Central Bistro recently underwent an ownership change and great things are coming to the formerly New American style restaurant. New owners Mark Drinkwater and Brian Raab have given Central Bistro, with its beautiful open bistro style bar and patio, a contemporary twist on comfort Italian cuisine. From locally sourced vegetables, sustainable grass fed beef from Creekstone, and handmade pastas and pizzas, the new executive chef Justin Baunach refuses to cut corners. Along with the menu going 100% Italian, Bar Manager Justin Czarnecki (formerly with North in Kierland), and renowned mixologist Clint “Spotty” Spotleson (currently also with Counter Intuitive, formerly with the Renaissance, Mabels on Main and Virtu) have given the cocktail list a large Italian handcrafted reboot. We were treated to a preview of the new cocktail menu as well as the updated dinner menu and let’s just say, diners are definitely in for a treat!
The new cocktail menu was created by Bar Manager Justin Czarnecki and Clint “Spotty” Spotleson. The drinks have an Italian theme and use more aperitif wines such as Campari, Amaro, and Cocchi Americano (these seem to be a favorite of Spotty). According to Czarnecki, “the cocktails aren’t overly complicated but done just right.” We couldn’t agree more! We tried the Surfer Rossa (Cocchi Americano Rosso, Apricot, Fresh Squeezed Lime), the Garden Gimlet (Vodka, Basil, Red Bell Pepper, Fresh Lime Juice) and the Devil’s Kiss (Campari, Dewars White Label, Orgeat, Prosecco, Muddled Strawberry and Mint). While all three drinks were amazing (basically anything with bubbles is a winner in my book), the Garden Gimlet was the standout drink of the evening. This drink is basically everything a Bloody Mary wishes it could be. It isn’t too savory or too sweet. The use of red bell pepper juice in this drink brings out such an interesting taste and Maldon Sea Salt tones down the sweetness. Not only is this drink creative, but it is perfectly balanced. Some other drinks on the menu that we are going to have to go back and try are the Scarlett O’Hara (Russel’s Reserve Rye 6yr, Sherry, Peach infused Amaro Ramazzotti) and the Rock and Rye (Knob Creek Rye over orange, clove, and vanilla infused Ice Ball). Unrelated to the new cocktail menu but also important, Justin makes an amazing dry and dirty martini and the bleu cheese olives are hand stuffed in house with Maytag Blue Cheese.
Now for the sake of full disclosure, when discussing the new menu, we have to admit that neither of us had dined at Central Bistro prior to this so our opinions are not comparison based but rather founded on the food we ate off of the new menu. We started with the Burratta (Burratta, Salsa Verde, Marinated Fennel, Herb Salad) and Oven Roasted Polpette (Meatballs [veal and pork], Heirloom Polenta, San Marzano Tomato, Parmigiano, Basil, Black Walnut). Being the cheese lovers we are, I’m not sure how burratta has missed our radar (maybe we haven’t had any worth remembering), but the Burratta at Central Bistro is fantastic! The salsa verde it is served with versus a traditional pesto that one might except is exceptional and combined with marinated fennel this is anything but a boring burratta dish. On the opposite side of the appetizer spectrum, we had the Oven Roasted Polpette. The meatballs were moist (who likes a dry meatball after all?) and flavorful. The polenta was creamy almost velvety but not mushy, the walnuts provided an additional crunchy texture that was very enjoyable. For our entree we split the Orecchiette (Orecchiette, Rock Shrimp, Rapini, Lemon, Pecorino) and the Brussels Sprouts (Brussels Sprouts, Pecorino, Pancetta). As was the case with the appetizers, we really enjoyed our entree. The extra saltiness of the pecorino on the orecchiette really enhanced the light lemon sauce (for me to like this speaks volumes as I do not usually care for savory, warm, lemon dishes). The brussels sprouts were cooked perfectly and had just the right amount of pancetta.
Its great to see an Italian restaurant that feels fresh yet traditional. This is a great place to go on a date or even just a casual lunch. On Saturday and Sunday they serve bottomless mimosas and bloody marys for brunch. They also have live music on Sundays. If our preview is an accurate showing of things to come, Central Bistro’s future looks promising.
Central Bistro is located at:
3160 E Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85018
*The Geeks were given comped items to facilitate this write-up; Information about the menu items was provided to us, opinions are wholly our own. View our Disclosure Policy for more info.