With the current building boom, some corners in Phoenix are seeing a new wave of change after decades of inactivity. The area around Central and McDowell, long defined by the the Phoenix Art Museum and the Burton Barr Central Library, is now home to new apartments filling long-vacant lots. With all that change, businesses have come and gone. One neighborhood restaurant, Pizza People Pub, has done both within the same year — briefly closing and then reopening shortly after under new ownership but with essentially the same menu.
The rebooted pub occupies a space in the ground floor of the Artisan Lofts residential building, a short walk along Central Avenue from the McDowell / Central light rail station and across the street from the main library. A helical bike rack matching the building’s exterior decor is found right outside the restaurant’s front door. Inside, there are long, high communal tables near the front, a wraparound bar by the kitchen, and traditional tables and a few spacious booths toward the back. There’s also some outdoor seating on a patio facing Central Avenue.
Appetizers are a mix of pub and pizzeria influences. Spud fingers are essentially oven fries 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 strict orthodoxy, it’s easy to enjoy Pizza People’s 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 beer is a focus here with an emphasis on craft, seasonal, and local brews such as McFate’s Craison, a play on the traditional saison with a notes of cranberry flavor and orange zest. Canned and bottled beers, wine, and specialty cocktails add to the beverage mix, and special events like trivia nights foster a pub atmosphere. With the surrounding neighborhood becoming more densely populated, both a pub and a pizzeria are desirable urban amenities. Pizza People Pub is a little bit of both.
August 4, 2021 Update: Pizza People Pub has been acquired by Throne Brewing. The menu is still essentially the same as described in this review.
1326 N. Central Ave., Phoenix AZ 85004
McDowell / Central Station