Nook Kitchen's downtown location bringing upscale twist to casual dining

The word "nook" implies a sort of warm, cozy corner where casual people come to unwind. The Valley's latest location of Phoenix-born restaurant Nook Kitchen is not quite like that — but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

The Italian-based eatery's new downtown Phoenix location in the Hilton Garden Inn on Central Avenue and Monroe Street is barely two weeks old, but has already been met with rave reviews and busy crowds. 

On the Monday afternoon I visited Nook, the crowd was made up of almost entirely businesspeople and other well-dressed members of the population. Based on the decor and pricing, it seems safe to assume that this is Nook's general crowd.

I have to admit, I felt a bit intimidated walking in when I was not dressed in business casual. Although the general customer base was pretty nicely dressed, I noticed Nook attracts a semi-wide variety of groups, from girl friends out for a birthday lunch to men in golf shirts discussing business proposals.

Right off the bat, I could feel this wasn't a place suited for the routine college lifestyle or budget, but soon found that it's well worth trying for a delicious, accessible splurge. 

Nook Kitchen is located in a part of the downtown area known for its retention and re-development of historic buildings, so the restaurant has the unique opportunity to play off of some of the old school architecture, which it does quite beautifully. 

The string lights and tastefully striped umbrellas hanging over the small outside patio somehow complement the white pillars, gold details and chandeliers inside. The art on the walls is thematically mixed, with whimsical portraits of pin-ups hanging next to old Vogue covers and airy European landscapes. Aesthetically, Nook's blend of vintage with fancy modern decor adds a dash of accessibility and warmth to an otherwise more upscale establishment. 

The friendly and attentive wait staff added to this warmth. In fact, something about the age and all-black attire of the waiters and waitresses gave them the look of being stylistically somewhere in the middle of the Phoenix creative scene and a fancier crew, much like the restaurant itself.

The service overall was speedy and structured, which is, of course, especially necessary for a place serving so many people on corporate lunch breaks. 

I ordered the Italian sandwich per my waiter's recommendation, and enjoyed it from my spot with a perfect view of the Subway across the street. The bread was made in-house from the same dough they use to make their pizzas, meaning the pizza is probably just as good, if not better than the sandwich. 

Their sandwiches are thinner than those found in most traditional sandwich shops, and the well-balanced flavors of the meats, arugula and dressings stood out much more because of this. Also, I've never been one to get even remotely excited about salads, but even I must note that my side salad was incredibly fresh and tasty. 

The portion was a perfect size for lunch, and my meal was fresh and flavorful; but was it worth $13? As I said earlier, this isn't a place I'd come regularly on my college budget, but I certainly don't regret the experience. 

Also, they have a full bar and a happy hour on select drinks, salads, bruschetta and appetizers from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. 

In spite of its higher prices and fancier feel than the average college student's typical hangout spot, Nook Kitchen's new location has created a new concept of coziness that makes it a good spot for a date night, casual celebration or working lunch.

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Reach the reporter at celina.jimenez@asu.edu or follow @lina_lauren on Twitter.

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