For the past decade, the intersection of Seventh Avenue and McDowell in central Phoenix has become a busy restaurant corner with a steady pace of new arrivals. The only problem, aside from the inevitable complaints about parking, is that so many of the newcomers are outposts of national chains, a trait that makes them somewhat unwelcome in the indie-leaning historic districts. One local dining critic even went so far as to describe the scene as a “fast food dump.” Among the franchised burgers and burritos, there is one local player for breakfast: Vovomeena.
The restaurant’s uncommon name is derived from a Portuguese word for grandmother, and a mural on the building’s eastern wall celebrates the owner’s family. The location is about six blocks west of the McDowell/Central light rail station. Bike racks are found along McDowell. Because the fast food operators dominate the sidewalk frontage, Vovomeena is reached by walking through a parking lot and an alley to reach a rear courtyard. From there, customers enter the restaurant and order using printed menus at the counter before finding a table.
The restaurant’s interior is decorated with watercolor paintings and a wall full of wooden planks. A large community table leads to a patio with additional seating enclosed by shade and potted plants that provide some shelter from both the sun and the parking lot noise. Food is delivered to the table as it is prepared. Beverages are generally picked up at a separate coffee bar in between ordering at the counter and choosing a seat in the dining room. Vovomeena asks that customers not try to hold tables before ordering due to the restaurant’s popularity at peak hours.
Because Vovomeena is open only until 2 PM, the menu is focused on breakfast with a few items with more of a lunch feel added only on weekdays. The restaurant can feel a bit strict in comparison to places that invite customers to add chocolate chips to their pancakes. Wording on the menu warns of no substitutions because its meals are “composed breakfasts.” Customization is generally limited to a choice of bacon, sausage, or potatoes on the side. Fortunately, the menu is diverse enough to offer something suited to most taste preferences.
The entrees listed draw from a variety of influences from the Americas and Europe. Johnny cakes are a Caribbean variation of pancakes, also found in New England, in which cornmeal adds a bit of texture. They’re topped with sliced strawberries and paired with a serving of sweet rice cooked in coconut milk. Conventional pancakes, or the alternative of a waffle, are found in the Pawtucket West entree with two eggs and a choice of breakfast meat. A thinner version of a pancake is found in the savory crepes filled with chicken, scrambled eggs, chard, and fontina.
Another savory option is the tortilla espanola. It has nothing to do with Mexico or the American Southwest and instead is a mixture of layered potatoes and egg with a firm texture close to quiche. Like the crepes, it is accompanied by an arugula salad. Back on the sweeter side of breakfast, French toast comes in two varieties. A classic American-style Orchard French Toast is dusted with powdered sugar and enhanced with slivers of green apple. The pain perdu is a denser version made with banana bread topped with sliced banana and a drizzle of caramel.
A lunch-oriented section of the menu is short with just four items and is not served at all on weekends. Nevertheless, it maintains the same cross-cultural themes as the breakfast offerings. A Clyde Street cobb sandwich (geographical reference unknown) is essentially a well-crafted BLT on toasted multigrain augmented with guacamole and bleu cheese mayonnaise. The chicken fajita pita is replete with grilled onions and peppers intermingling with melted mozzarella and chipotle aioli. Both of these lunch items are served with roasted potato as a side dish.
For anyone wanting just a snack or open to the concept of “breakfast dessert,” Vovomeena offers Portuguese donuts, basically balls of leavened dough shaped into rough triangles, fried, and topped with powdered sugar. They can be ordered on their own or added to any breakfast dish (sassily suggested with the word “duh” on the menu). One also comes automatically as part of the B.M.O.C. entree, a sort of breakfast grand tour for those with appetites hearty enough to accommodate a smoked pork chop, two eggs, and a waffle in addition to the donut.
While the donuts are always available, other pastry will vary. Usually, there’s at least one type of muffin offered. Recent choices have included blueberry or double chocolate. The pastry is a good accompaniment for one of Vovomeena’s coffee drinks. The house specialty is cold brew made through a drip process that looks like a distillery apparatus. The result is a smooth yet strong brew that tastes fine on its own without sweetener or dairy, although additional varieties infused with flavors such as star anise and cinnamon or lemon and jalapeño are also poured.
Additional beverages include espresso and cappuccino drinks, juices, and hot and iced teas. There is no liquor license, so Vovomeena is not the place for mimosas or bloody Marys, which seem to be showing up on just about every morning menu around town. Vovomeena has never been afraid to follow its own path, though. It stands out not only from other breakfast restaurants, but also from the franchised fast food in the same vicinity. That independent streak ultimately makes the restaurant a better fit for the nearby historic neighborhoods around it.
1515 N. 7th Ave. #170, Phoenix AZ 85007