There are many different ways to see the distinction between uptown and downtown. Sometimes, it’s a class divide. Billy Joel and countless other songwriters have used the word “uptown” to imply an upscale neighborhood within the city. In other cases, as with the New York City subway system, it’s simply a statement of compass direction with “uptown” meaning north and “downtown” meaning south. In Phoenix, the trains connect the uptown and downtown portions of the city, but many residents remain confused about their boundaries.
A sandwich shop known as Zookz is now striving for the best of both worlds with one location at Uptown Plaza, a recently renovated mid-century shopping center, and another in the heart of the downtown business district. The uptown location is diagonally across the street from the Central / Camelback light rail station. Bike racks are found just around the corner in front of Zookz’ neighbor, Flower Child. The downtown location is at the corner of First Street and Washington, near several light rail platforms and numerous bike racks along First Street.
Zookz is a casual place to order a sandwich or salad at the counter, receive a numbered placard, and then wait for the food to be brought to the table. The interiors of the two restaurants feature a simple, neat look of brick walls, concrete floors, metal chairs, and natural wood tables. Both of the Zookz locations have outward facing counters and big windows that can be opened during pleasant weather. Inside, there are large posters that explain, in both words and pictures, the origin of Zookz and its unique sandwiches.
Zookz sandwiches are disc-shaped creations inspired by a unique device discovered by the owner’s grandmother. Two flaky, circular pieces of bread surround the fillings and are pressed together into a single saucer. The result is that bread, meats, vegetables, cheeses, and condiments essentially meld into a one handheld unit that is then cut in two prior to serving. The size is moderate, leaving enough room to enjoy one of Zookz’ side salads. A choice of potato salad, kale salad, or chickpeas in a yogurt dressing is included with each sandwich.
The sandwiches are identified by unexplained, non-sequential numbers. The largest category is devoted to lunch sandwiches such as the No. 10 with turkey, sliced apples, parmesan cheese, cranberries, almonds, and a mustard-based sauce or the No. 60 with pulled pork, coleslaw, and Monterey Jack cheese. Beyond the eight savory choices offered each day, there occasional specials which sometimes test the limits of the bread’s carrying capacity with indulgent fillings such as pasta with Bolognese sauce or mac-and-cheese.
The meatless option among the lunch sandwiches is the No. 45, a Mediterranean-inspired mix of mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, fresh spinach, red peppers, basil leaves, and a balsamic dressing. There is a separate section of the menu devoted to breakfast sandwiches available at all times of day. Most are filled with poached eggs, along with breakfast favorites such a bacon, while the No. 44 features a frittata. No. 33, which pairs eggs with feta and parmesan cheeses, spinach, tomato, and basil, is the vegetarian option on this part of the menu.
The Zookz bread, which seems to occupy a happy middle ground somewhere between typical sandwich slices and a croissant, is hard to resist. Nevertheless, for anyone who wants a lower carbohydrate alternative, Zookz now offers entree-sized salads. Like the sandwiches, they’re numbered. and they often combine the same ingredients and condiments found between bread. The salad most differentiated from the sandwiches is the No. 3, a Southwestern and Mediterranean mix of greens, chicken, black beans, sweet corn, sunflower seeds, and feta.
On some days, Zookz augments its regular menu of sandwiches and salads with a special soup. A recent selection was a smooth corn chowder given a little texture from bits of sausage and mild heat from chipotle. A cup of soup, the only size offered, makes a perfect side dish to accompany one of the restaurant’s salads. In addition to sweet sandwiches with fillings such as chocolate and coconut or peanut butter and bananas, Zookz also has some more traditional desserts like small fudge brownies and coconut chocolate oatmeal cookies.
Zookz Uptown has a liquor license. A small selection of wine and beer (mostly cans of local brews such as Papago’s Orange Blossom) exists alongside brunch cocktails. Since much of Zookz’ business occurs during the weekday lunch hour, there’s also a strong selection of unsweetened iced teas, generally one black, one green, and two “botanical infusions” or herbals. At this time, the downtown location has neither a liquor license nor weekend hours. Perhaps those details will change given the growth of housing and entertainment nearby.
With Zookz now operating both at both ends of the Central Corridor, it would not be surprising to see an eventual expansion to even more sites in the future. The Zookz sandwich is distinctive enough to create a brand but also readily reproducible with the right training and equipment. Prince sang, “Everybody’s going uptown / That’s where I want to be,” and Petula Clark told her audience, “Downtown, no finer place for sure.” Both artists were right in their own time and way, and by growing in both parts of Phoenix, Zookz seems to agree.
100 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix AZ 85012
Central / Camelback Station
1 N. 1st St., Phoenix, AZ 85004
Washington / 3rd Street and Washington / Central stations (westbound)
Jefferson / 1st Avenue and Jefferson / 3rd Street stations (eastbound)