The name “Desmond” is usually associated with the British Isles, particularly Ireland. The food pizza is usually associated with Italy. In a spot on First Street in downtown Phoenix, a place known as the Desmond blends the atmosphere and beverage program of a pub with the culinary output of a beehive-shaped, wood-fired pizza oven that produces Neapolitan pies. The location for this hybrid is a short walk from multiple downtown light rail platforms, along with the transfer hub now under construction. Bike racks are found at multiple points along First Street.
The Desmond’s blended approach draws from both its neighbor, the Kettle Black, and the space’s previous tenant, La Piazza Locale. The former is a pub that serves updated versions of traditional tavern food. The latter was a VPN-certified pizzeria that closed during the pandemic when all operations were consolidated at its original location in downtown Glendale. The prominently placed pizza oven stayed behind, however, creating an opportunity for the owners of Kettle Black to cultivate a second space next door to their pub with a different menu.
With the transition, the space has been redecorated. The spot is still a shoebox in shape, but the use of lighter colors makes the room feel larger, despite the addition of a much bigger bar that dominates one side. The much smaller former bar counter, which sits right in front of the pizza oven, is now where staff pick up orders to be delivered to customers seated at tables and the new bar. The better lit interior now allows details like embossed ceilings and hexagonal tile to be more visible. Some patio seating along First Street provides an outdoor dining option.
The menu focuses heavily on Italian-inspired or Italian-American foods, but with more fluidity than would be seen in a traditional pizzeria. Some appetizers, like the cheese curds, are more often associated with the American Midwest, while others, such as the meatballs and the caprese, would be at home on any menu centered around a wood-fired oven. International influences are felt most readily among the salads.The Phuket offers a slightly Asian feel with its sesame vinaigrette and the wasabi Caesar is coated in a refreshingly assertive dressing.
The Greca is a basic Greek salad with leaves of romaine tossed with cherry tomatoes, feta, olives, red onions, cucumbers, and pepperoncini. Similar flavors are combined in a different format with the focaccia salad. It’s essentially a disc of pizza crust topped with a mix of arugula, radishes, feta, cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes dressed in a champagne vinaigrette. The resulting dish is halfway between a pizza pie and a bowl of greens with a contrasting mix of warm bread and chilled lettuce and an appearance verging on an open-faced sandwich.
The crust that supports the salad is the same that forms the base of the Desmond’s pizza. Standouts include the namesake Desmond topped with red sauce, spicy salami, roasted bell peppers, roasted onions, Kalamata olives, garlic, and oregano, as well as the truffle pie, a white pizza adorned with a garlic puree, cremini mushrooms, parsley, shaved parmesan and truffle oil. No longer beholden to VPN tradition, the Desmond has also offered non-traditional pizza offerings such as Buffalo chicken or even a Cubana pie involving pork and pickled jalapeños.
Although the restaurant takes liberties with the toppings, the essence of the pizza, its crust, stays close to its Neapolitan origins. Pies come with a slight char around the edges and a more yielding central portion. The dough used for these pizzas also finds its way into bread for sandwiches such as the Yonkers Avenue panini, which is fashioned from a breaded chicken cutlet, inspired by a style from Yonkers, New York, on focaccia with tomatoes and peppers. The St. Pierre sandwich utilizes a baguette to create a French Dip with roast beef and au jus.
Two inevitable dishes are also available at opposite ends of the spectrum. A burger is made with a patty of beef and pork with smoked gouda, bacon, onions, arugula, and chipotle aioli, while a vegetable panini contains grilled eggplant and zucchini with mozzarella. Sandwiches come paired with fries or a side salad, with the crisp potato slivers generally being a better choice than the greens, which seem more like an afterthought at times. The restaurant has also announced the addition of pasta dishes like shrimp scampi to the menu in the near future.
The Desmond’s dessert offerings include fried balls of pizza dough with cinnamon sugar and caramel, a lava cake with a center of molten chocolate, and a slice of New York cheesecake. The last item has a smooth, satisfying texture, although it lacked the spiced pecans promised on the menu both times it was sampled. The drink selection is the aspect of the Desmond that has grown the most in relation to a typical pizzeria menu. Drawing upon its pub roots, the restaurant offers an array of cocktails, whiskeys, and wine, as well as tap handles with craft beer.
The Desmond also has an unusually generous happy hour with discounts on both selected drinks and food items extending until 7 PM, an hour or two later than the standard hours encountered in most places in the surrounding blocks. With the Desmond open, the miniature restaurant row on this block of First Street just north of Washington is now nearly fully occupied after some temporary retrenchment during the pandemic. Pizza and pubs may not be two things that go together at first glance, but they seem to be coexisting successfully on First Street.
1 N. 1st St. #103, Phoenix AZ 85004