As local enthusiasm for food trucks has ebbed and flowed, it’s been fun to see the unexpected items coming out of mobile kitchens. When the Pizza People truck first started circulating, it was easy to fear the worst — maybe frozen pizzas reheated in an Easy-Bake oven. Instead, people who ordered from the pizza truck found themselves eating fresh, well-crafted individual pies with inventive topping combinations. After that successful start in 2011, Pizza People upgraded in 2013 to a fixed location, with the Pizza People Pub having operated continuously since then.
The pub is a collaboration between the original pizza truck operators and the owners of nearby restaurants Switch and Fez. The pub occupies a space in the ground floor of the Artisan Lofts building, right across Central Avenue from the McDowell / Central light rail station and the Burton Barr Central Library. A helical bike rack matching the building’s exterior look supports another transportation option. There are two long and high communal tables near the front, a wraparound bar by the kitchen, and traditional tables toward the back and outside on the patio.
Appetizers are as much pub fare and pizzeria favorites. Spud fingers are essentially roasted fingerling potatoes with a dill ranch dressing for dipping. A more indulgent variation is the Drewpy Fries, a poutine-like dish of the same potatoes covered in layers of cheese sauce, prosciutto, bacon, and scallions. Pesto hummus is exactly as it sounds — a successful combination of the Italian-influenced basil spread and a creamy Middle Eastern favorite with pizza bread for dipping. A serving of two large, tender meatballs in marinara sauce is more traditional pizzeria fare.
Unlike several pizzerias located nearby in Phoenix’s downtown core, Pizza People isn’t VPN-certified, and it doesn’t claim to be. That means stone tray ovens rather than wood-fired ones. The result is a more even crust with less differentiation between the core and the cornichon, or edge, than one might encounter a mile to the south. It also means a broad array of toppings that combine in ways not envisioned in Neapolitan pizza tradition. As long as one doesn’t expect rigid adherence to tradition, it’s easy to enjoy Pizza People’s 10” pies on their own terms.
Closest to traditional is the margherita with red sauce, basil, tomato, and mozzarella. Variations on that theme include the Popeye, which adds spinach and garlic, and the Hottie, which ventures into spicier territory with Italian sausage, green chiles, jalapenos, and even serranos in a progression of continuously increasing heat. Pizza People white pies without a base of tomato sauce often include toppings applied after cooking. The Fun Guy matches crimini mushrooms with truffle oil and fresh arugula, and the Hulk mixes the same greens with roasted peppers and pesto.
Other pizzas at the pub push the limits of topping combinations with interesting and generally successful results. The Date Me pie isn’t about romance or obsolescence, but instead about the tiny fruit grown in arid regions, including Arizona. Minced dates provide a sweet note balanced by the saltiness of prosciutto and the creaminess of ricotta cheese. The meaty BBQ Pig N’ Chick blends bacon and chicken with barbecue, rather than tomato sauce, providing the base flavor. All pizzas can be customized for an extra charge with gluten-free crust or a vegan cheese alternative.
Speaking of cheese, Pizza People Pub has an entire section of its menu devoted to mac-and-cheese. Everything starts with a base of elbow macaroni baked in a slightly sharp sauce of melted cheese with a charred, crisp layer on top. From there, 10 different flavors add ingredients such as mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, or smoked paprika. With any of these, an protein component such as chicken or bacon can be incorporated for a few dollars more. Two serving sizes are available: an eight-ounce “mini” and a 20-ounce “biggie” ideal for sharing.
Sandwiches follow a simple model of a thematic assortment of ingredients in a brioche bun with a choice of a hamburger, shredded chicken, or a black bean patty. All of these come with a choice of agave apple coleslaw or side salad. The lightest entrees on the menu are the salads. The MB Chop has both Mediterranean and Southwestern influences in its mix of black beans, corn, romaine, parmesan, and ranch dressing. The Red, White, and Blue and the Willo Grove salads both feature greens mixed with fruit, placing as much emphasis on tart flavors as sweet.
For dessert, a half-baked chocolate cookie is an enduring menu favorite with molten dough in a semi-solid state mixing with melting vanilla ice cream above it. Flourless chocolate cake and cheesecake with graham cracker crust, both served with a strawberry compote, are well-executed classics, as is the bread pudding. Key lime pie is not typically associated with either pubs or pizzerias, but the version at Pizza People is a successful one. Like most items here, all desserts are generously portioned and clearly designed to be shared at the table.
Any place calling itself a pub should have a good drink selection. Draft beers include the pub’s own house brand of pale ale, a workhorse brew suitable for the restaurant’s fare. Wine and several original cocktails are also available. Those drinks have never been served out of any food truck, adding to the value of a fixed location. Both the beverage and food menu continue to evolve, signifying that even a permanent location doesn’t mean an absence of change. Still, after a nomadic start, it’s nice to see that settling down in one place continues to work for Pizza People.
1326 N. Central Ave., Phoenix AZ 85004
McDowell / Central Station