Restaurant Review: Tempe Public Market Café

By Rachel Verbits, April 2018 Issue.

Happy Gaypril! And what does Gaypril have to do with dining, you ask? Simply put, Gaypril is (loosely) the time period between the Arizona Gay Rodeo and LGBTQ Pride Month that – for Arizonans – also ushers in Spring Training, street fairs and music festivals, all of which combine our two favorite things: dining and the outdoors.

A side salad with a side of beet.

Of course, there are far too many events to taste our way through, so we went ahead and hit one of the Southeast Valley’s newest permanent fixtures that brings our two favorites together seven days a week: Tempe Public Market Café.

The team behind St. Francis and the Phoenix Public Market Café have cooked up another hit, which opened Jan. 12, and they’re serving up nourishing, wholesome meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Located at the northeast corner of Rural and Warner roads, Chef Alex Chamberlin’s newest creation is as tantalizing aesthetically as it was to our palate.

Billed as a casual neighborhood hangout, the café embodies a relaxed vibe with booths, couches and tables for gathering around coffee, cocktails or scratch-made dishes. The restaurant opens up to a dog-friendly outdoor seating area, complete with a bar that faces the kitchen, a fireplace and somewhat shaded area (those seats go fast).

Fried Chicken Sandwich.

Right away, we noticed that “building community through food” is more than just the building’s tagline. While waiting in line, guests are tempted by an array of items – from locally sourced honey and small-batch tonic water to Arizona wine glasses and mugs – available for purchase. Tempe Public Market Café proudly supports local businesses and highlights their products in a way that elevates their very own food. And reading about each business and seeing what they had to offer was an educational way to pass the time as we waited in the weekend lunch rush to approach the counter to place our order.

It was at this point that we got our first glimpse at the made-from-scratch food that Tempe Public Market Café prides itself on. Behind the registers, you can glimpse the staff putting the finishing touches on meals before they’re whisked out of the semi-open kitchen. The parade of fresh, hot dishes offered us a preview of what was to come, and actually helped us decide which selections to make.

Live And Let Bee.

But first things first. Since we were there on a particularly warm day (which we know is just the start of many), I opted for one of the café’s signature cocktails. Shaping up to be one of the most popular options, Live And Let Bee is hand crafted with gin, honey, lavender and lemon juice and it just tastes like springtime, and was BORN to be enjoyed outside under the sun. Local beer aficionados will appreciate the San Tan Hefeweizen, the Pedal Haus IPA, the OHSO Morning Brew or the Tempe Market Light Lager (which, fair warning, is from Rochester, N.Y.) on tap. And fear not, there’s a full espresso bar, too.

The best part of our Saturday brunch visit was that we were able to sample both breakfast (served 7 a.m.-3 p.m.) and lunch (11 a.m.-close). With the best of both worlds at our fingertips, we didn’t hesitate in mixing and matching from the simple, health-focused menu that showcases breakfast favorites, fresh-baked pastries, hearty sandwiches, crisp salads and handmade pizzas (baked in a wood-fired oven).

Baker's Quiche.

We dove into breakfast with a slice of the Baker’s Quiche, which packed eggs, goat cheese, chives and green onions into a buttery, flaky crust. Served atop a roasted red pepper sauce and accompanied by a petite side of mixed greens, it was the perfectly light bite to get our day going.

Lunch and dinner is really where Chef Aaron Chamberlin flexes his culinary muscles. The menu is designed to satisfy anyone, regardless of their appetite or what time of day they arrive, and offers selections ranging from hearty sandwiches and burgers to lighter house-made soups and rice bowls.

Here, the wood-fired pizza selection offers a unique twist on familiar pies. My dining partner and I took a leap of faith and ordered the Market Special, which comes with a variety of rotating local and seasonal combinations from the farmers market. At the time of our visit, the toppings included braised leeks, shaved Brussels sprouts, Parmesan, Meyer lemon and a mozzarella blend. The mild cheese danced with the citrus in a perfect balance – which served as a reminder that pizza is a versatile, but reliable vessel that’s capable of tying together diverse flavor combinations (read: we didn’t miss the pepperoni one bit).

Pork Chile Verde Pot Pie

Always a sucker for a house specialty, the Pork Chile Verde Pot Pie caught my attention (check out the specials on the menu board after 5 p.m.), and I subsequently noticed these dotting nearly every table in the establishment – for good reason. Baked in a house-made pie crust, the tender pork was complemented by a savory sauce and array of veggies. This pie is the perfect size for one, or sharing if you’re ordering tapas, but there’s limited availability, so visit early in the day or be prepared to share this popular selection.

Rice Bowl.

Pro Tip: Save room for the bakery case. A number of these decadent offerings are prepared fresh to go along with your meal or end it on a sweet or savory note. We ended our visit with a homemade Pop Tart, which was bursting with fresh blueberry jam and the signature sugary icing atop the flaky pie crust. (Pie crust seemed to be our unintentional theme of the day, and we weren’t mad about it one bit.) The apple cake, bacon pretzel and macarons also make a great snack for later in the day, just ask for a bag to go.

Adding Tempe Public Market Café to your list of patio musts this season would be reason enough to celebrate, but the fact that there’s enough of a variety to please even the most particular palate – three meals a day, seven days a week, throughout all four seasons – is what will most-certainly keep you coming back for more.

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