It seems like every other month some new eatery is moving into space near the intersection of 44th Street and Indian School Road in East Phoenix. My beloved Arcadia District is seeing a resurgence of new restaurants along with the survival of wonderful old standbys like La Fontanella. This bodes well for East Phoenix as it certainly provides more opportunities to try different things without having too travel to far.
One of the newest places in the neighborhood is Wildflower Bread Company, an Arizona-based local chain that has several locations around the Valley and in Northern Arizona. The place went into the same strip mall as Rumbi Island Grill and Cold Stone Creamery and seems to have developed into the anchor store due to its size and amount of business.
I had heard mixed reviews about Wildflower, mostly comments from people praising specific items while also giving opinions about what to actively avoid. Curious, I called up Dave and Neil and invited them for a little Sunday brunching at the new place.
We arrived shortly after 12 noon and the parking lot was packed with cars. Plenty of people were occupying the tables outside the restaurant and we hoped the wait wouldn’t be long. When we entered there were about five people in line ahead of us, so we looked at the baked goods in the display area while we waited our turn. The treats all looked very good and a few caught our eyes right off the bat. We also scanned the huge menu board above the registers where we would ultimately place our order before grabbing a table in the spacious dining room.
When we arrived at the register, it took only a matter of seconds before I realized that our order taker was either terminally bored or simply devoid of warmth. I had to initiate the conversation by asking if he was ready to take my order. He grunted that he was and I placed my order. I decided to start with a bowl of the Butternut Squash Soup ($3.89) followed by the Harvest Apple Pork Sandwich ($6.95) and a Oatmeal Cranberry Cookie ($1.39) and a large beverage ($1.59). I also decided to get a Chocolate Chip Scone ($2.29) to share at the table while we waited for our meal. The total for my brunch was $17.57 which included tax.
Since my order taker was feeling particularly surly, he decided to grace the people waiting in line with a very loud sigh when I handed him my credit card to pay for my meal.
Neil and Dave were next up to order. Dave is a Chicken Parmesan fan, so he didn’t miss the chance to get the Chicken Parmesan Sandwich ($6.99). Dave also ordered the Cinnamon French Toast ($5.49). Neil thought the Lemon Ricotta Pancakes ($5.49) sounded intriguing, so he selected that with a Side of Bacon ($1.99). They also ordered drinks. The total for the two of them was $27.93.
We got our cups and headed to the soda fountain before heading to the table. The layout inside was simple enough. Booths lined the back wall with a long bar for single diners against the windows facing the parking lot. In the center were several tables and a large coffee table with plenty of soft chairs surrounding it for a chance to linger over coffee and a pastry. We ended up taking a four-top table.
While we passed the time waiting for our meals, I started snacking on the Chocolate Chip Scone. I broke off one of the “petals” on the flower shaped scone and popped it into my mouth. My initial reaction was that it seemed overly dry for a scone. Now, I know that scones are not moist like muffins or brownies, but this seemed a veritable dust bowl. I also could not taste anything resembling chocolate, which was probably a function of the fact that the scone was quite salty. Neil and Dave seemed rather unimpressed with the scone as well, taking a nibble or two and then nursing their drinks while they waited for their food.
My Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies was flawless in appearance. It was baked golden brown with just a slightly darker shade around the edges. I could see the cranberries peeking out of the cookie. I took a bite and I nodded indicating the cookie was good. It was moist, chewy and had plenty of oatmeal and cranberry flavor.
About 15 minutes passed before our food arrived and then, suddenly, we were awash in our selections. We moved things around on the table to make room for everything and I placed the Butternut Squash Soup right in front of me so I could eat it while it was hot. The deep bowl contained an ample serving of the soup and was served with two large hunks of their ciabatta bread. The soup was piping hot and I thought the taste was fantastic. It was smooth, slight sweet and slightly salty with a great squash taste that thrilled my palate. I adored this soup. I did think the two large hunks of bread were a bit of overkill as they took up more room than the soup.
Dave’s Chicken Parmesan Sandwich looked enticing. Two pieces of herbed fococcia bread were resting against each other. A plump piece of boneless chicken was placed on top, covered with arugula and Swiss cheese and then covered with Marinara sauce. It looked good, but Dave said it needed to be hotter in temperature and was weak in the taste department. He found the sauce to be “okay, but nothing spectacular.” Dave admitted that he can be a bit of a Chicken Parmesan snob, but he found this one to be lacking.
Neil’s Lemon Ricotta Pancakes was a stack of three pancakes sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with butter, maple syrup and blueberry compote. The pancakes were golden brown and Neil said they were “interesting.” I know that is a key word for “I am not sure I like them.” I took a bite and I agree that they were interesting, but somewhat forgettable. I guess I would have liked to have had more tang from the lemon and certainly a longer cook time on the griddle. They weren’t bad, but I simply shrugged my shoulders after a bite.
A big hit with everyone at the table was the bacon. Five strips of thick cut bacon were super crisp and still quite hot. I loved the smoky hint and the fact that the bacon was indeed crisp. Dave and Neil also loved the bacon because it was well prepared and the serving wasn’t skimpy.
Dave’s Cinnamon French Toast contained three slices of Wildflower’s Cinnamon and Nut Bread that had been soaked in an egg batter and placed on a griddle. They were picture perfect. Dave said they were good, but lamented the fact that they didn’t have more cinnamon in them. I agreed. Although there was cinnamon in the bread, a liberal use of that spice in the batter would have made the toast that much better.
The Harvest Apple Pork Sandwich looked different than I thought it would. The pork had been cooked with apples, leeks and sage and then placed on Wildflower’s Chili Rye bread, then topped with arugula and Swiss cheese. I think the color of the bread threw me because it had a reddish hue from the chili powder. The pork was very moist and tender and the combination of the pork and rye was a great match. What was missing, though, was the taste of apples. It seemed from taste and texture that the apples got boiled down into applesauce which provided no taste to the sandwich at all. Still, I thought it was a decent sandwich and might try it again in the future.
What wasn’t decent was the Tomato Bread Salad that was served along side the sandwich. I think the turn off for me was how sour it was from the dressing that coated the large bread chunks and bits of tomato. It was all but a shock to my senses to go from a savory pork dish to a sour side dish. If I wanted sour with my pork, I would have ordered sauerbraten. I will admit, however, that I was probably already biased against the bread salad because by the time I got to it, I had reached my bread limit for the day. Considering the two hunks of bread with the soup, the cookie, the scone, and the bread on the sandwich, I would have preferred something to cut the bread motif just a little. A small fruit cup would have done wonders.
We finished up our meals and refreshed our drinks before heading out to run some errands. Our little brunch excursion was $45.50. Not cheap, but reasonable. We found Wildflower to be an okay value.
I would say that my reaction to Wildflower Bread Company fell in line with the thoughts of others: somethings were great, somethings were bad, and, overall, the place is decent, sans the grumpy order taker.
Wildflower Bread Company
4290 East Indian School Road
Phoenix, AZ 85018
Notes: Various locations around the Valley and in Northern Arizona. Outdoor seating at the Arcadia location. Complementary WiFi.