Pizza Pizza

By local contributor
Tom Mackin

When Travel & Leisure Magazine named Phoenix the best city in the country for pizza earlier this year, eyebrows arched nationwide. Actually, jaws dropped back in New York and my native New Jersey. Argue all you want — there are few tastier topics to fight over — but the list of places producing quality pizza continues to grow in the Valley, especially in Scottsdale.

Ask knowledgeable locals for a pizza referral and you’ll likely hear names such as Lamp, Il Bosco and Pomo. But there’s also Craft 64. Located just off Main Street in the Arts District, the eatery opened two years ago. It’s located in the second oldest remaining home — built in 1937 — in downtown Scottsdale. But it’s what goes on inside that unique location that sets Craft 64 apart.

“There are a lot of other pizza places in the area, but their focus is more classic Italian,” said co-owner James Swann. “We focus a little more on modern American techniques and recipes.”

The restaurant sources everything as locally as possible, including all of the 36 Arizona beers on tap (that includes six brewed by the restaurant itself, like the best-selling Crafty Blonde ale) and 90 percent of the ingredients used in the kitchen. “We make everything from scratch every single morning, from mozzarella to the dough and sauces used to make pizzas,” said Swann. “We use produce from McClendon Select Organic Farm and meats from Schreiner’s Fine Sausage. There is no microwave or freezer on the premises.”

Swann’s personal favorite pizza is the Aji; the base sauce is fresh Arizona jalapenos emulsified in fresh lemon juice, organic garlic, cracked pepper and sea salt. And it’s got some kick. Another favorite is the Spain, made with Harissa (a mild roasted Mediterranean red pepper sauce) and blended with the house pizza sauce to provide a smoky, peppery character. It’s so good that it won the Mild category at the Scottsdale Spice competition in 2015. Sweet tooth? Try the Fico, with fig sauce and truffle oil. The comfort food pizzas are here too: pepperoni, sausage and Margarita. Throw in an evolving list of specials like the Carne Estrada – named in honor of actor Erik Estrada, of course — and there’s something for just about everyone.

Another key element that sets Craft 64 apart? The all-important crust. It’s a bit different here. “We like to char our crust a little more than most places,” said Swann. “We don’t burn them, but we like just a little more char on the pizzas. We like that crust to stand up just a little better with a little more flavor.”

The restaurant’s indoor seating area and outdoor patio exude a vibe that falls somewhere between an upscale restaurant and the every day pizza place on the corner. “What we do is more of a pizza pub, because of the beer, wine and cocktails,” said Swann. “And the feel of the place is different. It looks and feels like a proper pub.” 

Not many pubs import a pizza-making oven from Italy, though. Reaching between 650 and 700 degrees, and fueled with a little bit of white oak and a lot of pecan wood, it cooks up to eight 13-inch wide Napoletana-style pizzas at a time. On a busy night, you may have to wait a bit (that extensive beer list and a wide variety of wines help pass the time), but it’s worth it.

“Pizza is comfort food but it can also be adventurous and it can be made in many different ways to please a lot of different people,” said Swann. “There’s something for everyone when it comes to pizza in Scottsdale.”