic beverages, standouts are the house-made lemonade, which is topped with an orange slice and infused with a bit of orange flavor, and iced tea in black, green, and herbal varieties.
With several locations in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area and even one in Las Vegas, the Cornish Pasty Company has grown into a small chain over the past decade. The long-awaited, often-delayed Downtown Phoenix location is another move in that direction. Nevertheless, the surprise addition of a smaller format restaurant on Mill Avenue in Downtown Tempe is an unexpected yet welcome move that recalls the restaurant’s humble origins. No matter how much CPC grows in the future, a quick win in the here and now is something to be appreciated.
September 12, 2016 update: The Mill Avenue location is now offering CPC’s full lineup of pasties, along with items like the grilled cheese, which are specific to this location.
425 S. Mill Ave., Tempe AZ 85281
Mill Avenue / Third Street Station