Farmers markets are seemingly everywhere these days, but one of the longest-running ones is the Phoenix Public Market at the north end of Downtown. The open-air market, which just celebrated its 12th birthday, has one feature that few can claim: an adjacent restaurant that celebrates the bounty of the market and locally produced food seven days a week. The Phoenix Public Market Cafe, sometimes also known as the Cafe at the Phoenix Public Market, operates just east of the outdoor market site, three blocks south of the Roosevelt / Central light rail station.
Since opening in 2013 in a building previously used for an indoor extension of the outdoor farmers market, the cafe has grown and prospered, not only refining its own approach but also spawning new ventures in southern Tempe and Roosevelt Row. There’s a small selection of merchandise on display, but it’s clear this business is mostly a restaurant. Its relationship to the outdoor market lies in a farm-to-table menu where classic, all-season dishes such as rotisserie chicken coexist with salads and soups that incorporate seasonal produce ingredients from market vendors.
The cafe’s entrance is found on Pierce Street just off Central. The market’s impressive array of bike racks, prominently situated right outside the main entrance, should serve as a role model of how restaurants can welcome active transport. Inside, the space benefits from abundant natural light and simple wood furnishings. There are some traditional four-top tables, but also a long community table right down the middle of the dining room, and some lounge-like areas for an even more relaxed style of eating. The patio is shaded, misted, and generally comfortable year-round.
The cafe offers a breakfast menu overlapping with a combined lunch and dinner menu during midday, followed by the addition of specials offered only as part of dinner service in the evening. During the day, service follows the “fast casual” model in which customers order at the counter and then wait at their chosen tables. At night, the cafe switches to a full-service model with servers taking orders at customers’ seats. The bar, with one counter on the inside and another one out on the patio, is the one portion of the cafe that offers full service throughout the day.
Breakfast options begin with straightforward combinations such as the Rooster Booster, which features two eggs any style, bacon, potatoes, and toast with fruit preserves, all of them simple foods but enlivened with fresh, high-quality ingredients from local sources when feasible. The Devil’s Mess is a Southwestern breakfast of eggs, spinach, chorizo, chiles, onions, and salsa with a tortilla. A blue corn pancake puts a regional twist on a classic breakfast favorite. Likewise, the steel cut oats risotto is a clever name and a gentle update for good old-fashioned oatmeal.
Among the morning beverages, there’s not only fresh-squeezed orange juice, but also bolder juice combinations with superhero names. The Flash is an orange-colored smoothie with puréed bell peppers, beets, carrots, orange, lemon, and ginger augmented by a mild but steady kick from chiles. Its green companion, the Hulk, has some kale and other greenery, but the most distinctive flavor is cucumber. For later in the day, there’s a full bar that offers cocktails, wines by the glass, craft beers on tap, and a sangria that is pleasantly balanced between sweet and tart elements.
As morning heads toward noon, the rotisserie spit starts turning, cooking chickens that are served either whole or by the half. The poultry is moist and tender with a bit of charred skin on the outside. The half bird comes with one side, and the whole one adds a second choice. Among them, the baked sweet potato with chile lime butter has nice bit of heat to balance the vegetable’s intrinsic sweetness. The fries are thick with skin on the ends. Lighter preparations such as steamed broccoli with lemon and olive oil are joined by a daily market vegetable.
The salmon is a generous slice of fish with a bit of crispness on the outside but flaky and yielding within. It comes with creamy mashed potatoes and the day’s market vegetable. Similar sides augment the fried chicken, which is offered only in the evening. The pork chile verde pot pie takes a classic pastry crust and fills it with an assertive Southwestern stew. Soups, which come in big bowls making them suitable as light entrees, include black bean, coconut curry lentil with chunks of butternut squash, and a daily offering such as corn chowder or gazpacho.
Salads are served in the same capacious bowls, making them viable as shared starters or small main dishes. The Chino is built upon noodles tossed with pieces of rotisserie chicken, shredded cabbage, and a thick dressing. It all comes together as sort of an Asian slaw with meat, and a few crunchy noodles on top add some variety. A chilled rice bowl with vegetable and a warm mix of rice and black beans are among several meatless entrees. Daily specials such as pot roast served over polenta expand on the use of the rotisserie and other traditional slow-cooking methods.
Most of the desserts are displayed in a case by the counter. If some of the cookies, scones, muffins on display look familiar, it’s because the cafe has become a supplier to some local coffee houses, including Cartel, whose coffee is served at the cafe in a nice bit of reciprocity. Next to the pastry is a grab-and-go case full of juices and salads ready to take home or to the office. Since 2005, the downtown farmers market has been open Saturday mornings. Many have similar schedules, but few are fortunate enough to have a cafe next door open the rest of the week.
14 E. Pierce St., Phoenix AZ 85004
Roosevelt / Central Station