The food-obsessed sometimes debate the exact definition of a sandwich, and one facet of the discussion is the food’s shape. A typical sandwich is square-ish or maybe elliptical if rye bread is involved. Others can be more cylindrical if created with a baguette, and a sandwich built upon a bun can often be nearly a sphere. A round sandwich, shaped like a disc, is less common, but Zookz, a shop at Uptown Plaza, the recently renovated mid-century shopping center at Central and Camelback in Phoenix, has created its own brand identity around circular sandwiches.
Zookz is located near the southeastern corner of the shopping center in a location that faces Camelback. The Central/Camelback light rail station is found diagonally across the street. Zookz can be easy to overlook in comparison to more high-profile tenants, so consider the See’s candy store an indication to turn around and head back. Bike racks are round right around the corner in front of neighboring tenants like Flower Child and AJ’s Fine Foods. The shop focuses on breakfast and lunch with daylight hours every day of the week but no evening service.
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 interior of the restaurant features a simple, neat look of brick walls, concrete floors, metal chairs, and natural wood tables. There are counters that straddle the divide between indoors and outdoors 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 shape. 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. A slight Southwestern influence is found in the No. 30, which is filled with ground beef, pico de gallo, avocado, and cheddar, resulting in a Zookz approximation of a taco, suitable for augmentation with any of the myriad hot sauces available at the counter.
The meatless option among the lunch sandwiches is the No. 40 with black beans, diced tomatoes, avocados, scalloped potatoes, shredded cheddar cheese, and a picante buttermilk sauce. 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 as 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 most days, Zookz augments its regular menu of eight savory sandwiches with specials written on a chalkboard. These often test the limits of the bread’s carrying capacity with indulgent fillings such as pasta with meat sauce, poached eggs with chorizo, or mac-and-cheese. In addition to desserts of sweet sandwiches with fillings such as chocolate, peanut butter, coconut, Nutella, or bananas, Zookz also has some more traditional treats like zucchini walnut muffins and big oatmeal cookies sold in individual packages at the counter.
Zookz has a liquor license. A small selection of wine and beer, including local brews such as Papago’s Orange Blossom, exists alongside brunch cocktails like passion fruit mimosas or vodka with fresh-squeezed orange juice. 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. To match the breakfast aspect of Zooks, there is also a full range of coffee, espresso, and hot chocolate drinks available.
After closing its downtown location during the pandemic in order to focus all resources on its Uptown home, Zookz is now planning another expansion, this time in the Biltmore area a few miles east on Camelback. The restaurant has also started to offer larger, shareable servings of its salads and sides for family-style meals or office catering. Aficionados can continue to debate whether burgers, tacos, burritos, and similar favorites meet the criteria of what defines a sandwich, but Zookz has created its own niche with something as simple as a circle.
100 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix AZ 85012
Central / Camelback Station