Monday, March 5, 2012

Celebrating My Turf

North Central Near Camelback

I normally blog about locales all over the world. This post however features my own North Central Phoenix neighborhood.

First some background. Almost twenty years ago, when relocating to Arizona, our realtor drove us all over Scottsdale. Scottsdale's walled, country club conservative and ethnically monochromatic neighborhoods contained row after row of the same pink house with a new lexus parked in front.

I threw up a little in my mouth.

The notion of raising my kids in a gated community was unthinkable. So I asked our realtor where are the older houses? The houses where people write their kids name in the driveway? Where you can walk to a grocery store and to church.

Perplexed she blurted "I suppose we could look in Phoenix". Happily, that is just what we did. We looked at some wonderful old neighborhoods and bought a 1950's era ranch house in a former citrus orchard right off Central Avenue. From our new home I could ride my bike downtown, to work, to the Phoenix Art Museum, the fabulous new Burton Barr library, or the Heard Museum.

What we didn't realize was that our neighborhood demographics were incompatible with "hip". All the new and fun restaurants opened in Tempe and Scottsdale.

So, aside from some charming and wonderful institutions like Cheese and Stuff, Scotts Generations, Karsh's Bakery and Durants, if we wanted to eat or shop in someplace funky and new, we'd find ourselves going for a drive.

Still Cranking Out Very Good Subs 

And that is pretty much how it remained for a decade. Yeah, we got our own Boston Market, a few Quizno's, and an Applebee's, but when stores and restaurants closed in the little neighborhood malls near us, those malls pretty much stayed empty.

Then one-of-a-kind cafes and businesses started to pop up like the Coronado Cafe on 7th Street and La Grande Orange in Arcadia. In central Phoenix we cheered. Arcadia may be a few miles to the east, but "hip" finally had some Phoenix mailing addresses!

Then artists started opening up studios along Grand Avenue and in the no mans land between the Arizona Center and the new library. Before long the successful "First Friday" gallery hops began.

Not long after that the Lux coffee and Chris Bianco's Pane Bianco opened in an innocuous storefront right on Central Avenue. All the while the historic neighborhoods with their little wonderland houses began gentrification. One by one the houses in Windsor Square and Medlock Place were getting lovingly refurbished.

To cap things off, the sleek, clean, and quiet light rail trains now zip up and down Central Avenue. 

The Delightfully Walkable 
Windsor Square Neighborhood

History Rich Residences in Medlock Place

There is no question about it, Central Phoenix is experiencing its tipping point and becoming an epicenter of urban cool. From downtown's new lofts to its new Medical College. From the funk of Melrose to Portland Place, Willo, and the re-emergence of street friendly shopping plazas at Bethany and 16th Street. Seemingly everything is revamping right on up to the big chalk "S" of Sunnyslope.

For this post I am concentrating on the few blocks near Camelback and Central Avenue. This area boasts Smeeks where you can buy an Abba Zabba or soft Australian licorice, Frances (home of women's clothes and jewelry found nowhere else in the Valley), and Stinkweeds for music. You can get your flesh punched at Halo, or read a comic book at Samurai or All About Comics. There is  "Practical" Art (a unique gallery specializing in one-of-a-kind, artist created, everyday tools), and RED where all those "I Dream of Jeannie" kidney shaped coffee tables live.

Update 5-2013: 
Since initially writing this Smeeks (and a second shop for Frances) have moved to the lovely little "mall within a mall" at the East end of the Biltmore Fashion Park in a zone called "Union" (do check that out!) 

Candy, Fake Mustaches, Tom's Shoes, Cards and Metal Lunch Boxes at Smeeks and Frances

Update 8-2014
Sadly, the Smeeks folks had to leave PHX to return to their former home to care for family. 

And, since the last update we lost our beloved Karsh's Kosher Bakery. But the other local baking institution (Karl's European) reopened a nice little shop in Sunnyslope. And, Urban Cookies / Cupcakes still rocks on 7th St. near Highland. 

I notice that Union is refreshing its tenant mix at the Biltmore once again, and Frances is gone.

BUT! There is a wonderful new Changing Hands Bookstore on Camelback near 3rd Ave. (At the long dead Beef Eater's Steak House (a Beckett's Table is coming there too!) 

Z Tejas opened at 16th St. and Bethany and so did another neat little ice cream shop. I understand a Baby Kay's Cajun and is building there too.  

Purveyor of Mid-Century Urban Chic

After that we move on to a host of one-of-a-kind restaurants. No chain dreck here. Within just a few blocks you get St. Francis, Maizies, Hula Modern Tiki, Twirl (Yogurt), Windsor, Churn (Ice cream) and Postino's Wine Bar.

Update 5-2013
Due to the wild success of Postinos and Windsor, there is now Federal Pizza in the lovely former Al Beadle designed bank. Tammie Coe has a bakery there too. And the little restaurant in between? Well, it will soon be as yet another restaurant! 

Also do try Zooks (near Maizies for amazing little pocket sandwiches and an amazing Kale salad - but be aware Zooks is only open till 2 PM.)

Update 8-2014
Well Joyride Tacos filled that space in between Postino and Federal Pizza! And it is always crowded. AND they now actually have a real parking lot to serve all of those very busy Uptown Venture restaurants.

Of course a few blocks west Mary Coyle's still reigns as the grande dame of homemade ice cream in Phoenix.

All of these restaurants provide lots of parking for your fat tire cruiser bike and all feature flower filled all-season outdoor dining with heaters in the winter and misters in the summer.

We, the lucky residents of North Central, are now covered for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner and everything in between.



So Many Choices
All of Them Great!

Update 5-2013
In addition to all of the action on Central, We now have the incredible "Yard" in the old Ducati motorcycle showroom on 7th Street (just north of Missouri). inside is a new edition of the "Culinary School Dropout" and (just recently) "Little Clementines" serving great New Orleans inspired seafood (the Po Boy - Yum!) 

While waiting there are lots of ping ping tables and other games for kids of all ages under the big old steel shade structure out front. The Yard has proven way too popular and parking is a nightmare. If possible arrive on a bicycle!

Nearby up 7th street also don't forget the new Otro (serving locally sourced and very inspired Mexican cuisine) and Fuego Bistro (with it's lovely courtyard and tasty empanadas.)  

Update 8-2014
Lola has joined Little Clementine and the Culinary Dropout. A new Spinato's Pizza opened  at Missouri and 7th St. (with great gluten-free pizza's). 

And if you are tired of staying in those big soulless hotels downtown, stay in one of the suites in the lovely and historic 1928 era Maricopa Manor Bed and Breakfast. From there you can easily walk to the light rail for a meeting downtown, a connection to the airport, or a symposia at ASU. And the Inn is just a few steps from many of the shops and restaurants listed above!

Maricopa Manor Bed and Breakfast
Welcoming Guests Since 1989

Sorry Scottsdale, you can keep your overpriced chain store glitz, North Central is fast becoming the place to be for one-of-a-kind dining and shopping.

Damned Skippy!

Roadboy's Travels © 2012 2013 2014

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