Behind a simple brick front hides an eclectic gem. From the minute you step through the door, it's clear that this establishment isn't just your average deli/coffee shop. The décor is quite Last-Century-Library. The walls are adorned with columns of books, and books also form counter bases throughout the shop. Art deco-type fixtures hang from the rafters. There is no finished ceiling, just bare rafters. In a corner sits a card catalog topped with a napkin dispenser. Neatly placed condiments fill the drawers that once held the most important cards in any library.
The sound of friendly chitchat hit my ears as soon as the door opened. The clientele appeared to be an amalgam of young and old, students and business people. The tables were strewn with books and laptops. I was shocked by the diversity of the clientele in this shop that could have been right out of Seattle.
This charming little coffee shop/deli is a relatively new addition to the Pearl District. It's located just across the street from Centennial Park on the corner of S. Peoria Avenue and 6th Street and owned by developer Blake Ewing. Ewing also owns The Maxx RetroPub, Back Alley Blues and BBQ, Joe Momma's, and Boomtown Tees.
We walked up to the deli case and admired the homemade bakery items. The specials were neatly written on a chalkboard on the wall behind the deli case. A paper menu was neatly taped at each end of the deli case.
As I read down the menu, I noticed that all the dishes on it were named after books. The Phoenix offers sandwiches, salads, homemade bagels and cream cheese, a variety of sides, a kids' menu, and snacks. You can quench your thirst with an assortment of beverages. There's beer on tap and coffee brewing. Espresso and various sodas are also available. As the cashier at the counter aptly put it, "we have everything."
With an enormous menu such as this, it was a bit difficult to choose just one item. There were so many things on the menu to choose from, including the Choose Your Own Adventure, inviting you to pick your choice of bread, bagel, croissant, meat, veggies, and dressing. I was surprised to see that there was also a kids' menu. I also noted that among the sides were tabouli and hummus.
The service here was impeccable, though a little slow. The cashier at the counter was helpful, courteous and patient. A gracious server brought our lunch out with a smile. I found the staff helpful and cheerful.
After we placed our order, we strolled, exploring the shop. On one end were pub tables by the windows, a teacher's desk, a kitchen table with mismatched chairs, an arm chair, couches and coffee tables, and several other tables. We also discovered a gallery of Star Wars artwork on the wall closest to the kitchen.
On the opposite end of the eatery sat tables and cubbies filled with newspapers. Just above the newspapers, the wall was painted like a chalkboard. This chalkboard listed all of the upcoming events. On the far end was a bar and across from it were some wooden bleachers. Past this was a hallway leading to the bathroom. On the wall hung a bulletin board filled with flyers, reminding me of a college hang out. Surprisingly, I also discovered a huge library while I was exploring hallway.
The library at the Phoenix is amazing. It's a huge space with tables, chairs, and couches scattered throughout. There are floor-to-ceiling bookcases filled with books. I felt like I was transported from a restaurant to my college library (only I could eat and drink here). Customers were relaxing and reading, appearing as contented as if they'd been in their own living room. While researching the Phoenix, I discovered that many of these books had come from an antique book store and from Gardner's Used Books. You can read the books while you're at the Phoenix or if you really like one, you can buy it.
We sat at a pub table by the window and waited for our sandwiches. The wait seemed a little long, but it was lunchtime so the restaurant was fairly busy. I had The Catcher in the Rye ($7.99), which is a Reuben served on marbled rye. Sandwiches are served with homemade potato chips. The rye bread was thick and soft, and the sauerkraut was fresh and crunchy. The corned beef was thickly sliced and lean. It was topped with Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing. My sandwich was great, but a little dry. The homemade potato chips were amazing. I was feeling hungry, so I also ordered a chocolate chocolate chip cookie. I was in heaven! It was soft and delicious with gooey chocolate chips inside.
My friend ordered The Great Gatsby ($8.99) on marbled rye -- a ham, roast beef, turkey, and cheddar sandwich topped with bacon cream cheese. Once again, the thick marbled rye was soft and fresh. All the ingredients were moist and enjoyable. It was also a bit dry, though. My friend raved about the homemade potato chips.
My experience at this establishment was both fun and enjoyable. I can definitely say that I will be returning to the Phoenix, and hopefully soon. I intend to try the bagels and bakery items next.
The Phoenix offers more than just food and atmosphere -- there's also live music and poetry readings, not to mention the huge library. This establishment is definitely a lot of fun. The greatest part is that they are locally owned and support the local economy. The espresso is purchased from Endo's Coffee which is roasted in Stillwater.
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