Along the strip mall that sits on the southeast corner of 36th Street and Indian School is a world of history. What is now an antique shop one was the Food-A-Rama, the best grocery store in the City of Phoenix. It had fantastic produce, a pharmacy and a lunch counter with killer burgers and Cherry Phosphates. Down the sidewalk a bit was the original Barb’s Bakery and then, past that, a Mary Coyle’s Ice Cream location. Crossing the parking lot to the smaller strip mall, there was the old Capri Restaurant and various little shops. These days, only one or two of the original businesses from the strip mall glory days of the 1970s remain.
Several years ago, a Quizno’s opened up in the smaller strip mall and it was doing well until its business license was yanked and the place sat dormant for a good six months before parchment paper covered the windows and work crews were busy making changes inside … and out. Then, with little fanfare, Acacia Cafe opened its doors.
Even though it has been open for quite some time, I hadn’t gotten around to visiting this new place, but when I entered, I was a bit surprised to see that the owner was actually one of the former managers of the Einstein’s Bagels at 44th Street and Indian School. He was busy cooking soups and checking on the baked goods in the oven and the scent of fresh bread and chicken stock filled the air and had me salivating in no time.
I stepped up to the register and looked at the menu posted on boards hanging on the wall. There were a variety of breakfast, salad, sandwich and soup choices along with plenty of beverages and a cold case with milk, fresh fruit and fruit juices. The sandwiches were catching my eye, but I was having a difficult choice deciding what to get. There were over a dozen choices and I was making my decision by process of elimination.
I finally decided on the Roast Beef Sandwich with Caramelized Onions on Sourdough ($5.95) but asked them to hold the tomatoes and also selected a cup of the Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup ($2.25). For my beverage, I was pleased they had Diet Coke at the fountain and got a large ($1.75). The total was $10.76 including tax. I was given my drink cup and told to make myself comfortable and they would bring my lunch to me when it was ready.
After filling my cup at the self-service fountain, I sat down at a small two-top near the front of the eatery and waited. I loved the open, sunny and airy feel of the restaurant. It was in stark contrast to the rather dark interior of the former Quizno’s due to its corporate branding. There were about eight to 10 tables in the place along with solo seating at a bar that overlooked Indian School Road.
I only waited about five minutes when my Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup arrived. On a large plate sat a small bowl of the soup along with a slice of grilled bread. The scent from the soup was wonderfully enticing and I could see that this was not some corporate soup. Big pieces of chicken, carrot and wide noodles were flavored with plenty of herbs. The soup was steaming hot, so I let it cool a bit before taking my first bite. The broth was rich and full-bodied and – thank goodness – not overly salty. The chicken was tender and plentiful as were the other ingredients. I was very pleased with the soup. The piece of grilled bread was a nice accompaniment. The bread was just a small slice, but the grilling had given it a smoky taste that paired well with the soup. I was off to a very good start here.
My Roast Beef Sandwich arrived just as I was working on finishing my soup. The square plate held my sandwich, a small cup of Potato Salad, a pickle and a fruit garnish. The sandwich was sizable with the thick-cut sourdough bread, layers of sliced roast beef, gorgonzola cheese crumbles, caramelized onions, leafy green lettuce and tomatoes. I removed the tomatoes as I am not a fan of them on roast beef and dove into the first half. It was excellent. The bread was soft and had a wonderful tang from the sourdough and the roast beef was cool and tender. The onions were slightly sweet and were a great counterpoint to the salty cheese. I was very pleased with this sandwich and found that it was big enough to satisfy my appetite.
I also liked the potato salad because it wasn’t overwhelmed by the dressing. There was just enough to coat the potatoes, celery and onion. The use of red skinned potatoes also gave it some visual excitement. I would have suggested, however, that a bit more seasoning be used. I appreciated the fact that they were not heavy-handed with salt, but a little sprinkling would have brought out more of the flavors of the salad. I also noted that the presentation was one of the prettiest I have seen for a sandwich and potato salad.
I finished up my meal and the owner came by to check to make sure everything was okay. He asked me if I needed more soda, even though I could have easily refilled it from the fountain dispenser that was behind me. That was a great indicator of the service. It was prompt, efficient and eager to please. Everyone there also had smiles on there faces and were very willing to help out.
I left Acacia Cafe with a full stomach and a grin of satisfaction on my face. The food was fresh and delicious and I found it on par with Bertha’s Cafe. From the baking to the cleaning to the service, this place had so many things going for it, including reasonable prices.
Although I miss the old days of the lunch counter at Food-A-Rama and getting a pastry from Barb’s, I am very happy with Acacia Cafe. It is a welcome addition to Arcadia and I am anxious to get back there and try the other dozen sandwiches on the menu.
3701 East Indian School Road
Phoenix, AZ 85018
Hours: Monday through Friday – 5 AM to 3 PM; Saturday – 7 AM to 2 PM; Closed Sunday.
Notes: Patio dining available. Hours change per season.
Alcohol: None served.