Higher education, especially at the graduate level, often relies on case studies, detailed accounts of specific events, phenomena, or organizations. If anyone were to write a case study about the Cornish Pasty Company (CPC), it might be pretty interesting. From its humble beginnings a decade ago, CPC has become a mini-chain throughout the region, and two of its latest locations are urban ones. A brand new location on Monroe Street in Phoenix has just opened after years of delays, and last year a much smaller location on Mill Avenue in Tempe quietly debuted.
What makes CPC such a potentially interesting case study is that on Monroe construction would stop and start, sometimes seeming to pause for months at a time. It turns out that rather than relying on traditional sources of capital, CPC was using profits from its existing restaurants to fund its expansion in Downtown Phoenix. When those profits flowed, the construction accelerated. At other times, there were lulls, and along the way, the Downtown Tempe location seemed to be a way for CPC to score a “quick win” in a tiny space not far from its original site, also in Tempe.
The new CPC in Phoenix is located on Monroe between Central and First Avenues, just a block south of the Van Buren / Central (westbound) and Van Buren / First Avenue (eastbound) light rail stations. Bike racks are built into some of the parking meters on the block, but they’re clearly not enough in light of the improvised lock-ups seen during recent visits. Shared bike parking in this area is needed. The Downtown Tempe 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.
In terms of size, the two restaurants couldn’t be more different. In terms of aesthetics, they have lot in common. The Monroe location occupies three floors of a building that seemed nondescript until contractors removed a top layer of stucco to expose vintage brick underneath. Those old walls, combined with weathered wooden furniture, give the restaurant an instant patina. The same is true on a smaller scale on Mill Avenue, where a modest storefront is dominated by a bar shaped like a question mark, with a few tiny two-top tables and a larger table in a corner.
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. Pasty fillings include familiar Anglo-American classics such as chicken pot pie and salmon, as well as regionally and internationally inspired ones such as cajun chicken, carne adovada, and chicken tikka masala.
When CPC interprets foods of global origin, the kitchen generally does not dilute flavors, even if many of the influences are filtered through an English or American lens. The lamb vindaloo pasty captures not only the fiery heat of this Indian style of curry, but also its essential vinegar flavor. The menu includes about a dozen vegetarian pasties, about half of which are based on traditionally meatless preparations (e.g. eggplant parmigiana) and about half of which rely on the Quorn product line of meat analogs. A smaller, rotating selection of vegan pasties is also available.
The pasties usually include several complementary ingredients within their confines as well as an accompanying side sauce, making them filling meals by themselves. Nevertheless, several traditional sides dishes are available including curried potatoes, tart coleslaw, tangy baked beans, and smashed peas, little legumes cooked to the point of a puree that seems almost like a warm, green hummus. Oven chips, optionally augmented with either garlic or jalapeño, can serve as a shared side or an appetizer to be enjoyed while waiting for the pasties to emerge from the oven.
Due to limitations of kitchen size, the side dishes are not offered at the Mill Avenue location. Salads, however, are available in both downtown Phoenix and Tempe. The salads at CPC are generally meal-sized and a good alternative for anyone not interested in a pasty, as improbable as that situation might seem. Many repurpose pasty fillings such as chicken tikka masala or pork sausage as a topping for a large bed of greens. The Mediterranean-influenced bowtie pasta salad, on the other hand, is not duplicative with any of the pasties listed on the menu.
CPC also has its own soup selections, including an English cream of leek, potato, and stilton; a classic tomato with croutons; an original mushroom, walnut, and spinach creation; and a Southwestern combination of red pepper, black bean, rice, chicken and jalapeño. At Mill Avenue only, there is an option to combine a soup with a grilled cheese sandwich made with CPC’s signature bread. At both locations, dessert options include sweet pasties filled with peanut butter and jelly, as well as non-pasty English desserts like sticky toffee pudding or banoffee pie.
True to its English roots, CPC has a strong draft beer selection, along with some wine. 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. The Cornish Pasty Company has grown into a small chain over the past decade. Unusual financing aside, the long-awaited, often-delayed Downtown Phoenix location and the Mill Avenue location are two of the latest chapters in a case study that is as tasty as it interesting.
April 26, 2022 update: The Mill Avenue location described in the review above has permanently closed. The downtown Phoenix location remains open, as do others listed on the restaurant’s website.
7 W. Monroe St., Phoenix AZ
Van Buren / Central (westbound) and Van Buren / 1st Avenue (eastbound) stations