State Fairs are often an afterthought. A relic of times past when most of us lived in rural areas and guessing the weight of a pumpkin was the best entertainment of the month. They offer variations on the same rides, foods and entertainment that you find at your local Memorial Day Carnival or County Fair and, I mean, how many people even go to those? But the Minnesota State Fair is so far from an afterthought that it seems to be on the minds of Minnesotans for the 50 weeks of the year in which it is not in operation. Plans are made, new foods are devised and longed after; then, just like that, it’s over again. This year, however, the Unvegan paid a visit to see how it would all stack up.
When I left LA to move to Phoenix I had one major concern. No, it wasn’t the heat in the summer, it was the lack of ramen. You see, LA spoils you with a lot of Asian food, but ramen is easily one of the best of them. People go through life only knowing ramen from a dry cup and I feel terrible for those people, but is it better to have ramen and lost it than to never have had ramen at all? Lost or not, ramen has returned to my life in the form of Ramen Hood in Scottsdale. I headed out for the grand opening to see if it would fulfill my needs.
I’m going to say something unpopular. Bloody Marys are the worst. Tomatoes suck, celery sucks and there’s just something weird about spicy drinks. But I must say that I am glad that Hash Kitchen has made the big bucks off of having an incredible Bloody Mary bar. Why? Because it has enabled them to expand out to Chandler for their latest Grand Opening. And because I got to snag a bunch of the meats and cheeses from the Bloody Mary bar to decorate my beer. It may be frowned upon normally, but at the Grand Opening anything goes. As expected, the bacon was the best.
Last week the Phoenix area hit 100 degrees for the first time this year and it was the fourth earliest date on record. Thus, one would think that the season for outdoor events would be coming to an end. One would be wrong, as this past weekend brought in the Scottsdale Culinary Fest and the Scottsdale Civic Center Mall, an outdoor Taste of Chicago-esque festival showcasing food from all over the area and of all types.
Some were household names with tons of locations around the Valley of the Sun, like Grimaldi’s and Zoe’s, but others seemed a bit more special and I sought them out (along with some booze, of course).
The Italiano – Aioli Burger
I’d been hearing murmurings of how great this place was for a while now, and its victory at Burger Battle 2018 further cemented my desire to get there. This burger wasn’t perfect, nor would I expect it to be in such a situation, but the combination of mozzarella, bacon, basil garlic aioli, balsamic reduction and a discarded tomato made me more eager to seek out the real deal.
Tacos, tacos and more tacos. That was the premise of the Rockin’ Taco Rumble in Downtown Phoenix on March 2nd, 2018. $45 got you unlimited tacos, six drinks and a wooden nickel to vote for your favorite taco. It took place at Events on Jackson, which was a pretty cool venue, but what was much less cool was the fact that some spots were already running out of tacos by the time I arrived and the lines were crazy long. Nevertheless, I persisted and was able to identify some favorites.
The Super Bowl is set! And while everyone is pumped to see the Patriots again, and the Eagles again (but not nearly as again), it is important to realize that for most people the Super Bowl is about food and commercials. So, food, right? Lil’ smokies might sound good for another year, but sometimes it’s smart to just hit up a bar. I was just given an opportunity to check out the goods* at B2 Burgers and Brews, which is looking forward to hosting a bunch of people with some pretty exciting specials.
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.
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.
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.
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.