It seems as though the hottest intersection in Phoenix metro is not some great thruway or even near a shopping mall. It isn’t where a huge number of businesses are congregated, like at 32nd Street and Camelback.
Instead, the hottest intersection is in a quiet neighborhood in the Arcadia District. The intersection is 40th Street and Campbell Road, which is halfway between Indian School and Camelback. In what use to be a post office, a marginal Swiss/Italian restaurant, and a Circle K, an upscale wind blew into the intersection and turned it into a magnet for all types of people from across the Valley.
The two main anchors for the intersection are Postino’s Wine Bar and La Grande Orange, a combination market and restaurant, half of which is a pizzeria. There is also a little curio shop of sorts and a specialty cake maker, along with a gelato shop. More seems to be coming in the near future.
But my focus was on the pizzeria. Several people had recommended the place to me and I couldn’t wait to try it. Neil, Dave the Roommate and I headed on over to the place to have dinner. The first thing we noticed is how dismal the parking is. Space is tight here and they do a good job of getting people out there to point out open spaces, but the spaces are small and you make have to park on the street, even down a few blocks, during prime time. We were lucky to get a space near the main entrance.
We entered and the place was almost full, with just a couple of tables left open. We only had to wait a moment before we were seated. We were taken to a booth, but asked for a table instead, which was met with a bit of surliness from the hostess. It wasn’t an unreasonable request, but such is the way of the world.
We waited about five minutes before our server arrived and Dave and I ordered Diet Cokes ($2.50 each) while Neil had an Iced Tea ($2.00). Our server returned with our drinks. Our Diet Cokes were served from the squat, little 8 ounce bottles brought with a tall glass of ice.
By this time, we were ready to order and we opted to go with two different pizzas. Our first choice was the Margherita Pizza ($12.00) and our second choice was the Sausage Pizza ($13.00). I also wanted a salad and thought the Orange Fennel Salad ($6.00) was dying to be tried. Our server was kind enough to tell us that the pizzas are made to order so it would be about 20 minutes before they were at the table. This was fine with us because the pizzas that were being carried by smelled heavenly.
As we waited, I was taking in the interior. I liked the dark woods and the bold color highlights that give the restaurant a passive, comfortable and clubby feeling. The floor to ceiling windows in the front of the restaurant really gave the place an airy feeling, and I adored the open air kitchen where you could see the cooks tossing pizza dough and peeking under crusts for doneness. Considering the hard floors and the openness, I was a bit surprised that the place wasn’t louder than it was, which was a nice change.
About five minutes passed and my salad was brought out. The salad was a good-sized serving of arugula tossed with sweet onions, goat cheese, diced fennel and whole marcona almonds. The dressing was a slight tangy and sweet orange champagne vinaigrette. The salad came with avocados, but I opted for those to stay in the kitchen.
The arugula was crisp and cold. I liked the marinated sweet onions and the goat cheese was prime. The dressing was delicious, but I couldn’t discern any champagne. The almonds were very crunchy and gave a nice texture to the salad. I was disappointed, however, in the lack of fennel. I love the anise taste of fennel and that only came through every so often. Still, I liked the salad greatly and would order it again. Neil and Dave also gave a thumbs up to the salad.
Just a little past 20 minutes from the time we placed our orders, our pizzas arrived. I was all but salivating when the Margherita Pizza was set on the stand that elevated it from the table. It was within striking distance of my nose and I was ready to attack it. I grabbed a slice, but not before our server dusted the top with fresh Parmesan cheese.
I took my first bite and love the crust. Slightly chewy, occasionally crisp, and perfectly cooked, this was an excellent crust that wasn’t doughy or charred beyond recognition. The tomato slices were not overly thick so they didn’t cook nor were they dried out. They were hot, sweet and melted in my mouth. There was plenty of cheese, but the winner for me was the fresh basil. The leaves had been sliced from a chiffanade and sprinkled liberally on the top after the pizza came out of the oven. The burst of flavor from the basil was outstanding. I had no complaints about the pizza at all. Dave and Neil agreed that the Margherita was very good.
The sausage pizza was closer to Neil and I reached over for a piece. Like the Margherita, this one had also been dusted with extra cheese from our server and it was fast melting. I tried a piece and was really surprised at how much I like it because I am not a big sausage fan. The flavor of the pizza was very bold, salty an a bit spicy. It was a fantastic contrast to the Margherita pizza. The sausage was top quality and I liked the fact that the sausage pieces were substantial instead of the small pellets you often get at other places. Oddly, I was the one who picked the Margherita pizza while Dave and Neil wanted the sausage pizza, but I ended up liking the sausage pizza more.
In any case, both pies were excellent and I wouldn’t hesitate to return or do take out from this place in the future.
We passed on dessert and our leftovers were boxed up for our trip home. Our server presented our bill and the total was $40.54 which included tax. I was somewhat surprised to see that our additional bottles of Diet Coke were not counted for each order. I am not quite sure of their system, but I think you get two bottles for $2.50 and then you get charged for another two.
Service was good, save the surly hostess who didn’t like our table request. While our server was good and kept things moving and water glasses filled, I did notice that there is somewhat of a pecking order at La Grande Orange. While service to everyone is competent, the fashionable and trendy people get the smiles and the idle banter from the staff. Fine by me, but some people resent that and I think it deserves a mention. (Some people have noted that the “attitude” is even worse at Postino’s next door.)
We left La Grande Orange and then decided we would make room for gelato at Arlecchino’s right next door to La Grande Orange. We were pleased with the pizza and salad and felt the quality of the ingredients made the pizzas shine. We all agreed to come back and try some of their other pizza creations.
As we ventured back to the house, all was well. The car was now scented with sausage pizza and I was thinking about how this little intersection in the middle of a residential neighborhood suddenly because all the rage.
Of course, with good pizza and a great gelato place, I shouldn’t have been too surprised.
La Grande Orange Pizzeria
4410 North 40th Street
Phoenix, AZ 85018
Notes: Parking is limited.
Additional photos for this review can be found at www.feastinginphoenix.com