The James Beard Awards may be a big deal nationwide, but in my years in LA and Pittsburgh, I didn’t feel like there was enough official recognition of local talent. Not so much in Arizona, which just had its Arizona Culinary Hall of Fame Awards. The event was at the snazzy Wrigley Mansion in the Phoenix Biltmore area and had some light apps to go with the awards.
I generally try to avoid fancy restaurants. Really, they just aren’t my thing. But special occasions call for special eats, and so I found myself at Citizen Public House in Old Town Scottsdale in need of some food. And then, like a week later I found myself back there again. No joke, it was crazy.
Being in the media has its advantages. Case in point: getting to check out the menu and beers at SanTan Brewing Company in Chandler. For this event, SanTan wanted to highlight beer pairings and the normal menu without any specials, but also showed off the backroom where the brewing is actually done. Unlike other breweries I’ve been to, we were encouraged to bring a beer along for the tour, and that beer was the StrataBlaster IPA, part of the brewery’s pilot series and a great place to start.
Sauce has been a staple in the Phoenix area for a good amount of years now. And it’s a good thing that it’s established itself, as other fast casual pizza spots have been sweeping the nation. And while Sauce is about more than just pizza (they have pasta and salads too), it’s the pizza that drew me, and presumably almost everyone else in.
I went into Cold Beers and Cheeseburgers expecting to get some cold beer and a cheeseburger. And pretty immediately, I knew this would not be the case. It started with a delay to my beer because they were out of what I wanted. That was fine, because places run out of beer all the time and so I went ahead and ordered a new one. But then, I was told that it was Monday and that meant $12 build your own mac and cheese with basically whatever the hell you want in it.
There’s something about state fairs that brings out the best America has to offer in terms of food creativity. Screw molecular gastronomy, I want to know what the latest in fried, bacon-wrapped and Flaming Hot Cheetos is in the world. And while the Arizona State Fair isn’t known as well as some others, there was still room for some interesting bites. One thing I didn’t bite, by the way, was a turkey leg, because, well, booooring.
There are certain aspects of the Phoenix area that are tough to get used to. Not in the sense that they are bad in any way, just that they are different. You see, I spent much of my life thinking that good food is a pretty rare find in a strip mall or as a standalone building in the parking lot of a strip mall. But, when a city is basically all strip malls, the good food simply has to be there. Thus, while my expectations of BBQ spots are generally a bit less pristine than a strip mall, I couldn’t pass up the chance to check out Naked BBQ in Scottsdale.
Salt. It’s a substance that inherently makes other substances taste better. Sow. It’s lady pig that, well, tastes good regardless. Combine the two and you have Salty Sow, a gastropub in Phoenix looking to bring some very gastropubby fare, drawing upon all sorts of classic American food, to the desert.
We can all agree that Phoenix is not LA. Good, now that that’s settled, Phoenix does appear to get an event or two on occasion, and the first since I made the big move was the 8th Annual Arizona Taco Festival, which converged at the Salt River Fields in Scottsdale. While the place is better-known for MLB spring training, the vast field was put to good use in hosting dozens of vendors pushing mostly tacos, but also drinks, desserts and the occasional t-shirt.
Creating Jewish deli meat is like a perfect combination of art and science. Some delis have found the ideal balance, while others are more content to satisfy the science part of it all and move on from there. I paid a visit to Chompie’s in Scottsdale to see how it would measure up against my admittedly high standards for Kosher-style delis.