Category Archives: Phoenix
Itâ€™s hard to believe I have been married a year. Time is fleeting and the holidays are upon us. But we werenâ€™t going to let work issues and holidays and life stand in the way of celebrating, so J. came to town and we did indeed celebrate. However, we did take a chance on our celebration dinner.
We debated about trying something tried and true, but after reviewing some menus online, we discussed the possibility of trying the newest steakhouse in town: Modern Steak. This was an unexpected opportunity because Modern Steak had been all over the news due to one item on the menu: a $76.00 steak. Unfortunately, that was the focus of most discussion surrounding Modern Steak and we finally looked at the menu online to see the fuss.
Yes, there sure was a steak for $76.00 on the menu. However, that was the most expensive thing on the menu and we were surprised at how reasonable the prices were overall. There were some steaks for around $25.00 and sides were all of $8.00. So, we threw caution to the wind, booked a table for 8:00 PM and spent the rest of the day running errands.
At the appointed time, we arrived at Scottsdale Fashion Square and parked a few feet from the entrance. Sauntering in, we were cheerfully greeted and taken to a spacious table with banquets that were more like the sofa in the room where you can only tread during special occasions. We were handed menus and got comfortable.
Our first impressions were exceptionally favorable because the restaurant is simply gorgeous inside. The blue and white color combination with the lattice design on the walls and the sparkling chandeliers was a feast for the eyes. It was just on the cusp of being overdone, but it was still one of the prettiest interiors of a restaurant I have seen in some time.
Reviewing the menu again, we were struggling to come to some definitive decision on what to get. Our server arrived and asked for our drink order. We really werenâ€™t prepared, so I ordered a Diet Coke ($3.00) and J. had an Iced Tea ($3.00). After some discussion, we had finally determined what we were going to do. To start our meal, I went with the Arugula and Sour Apple Salad ($12.00) and J. selected the Hot & Cold Wedge ($12.00). For the mains, J. wanted the Sonoma Rack of Lamb ($38.00) and I went for the Meyer All-Natural 12-ounce New York Strip ($29.00). For our side dishes, we couldnâ€™t pass up the Mascarpone Creamed Corn ($8.00). We also ordered the Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Applewood Bacon ($8.00) and the Cheesy Potatoes with Caramelized Onions and Organic Fried Egg ($8.00). We also decided to get the Housemade Steak Sauce ($2.00).
When our waiter arrived with our initial drinks, we placed our order, but also opted to go for a couple of cocktails. The selections were a Perfect Pimmâ€™s Cup ($9.00) for J. and the Modern Swizzle ($10.00) for me. Our waiter informed us that bread would be forth coming.
Sure enough, we had a member of the serving team arrive with a rectangular serving dish containing a Parmesan bread and a Potato Bread served with a spread made of Butter, Sour Cream and Chives. Both breads were fresh, moist and golden brown. Our favorite, though, was the potato bread with a generous slathering of the butter. That was an inspired creation as it did taste like a baked potato. Our meal was off to a great start.
About five minutes passed and our salads arrived. My Arugula and Sour Apple Salad was a mix of arugula, sour apples, balsamic onions, blue cheese and Candied Walnuts. It was very complex and the flavors were robust and hit the right notes. I appreciated the fact that the salad was intensely cold and fresh. The sour apples were actually the meat of the sour apples that had been obtained with a melon baller. The whole dish was very good.
J.’s Hot & Cold Wedge was an interesting creation. Two iceberg lettuce wedges were on the plate with the hot side getting a spinach salad-style treatment and the other being fixed in the traditional way. J. enjoyed both as, like my salad, the cold side was very cold and crisp. The hot said had a warm, bacon vinaigrette and a strip of extra crispy bacon lying across the grain. J. indicated, however, that a mix of the two was a wonderful feast for the mouth.
As we munched on our salads, our drinks arrived, which had me thinking as to why we got our salads before our cocktails, but there it was. The Perfect Pimm’s Cup and the Modern Swizzle were gorgeous with their multi-colored hues of red. The Perfect Pimm’s Cup was a concoction of gin, vermouth, cucumber, lime, lemon, orange, blackberry, raspberry, strawberry, mint and a splash of soda water. J. found the drink very refreshing and loved that the fruit actually complimented the drink instead of overpowering it. He also noticed that these could easily put him under the table as the drink has almost no harsh alcohol flavor, but he could feel the “warm and tingling feet” feeling. My Modern Swizzle contained rum, lime juice, raspberry and orange bitters, and soda. Like the Pimm’s Cup, this was very refreshing and you could almost feel like you were on a porch on a lazy summer day in August in Phoenix sipping this drink. Not overly sweet and not tart, but just delicious.
After finishing our salads and sipping our beverages, we were suddenly set upon by three servers including our own. They were bearing our various dishes and replenishing the bread. J.’s Sonoma Rack of Lamb looked beautiful with two large, double-boned chops and a fall vegetable fricassee. J. found the vegetable to be very well prepared. He said everything was fresh and the veggies, thankfully, were not overcooked. He also liked the lamb itself, but found that the seasoning of the meat was inconsistent and part of the lamb was rather boring in taste. He said the addition of the Housemade Steak Sauce really enhanced the flavor of the lamb and save the dish, but he still felt the meat deserved better, or at least equal, treatment throughout.
My Meyer All-Natural Strip Steak was perfectly cooked and still sizzling a bit on the plate when it arrived. It had been liberally treated with black pepper and was served with a warm onion jam. My first bite was excellent. The meat was right at medium rare as I had requested and the beef flavor was supreme. The addition of the onion jam and the steak sauce made the steak that much better and I was mopping up the sauce from the sauce and the jam with some of the bread. What I appreciate most about my steak was that it was very tender and they allowed it to rest for a few moments so that the juices didn’t flow out. I was very pleased.
Along with our meats came the side dishes and we both dove in for the Cheesy Potatoes with Caramelized Onions and a Fried Egg. With J.’s consent, I burst the yolk of the egg and let it drizzle down the sides of the potatoes. J. and I both agreed that the potatoes dish was good, but somewhat on the bland side. We would have appreciated some sort of spice or garlic or even some sea salt. Still, the egg made the dish and we were happy with the combination of the ingredients.
The Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Applewood Smoked Bacon was exceptional. The sprouts had been cut into quarters, roasted and then tossed with pieces of the smoked bacon and the drippings from the bacon. Wow. If Brussels sprouts were served this way more often, kids wouldn’t be avoiding them like the plague. They were tender, full of flavor and not boiled to death. We were scraping the dish on this one.
The absolute best dish on the table, though, was with Mascarpone Creamed Corn. Hands down. In fact, I think it is probably one of the finest side dishes I have ever had in my life. It was sinfully rich and decadent and the flavors of the corn and mascarpone were a match made in heaven. It almost resembled a pudding in a way, but was much more intense and a bit more creamy than a pudding would be. All we knew was that we could have gone for a second or third serving of the creamed corn. It was stellar on every single level.
We were pleasantly full from our meal and we were polishing off the last of the bread when we were asked about dessert. We said we would take a look at the menu, but, we were rather full. I also mentioned to J. that the dessert menu seemed to lack the creativity and pizazz of the dinner menu. There was really nothing that stood out or piqued our interest. So, when our waiter returned, we requested our bill. The total for the excursion was $145.73 including tax. J. and I both felt that this was a very good value considering some of the creativity and surprises going on in the kitchen.
Service was outstanding. Our server was explanatory, patient and very engaging. We also liked the fact that everyone at the restaurant seemed very happy to help customers with questions and to check on tables to insure the dining experience was positive.
After paying the bill and heading to the car, J. and I were discussing how pleasantly surprised we were with Modern Steak. The menu was approachable, the food was, by and large, top notch and the service was great. Despite the concerns we had heard about the $76.00 steak, that was one item on a menu with a price point that is very fair for an upscale steakhouse in Scottsdale.
Modern Steak will be considered for future visits and rightly so.
7014 East Camelback Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
Dress: Resort Casual on up.
Hours: Lunch – Monday through Saturday: 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM, Sunday 11:30 AM to 3:00 PM; Mid-Day Menu – Everyday: 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM; Dinner – Sunday through Thursday: 5:00 PM to 10:00 PM, Friday and Saturday: 5:00 PM to 11:00 PM.
Notes: Located on the southeast corner of Scottsdale Fashion Square Mall. Next to the restaurant is Modern Burger open noon to 4 PM daily.
Alcohol: Full bar.
One of the cuisines that always seems to get short shrift from me is Italian. I am not sure why because I love Italian food. There is something incredibly comforting and fulfilling about a big plate of pasta or a wonderful chicken dishes with sometimes subtle, sometimes robust sauces.
I also always seem to think about that in my routine of selecting a restaurant. Mexican, Asian, even Middle Eastern get considered first.
But I was having a craving for Italian food and I strong armed J. into finding a nice Italian restaurant in the Valley that could give us some hearty food but not bust the wallet. After doing some searching, we decided to try out Aielloâ€™s, a relatively new Italian restaurant on Central Avenue in Phoenix just north of Camelback. I had heard some good reports about Aielloâ€™s was glad that they were able to take a late reservation.
After arriving, we parked in the back parking lot and saw a small Dutch door with a big sign touting Aielloâ€™s take out pizza. We made our way to the side of the building and entered and were taken to a large table in the middle of the restaurant. Our initial impressions were very favorable due to the subdued lighting, the lovely vaulted ceiling and layout of the restaurant. It was quite relaxing and subdued and the Sinatra music didnâ€™t hurt either.
We scanned the menu and it was very extensive. J. and I both had a tough time deciding on what we should get. While we decided, we were presented with a basket of bread, garlic butter, and flavored olive oil. The bread was wonderful with its light, salty flavor and a slightly chewy crust. What made it even better was the flavored olive oil that had been infused with spicy peppers. Absolutely delicious and the kick of spice complimented the bread quite well. We agreed that the garlic butter was excellent because they didn’t shy away from the garlic. Hooray!
Our waiter arrived and took our drink order: one Diet Coke ($2.00) and one Iced Tea ($2.00). When he returned with our beverage selections, he took our order. J. and I agreed to get the Antipasto for Two ($16.00). That would be followed by the Chicken Parmesan ($17.00) for me and the Italian Sausage and Peppers ($14.00) for J.
While we waited, J. and I noticed how the owner of the restaurant was visiting tables, making sure the food prep was proceeding and was just being generally affable with the staff and customers. It was nice to see and very welcome. You could see how much the owner loved his restaurant and wanted to make his customers happy.
Our Antipasto for Two arrived and it was surprising, but in a very good way. Missing from the plate was the inevitable gobs of lettuce hidden under the meats, vegetables and cheeses. No, this version was all about the small, tasty treats that we would drizzle with balsamic vinegar and some of the spicy olive oil. The plate was socked full of mozzarella, vine tomatoes, fresh basil leaves, roasted peppers, prosciutto, Provolone, marinated artichoke hearts, salami and olives. It was a wonderful treat. The portion was perfect for two and the platter of vegetables, cheeses and meats were stellar. The balsamic and spicy oil only served to enhance the dish that much more. J. and I were raving about the appetizer because it was superb. What a fun and ambrosial way to start out meal.
We had just finished our Antipasto when our main dishes arrived. J.’s Italian Sausage and Peppers was an optic treat. The large serving of Italian Sausage was great for J. He loved the snap and the spice of the sausage and really appreciated the sweetness of the peppers since they added a wonderful counterbalance to the savory nature of the dish. He also like the spaghetti and Pomodoro sauce as the side dish. He did say he would have preferred a bit more sauce, but still enjoyed everything on his plate.
My Chicken Parmesan was exactly what I wanted. A large boneless chicken breast was breaded and then sauteed. On top of the chicken was a hearty amount of thick Pomodoro sauce with mushrooms and a slab of mozzarella cheese that had melted and was lightly browned. Along side the chicken was a serving of spaghetti with some of the same Pomodoro sauce that adorned the chicken. The chicken itself was tender, moist and perfectly cooked. It could easily have been overcooked, but it certainly wasn’t. I also like the fact that even with the sauce, cheese and moistness of the chicken, the breading still had a good bit of crispiness to it. The sauce was not overpowering but slightly acidic, a tiny hint of spice and a full-bodied flavor. The mushrooms provided a good texture. The spaghetti was al dente and held the sauce well. I had nothing but good things to say about my dish. J. tried a bite and was very pleased with the results. “Quite good,” he said.
We took our time working through our meals and when it was all said and done, we knew we didn’t have room for dessert. We had another round of beverages and asked for the bill. The total was $55.25 which included the tax. We thought it was an very good value. The portions were very satisfactory and the quality of the food was excellent. Service was good, but we did have a quibble about the fact that getting refills on our drinks seemed to take an inordinate amount of time.
Before we could pay our bill, the owner approached our table and asked us how our dinner was. We told him how much we enjoyed it and he said he was pleased and wanted us to play a pick-a-number game with him. He grabbed an onion shaped container and shook it. The rattling sound filled the restaurant and he told us that there were 90 numbered tiles in the container and we were to pick a number. He would then turn the container over and a tile would spill out. If the tile matched our number, the entire meal was on the house. I let J. pick the number. His choice was 32.
The tile that spilled out was…. 33.
5202 North Central Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85012
Dress: Resort Casual
Hours: Lunch: Monday through Friday – 11 AM to 4 PM; Dinner: Sunday through Thursday – 4 PM to 9 PM, Friday and Saturday – 4 PM to 10 PM.
Notes: Entrance is on the north side of the building. Ample parking in the back.
Alcohol: Full bar.
One of my favorite treats is Dim Sum.
For those of you who have never enjoyed this decadence, the traditional Dim Sum operation goes something like this:
1. You are seated at a table and a card is placed on the table with various prices on it.
2. Workers pass by your table with carts containing small plates of goodies.
3. If you see something you like, you simply ask for a plate of the item and it is taken off the cart and given to you.
4. The workers stamp or mark your card with the appropriate price for the plate you selected.
After that, you simply continue the practice until you are satisfied and then you pay your bill.
But as of late, I have found that I am regularly attracted to China Chan, a little Chinese restaurant on the outer ring of MetroCenter. It is housed in an older building in what looks to have been a diner. The place only has about 20 tables or so. What brings me here is the Dim Sum that always seems to come out piping hot, which it preferable to the often cold Dim Sum I have had at other places that use the carts.
Recently, I convinced Dad, Katerina, and J. to take a jaunt out to MetroCenter to try the Dim Sum at China Chan. The place wasnâ€™t busy as we pulled into the lot and parked. We were immediately seated at a large booth near the front door and were asked if we wanted the regular menu or the Dim Sum menu. When I indicated our preference, we were handed a laminated menu showing the Dim Sum options (including photos) and a checklist where we could indicate what we wanted.
Since I knew the tastes of everyone at the table, I asked them to trust me and they did. While I make the selections, we ordered four ice teas ($1.50 each) and when the server returned with our drinks, I handed him the checklist with our selections: Shrimp Dumplings [Har Gow] ($1.85), Shrimp Egg Rolls ($2.85), Baked BBQ Pork Buns ($1.80), Steamed BBQ Pork Buns ($1.80), Shark Fin Dumplings ($1.80), Daikon Cake ($1.80), BBQ Pork Pastries ($1.80), Sesame Seed Balls ($1.80), Pineapple Buns ($2.85), Roasted Pork ($5.99), Beef Noodle ($2.85), and Shu Mai ($1.80). It was going to be a feast.
We noticed right away that unlike most places serving Dim Sum and due to the size of the restaurant, they were not using the carts, but were bringing things out of the kitchen as their preparation was completed. (Although at one point China Chan did use the carts, so they may bring them out when it gets really busy.)
We had only waited about 10 minutes before our first dishes arrive. Right off the bat, the Har Gow was placed before us. Four beautiful pink dumplings composed of plump shrimp encased in a translucent wonton wrapper. We each pluck one from the metal tin and munched away. The shrimp were hot, tender and had a nice taste of the sea. These were a big hit.
The next treat was the Baked BBQ Pork Buns. The buns were egg dough surrounding a lovely dollop of Chinese BBQ Pork. Atop the buns was a slightly sweet and very sticky glaze that was a sharp contrast to the savory pork and the salty bun. The buns were searing hot and we had to wait to let them cool. When we did get to feast, the glaze stuck to our teeth, but we had a great time enjoying each bite.
The Shrimp Egg Rolls arrived and the golden egg roll wrappers were super crisp and perfectly fried. We loved the fact that these egg rolls were not traditional in that there was only shrimp as the filling. Like the Har Gow, the shrimp were sizable and delicious. Topping them with the Sweet and Sour sauce was a pleasant addition that only enhanced the taste. These were probably one of the top three favorites at the table.
Next up were the Steamed BBQ Pork Buns. Like their baked cousins, these were spoonfuls of Chinese BBQ Pork surrounded by a fluffy white dough and steamed until done. The fun was grabbing one, splitting it open and popping it into our mouths. Dad said these really werenâ€™t his favorites and noted the texture was odd for him. The rest of us loved them.
The Shark Fin Dumplings were reminiscent of the shape of a sharkâ€™s fin, but there is always a question as to whether or not they actually contain real shark fin (some restaurants do and some donâ€™t). Regardless, these dumplings contained pork and vegetables and were steamed and had a great taste and texture. It was an excellent contrast of chewy, crunchy and smooth. Again, these didnâ€™t stand a chance against our hunger.
The Daikon Cake is one of my favorites and was a hit here. Well, with me at least. I loved the chopped and formed flat cakes that are fried and then topped with a dab of soy sauce. It reminds me a lot of cooked turnips or parsnips, but this dish didnâ€™t seem to be anyone elseâ€™s favorite at the table (although J. swears he liked it but was too focused on the other goodies… such a good husband).
The big winner at the table was the BBQ Pork in Pastry. Oh, these were just heaven on a plate. Yes, it was the same Chinese BBQ pork used in the other offerings, but these were in a light and flaky pastry that rocked our worlds. Sweet and salty paired so well with the pork and BBQ sauce. It was a grand dish.
The plate of Crackling Pork had Katerina in ecstasy. The large plate of cooked pork with a very crispy and crunchy skin was fantastic. The pork was rich and moist and the skin was an absolute treat because it was roasted and caused a noisy crunch with each bite. We all picked at the plate with our chopsticks until every last microbe of pork has been devoured.
J. wanted to try the Beef Noodle, so we ordered that, but this dish is not one of my favorites. For me, it is a textural thing centering around the noodle, which is sleek, flat and a bit to chewy for my taste. Everyone else at the table seemed to enjoy them. J. liked the contrast between the noodle itself and the stringy beef filling.
The Shu Mai were a Dim Sum standard. These were three small, bite-sized dumplings filled with ground pork, ground shrimp, black mushroom and a spot of carrot for color. This was a successful dish for us because it was operating on all cylinders. The meat was perfectly seasoned and the dumpling wrapper was properly steamed. It was a delicious nugget and we were all very happy with this selection.
It was time for the sweet items and we were not let down with the Sesame Seed Balls. The perfectly round dough balls had been coated in toasted sesame seeds and the interior was a red bean paste. It was not overly sweet and had a great balance of flavors and was warm throughout. These were perfect.
The final dessert was the Pineapple Buns which resembled hot dog buns in a way, but the interior had a pineapple puree with pineapple chunks that Dad, J. and Katerina were raving about. Sadly, I was too stuffed to even try. But they were very attractive with their glossy appearance and a sprinkling of sesame seeds. J. particularly liked the fact that they were not overly sweet and the bread was yeasty.
When we had finished our salute to gluttony, we asked for a To Go box to take home the food we couldn’t finish. As I put everything way, we were presented with our bill. This Chinese spread was a mere $55.38 which included tax. What a steal! The fact that you could get a plate of Baked BBQ Pork Buns for $1.80 was telling that our meal was an outstanding value. Service was attentive and friendly. We made our way back to the car and made the trip back to Arcadia.
There was little to dislike about our meal except for personal preferences. I have grown quite fond of China Chan because it is insanely affordable, the food is hot and fresh, and you can get a variety of items.
It isn’t the best Dim Sum I have ever had, but it sure is near the top.
10227 North Metro Parkway East
Phoenix, AZ 85051
Hours: 11 AM to 9 PM – Thursday through Tuesday; Closed Wednesdays.
Notes: Dim Sum served every day until 3 PM.
Alcohol: Full bar.
Many years ago, Paradise Valley mall was a true jewel along Tatum Boulevard. The area around it sprang to life and had some great shopping. What always seemed to be lacking, though, were the dining options (unless the PV Mall food court was your thing).
There were plenty of chains and fast food was aplenty. But for some decent, quality, better-than-your-average-chain food, the selections were rare (although you could find a couple if you looked hard enough). Today, PV Mall is set for the grand opening of a Costco that is sure to bring more life to the area and that should lead – hopefully! – to more on the dining scene.
One place that may make an impact is Floyd’s Kitchen, located just north of Cactus on Tatum in the strip mall on the east side of the street. J. was in town and we decided to head up to try Floyd’s for lunch before going to PV Mall to a jeweler we like.
Parking was not a problem and J. immediately spotted the GameStop and the comic book store right next to Floyd’s so I knew the jeweler would have to wait. We entered Floyd’s and the small eatery was fairly empty with a few tables occupied. We were told to sit where we like and took up residence at a table/booth combination. Our server arrived with lunch menus and took our drink order. I had an Iced Tea ($2.00) while J. had a Diet Pepsi ($2.00).
The menu was a melange of American, Pizza, surf and turf and sandwiches. The signature dishes were the comfort food choices of items like meatloaf and pot roast and pork chops. When our server returned with our drinks, we placed our order. To start, we went with the Maple Bacon Wrapped Shrimp ($8.95), the Pot Roast ($9.95) for me, and the Jerk Chicken ($8.95) for J.
While we waited, I relaxed in the chair while glancing over to the large, flat-screen TV playing the day’s college football offering. The interior of the restaurant was minimally decorated, but J. and I agreed had a very comfortable feeling. We also like the music mix which was all over the place from pop to rock to Motown.
Our Maple Bacon Wrapped Shrimp arrived and the plate held five big tiger shrimp encased in bacon and served with a roasted red pepper sauce. I picked one of the shrimp up with my fingers and quickly dropped it on my plate as the thing was searing hot. I cut into a piece and had a bit of worry that the large size of the shrimp might be that I was in for a rubbery experience, but the flavor, texture and temperature of the appetizer were very good. J. and I both were pleased with the fact that it didn’t come with yet another serving of cocktail sauce. The roasted red pepper sauce was a nice change and had some delicate flavors, but I would have preferred to have had it a tad spicy. Still, we both devoured the shrimp.
J.’s Jerk Chicken was a very large portion size. Three big pieces of boneless chicken were liberally treated with Jerk seasoning and served with Caribbean Rice and green beans. The chicken was exceptionally moist and the Jerk seasoning was outstanding. It was very good replication of the traditional dish. J. feasted away on the chicken with a smile on his face. The Caribbean Rice was a mix of long grain rice with beans. J. said it reminded him of dirty rice and, while liking it, would have preferred something with a bit more heat from spice. The green beans were killer. They were perfectly cooked and tossed with a lovely butter sauce. All in all, J. was thrilled with his dish. I thought it was quite good as well.
My Pot Roast was huge. The amount of food on the plate meant I would leave stuffed. A very large portion of slow cooked pot roast in a rich gravy was piled high on my plate and served with roasted garlic mashed potatoes and a sauteed mix of broccoli, squash, pea pods and peppers. The roast was fork tender with wonderfully seasoned. The gravy was fantastic with its aromatic vegetables and thick stock. It guaranteed the meat was going to be moist. The garlic mashed potatoes were heaven. Pure joy. They were fluffy, socked full of flavor and some of the best mashed potatoes I have had in the Valley in some time. The sauteed vegetables were also quite terrific. Whoever is cooking in the kitchen is a master with vegetables. The whole plate was a nice treatment of American comfort food.
After finishing our meals and relaxing, we asked for the check. Our bill was $34.49 which included tax. We thought it was a complete bargain due to the portion size and the quality of the cooking. Service was attentive and friendly, so we had no complaints there.
In fact, we had few complaints about Floyd’s and lots of compliments. I do think they are holding back a bit on dealing with spice in dishes, but that is an easy fix. However, there was nothing preventing us from giving Floyd’s a big thumbs up for our experience.
We both hoped that Floyd’s will continue for some time to come. The prices are exceptionally reasonable, the food is good, the service is friendly, and the menu has something for everyone.
And it certainly is a welcome break from the myriad of chains that inhabit the PV Mall area.
12601 North Tatum Boulevard
Phoenix, AZ 85032
Hours: Monday through Thursday: 11 AM to 10 PM; Friday and Saturday: 11 AM to 11 PM. Closed Sunday
Notes: Patio available. Located between the Cold Stone Creamery and Sprouts.
Alcohol: Beer and Wine.
[Note from Seth: I apologize in advance for the quality of the photos on this review. We tried one photo with the flash and due to the mirrored walls at Noca, it was like a brilliant lightning strike, so we took the photos sans the flash and hoped for the best.]
J. and I are definitely lovers of food. Our waistlines and stacks of cookbooks reveal our inner souls as that of two people who savor the food we consume. Unfortunately, there are times when we discover that what is promised on the menu is not what is delivered, and the money from our daily labors are wasted.
Knowing that walking into a new restaurant is a complete risk, J. and I drove to the hottest dining scene in Phoenix and found ourselves sitting at a table for two inside Noca. Located on the northwest corner of 32nd Street and Camelback, this dining spot replaced the old Eleve that went through a series of falls only to close its doors.
The place was quite busy even though our reservation was at 9 PM. The boisterous crowd were laughing and chatting away while drinking wine and beer and devouring the food on the plates delivered to their tables. We were immediately brought water and I mentioned to our server that our table was a bit wobbly and I asked if the feet turned to level the table out.
Little did I know that my request would bring such a flurry of activity. Suddenly, we had our server, a member of the bus staff, and the owner all profusely apologizing for the table and promises to fix the situation, which they did. I felt bad for bringing it up, but was happy it was rectified before we had sloshed water all over the place.
We reviewed the menu and J. and I were particularly impressed with the options. We each decided to start with a beer. J. got the Hitachino White Ale ($7.00) and I got the Mirror Pond Ale ($5.50) as well as a Diet Coke ($2.50).
Our server left to place our drink order and a member of the staff appeared with a plate of bread and a small ramekin of olive oil. The bread was soft and fresh with a chewy crust and a flavorful taste. The olive oil was silky smooth and had a wonderfully fruity flavor that paired well with the salty bread.
When our server returned with our drinks, we were ready to order. To begin, J. ordered the Duck Confit with Huckleberry Waffles ($15.00). I went with the Simple Salad ($12.00). This would be followed by the Steak Frites ($25.00) for J. and the Duo of Pork ($34.00) for myself. We struggled to make our choices because we really wanted a taste of everything on the menu.
Shortly after placing our order, we were presented and amuse bouche of a Crispy Fingerling Potato Chip in Avocado Puree. The quick bite to entice the palate was beautiful in the Asian soup spoon that kept everything together. Alas, I was unable to partake in the morsel as my avocado allergy rested squarely in the front of my mind. J., however, was quick to take my serving. After downing both, he said they were quite good, but did say he thought the avocado slightly overpowered the flavor of the potato. Still, he said it was a wonderful way to start the meal.
With the amuse bouche devoured and only crumbs of the bread left, our table was reset and more bread was brought. Unfortunately, our server brought bad news from the kitchen. One of the parts of the Duo of Pork had run its course and was unavailable, so I was asked if I could select a new menu item. I decided to go with the Duck Breast ($28.00). Our server was quite apologetic, but I didnâ€™t give it a second thought. Dishes run out and it is a minor inconvenience.
Shortly thereafter, our first course arrived. J.â€™s Duck Confit with Huckleberry Waffles was on an elongated plate and was complemented with a tangy frisee salad and was drizzled with a Vanilla Sauce. One bite of the confit and J. was in heaven. â€œTruly outstanding,â€ he said, as he offered me a bite. Oh, it was much more than outstanding. It was sublime. It was melt-in-your-mouth delicious.
My Simple Salad was anything but. A mixture of various veggies and lettuces were tossed with Brioche croutons, dates, candied walnuts, Pecorino cheese, and a Cabernet Vinaigrette. The production was quite good with everything melding together and hitting just about every note on the palate. The standout, however, were the Brioche croutons. Crispy, but still soft and buttery, these were outstanding.
After we had finished our appetizers, our server arrived with two plates of Seared Scallops in a Cauliflower Reduction with Lobster Butter. We were told this was provided to make up for the issue with the table and having to reorder. We were extremely pleased with the customer service. We were even more pleased with the treat. This dish was a total knockout. A seared scallop had been quartered and set atop a small puddle of a cauliflower reduction mixed with lobster butter. It was incredible. The scallops were perfectly cooked and not rubbery at all. The reduction still had bits of chopped cauliflower that gave some texture to the dish. The lobster butter was completely addictive. This was a stupendous dish and won accolades from us both. We were so enamored with the dish we requested another round of bread just to mop up the sauce.
A brief pause ensued as we waited for our entrees. The first plate to hit the table was J.â€™s Steak Frites. The Flat Iron Steak had been slices and placed atop melted leeks and then drizzled with a red wine sauce. J. was thrilled with the dish and said the steak and melted leeks were a perfect match. I completely agreed. The sweetness of the leeks and the savory nature of the steak were wonderful. I had never seen steak paired with leeks before, but this was knocked out of the ballpark and truly inspired. The steak fries that were served with the dish were also stellar. The starchy and delicious potatoes were crispy shells holding a light and fluffy interior. This was a superb dish all the way around.
My Duck Breast was without a doubt the best production I have had in some time. A meaty breast was incredibly tender and served with sauteed arugula, red turnips and a rich, thick duck jus. And while the duck knocked my socks off, the Alsatian tart could easily be something I could eat daily. The tart was a small puff pastry tart filled with Brie and bits of pork belly. This was truly pure inspiration. Where Brie is normally served with fruit or bread, it was a risk to pair the rich cheese with something even richer like pork belly, but it worked and was phenomenal.
We continued to mop up sauces and flavors with the bread. But we werenâ€™t done and decided to indulge with dessert. We didnâ€™t want something over the top, so we settled on the Gelato Trio for J. ($9.00) and the Malted Vanilla Milkshake ($5.00) for myself.
As we waited for our desserts, we were brought a bowl of Cotton Candy. Looking like Marge Simpsonâ€™s hairdo, we giggled at the sight of the dish, but dove in and had a wonderful time tearing through the cloud of sugar and talking about how we hadnâ€™t had cotton candy since we were kids. Was it an odd item to put on a table at Noca? Sure thing. But I loved it as J. did. It was unique, fun and a nice way to tide us over until we got our desserts.
When our desserts did arrive, they were spot on as far as portion size. My Malted Vanilla Milkshake was in a squat glass and ice cold. The milkshake was frothy, smooth, thick, rich and had plenty of subtle overtones from the vanilla and the malt. It really was a nice cap to the meal.
J.â€™s Gelato Trio had three flavors: Salted Butter, Malted Vanilla, and Cherry Lambic. Each was fantastic in their own way, but the highlight was the Cherry Lambic with its explosion of flavor and a tart sweetness that had our taste buds doing somersaults.
As we finished our drinks and paid our bill, we were brought two small cellophane satchels of Pecan Shortbread to take home to munch on for later. The total was $118.00 including tax. This was a bona fine steal. The quality and freshness of the ingredients along with the creativity of the chef and the eye on customer service made Noca the best deal going in town. The service, as expected, was spot on and we also loved the eclectic mix of music from blues to pop to rock.
As we left, we were personally thanked by owner Eliot Wexler for spending the evening at Noca. We chatted for a bit and then headed out into the cold air and to the car.
The next few days were spent gushing over our meal at Noca. It was just phenomenal. It was exquisite. The restaurant experience was the best we had in 2008 and had us talking about going back at our earliest convenience.
Noca is the best new restaurant in the Valley and deserves all the accolades it is getting.
I am already counting down the minutes until my next visit.
3118 East Camelback Road
Phoenix, AZ 85016
Dress: Smart Casual on up.
Hours: Sunday through Saturday – 5:30 PM to 10 PM
Notes: Extensive wine list; plenty of parking; just north of Keegan’s.
Alcohol: Mostly wine and beer
One of the more interesting sides of the bad economy is that lots of construction in the Valley has ground to a halt. Much of the debate over the redevelopment of the heart of Arcadia at 44th Street and Camelback seems to have quelled a bit as people focus more on whether or not the economy will from bad to worse.
I am not privy to the development plans of the area around 44th Street, but I know that the little strip of businesses on the south side of Camelback just west of 44th Street is slated to be added to the dust bin of architectural history in the very near future. The current monetary woes may or may not have pushed those plans back.
In the meantime, Eric over at Eric Eats Out suggested we check out Havana CafÃ© and since I had never been to the place (despite its relative close proximity to my home) I figured I should try it before it disappears. So, we made plans to meet at 6 PM sharp and I arrived to find Eric directing me to a table he had already secured.
The place wasnâ€™t particularly busy, but the interior was cozy and inviting. We took our seats and had water on the table in a matter of moments. We were handed menus by either a floor manager or the owner and were told he would be with us shortly. After Eric and I had chatted for a while, we finally turned our attention to the menus and decided to start with a couple of appetizers to share, followed by our entrees.
We had come to the conclusion that the Frituras de Camarones ($9.50) would be a good start, followed by the Papa Rellena ($6.50). We were ready to pick our entrees when I mentioned the Peruvian prix fixe menu on the inside of the cover for the menu. For $19.99, we would get a choice of soup or salad, choice of entrÃ©e and cake for dessert. Although we were in a Cuban restaurant, we decided that anything on the menu was fair game and both decided to have the prix fixe Peruvian menu. I decided to have the soup, the chicken with vegetables and rice and the cake. Eric went with the soup as well, the veal stew with rice and the cake.
Our server took our orders and returned with our drinks of a Diet Coke and an Iced Tea ($2.00 each). We were first presented with a basket of fresh bread and foil-wrapped pats of butter. The bread was quite good with a slightly chewy exterior and a soft and salty interior. The only thing I didnâ€™t like was the rock hard butter that was served with the bread.
Within about 10 minutes, our appetizers arrived. The Frituras de Camarones were three golden pancakes of shrimp and vegetables surrounding a small ramekin of a chutney made of almonds, sherry and pimentos. The patties were hot and crispy. Shrimp had been diced and then mixed with various vegetable in a batter before being cooked in oil. I was a bit caught off guard by how lacking in flavor the appetizer was. I couldnâ€™t detect the briny nature of the shrimp and the patties themselves were a tad oily. Even the chutney didnâ€™t add much of a dimension to the patties. I know that Cuban food is not the spiciest on the planet, but this just seemed to lack any particular nuance that would want me to order it again.
Our second appetizer â€“ the Papa Rellenas â€“ arrived and two potato balls were presented in a small boat topped with a creamy lime and cilantro sauce. These were much better than the shrimp appetizer. Beef picadillo in a potato crust was a winner for me.. I liked the somewhat crisp shell and was pleased with the dish all the way around. This made up for what the shrimp lacked.
Next up was the Peruvian Soup. This was excellent. It was hearty, chocked full of vegetables, pork and bursting with flavor. I was so happy with this small cup of soup and had a passing thought that a big bowl of this soup with a hunk of baguette would be a wonderful lunch. I did wish it had been a tad hotter, but it didnâ€™t mar the final product.
Our entrees arrived and I was very happy with the portion size of my chicken dish. The dish itself consisted of chicken, various vegetables and some chiles in a mild glaze and a smattering of peanuts. My first taste had distinct Asian overtones and then I was reminded that Peru has a very sizable Asian community (as did Cuba at one time for that matter) and so I wasnâ€™t surprised. The dish, however, was much richer in scope than a lot of Asian food. The chicken was tender and moist and the vegetables were tender-crisp which gave the dish a nice crunch throughout. I also liked the fact that the dish had a nice kick to it on the palate. The rice was excellent and plentiful. All in all, this was a very pleasant and solid dish. There was nothing spectacular about it, but it had a good flavor and substantial.
Eric had requested that we refrain from discussing our food during the meal to see our reactions after-the-fact. Although the picture above is a shot of his meal, he wanted to wait until I finished my review before adding his thoughts. (Please check out his blog over at Eric Eats Out for his take on the meal, which will be posted on 9/24/08.)
After our entrees were finished we ran into a bit of trouble. After an inordinate wait, we were presented with dessert menus which we found odd since the prix fixe menu only had one dessert on it which was the Peruvian Cake. After another long wait we finally flagged down one of the floor staff and mentioned that we had the Peruvian menu so we werenâ€™t sure if there had been a miscommunication.
A few minutes later, our server arrived with two pieces of cake. Actually, they were quite large pieces. The large slice was sitting in a puddle of a vanilla creme and topped with whipped cream. Eric and I both dove in and I did not like the cake at all. It wasnâ€™t horrible, but it was incredibly dense and exceptionally dry. I was following each bite with a gulp of water or soda. I will admit that I liked the taste of the cake with its light vanilla flavor and a lightly sweet taste. However, I just couldnâ€™t get past the density and dryness. I left a little less than half on my plate. I notice that Eric didnâ€™t finish his either, but we didnâ€™t discuss why.
With the meal finished, we requested our bill. As for the service, it was all over the place. While our drinks were kept filled, the long stretches between entrees and ordering dessert and then ordering to getting dessert were uncomfortable. Additionally, our server seemed to either be surly or having a bad night. We split the bill and said our good nights.
Overall, I would sum up the evening as â€œuneven.â€ The conversation and company were better than the soup which was better than the entrees which were better than the appetizer which were better than the dessert. There were enough items on the menu at Havana CafÃ© that I would be tempted to go back. I did wonder if the impending demise of the place was affecting the tone of the kitchen and staff. Who knows?
It is always great spending time with a fellow food blogger and discussing the latest food finds in the Valley. I only wish our overall food and service experience had been a bit better.
4225 East Camelback Road
Phoenix, AZ 85018
Dress: Resort casual – although they do not allow tank tops and cutoffs.
Hours: Monday through Thursday – 11 AM to 9:30 PM; Friday and Saturday – 11 AM to 10 PM; Sunday – 4 PM to 9:30 PM.
Notes: Parking is limited. Additional locations in Scottsdale and Ahwahtukee.
Alcohol: Full bar and lots of Cuban drink specials.
When J. and I had a rather wonderful meal at Trente-Cinq 35 in Central Phoenix last year, we were curious as to the small converted house across the parking lot sporting the name â€œLisa G.â€ Just who was this Lisa G and why does she have a wine bar?
Unfortunately, the place was closed for a vacation period so we couldnâ€™t get our questions answered, but I made a mental note to get over to Lisa Gâ€™s someday.
As fate would have it, Winedubar was dying to get back to Lisa G for a seafood salad and a nice meal out. So, we set up plans to meet at Lisa G. Winedubar was waiting for me at the wine bar when I entered and we were quickly seated at a two-top table. They place was very full and the noise level was high, but we settled in and I showed her my favors for the wedding which garnered a hearty approval.
We ordered two Green Ice Teas ($2.75 each) and reviewed the menus. After some discussion, Winedubar decided to go with her beloved Fruitti Di Mare ($11.00) and I wanted the Mini Sandwiches ($9.00). We also decided to split some appetizers and agreed to try three things: the Brie ($9.00), the Mixed Bruschetta ($9.00) and the Bowl of Balls ($9.00).
When our server returned with our drinks, we placed our order. Our server warned us that the portion size was fairly large so we would have plenty to eat and, perhaps, take home. That was fine with us.
We were in the midst of discussing Wineâ€™s trip to Paris and London and I was seething with envy. That was when our Prosciutto Bruschetta arrived. The elongated plate held three ample bruschetta rounds piled high with prosciutto, greens and an olive tepenade. While it looked beautiful, we noticed that all the rounds were the same and not the mixed platter as we had requested.. We brought this to the attention of the server and it seemed that the noise level in the restaurant caused a miscommunication. Our server was apologetic and offered to fix the order, but we were fine.
Although the bruschetta was good, it just seemed rather boring. The various components each looked like they could make a wonderful mix, but the final product was simply underwhelming. We wish we could have put our finger on what made this miss the mark, but there it was, so we moved on.
Next up was Lisa’s Bowl of Balls. This small bowl was packed with several dense, tender and sinfully delicious meatballs made of veal, beef, eggs and parsley. They were soaking in a rich tomato sauce and served with a nice, thin slice of Parmesan and a wedge of focaccia. The meatballs were absolutely wonderful. It was a fantastic appetizer and the addition of the cheese and bread were excellent sides to help cut some of the richness of the meatballs. Just outstanding.
The final appetizer was the Brie. The visual feast of this dish was the first thing that told me that this was going to be a success. Rustic Italian bread was layered with slices of brie and topped with sliced green apples and dried cranberries. The entire top was drizzled with honey and the whole thing was caramelized. Simple, substantial and the best thing on the table. This was a killer dish. Winedubar and I were battling over the crumbs. It just worked on so many levels and I think what changed the dish from good to stellar was the fact that the top had been caramelized. That just sealed everything into a flavor explosion. This more than made up for the lackluster bruschetta.
Wineâ€™s Fruitti Di Mare was incredible. The plate was littered with an ocean of calamari, shrimp, scallops and crab, all in very generous portions. The seafood was piled up on bright green leaves of bibb lettuce and dressed in a light but tangy lemon thyme vinaigrette. Winedubar was in heaven and raved about the dish. â€œI live for this, you know,â€ she said. Although I am not a big seafood eater, I was impressed with the salad. It was an absolute steal for $11.00 and I thought the presentation was very pretty with the glistening seafood and the strong scent of lemon wafting from the dish.
My Mini Sandwiches were served on a long rectangular plate and evenly spaced over the dish. Three mini round ciabattas were piled with three different fillings: the beef tenderloin, the sliced peppered turkey and the chicken salad. The beef tenderloin sandwich contained sliced beef and a garlicky mayo with a few greens. The turkey was similarly dressed. The chicken salad was a nice mix of chicken chunks, celery and hazelnuts in a mayo base. All of them were very good, but the stand out was the chicken salad. I wouldn’t hesitate having these again.
By the time we finished, we had polished off just about everything, although we did have one of the bruschettas left to take home. We were stuffed to the gills and couldn’t even be talked into sharing a dessert. Then, we were surprised when our server indicated that due to the miscommunication over the bruschetta, she was deducting a few bucks off the bill. Completely unnecessary but a wonderful act of customer service.
Our bill was $52.53 including tax (minus the $4.00 comp). Winedubar and I thought this was a complete steal. I still can’t see how they are making any money off of the Fruitti Di Mare, but all I cared about was seeing a smile on Winedubar’s face as she munched on that salad, even though I was loathing her for going to Europe without me.
We paid the bill, said our goodnights and I headed home.
I so wish I hadn’t waited so long to get to Lisa G.
Lisa G Cafe and Wine Bar
2337 North 7th Street
Phoenix, AZ 85006
Dress: Resort Casual
Hours: Monday – 11 AM to 2 PM; Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday – 11 AM to 2 PM and 5 PM to 10 PM; Friday – 11 AM to 2 PM and 5 PM to 12 AM; Saturday – 5 PM to 12 AM; Closed Sundays.
Notes: Parking can be scarce.
Alcohol: Full bar.
One of the things that a lot of people havenâ€™t figured out about Phoenix is that some of the best Mom and Pop restaurants are in dumpy strip malls and are often overshadowed by the mega-chains that have pulsating neon signs and large stand-alone buildings. Due to the cost of real estate, the little places run by families or upstart business owners often can only afford the rent in a strip mall.
All the better for me and those of us who are constantly on the lookout for a dingy strip hiding a fantastic meal.
As luck would have it, a less than stellar strip mall near I-17 and Thomas Road is currently housing a little (and I do mean little) Italian restaurant called Pizza A Metro. This strip mall anchor is a Circle K and the only way I saw the place was by the small neon sign that said â€œPIZZAâ€ with an arrow pointing to the entrance.
I pulled in and was joined by a fellow chowhound named â€œCiaogal,â€ a delightful dinner companion who shares my love of food and finding those out-of-the-way places. I was waiting outside when Ciaogal opened the door and asked me if I was Seth. She had grabbed a table while waiting for me and I was happy to escape the heat outside.
We sat at a spacious and comfortable four-top and I was immediately asked by the owner if I would like something to drink. I requested a Diet Coke ($2.00 each). This was brought quickly and I slowly poured the bottled liquid over the glass of ice. I gave big props to Ciaogal for also having a Diet Coke.
We were handed menus and started debating about what we would have for our dinner. There were lots of items on the menu that jumped out at me and I had a hard time deciding between the pasta, the pizza and the appetizers. Ciaogal asked if we could share any of the items we ordered. I was quick to agree.
With that compromise under our belts, we place our order. Ciaogal would start with the Carpaccio ($6.95) and I would get the Caesar Salad ($4.95). Four our main dishes, I decided to try the regular sized Frescolina Pizza ($14.95) and Ciao got the Linguini Carbonara ($8.95). The owner was our server as well and he promised that we would have fresh bread on the table in minutes as the oven was overflowing with a pizza order.
As we waited, we took in the atmosphere and chatted about food. Although the place was tiny, it was cleverly decorated and the outside world was the furthest thing from my mind. The place was just comfortable and charming and the owner was doing his best to greet and satisfy the customers. The only issue we both had was the noise level. Even though the restaurant only has about half a dozen tables, I was straining to hear Ciao and felt bad about asking her to repeat every third sentence. Still, the villa doll house decor was not expected but completely welcome. Ciao called it “a collaboration of passion and love for good food and ambiance.”
As promised, the bread arrived and I was a bit surprised. A very elongated dish was covered with small triangles of pillowy, golden bread and a small bowl of an onion, caper and mushroom caponata sat on the edge. The bread was hot, slightly chewy and completely delicious. The caponata was fantastic with its slightly sweet overtones and lots of body and flavor. It was a great way to start our meal.
After munching on the bread for a few moments, our appetizers arrived. The first to the table was a plate of Caprese. However, we hadnâ€™t ordered the Caprese but had ordered the Carpaccio. We immediately chalked up the mistake to the noise issue and the owner was very quick to replace the dish with the one we ordered.
While the Carpaccio was being made, my Caesar Salad arrived on a colorful plate. The cold, fresh Romaine pieces were tossed with a creamy and garlicky Caesar dressing that had me hooked. Shreds of paper-thin Parmesan cheese was also in the mix. I had no complaints about this dish at all, but would have liked to have seen some croutons or similar. Not a big deal as the freshness of the salad was incredibly enticing. Ciao found the salad very fresh and like the fact that the salad was not dripping with dressing like many places in the Valley do.
When the Carpaccio arrived, I think Ciao and I feel in love with it just from the look of the dish. â€œItâ€™s like we are going to destroy art,â€ Ciao said. I agreed. The presentation was beautiful, but the thin slices of beef along with the capers and cheese just lured me in and I was more than happy to destroy the artistic value of the food in order to please my palate. We dove in and I was mesmerized by the mix of flavors. The Carpaccio was sublime. Bursting with flavor, the meat had been treated to a fine mix of olive oil and a tremendous amount of lemon juice. Everything was super fresh and the flavors melded together. Just delicious on all counts. Ciao said it was one of the best presentations of carpaccio she had seen and I would have to agree. What really made this dish stand out was the lemony vinaigrette. This could have been just another carpaccio plate, but the presentation and the dressing just nailed it for us.
We were poking at the remnants of our appetizers when our entrees arrived. The Linguini Carbonara was a large portion of linguini thoroughly coated with a delicious cream sauce and lots of small bits of pancetta. It was an adult, upscale version of Macaroni & Cheese that had us both licking our chops. I was very happy that the bacon didnâ€™t overpower the dish. There was a perfect balance between pasta, cream and meat. Ciao loved the smokiness of the pancetta and had a notion that the pasta may have been handmade. It wouldn’t surprise me. Ciao called it a “bowl of heaven.” Indeed.
My Fresca Pizza arrived and we were very happy with what we saw. A medium pizza pie crust had been covered with crushed tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, prosciutto and lots of peppery arugula. Ciao and I were both chomping at the bit to get to the pizza and I pulled the first slice with bits of the arugula falling to the side. I repositioned the greens and took a bite. It was delicious. The crust was thin and pliable with a small amount of chew and plenty of salt. The tomatoes and mozzarella combined with the arugula and prosciutto were a fantastic combination. It hit the palate just right. Ciao said the owner sure had a knack of laying flavors quite well. For both of us, the stand out was the crust. This could have been just another, average crust, but it wasn’t too thin or too heavy, but crisp, light and not burnt. We both felt this was another work of art we had to destroy for the sake of our taste buds.
We were amply stuffed when we requested the bill and boxes to take home the leftovers. The entire meal was an astoundingly inexpensive $45.27 including tax. This was a bona fide steal. The food was excellent along with the top notch service and a wonderful atmosphere. We couldn’t find any fault with our evening other than we both had to depart.
I did find it interesting that while we were eating, a group of four young guys entered. From their conversation, it was clear that they thought this was going to be another quick, order at the counter pizza joint where you could get a slice for a couple of bucks. The owner invited them to take a seat and walked them through the menu. After they ordered, one said to the rest of the group, “I wish we had more places like this in the neighborhood.”
I think Ciao and I would agree with this person completely.
Pizza A Metro
2336 West Thomas Road
Phoenix, AZ 85015
Hours: Monday through Thursday – 11 AM to 8:30 PM; Friday and Saturday – 11:30 AM to 9:30 PM; Closed Sundays.
Notes: On the north side of Thomas Road. Look for the Circle K sign. Parking is limited. Second location may be opening in Scottsdale.
Dad is a carpenter by vocation and he never misses a chance to hang out at Home Depot or Lowe’s looking for that gadget or gizmo that is going to revolutionize how he is going to do his work. As luck would have it, we were heading back from some excursion and stumbled across this monstrous Ace Hardware at Tatum and Thunderbird in North Phoenix. The Ace Hardware near my home is pleasant enough, but is rather small, sandwiched between a Checker Auto and a bowling alley. So, I turned Dad loose to find more gadgets to waste his money on and I looked for a small flashlight for my car.
As we walked out of the hardware store, I noticed two restaurants in the same strip mall: Nee House Chinese Restaurant and Eden’s Grill Mediterranean restaurant. I pointed them out to Dad and he seemed, oddly, more intrigued by the Mediterranean restaurant than the Chinese restaurant. So, I made a mental note to return soon. As luck would have it, soon was just a week later and I got Dad to join me for dinner at Eden’s Grill. We parked and walked right in. The place was very full with only a couple of tables available. A very polite and cheery staff member showed us to a small round table toward the front of the restaurant.
We settled in and were given menus. I did mention to Dad that I felt a little claustrophobic because we were at a small round table and the next table was literally inches from us. Dad said he felt the same and thought removing one or two of the tables or converting them to square tables would have been a bit more comfortable. Within a minute or two, our drink order was taken. We each had Iced Teas ($2.00 each). Our server left to assist another patron and we reviewed the menus.
Upon her return, she dropped off our drinks and took our order. We decided to start with the meat-filled Potato Cakes ($6.95) and the small Fattuchee Salad ($4.95). For our main events, Dad wanted the Chicken and Beef Kebob Platter ($15.50) while I went with the Eden’s Vegetarian Dish ($14.95). Both Dad and I did think the pricing was a little high for Mediterranean food, but we were hopeful the quality and quantity would be top notch.
We only waited about five minutes before our server returned with a basket of pita bread. The pitas were soft, hot and light. We actually decided to wait a few moments to allow them to cool before we divvied them up and munched on them. They were quite good.
Next brought to the table was the Fattuchee Salad. The small plate contained a pile of greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley and pieces of fried pita bread. This was all tossed with a tangy vinaigrette dressing and a smattering of Fenugreek seasoning. The final result was stellar. Everything was fresh and the pita bread was outrageously crunchy. It was a very satisfying salad and Dad and I mopped up the remaining dressing on the plate with the pita bread.
Our final appetizer was the meat-filled potato cakes. They arrived and were more like croquettes in shape, but we each cut into one to see what we were getting into. A billow of steam escaped and we could see the meat hiding inside the potato casing which had been deep fried and was a dark caramel color. I put a bit of the cucumber sauce on my fork and then stabbed a bit of the cake. The result was a delicious taste that was excellent. The potatoes were soft and creamy and the meat was slightly spiced. It was very good, although I think they should have come out of the fryer just a few moment earlier as the exterior was just slightly overdone.
There was about a 10-minute gap between finishing our appetizers and the arrival of our entrees. When our server set Dad’s Chicken and Beef Kebabs on the table, we both exclaimed “Wow!” due to the hefty portion size on the plate. This was a gigantic platter containing large servings of chicken, beef, skewered vegetables and a huge bed of yellow rice tossed with raisins and almonds. Dad tried the beef first and said it was ridiculously tender and said the flavor was “really rich.” He tried the chicken and loved the moist meat and the marinaded flavor. He found the chicken slightly smoky. He thought the big skewer of vegetables was also quite good because there was significant char on them. But the big raves went for the rice. Dad said the combination of the raisins, almonds and juices from everything else made the rice a killer side dish.
My Eden’s Vegetarian Dish was just a work of art. It was, like Dad’s meal, a huge portion and there were just so many tastes to try on the plate. The dish contained two veggie patties, four falafel, four dolmehs and skewers of vegetables. All of this was piled on a bed of the rice. The veggie patties were really quite good. There was a hint of spice and they were crispy. The falafel was crunchy on the outside and very tender on the inside with some subtle flavors and an almost buttery aftertaste. The dolmehs were traditional grape leaves stuffed with rice and they were very good. I was pleased that they did not have that overly acidic taste to them. These seemed very fresh and were a pleasant way to round out the dish. The vegetables were excellent. Like Dad, I enjoyed the char on them. And, then, there was the rice. It never ceases to amaze me that doing something so simple like adding some raisins and almonds can turn boring rice into a drool-inducing dish, but there is was and I was happy to enjoy it.
However, despite how good the food was, we simply couldn’t even finish half our meals. There was so much food we boxed up another two meals to take home. We requested our check and the total was $51.77 including tax. The amount of food for the cost was a true bargain. The service was cheerful and friendly and our server was great about refreshing out drinks just at the right time.
Dad and I gathered our boxes of food and headed out the door into the balmy night air. We were complete stuffed and had big smiles on our faces as we got into the car. Eden’s Grill was a big hit with us and outside of the somewhat claustrophobic feel of the small round table, we considered our visit a complete success.
As we headed out, Dad was very complementary of Eden’s Grill and summed up his thoughts succinctly.
“Excellent food and near a hardware store. That is great!”
Yes, it is, Dad.
13843 North Tatum Boulevard
Phoenix, AZ 85032
Dress: Resort Casual
Hours: Monday through Thursday – 11 AM to 9 PM; Friday – 11 AM to 10 PM; Saturday – 4 PM to 9 PM; Closed Sundays.
Notes: On the northeast corner of Tatum and Thunderbird.
Alcohol: Full bar.
At least twice a week, I get emails asking me to check out particular restaurants in the Valley. Most are just places that people tried and thought I might be interested, which I usually am. Some turn our great, some not so great and some end up closed before I even get a chance to try them.
However, in the past two weeks, I have had more input on a tiny little restaurant on East Indian School Road than any other restaurant in recent memory. Even a member of our governing board at work asked me if I had been to this new place. With that much interest, I decided to give the place a try.
When I mentioned the place was called Stacyâ€™s Smokehouse and featured BBQ, Dad did the puppy dog face thing so I invited him along. We got into the car and headed out to try Stacyâ€™s.
Pulling into the back of the building where the parking was, we found a lot that was almost completely full. We got the last spot and walked into the little building that used to house Memphx and, before that, Turkâ€™s Fish and Chips. There were no tables available, and some people were standing around waiting for their to-go orders.
Dad and I waited our turn, but before we ordered, I spotted a couple of Valley chowhounds dining on an assortment of goodies from the kitchen. I asked them how the food was and they told me the sandwiches were terrific. Dad spotted a basket of sweet potato fries on the table and inquired about them. â€œTheyâ€™re pretty limp,â€ they said while picking up one that immediately drooped.
It was time for us to order, so we headed back to the counter to order our food and then wait for a table to open up. We scanned the menu and ended up with two BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches ($5.25 each) and I ordered a piece of the fried chicken ($1.99). For our sides, I got the Green Beans ($1.50) and the Mac & Cheese ($1.50). Dad got the Cole Slaw ($1.50) and the Onion Rings ($1.99). We got two bottles of Diet Coke ($1.50 each) to wash it all down.
The total for our bill was $26.50 including tax and we were given our drinks and cups of ice. Dad and I took a seat on some chairs against the wall and waited for a table. The interior of the place was exceptionally small holding only five tables. The place was bright and cheery and the big windows let the sunlight stream in.
We were offered the two-top table the other Chowhounds were at and we settled in waiting for our food. Our table, however, along with another one near to us were clearly in need of some maintenance. Dad and I struggled with our table as the top was loose and would be at a 15% incline depending on who had their arms on the table weighting it down.
After about a 20 minute wait, our food arrived. The first thing we did was attack the BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches. The soft, hot, sesame seed buns were filled with plenty of pulled pork that had been slathered in BBQ sauce. Thankfully, they didn’t drown the meat in the sauce, but gave it a good treatment. We put the top of the bun on the sandwich and dove in. Dad was the first to say, “This is outstanding.” And it certainly was. The pork was incredibly moist and very tender. The sauce was thick, rich, and had a slight sweetness to it that really set the flavors apart and made the whole thing shine. Dad and I agreed that this was really an excellent sandwich and the taste was exceptional. It was some of the best BBQ pork in the Valley.
Our attention turned to the basket that contained the Onion Rings and the Fried Chicken. A small mound of the rings were somewhat covering the fried chicken thigh I had requests. Dad and I each tried an onion ring and we were quite pleased. They were hot, crispy and the onions were not mushy. Whoever was operating the fryer was doing a very good job. I also liked the fact that they allowed the rings to cook a little bit longer than normal, giving the cooked batter a deep caramel color. We didn’t even bother with the ketchup as the rings were flavorful enough to support themselves.
I then tried my fried chicken thigh. One bite and I was hooked. The batter was crunchy and the chicken was falling off the bone. This was stellar. The batter was not oily or greasy, but had a delicious fried flavor and the chicken was scrumptious. Dad had a small bite and said he had a tough time deciding if he liked the BBQ pork or the fried chicken better.
Dad’s Cole Slaw looked pretty good and I liked the fact that course black pepper had been added to the dressing or slaw itself. Seasoning for the win! I asked Dad what he thought and his first comment was, “Pretty decent.” I said that didn’t sound like a ringing endorsement and he said that while the flavor was good and the cabbage fresh, he really hated the fact that there was far too much dressing on the slaw almost killing any taste of the cabbage.
The Mac & Cheese looked promising. In the white Styrofoam cup, the orange color of the Mac & Cheese really popped out. I picked up a forkful of the side and liked the gooey nature of the dish. However, my first bite was … vacant. Without conveying any opinion, I asked Dad to try a bite and tell me his thoughts. After tasting a big bite, Dad just said it like it was: “It doesn’t taste like anything.” He was absolutely correct. While the gooey texture was great and the look very appealing, I simply couldn’t taste anything in this side dish. It wasn’t good or bad. It just wasn’t. I also wasn’t thrilled with the fact that in the bottom of the cup, a good quarter inch of oil was marinading the rest of the pasta. This was very disappointing.
But as disappointing as the Mac & Cheese was, nothing could salvage the green beans. I was somewhat taken aback that they would serve these things because all they did was open a can and heat them up. There was no seasoning, no butter, no bacon or salt pork or anything else. I was completely perplexed as to why they would even bother. Would it have been so terrible to say, “Well, since we can’t really get good green beans right now, we are serving canned” or something to warn patrons that this dish was really just being called in? After one bite, I simply pushed them aside and I am sure my grimace was visible from across the room.
After we finished our meals, I asked Dad what he thought. He said the BBQ and fried chicken were top of the line. The onion rings were excellent and the cole slaw good. “I think their weak point are their side dishes.” Then it occurred to me that my Chowhound acquaintances had mentioned the limp sweet potato fries. I also noticed that several to go orders were simply for the meats with no side orders. It could be just coincidence, but who doesn’t like good BBQ with a couple of sides?
I was somewhat torn by Stacy’s. I will go back, simply because that BBQ Pork sandwich was killer. That combined with a side of onion rings and a drink would be an excellent lunch. I also thought the prices were insanely inexpensive and I want to try their ribs. And, certainly, everyone of the staff we encountered were very friendly and helpful. However, they need to do a little due diligence in fixing the tables and reviewing the side dishes.
Stacy’s is a great addition to that neighborhood and I am keeping my fingers crossed that they will fix a few of the things that I found lackluster.
If they did, they would certainly be looking for a new home to expand because they would have lines out the door.
1650 East Indian School Road
Phoenix, AZ 85016
Hours: Monday through Saturday – 11 AM to 9 PM; Closed Sundays.
Notes: Cash only. Parking is in back of the building.
Another take on Stacy’s Smokehouse can be found over at The Expatriate Mainer.