Reilly Craft Pizza opening downtown

2012-08-02T00:00:00Z Reilly Craft Pizza opening downtownCathalena E. Burch Cburch@azstarnet.com Arizona Daily Star
August 02, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Servers and bartenders began streaming in at 10 a.m. last week, slipping into the walnut chairs in the long main dining room of Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink.

After small talk and how-do-you-dos, they split up into groups of five or six and began studying the restaurant's food and drink menus.

They had a week to cram for the restaurant's opening on Wednesday. The menu was just a small part of questions diners were likely to ask once the downtown pizza and pasta eatery opened.

A bigger question: Was this funky historic building at 101 E. Pennington St. really a funeral home?

Chef-owner Tyler Fenton and his partner/brother Zach are expecting to hear plenty of talk about the building's provenance. It was built in 1906 for the Reilly Funeral Home, which operated in the brick three-story building from 1908 to 1990.

The building, with two apartments on top and a narrow basement below, remained vacant until the Fentons' father, developer Steve Fenton, bought it in 2007.

Tyler Fenton, 22, said the brothers quickly saw potential in the space for a restaurant. Plans were drawn up late last year and renovations got under way in January.

To date, the project has cost about $1 million, he said. The 3,200-square-foot space retains much of the history of the funeral home, from the refinished original wood floors to the salvaged elevator gear repurposed in a glass table.

Broken bits of plates and cups recovered from an excavation on the property were incorporated into the "W" and "M" signs on the restrooms; wood from the former chapel and offices was used to adorn a wall in the bar area.

Duct work in the bar is exposed, lending an industrial chic charm to the space. Near the entryway, original lattice work is left bare, adding a rustic air.

Fenton describes the menu as pizza elevated to more upscale dining. The prices, still being finalized last week, lean on the modest side, he said; the most expensive dish - a pappardelle with braised short ribs and mushroom - rings in at $15.

The menu includes fried pizza dough and zucchini chips under the "snacks" heading; 10 craft cocktails are under the headings of "Stirred & Direct" and "Shaken & Refreshing."

There will be a featured ragu each night - some flavored with exotic seasoning like a North African spice blend - and pizzas that build on the notion of the Italian pie with heavy American accents: one features Yukon potatoes and pecorina; another employs roasted eggplant and ricotta.

Polenta has a starring role in the savory and sweet, including the chocolate polenta souffle with caramelized white chocolate.

"It's familiar food with a bit of a twist," said Fenton, who is mostly self-taught and worked at Scordato's while he attended Catalina Foothills High School. "We like the fact that we're a pizzeria in America. We don't have to follow any rule books. Our culture is playing with things - a melting pot."

While Tyler runs the kitchen, Zach Fenton, a 25-year-old graduate of the University of Arizona's Eller School of Business, will manage the restaurant.

By year's end, the brothers hope to open a beer garden in the back that will serve dozens of beers on tap. In a year, they hope to finish renovating the basement, which will open as an underground nightclub.

"I think we're going to be a destination restaurant," Zach Fenton said. "We're giving people an excuse to come off Congress Street."

If you go

Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink, 101 E. Pennington St.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily; hours may change in a couple weeks.

Details: 882-5550 or www.facebook.com/reillypizza

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