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Focaccia Fiorentina, an Italian lunch spot in downtown Phoenix, serves pasta and sandwiches with fresh ingredients to the nearby business crowd but deserves a following among students, too.
The restaurant, located on Central Avenue between Monroe and Adams streets, is close enough to downtown’s core to attract a loyal, supportive base of employees at nearby banks and corporations — and whatever else is in those tall buildings. Its interior is comfortable but slightly utilitarian; the warehouse-like high ceiling hints that the building was not designed for a restaurant. Even so, customers entering Focaccia Fiorentina will be encouraged to order “for here,” sitting at the wooden tables in the large room filled with natural light, with Dr. Phil playing on the TVs in the background.
But there’s a downside to Focaccia Fiorentina’s success. Its suburban-commuter patronage means it will likely never serve dinner, and options are slim for even a late lunch, with the restaurant closing at 2 p.m.
Still, the restaurant offers a reliable assortment of pasta dishes and sandwiches for a hearty lunch. My favorite option is the caprese sandwich, a classic assortment of perfectly fresh mozzarella cheese, slices of tomato and leaves of basil, all served on airy, fluffy focaccia bread.
The mozzarella is so fresh that it has the almost stringy consistency of chicken, a good sign for a sandwich that relies on fresh ingredients. Unfortunately, Focaccia Fiorentina’s caprese sandwich cannot compare to the ones served at Pane Bianco. With such stiff competition, this restaurant’s sandwich is stuck in second place, despite its excellent quality. Luckily, its location at a downtown restaurant makes it more convenient for downtown customers.
On my latest trip to Focaccia Fiorentina, I mixed it up by ordering the classico, which is the same as the caprese but with thin slices of prosciutto added. It’s less healthy than the caprese but just as delicious. The prosciutto is paper-thin and salty, adding a different texture and more flavor to the sandwich. And, as usual, the bread is as good as any other ingredient.
I also tried some of a friend’s order of the rigatoni alla Fiorentina, which was covered in a creamy tomato and ricotta sauce. The sauce was tasty but not delicious. Still, it was good enough to make me reconsider my long-lasting loyalty to the caprese sandwich. In all my trips to Focaccia Fiorentina, I had focused so much on the fresh ingredients of the sandwiches that I had underappreciated the pastas. The rigatoni changed my perspective.
Focaccia Fiorentina is not an artsy gathering place for downtowners to lounge around feeling uppity. But it is a local business with a convenient location, friendly staff and delicious food. And the prices are reasonable, with sandwich and pasta prices hovering slightly under $10. There are more intriguing restaurants in downtown Phoenix, and many eateries with longer hours, but Focaccia Fiorentina’s food will convince its customers to keep coming back for more.
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