They had us at “Drunk Bread.”
It’s not often that a long-time favorite can be replaced with a newer, more innovative model and turn out to be even more engaging, but Central Bistro has accomplished the feat.
Nestled into the former location of Zen 32, which called the hot spot on the northwest corner of Camelback Road and 32nd Street home for more than 15 years, Central Bistro has mixed together modern Italian and French with wood-fired cuisine to quickly build a following all its own.
Central Bistro is a true bistro setting with an ample menu that offers something for everyone, has a selection of more than 350 hand-selected wines, farm-to-bar cocktails and craft beer. It’s a modern, straightforward, energetic restaurant that features a menu of winning dishes from top to bottom. That makes sense because everything is made from scratch daily.
At lunch, freshly made soups, salads and sandwiches take precedence. As the day transitions to evening, hearty flavors reign with handcrafted pastas to brick-oven pizzas to wood-grilled meats and veggies.
Which brings us back to the Drunk Bread, which kicked off our meal during a recent visit. Made with swiss fondue, white wine and crusty bread topped with prosciutto, the decadent indulgence that defines Drunk Bread made us only want to do one thing: Order a second helping.
But we showed restraint and decided to try other items on the menu and each one topped the preceding dish. Here is a quick recap of what we would recommend for dinner:
• The Salumeria Pizza, made with red sauce, mozzarella, house made sausage, Italian cured meats and Sicilian oregano is easily one of the best wood-fired pizzas in the Valley. It’s priced at $15.
• The cabernet reduction on the filet — which is served with mashed potatoes, asparagus and mushrooms, with an option to add either foie gras ($8) or butter poached lump crab ($9) — is so perfect that my mouth is watering onto the keyboard at this moment as I reflect on the memory. It’s priced at $35.
• The Ruby Red Trout, served with sautéed summer squash, pear tomatoes, fresh herbs and lemon caper vinaigrette is as mouth-watering a seafood dish as you will find in Phoenix. It’s priced at $24.
• The Central Mac and Cheese utilizes a house blend of cheeses topped with herb bread crumbs. As we learned from the Drunk Bread, the staff at Central Bistro knows how to work with cheeses. Enough said. The Central Mac and Cheese is a bargain at $16.
Beyond an amazing dinner, Central Bistro boasts a much-acclaimed happy hour featuring $1 oysters that would make my boys in Boston envious; and an incredible brunch with bottomless mimosas made with fresh-squeezed orange juice. If you go for brunch, the Stuffed French Toast is a must-try menu item.
From the decor — lots of natural light and open space — to the desserts, Central Bistro is a taste-tantalizing delight. Where else can you get drunk on bread?