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).
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.
In my mind, you can’t have a good microbrewery without good food. It just can’t work. Therefore, I headed to Arizona Wilderness in Gilbert, a brewery with a rustic theme getting a lot of regional traction, to see if it could churn out food on par with the its beer reputation. But of course, I had to start of off with a beer before diving into the menu.
It’s hard to make BBQ trendy. It is inherently something that people have very specific expectations for, and anything “new” and good is almost always a minor tweak that makes a real difference. So where can innovation come from? Booze. At least that’s what Bootleggers BBQ in Phoenix was thinking, offering a pretty snazzy modern divey bar that also serves up BBQ. It’s like a gastropub meets a BBQ spot and I was eager to see how the meat would hold up.
Farm to table is a popular concept and a strong rebuke against processed foods. Of course, factory farms are still called farms, but the point is there, nonetheless. But what do you call a meal at an actual farm? I’m thinking “table on farm,” and remember, you heard it here first. So, when I paid a visit to Pond Hill Farm on the outskirts of Harbor Springs, Michigan, it was quite a delight to eat food around animals that could probably be classified as pre-food.
It would have been much more convenient to go to Blue Tractor BBQ in Ann Arbor. After all, I seem to get there about once a year. The trouble is that every time I’m there I can’t help but stop at Zingerman’s, with an occasional other restaurant thrown in once every blue (or maize) moon. Instead, I went to the location a number of hours further away in Traverse City, Michigan, not far from Sleeping Bear Dunes.
Alpharetta, Georgia isn’t exactly a food blogger’s destination of choice. Yet, when the day job sends you off to such an exotic place, you make do. And that’s what I did when I made my way to Smokejack, a BBQ that I hoped would represent The South well. Smokejack is located in what can best be described as Alpharetta’s Main Street (because it is), and while all the other restaurants nearby looked good, Smokejack just drew me in.
BBQ. Those who don’t love it don’t love life. But you know where people love life? Eagle Rock. That’s where you’ll find Max City BBQ dishing out the goods. And this isn’t some Santa Maria-style BBQ that’s basically grilling, this is slow-smoked action. The only trouble is that the food comes in a limited quantity and if you show up too late the goods might be gone.
Somehow it took me nearly a year of working in Pasadena to discover Braise and Crumble just down the street from my office. It’s truly shocking because after discovering the place one day, I was back just a couple days later to get in on it again. Because of that, you actually get to see how two meals unfolded at this place.
In the world of pizza, it seems that Sicilian style and Neapolitan style come up pretty often. Roman style is apparently also a thing, but a Google search for Venetian pizza only seems to produce pizza options at The Venetian in Las Vegas. Nonetheless, a spot in Altadena calling itself Pizza of Venice has gained quite the following and it was high time I made it there myself.
BBQ is a wonderful thing. And while most great BBQ is nowhere near LA, there are certainly great spots to be found. A newcomer on the scene just recently popped up in Culver City (in a corner where restaurant seem to die), calling itself Chop Daddy’s. The place has all the makings of trying to become a chain, which isn’t always the best when you’re looking for authenticity, but all I cared about was getting some good ‘cue.