Sometimes, it’s hard to define exactly when a local business grows to the point that it can be considered a chain. Since its beginnings at an old post office with a quasi-Arcadia address in 2001, Postino has expanded to half a dozen locations situated throughout the Phoenix Metropolitan Area, as well as sites in Denver, Houston, and Tucson. With all that growth and a private equity deal helping to finance potential nationwide expansion, fans of earlier versions of the popular wine bar may wonder what to make of the brand’s rapidly enlarging footprint.
While Postino has settled on a menu that is identical from one city to another, each location maintains some architectural distinctiveness. Almost all of them are in updated vintage buildings, and many are situated in urban centers. In terms of access by train, the two local sites to keep in mind are Postino Central, located three blocks north of the Central / Camelback light rail station in Uptown Phoenix, and Postino Annex, located a block-and-a-half south of the Veterans Way / College Avenue light rail station and the Tempe Transportation Center.
Postino Central occupies the former home of an insurance agency and, more recently, Katz’ Deli. It’s part of a cluster of restaurants in the Uptown neighborhood under the umbrella of Upward Projects, the wine bar’s parent company. In Tempe, Postino Annex is one of two restaurants sharing the former Art Annex building of Arizona State University (ASU). The redevelopment of that structure is part of a broader effort to activate College Avenue as a gateway to the campus and an eastern extension of Tempe’s downtown business district.
The renovations of both buildings have opened them to the outside, embracing the patio scene that is an essential part of the culture at Postino and its parent company, Upward Projects. At Postino Central, a fairly plain facade along Central Avenue hides a lively dining room, an indoor/outdoor bar, and a patio with a bike rack behind the building. In Tempe, Postino Annex directly addresses College Avenue with a long L-shaped patio. The smaller portion that wraps around the northern portion of the building sometimes offers a view of ASU swim team practice.
The menu is wine-centric in terms of its emphasis on cheese, nuts, and cured meats, but it’s also more casual than stereotypes of fussy wine tastings or winemaker dinners might suggest. The expected vegetarian and gluten-free options are available, and there’s even a kids menu for those visitors not yet old enough to drink wine. There’s a lot of hand food to be had, in terms of “snacky things” (the wine bar’s wording), panini, charcuterie, cheese, olives, and what might be seen as the restaurant’s signature dish for nearly two decades, the bruschetta board.
Mix-and-max bruschetta assortments are widespread, but Postino was early to popularize the concept in Phoenix. The appeal of the dish is easy to understand. It’s enough food to serve as a filling entree for one, but also easy for a party of two or more to share as an appetizer. The variety of toppings, including perennials such as smoked salmon or tomato and mozzarella and rotating specials such as mortadella, provide a mix of tastes. The underlying bread provides just enough structure to support the toppings and the absorbency to soak up some of their flavors.
The only potential negative about the bruschetta is the Americanized pronunciation — with a sh sound instead of an Italian k sound. It’s a habit of both the staff and owners at Postino. In fairness, this practice is no worse than the frequent alteration of the restaurant’s name by its own customers. To be clear, the dish’s traditional pronunciation is bruˈsketta, and the word Postino is Italian for postman and not derived from a person’s name. As a result, there is no need to make it possessive and say Postino’s, even though many customers do just that.
Nitpicking aside, the rest of the Postino menu is appetizers, sandwiches, and salads. A “Butcher’s Block” charcuterie plate, and its meatless counterpart, “The Bounty,” are obvious starters with their salty, savory tastes that complement most of the vintages poured at the bar. A grilled cheese sandwich appears among the appetizers only because it has been cut into several small wedges, all of which can be dipped in one of three accompaniments: mustard, pesto, and ketchup. Sweet potato wedges and meat skewers are some of the newer additions.
The sandwich menu ranges from a vegetarian model built upon smoked almond hummus to more indulgent creations with fillings of prosciutto or roast beef. Salads include Hannah’s Field, full of fashionable ingredients like quinoa and kale that add up to a satisfying entree. Soups, salads, and sandwiches can all be configured in various combinations based on half sizes. A brunch menu offered on weekends adds French toast, granola, and egg dishes. Dessert options include a salted caramel sundae, a chocolate bouchon, and creme brulee.
The beverage selection is of course focused on wine. The list is not voluminous but instead focused on less commonly encountered choices such as hearty Hungarian reds or sparkling roses which work well on a warm day on the patio. Each location also has multiple taps with craft beer, and the cucumber honey lemonade is a refreshing non-alcoholic choice. Postino’s (an appropriate use of the possessive) expansion beyond its Phoenix base may be startling for those who remember its infancy, but Postino still feels local in its Uptown and Tempe locations.
5144 N. Central Ave., Phoenix AZ 85012
Central / Camelback Station
615 S. College Ave., Tempe AZ 85284
Veterans Way / College Avenue Station