PHOENIX — Feeding Super Bowl visitors a year after New York's restaurant scene did it is a hard act for any city to follow. But for downtown Phoenix, the NFL's big game is a chance to simply score some points as a major culinary player. The city's mission: To simply get the word out that the desert city is a foodie's oasis.
The city is using the week leading up to the main event in nearby Glendale as a launching pad for a new initiative called DTPHX City Sampler. Roughly 20 downtown restaurants will be offering two "signature items" for $5. The deals range from a local draft beer with either a chicken tinga taco or pork carnitas taco at Paz Taqueria y Cantina, to a 6-ounce pour of an Arizona craft beer and two bacon-wrapped dates at District American Kitchen & Wine Bar. The goal is to drive tourists to get a taste of several restaurants — not just Mexican and Southwest — within walking distance of the planned Super Bowl Central campus.
"You can spend $20 on four restaurants and get eight items," said Sara Anderson, events manager for community development group Downtown Phoenix Inc. "I think people coming into the Super Bowl will be shocked by the prices."
The initiative will likely be rolled out whenever a massive event descends on the city.
"We want to breathe life into the effort that we have a thriving culinary scene here and it's very walkable," Anderson said.
Some establishments that happen to be within the confines of Super Bowl Central — 12 blocks of downtown Phoenix — are understandably taking advantage of their crowd proximity. The Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel will have an outdoor concession stand, selling grilled grab-and-go meals that don't require utensils — including hamburgers, chicken fingers and onion rings. There will also be an outdoor bar selling cans of Bud Light — a Super Bowl sponsor — or alcohol in branded drinking cups that customers can carry around Super Bowl Central.
La Piazza Phx on First Street will temporarily add seating outside and have a bartender for the week. Owner Justin Piazza plans to come up with some Super Bowl specialty pizzas. But he also anticipates doling out more of his popular pies such as the Italian Stallion — which comes with tomatoes, house-made mozzarella, locally-made sausage, pepperoni, proscuitto and soppressata.
Local food vendors will dominate the Super Bowl Central concession area, which will operate until midnight. Claudine's Kitchen, a family-owned Lebanese catering business that's used to dealing at Phoenix farmers markets — will dish out chicken and beef sandwiches with fries. The food truck fleet will include a Phoenix franchise of Cousins Maine Lobster. But none of the offerings will overlap with any of nearby restaurants' cuisine.
If you're looking to get away from the Super Bowl Central chaos but get a taste of the local community, take the light rail to the Roosevelt stop. A block away on Pierce Street is the Phoenix Public Market Cafe. The urban eatery prides itself on using ingredients from the farmers market vendors who set up shop in their parking lot on Wednesdays and Saturdays. On farmers market days, starting Jan. 24, the cafe will have live music, a beer garden and games of corn hole. The restaurant will highlight its new barbecue platter of rotisserie pork and chicken and house-made sides of french fries, coleslaw and cornbread. Another new regular item worth trying is the handmade pretzel with jalapeno white cheddar sauce.
Less than two blocks east of the Roosevelt stop on Roosevelt Street is Short Leash Sit...Stay, a brick-and-mortar spin-off of one of the city's first successful food trucks. Husband and wife Brad and Kat Moore have been garnishing locally-made hot dogs with intriguing ingredient combinations since 2010. Their trademark dogs are wrapped in nan (Indian bread) instead of buns. The regular menu's mouthwatering favorites include its ballpark-inspired "bear dog" — any hot dog with peanut butter, smoked gouda, bacon, barbecue sauce and Cracker Jack snacks.
Menu plans for Super Bowl week include the possibility of signature items for potential contending teams. To represent the Green Bay Packers, they could do a bratwurst cheddar soup using Wisconsin cheddar. But a hot dog for the New England Patriots will take some consideration.
"Could we put clam chowder on a hot dog? But that would be kind of weird," Brad Moore said.