HOME > Chowhound > Phoenix >

Discussion

uhockey's ramblings on The Valley 9/29-10/1 including Pizzeria Bianco, Binkley's, Barrio Cafe, Kai, Cowboy Ciao, The Mission, and more.

First of all, thanks to all the local hounds who helped me out with their wisdom and recommendations. Additional thanks to those who met up with me for meals and educated me about the area I very well may be calling home in the near future.

Reviews will be slow in coming as I tend to be long winded, but for now I'll provide the list of places I went as well as my "Top 15" things I ate. As usual the pictures will be housed in the blog and all text will be posted here at Chowhound.

The List:

Pizzeria Bianco

Binkley’s

Barrio Café

Kai

Cowboy Ciao

The Mission

Morning Glory Café

Over Easy Café

Liberty Market

The Fry Bread House

La Grande Orange Grocery

Scratch Patisserie

Sweet Republic

Herb Box

Cartel Coffee Lab

http://endoedibles.com

-----
Cowboy Ciao
7133 East Stetson Drive, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

Pizzeria Bianco
623 E Adams St, Phoenix, AZ 85004

La Grande Orange Grocery
4410 N 40th St, Phoenix, AZ 85018

Binkley's
6920 E. Cave Creek Rd., Cave Creek, AZ 85331

Fry Bread House
4140 N 7th Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85013

Over Easy
4730 E Indian School Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85018

Morning Glory Cafe
6106 S 32nd St, Phoenix, AZ 85042

Liberty Market
230 N Gilbert Rd, Gilbert, AZ

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  1. Top 15 Things I Ate in Phoenix:
    1) Kai - Escargot, Truffles, Wild Mushrooms & Caramel Goat Cheese – Native French “Toast,” Frozen Truffle Crema, Meyer Lemon & Black Garlic Nage, Pork Belly Nuggets, Oregon Truffles, Tarragon Oil, Chive Oil, Blis Vinegar

    2) Binkley’s - Foie Gras Beignets with White Truffle Cream and Foie Gras Vanilla Milk Shake with Blackberry Swirl and Blackberry Whipped Cream

    3) La Grande Orange Grocery - Tammie Coe Crumb Bun

    4) Pizzeria Bianco - ROSA - Red Onion, Parmigiano Reggiano, Rosemary, Arizona Pistachios

    5) Morning Glory Café - Farm Monte Cristo French Toast “Sandwich” with Slow Baked Ham, Over Easy Eggs, and Melting Cheese, with Warm Maple Syrup

    6) Kai - Prairie Squab & Spiced Cornmeal Dusted Sweetbreads - Truffle & Iberico Lomo Gratinee Potatoes, Wilted Summer Chard Leaves, Stone Fruit & Grape Chutney, Micro Stevia, Truffle Croutons, Baby Carrots

    7) Liberty Market - Cinnamon Roll

    8) Kai - Mexican Chocolate Souffle - Scented with Kai’s Sweetened Dry Mole Spices & Wattleseed Anglaise

    9) The Mission – Duck Carnitas Empanada - duck + foie gras + orange + habanero + oregano + mushroom + queso oaxaca

    10) Barrio Café - Churros Rellenos de Cajeta de Cabra Goat’s milk caramel stuffed fritters served with vanilla bean ice cream

    11) Scratch Patisserie - Red Velvet Cupcake

    12) Cowboy Ciao - Exotic Mushroom Pan Fry mucho mushrooms (including cremini, button, oyster, cepe, lobster, black trumpet, shiitake, morel, yellow foot) in ancho cream over double-cooked polenta, topped with grilled portabellini, avocado, tomato and cotija cheese

    13) The Fry bread House - Chocolate and Butter Fry Bread

    14) Binkley's - Peanut Butter Souffle with Raspberry Jam

    15) Herb Box - Ding Dong

    Yes, I realize there are a lot of dessert items - so what? :-)

    http://endoedibles.com

    -----
    Cowboy Ciao
    7133 East Stetson Drive, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

    Pizzeria Bianco
    623 E Adams St, Phoenix, AZ 85004

    La Grande Orange Grocery
    4410 N 40th St, Phoenix, AZ 85018

    Binkley's
    6920 E. Cave Creek Rd., Cave Creek, AZ 85331

    Morning Glory Cafe
    6106 S 32nd St, Phoenix, AZ 85042

    Liberty Market
    230 N Gilbert Rd, Gilbert, AZ

    Fry Bread
    7611 W Thomas Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85033

    8 Replies
    1. re: uhockey

      You did very well for yourself :). I can't wait to hear the individual reviews.

      1. re: uhockey

        Agree with Themis!

        We visited Kai finally for the first time earlier this year and both the escargot dish and souffle were two of my highlights also. I never get tired of the signature mushroom pan fry at Cowboy Ciao, and I just love everything about Binkley's. I really need to get to the Mission.

        -----
        Kai
        5594 W. Wildhorse Pass Blvd, Chandler, AZ 85226

        1. re: uhockey

          Signed the contract last week. Looks like there will be many more dining adventures in the desert beginning July 2012.

          http://endoedibles.com

          1. re: uhockey

            Let me be the first to welcome you to the Valley of the Sun ---- and ----- Suckey Hockey. :)

            1. re: jock

              Thanks! Haha. I've been a Kings fan since I was a lad and I live in Columbus Ohio. Sub-par hockey is the expectation. :-)

              http://endoedibles.com

            2. re: uhockey

              Congrats! I really enjoyed your reviews.

              Are you the same uhockey from DS back in the day?

              1. re: Random987

                Thanks, and yes. The name changed, but Driven still exists and I am still involved.

                http://endoedibles.com

          2. Morning Glory Cafe, Over Easy, Liberty Market:

            Text as below, full reviews with pictures in the blog.

            http://endoedibles.com/?p=799

            …nearly a month after my trip to The Bay my interview travels would take me to Phoenix/Scottsdale, a place I’d never really considered before, but a place with a job that just seemed “right” and a number of fellow gourmands, foodies, and chow-hounds who really reached out with their recommendations and offers to meet up for meals – a great group, each and every one. With days jammed packed with interviews, practice visits, sightseeing, and a hockey game this short trip would actually prove to be a little tricky in planning but after getting a general feel for the local logistics the restaurants fell into place nicely with breakfast, lunch, and dinner planned strategically each day along with a few snacks. Beginning first with breakfast, just as my trip did, there were three proper sit down breakfasts in The Valley and the first took place less than an hour after I hopped of the plane at The Farm at South Mountain.

            With bags packed light and my car easily obtained the drive to Morning Glory Café would be a straight forward 15 minutes from Sky Harbor Airport and arriving at the large farm I proceeded down the gravel path through gardens of streaming sunlight that I quite simply did not expect to see in the “desert.” With signs delineating the location of the café (and the oft raved Quiescence next door) parking was found under a shady tree and checking the thermostat, 87 degrees Fahrenheit at 8:45am) I hopped out of the car and walked down the path to the restaurant only to find the patio approximately 1/3 full. Greeted promptly by a thin young woman and subsequently by the elderly gentleman who would be my server I was told to “sit anywhere you like.”

            Selecting a seat in the shade as my pale Midwestern complexion certainly was not ready for an hour in the Arizona sun it would be mere moments before Cliff would stop by with the menu and a bucket of condiments to inform me of the daily pastry special and to ask if I had any questions. Requesting a coffee I was informed that the coffee, water, and tea are all “help yourself” and suggesting I’d need a minute to browse the menu I was told to take my time.

            With the menu concise but full of excellent choices largely consisting of locally sourced meats and organic produce I spent a few moments weighing my decision and with my choices made I motioned to Cliff who stopped by to take my order and warn me “you’d better be hungry” before departing for the kitchen. Undeterred by his warning I next proceeded to the coffee stand where biodegradable cups and lids were provided for both water and coffee and after getting a cup of each I returned to my seat where I sipped the thin and mildly acidic locally roasted Café Cortez coffee while awaiting my appetizer.

            Prebaked but still warm, the first item to arrive at my table would be the pastry of the day – a Blueberry Muffin nearly the size of my fist and bespeckled with crystals of cane sugar. First tasting the muffin as it was and then gilding the proverbial lily with salted California Dairies butter the muffin would prove to be quite impressive in its density but also in its fluffiness as the medium-size blueberries burst with flavor within the buttermilk batter with tinges of cinnamon tickling the palate.

            With coffee refilled and a short wait as the patio filled another pair of tables with locals (and regulars judging by the greeting) Cliff would arrive perhaps twenty minutes after I was seated with the main course – the “Farm Monte Cristo” consisting of two thick slices of fluffy rustic French Toast sandwiched around slow baked local ham, two over easy eggs, and melting cheddar cheese. Apparently expecting me to be overwhelmed by the size Cliff offered me a “good luck and bon appetite” before stepping away and with that I set out to douse the amalgam with warm organic maple syrup and take a bite; a bite that more or less redefined the Monte Cristo for all time as the bread was not the least bit oily but rather light and fluffy with a nearly croissant textured interior and slight yeasty notes mellowed by the syrup and the powdered sugar. Moving next to the ham – young, fresh, lean, and salty – and then the sharp cheddar and creamy eggs the flavor was in a word “perfect;” salty, sweet, creamy, crunchy, and at the same time surprisingly light. It was not only the best breakfast item I had in Phoenix, but the best sandwich I’ve had in a very long time.

            With Cliff returning surprised that I’d finished the meal and offering me a “good job” I joked (well, not really joked as I really did go for pastry and pizza afterward) that the sandwich “wasn’t that big, but it was THAT good” and thanking him for the service I requested the tab while getting yet another coffee to enjoy while I checked my mail and another cup to go. Noting now that the experience of such a great sandwich, setting, and service is not “cheap” ($23 with tax and tip) I can say without a doubt that if I do end up in Phoenix long term Cliff will not make the mistake of underestimating my capacity again because without a doubt I’ll be a regular.

            With a whole day of eating including a 26-course masterpiece at Binkley’s behind me the second day of my trip to the Valley would be a clinic day…starting at 8:00…which of course meant a 10 mile run at 5:00am was not out of the question, nor was breakfast beforehand, in this case a place recently brought to national attention by (insert synonym for annoying) food personality Guy Fieri – Over Easy Café. Not particularly a fan of Fieri but having found some of his recommendations to at least be interesting (and in the case of Rino’s Place occasionally outstanding) the restaurant fit my time frame as well as location and as such I decided to give it a go.

            Arriving shortly after the doors opened at 6:30 Over Easy Café was easily located via GPS and attached to the Phoenix Coyotes Ice Den practice facility I allocated parking quickly and after a quick browse of the rink I made my way into the café – a starkly decorated seemingly converted office space with a breakfast bar and Formica all around and with a few tables of patrons already seated I was greeted at the door with the suggestion to sit anywhere I like. In this case electing for a two-top near the doors I took my seat where silverware wrapped in napkins along with the menu were already in place and grabbing a copy of the local paper I started to peruse the menu moments before service would arrive, a pleasant young lady named Samantha who appeared to be the only server working the room.

            Clearly a place for regulars as nearly ever patron to enter after me was greeted by name Samantha welcomed me and filling my water asked if I’d like coffee while I perused the menu; an offer I gladly agreed to when I noted that they were serving the same locally roasted Café Cortez as the day prior at Morning Glory.

            With my coffee being readied and having already perused the online menu I would be ready to order by the time Samantha returned and with the time just before 7:00 I opted for two dishes, both garnering a “good choice,” and sat back to read the paper and listen to the overhead radio while I waited perhaps fifteen minutes for my plates to arrive.

            With service efficient and friendly throughout my stay and coffee maintained near full along with my water my two plates would arrive simultaneously and having heard some (Food Network) call Over Easy the best breakfast in the state while the posters on the walls hailed Fieri’s commentary I started first with their signature item of Waffle Dogs, three chorizo spiced pork breakfast sausages on sticks dipped in the house waffle batter and fried to a golden brown and dusted with powdered sugar. Warned that these were hot in temperature but mild in flavor Samantha suggested a combination of maple syrup (not authentic maple, mind you) and hot sauce as a condiment for this and first tasting the Dogs themselves and then with syrup and sauce I had to admit they were better dressed but not terribly impressive either way. A bit spicy and a nice blend of sweet and savory the overall impression was that yes, this was kind of like a corndog, but without the cornbread and thus inferior. Light and without oiliness the crispness was appreciated, but overall rather lacking for a “signature” dish.

            Moving next to my second selection, the better of the two by some degree, a half order of Caramelized banana & pecan French toast was delivered – a dish that would clearly be tasty based simply on ingredients, but actually a nice preparation with the single slice of buttery brioche crisp on the exterior and custard like on the inside topped with fresh bananas, crunchy pecans, and a thick caramel sauce that tasted good on the toast and equally delicious spooned into my coffee. Certainly not a breakfast for those lacking a sweet tooth one slice was definitely enough, especially after the waffle dogs.

            With a coffee offered for the road and the clock just shy of 7:45 I accepted the to-go cup and after paying the admittedly modest tab plus tip made my way from the restaurant en route to clinic along with the newspaper housing and sports sections that I was encouraged to take along with me. Overall a nice place with good service I cannot say I’d go out of my way for Over Easy, but considering its location I could certainly see it making a great breakfast spot after a morning skate – goodness knows it would have trumped the Denny’s or Bob Evans I frequented after hockey as a lad.

            Another long day – clinic all morning, lunch at Barrio Café, and a late dinner at Kai – yet the morning routine would repeat itself again with a great twelve mile run around Kierland making me wish every hour of every day was like Phoenix before dawn. Showered and refreshed by the in-room Starbucks Africa Kitamu and readied for another long day of eating, sightseeing, eating, hockey, and eating I made my way to the car and set my GPS for the town of Gilbert; destination Liberty Market, home of what many (including the local paper) have noted to be the best Bread Pudding around.

            A functioning grocery since 1935 and located in a building under a water tower every bit showing its age I approached Liberty Market slowly due to the local farmer’s market – a market containing much of what has now been out of season in Ohio for at least a month – and with parking readily available I made my way into Liberty Market via the side door. Passing the al fresco dining area, the kitchen, and subsequently the store and pastry counter to take my place in a line six deep I grabbed a paper menu on the way in to browse though in all reality it was not really necessary; I knew what I was there for and the pastry case had already tempted me with any number of appetizers.

            Standing in line while others made their decisions, some a full meal and some merely pastries to go, when I eventually reached the coffee bar I was greeted by a young man with spacers and sleeves to fit his blasé demeanor and placing my order the price was recited and a number was handed to me with any number of seats to choose from both inside and out. Opting this time for the indoors and filling a glass with water and ice I took a seat with a full view of the room and placing my number on the table was left to wait for perhaps 10 minutes while reading a local guidebook detailing Liberty’s history as well as the other restaurants in Joe Johnston’s stable.

            Sipping my water while watching a small boy barely make a dent in his enormous pile of eggs my first course of the meal at Liberty would arrive hot from the pastry case in the form of the largest Cinnamon Roll I’ve eaten to date – a squared off yeasty pastry nearly filling the 12” by 12”plate and inundating what I can only imagine to be a 6 foot diameter with the smells of butter, cinnamon, and sugar. Large yet impressively light with wispy dough sandwiching layers of cinnamon and butter and the entirely lacquered in a thin sugar shell the Cinnamon Roll wowed in flavor as much as it did in size and without being the belly buster of Cinnabon was a perfect size to share as an appetizer – or, if you’re feeling truly ravenous (gluttonous) to enjoy on your own.

            With the cinnamon roll easily dispatched of and now wishing I’d have gotten coffee but not wanting to withstand the 10+ deep line my second dish would arrive approximately fifteen minutes on the heels of the cinnamon roll and given all its hype I truly expected the Griddled Bread Pudding to be mind blowing, but alas it was merely very good. Served with real maple syrup and approximately half the size and twice the weight of the cinnamon roll the bread pudding was in reality nearly flawless French Toast – a caramelized exterior and a moist custard interior, but what he had in texture it unfortunately lacked in taste. Largely eggy but also with slight notes of cinnamon and vanilla that perked up with the syrup perhaps part of my disillusionment with the pudding was actually how sweet its predecessor had been but overall it just felt like something was missing – perhaps some fruit, whipped cream, or caramelized nuts to add a bit of texture and nuance (this is apparently how they serve the dessert, non-griddled, bread pudding.

            )

            Overall a very nice spot and a place I’d definitely return to for the baked goods as well as to try the pancakes, plus perhaps the griddled bread pudding with a side of fruit as a starter and one of those incredible looking Sticky Buns or scones as dessert. Additionally, a third interesting breakfast in three days in the Valley and a good sign that breakfast and brunch are definitely worth going out for – a far cry from my current environs back home.

            -----
            Binkley's
            6920 E. Cave Creek Rd., Cave Creek, AZ 85331

            Over Easy
            4730 E Indian School Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85018

            Morning Glory Cafe
            6106 S 32nd St, Phoenix, AZ 85042

            Liberty Market
            230 N Gilbert Rd, Gilbert, AZ

            Cinnabon
            1445 W Southern Ave Ste 2142, Mesa, AZ 85202

            1. La Grande Orange Grocery, Scratch, The Herb Box, Cartel Coffee, Sweet Republic, The Fry Bread House:

              Full review with pictures in the blog, text as below:

              http://endoedibles.com/?p=826

              Never one to let the idea of three square meals a day deter me from enjoying a visit to a new city my three plus days in Phoenix, Scottsdale, Glendale, and Chandler would additionally lead me to a number of ancillary eats – some upscale and French, some down n’ dirty Southwest, some new, some old, some hot, and some cold. Beginning first with my love of pastries, the first of these six stops would be at the combined grocery, café, bakery, liquor store, souvenir stand, and pizza parlor that is La Grande Orange Grocery; the sort of place you have to see to believe yet the sort of place where it all seems to “fit.”

              Harbored in a small strip mall with plenty of parking plus curbside checkout for those on the go I made my way into La Grande Orange only half knowing what to expect and having already mentioned the commodities entailed the only thing I could think of when I entered the door was a trip to Whole Foods if you condensed the entirety of one store into a space approximately one quarter the size. With cups to one side and cupcakes to the other, wine to my right and coffee to my left my first impression was one of total sensory overload yet at the same once I entered and started to browse I detected a sort of controlled chaos as the various lines moved toward their destination with a good flow.

              Having already eaten breakfast and had plenty of coffee with pizza plans at Bianco for later in the day I took my time investigating the space – children’s toys, shirts, travel mugs, cheeses, pre-made salads, locally roasted coffees – before finally approaching the pastry counter to browse the cornucopia of goods. With many items baked in house and others provided by Tammie Coe Bakery two doors down I weighed the options carefully while additionally gauging my hunger and although any number of the options sounded delectable I ended up settling for two; one my own choice and a sort of obligation at this point and the other a recommendation from the young woman at the counter as “the best thing in the world;” a promise I told her I’d hold her to if she was wrong, and after paying the modest tab I made my way to the street with my choices packed up (ostensibly for later, but in reality for enjoyment less than thirty minutes later as I checked into my hotel.

              )

              Beginning first with my selection, La Grande Orange’s very own Red Velvet Cupcake, this large specimen wrapped in red wax paper and topped with an ample pile of cream cheese frosting would prove to be one of the better Red Velvets I’ve had in some time save for the stellar version at Bouchon Bakery just one month prior. Loaded with notes of cocoa and sugar plus the faint taste of cinnamon and what I’m pretty sure was clove I really enjoyed the subtle nuance to this cake and despite the $3.95 price tag the portion was substantially larger and the cake significantly more moist than more expensive versions in other major cities.

              Moving next to the suggestion of my cashier, the Tammie Coe Crumb Bun, I really was not sure what to expect of the $2.50 option but what I received, while not the best thing in the world, was without a doubt the best sweet I had on my visit to Arizona. Beginning first with the exterior, this golden biscuit looked something like a cinnamon roll meets a scone with a spiral texture encased in crystal sugar, but digging deeper and peeling off a layer the texture was instead somewhat akin to the famous Breton Kouign Amann kissed with cinnamon and topped with streusel. Layer after buttery layer, bite after yeasty bite, and making a mess of the carpet (crumb bun indeed) all the while all I can say is that if you find yourself in the Phoenix area this is a must try and given the quality of both selections I was lucky to be staying so far from La Grande Orange and Tammie Coe because otherwise I’d have gone back for more.

              Another day and another bakery; a second stop on my tour of the Valley of the Sun would take me to Scratch Pastries & Bistro, a relative newcomer (2008) to the scene featuring both baked goods and a bistro menu focusing not only on French inspired creations but also frequently utilizing French imported items in their creation. The brainchild of Duc Liao and his wife Noelle based on their time in Paris as a photographer and model, respectively, the space had originally appeared on my radar based on the recommendation of a friend and had only increased its status in my mind by advertising one of my favorite desserts – the Paris Brest – on their website.

              Located in a rather unattractive strip-mall beside a Subway my arrival to Scratch would be just past noon and with the thermostat topping the century mark I made my way quickly from the car to the cute French-Chic interior and greeted by two young ladies behind the counter I was asked if I planned to dine in or take some items to go, a decision I debated for a few seconds before I was handed a menu and left to decide. Already with lunch plans I knew the bistro menu was not the choice (though admittedly the duck and foie gras had my attention) and as such I turned my attention to the pastry case only to be told that no Paris Brest was available – a disappointment to be sure, but at the same time given the variety of options (including a number of my other favorites) not totally disheartening and after a few moments of indecision I opted for three selections, paid the modest tab, and made my way outside to enjoy.

              Beginning first with the only warm item of the group, an almond croissant fresh from the oven, my first bite from Scratch would show that the Liao’s time in Paris had been well spent as the golden shell shattered on my bite giving way to an airy layered interior with a smear of sweet frangipane that not only added flavor and nuance to the already sweet pastry but also did not weigh down the wispy pastry inside; a fine balance not often seen in American Almond Croissants.

              Moving next to another French specialty, a small Salted Caramel Macaron stored refrigerated in a plastic sheath, this two bite $3 cookie would prove rather average largely due to the temperature and a degree of dampness marring its characteristic crackling shell. With the filling ample in flavor I do wonder if perhaps the dry Arizona air has something to do with the decision to store these cookies chilled, but overall it is not a decision I fancied when it came down to texture.

              For my final taste of Scratch I opted for an American classic, my typical Red Velvet cupcake, and where the macaron disappointed the cupcake achieved at the highest level; a textural masterpiece ranking in my top 3 red velvet cupcakes of all time. Beginning first with the frosting, seemingly a small puff of sour cream cheese actually tunneling down into the body of the cake, it was quite good but where this cake truly stood out was its density – the sort of moist sponginess that made the cake seem almost undercooked as a bit of red dripped onto my hand, but in reality a veritable cloud of loaded with chocolate and vanilla tones that permeated the palate in perfect balance with the frosting.

              Overall Scratch was a good visit and I feel like I (pun intended) merely scratched the surface of what they have to offer – if and when I return I’m calling ahead to make sure they have the Brest and while I’m there I’ll check out that bistro menu because, really, where else can you get duck and foie gras for lunch in town and chase it with a top notch French Pastry or cupcake?

              A third day, a third bakery, but this time the goods actually made it back to the hotel and served as breakfast on the day of my departure…well, okay, I had to try a bite of each while they were fresh but I promise the rest made it through both refrigeration and rewarming without further consumption until the next day. For my third and last pastry stop on this tour of the Valley I just so happened to be wandering the Scottsdale Fashion Square before lunch at Cowboy Ciao and opted to stop into The Herb Box based on the recommendation of a friend.

              First approaching the upstairs restaurant, at this point thriving with Saturday brunchers, the space is admittedly gorgeous looking out on the river and after browsing the menu (note to self, red velvet pancakes and a divine sounding BLT with ricotta) I subsequently made my way down to the basement bakery, café, coffee shop, and wine store. Greeted on entering by a young lady behind the counter who asked if she could get a beverage ready for me while I waited I agreed to a large iced coffee while I weighed my options; a bevy of muffins, scones, pastries, and desserts totaling at least forty – some standard and some entirely unique but all but a few desirable. Deciding once again to choose one for myself and to rely on my server for the second choice my options were boxed, then bagged, and paying the $13 tab with tax and tip I made my way back to the street.

              Beginning first with my selection, a tossup between the Red Velvet Cake and Bread Pudding, the pudding always wins and in this case my selection of Vanilla Bean Bread Pudding with Peach and Peaches n’ Cream Glaze would prove to be the best bread pudding of the trip not only in its present cool state, but even more so the following day after reheating. Dense and packed with notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, and most of all vanilla juxtaposing studs of sliced peaches this “pudding” was nearly cakelike in its texture and when topped with the glaze – a dense anglaise with more cinnamon and the fructose sweetness of peaches serving as top notes – it was simply outstanding.

              Moving next to my server’s suggestion, another dish billed as “best thing ever,” this is one circumstance where I can actually say that at that very moment I felt like she may have been right because as good as my Bread Pudding had been, the adult Ding Dong was all the better. Beginning first with a dense chocolate cake made with dark Dutch processed cocoa, the base of this dessert was clearly sour cream based and all the better for it as the slight flavors melded perfectly. Moving next to the “cream filling” in this case replaced with a nearly liquid white chocolate marshmallow cream the sweetness was a perfect balance to the cake while the entirety of the dessert was encased in a dense dark chocolate shell flecked with blue edible glitter. A masterpiece both visually, texturally, and in terms of flavor I’d not hesitate to call this one of the best “upscale” takes on American Retail comfort food I’ve ever had (notwithstanding Cathal Armstrong’s Foie Gras Twinkie, of course.)

              Doing my best to restrain myself from eating the entirety of both before the following day while carrying the bag from store to store in order to prevent melting in the hot Arizona Sun all I know now is that my next visit to Phoenix/Scottsdale will see me with breakfast or brunch at The Herb Box and desserts from the café below (that may or may not make it out the door, but certainly not to the following day.)

              After lunch at Ciao and still with my Herb Box pastries in hand I spent the afternoon wandering Old Town Scottsdale when the sudden urge for caffeine hit me. Knowing there was a Starbucks nearby but wanting something a bit more novel I pulled up the Yelp locator and noted a familiar name from my research on the city; Cartel Coffee Lab, apparently a new location filling the space of a now defunct store that used to serve their beans. Having heard good things about their sourcing, roasting, and brewing I made my way into the small store to find a number of folks lounging, surfing the web, and enjoying their coffee and on making my way to the counter I was met by not only a prompt and friendly barista, but also a knowledgeable one who asked what I liked in a coffee (full, thick, cocoa, low acid for those curious) and he spot-on recommended the Ethiopian Dark Roast at $3/8oz or $16.99/lb.

              Taking his suggestion while discussing the other six varieties available I was quoted prices, terroir, and tasting notes as he prepared my single drip and with options ranging from $12.99 for 12oz to $29.99 for 12oz I was told that all were available by the cup if I wanted to taste – a mental note well engrained for my next trip to the area. With coffee prepared and limited options for sweetener (muscovado sugar or Agave nectar only) I opted to drink it black and sipping the brew the flavor was spot on to what I appreciate – velvety, cocoa tinged, and a bit of cherry and almond. An important aspect of any city I’m considering as my next home it is good to know that Phoenix/Scottsdale has a place like this – very important.

              With pastries and coffee now well covered and plenty interesting enough to put Phoenix on my culinary map the next question was how well they did Ice Cream, and coming from the self-proclaimed Ice Cream Capital of America I figured I might as well just go for the best to compare head-to-head with the Jeni’s, Bi-Rite’s, and Toscanini’s of the world – in this case, Scottsdale’s own Sweet Republic.

              Rated by Bon Appetite as one of the nation’s 10-best and focused on small batch artisan flavors just like the rest of the list Sweet Republic is tucked into a small strip mall off Shea Boulevard and while not simple to find the products are also available by the pint at Whole Foods. Not wanting a pint but rather to sample I made my way up the stairs to the small store to find it largely empty – a surprise since every parlor in Ohio is lined up out the door when it is 100 degrees out, but perhaps not surprising in Scottsdale where temperatures frequently reach such peaks. Entering the store I was greeted by the smell of sugar, vanilla, and that all-too-familiar scent of ice cream cones and within moments I was greeted by a young lady ready with sampling spoons.

              Not wanting to be greedy but certainly wanting to sample a couple before buying in my first two tastes of Sweet Republic’s Ice Cream would be Tres Leches, a dense and flavorful but largely one-dimensional vanilla and next Desert Honey, a lovely bite not dissimilar to a frozen liquid Bit-o-Honey. With easily twenty more flavors to taste and my server not seeming to mind my next two bites would prove memorable enough to commit to a double – one scoop of Honey Blue Cheese and the other of Salted Butter Caramel – for $4.25. Waiting for the scoops as I browsed the shops collection of cookies, candies, and even bacon brittle I thanked my server for her assistance and sitting down to enjoy my choices I was very pleased by one and blown away by the other.

              Beginning first with the Salted Butter Caramel, a flavor I try everywhere, this dense concoction with pockets of liquid gold oozing from the otherwise milky sweet ice cream was exceptional and on par in all ways with that of Jeni’s back home – potentially even better though a side-by-side would need to be done to be certain. Moving next to the Blue Cheese – easily a top 5 ice cream moment of all time with the sharp notes of the cheese aptly countered by the sweetness of the honey and the overall texture somewhere between frozen frosting and cheesecake; an absolute must try for anyone living in or visiting the area whether it is 100 degrees or not.

              Moving finally to the last of my supplementary snacks I’ll start off by saying I’d read about The Fry Bread House a couple of times when planning my trip to The Valley but it did not make my list of must visit stops until just the day prior during dinner at Kai when I was speaking with head Chef Michael O’Dowd about the lack of Native American restaurants in the area (he explained this to me, but that is for another time) and one of his expeditors suggested I should check out Cecilia Miller’s temple of fried dough calling it “about as authentic as it gets around here.”

              Hailing from the Tohono O'odham Nation and serving up her style of Indian Tacos around the area for nearly twenty years (and now at two locations) I opted to head to the original Fry Bread House West and having followed my GPS from door to door I found the location with ease on a relatively dingy stretch of 7th Avenue and allocating parking with ease I made my way into the unassuming low-lying restaurant where I was greeted by a short line and then by a curt but friendly waitress who took no time in requesting my order and name before handing me a plastic cup to get my water and suggesting it would be perhaps 10 minutes before my food was ready.

              Taking a seat – the table slightly sticky and clearly not wiped down since (at least) the last diners – and browsing the scene while I watched the kitchen work through the small open window I marveled at the flow of the room as patron after patron received his or her food. With some orders having been phoned in and others being delivered to the tables surrounding mine if I had to guess nearly fifteen Fry Breads were served during my nine minute wait and when I finally heard “Michael” called from the front I stepped up to collect my $12 merely seconds before the next order was served up to “Andre.”

              Returning to my seat with prizes in hand my first impression was that I’d over ordered as each disc was easily the size of a Frisbee and two-to-three fold as thick, but picking up my first option, the “Indian Taco with Pinto Beans, Shredded Cheddar Cheese, Lettuce” I was next impressed as to just how light the hand stretched bread was – a wisp of pillowy flat bread crisped on the outside by the oil but light and airy within. With the ingredients a standard store-bought admixture of traditional taco toppings and a bit of hot sauce to taste this was a good choice to understand what the “Indian Taco” was all about (and perhaps to understand why diabetes and lipid disorders are so prevalent in their population, as well.)

              Moving next to my dessert selection, one of the frequently noted “best dishes” in Phoenix and denoted as an “Award Winning Favorite” on the restaurant menu, the Chocolate and Butter Fry Bread would prove to be every bit the “Fair Food” extravagance I expected with the same airy dough this time served openfaced and drizzled – nay – ladled first with butter and then with melted dark chocolate tinged with what I believe was adobe spice and cinnamon. Sliced and resting atop both wax paper and napkins to soak up the grease I attacked this fry bread with zeal and without going so far as to call it the most sinful thing I’ve eaten this year I will simply say this; it was a once-in-a-year sort of treat that was entirely worth the money, calories, and visit but at the same time the sort of thing that simply feels “bad” for you despite the smile on your face as you’re eating it.

              -----
              Cowboy Ciao
              7133 East Stetson Drive, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

              La Grande Orange Grocery
              4410 N 40th St, Phoenix, AZ 85018

              Fry Bread House
              4140 N 7th Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85013

              Scratch Pastries
              7620 E Indian School Rd # 103, Scottsdale, AZ

              Fry Bread
              7611 W Thomas Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85033

              1. Pizzeria Bianco:

                Full review with pictures in blog. Text as below:

                http://endoedibles.com/?p=861

                Having touched down in Phoenix only 200 minutes prior and already with breakfast under my belt the next stop on my tour of The Valley would be the most famous of all my gastronomic experiences in the area and, all things being equal, probably one of the five most famous pizzerias in the United States. Opened in 1994 and garnering numerous awards since inception Chris Bianco’s eponymous Pizzeria Bianco reads like a familiar story to most gourmands today with its focus on all that is organic, local, and seasonal with an oven made by hand and a dedicated New York raised pizzaiolo, but to consider what Chris has done and how long he has been doing it in such an unlikely place is something else entirely – natural, organic, and entirely American pies in the middle of the desert since 1988 reads like exactly what it is; a work of passion. The sort of passion that inspires people to wait three hours in the desert sun to sample his pies.

                With Chris’ health problems related to too many years of asthma and inhaling flour (…sand blasters get silicosis, coal miners get coal miner’s lung, but I guess we’ll just call this pneumonitis since flourosis and pizzaiolo lung haven’t yet been detailed in the literature) well publicized in recent years and some claiming the pies no longer stack up to their legendary standards plus new lunch hours to help stem the tide (and time) my arrival at Pizzeria Bianco would actually precede the lunch time opening by approximately ten minutes but with free valet readily available I opted to park my car and wait a lovely thirty minutes in the sun while browsing the area until my dining partners would arrive, three new friends who had volunteered to lend their palates and opinions to a guy from the Midwest at Phoenix’s most famous eatery.

                With the doors now open and greetings exchange our party of four next made our way into Bianco – at this point half full – and were led to a cozy four-top in the back corner of the room. With tables close and ceilings high the noise level at Pizzeria Bianco is certainly something to contend with even at half capacity, but with service excellent (and provided by another Ohio native none-the-less) we were quickly greeted and presented with menus, silverware, water, and the two daily specials – a salad and an antipasto – before we were left to decide; an easy decision that led to one glass of wine, one salad, and four pizzas (from the six on the menu.

                )

                Sitting and chatting while we awaited our food I found the people of Phoenix (both my dining pals, the service, and everyone subsequently) to be friendly and conversant much like Midwesterners and discussing everything from food to the arts to sports and local housing the first item to arrive at our table would be a loaf of the house made bread along with olive oil. Never one to turn down the bread basket and with the selection still warm I grabbed an end piece from the rustic country loaf and was instantly smitten by the intense crunch of the crust and smoky notes from the oven that laced the open fluffy interior. Excellent on its own and better with the olive oil the bread immediately made me think that regardless of how good the pizzas were I’d definitely be adding Chris’ sandwich shop down the road to my list of “must eats” for future reference.

                With bread passed around and conversation freely flowing the salad and wine would arrive next and although I ordered neither I tasted both – the salad a combination of local arugula, spinach, chicory, and apples with a light vinaigrette and the wine a surprisingly fruity yet subtly dry red whose name I do not recall.

                Having now sat for perhaps thirty minutes while pies entered and exited the oven being delivered to many around us the time would finally arrive to taste the oft raved pizza of team Bianco as all four of our selections arrived simultaneously covering the table and filling the air with the smells of smoke, yeast, pork, tomato, and basil. With much sharing to be done and pictures taken the next twenty or so minutes would consist of much less talking and far more eating than the previous thirty and beginning first with my selection – well – let’s just say it lived up to the hype as the ROSA with Red Onion, Parmigiano Reggiano, Rosemary, and Arizona Pistachios may just be the best “specialty pizza” I’ve ever tasted. Beginning first with the crust – an expert balancing act between the thinness of a Neapolitan like Lucali and the chewy hole structure of that at Great Lake – it was nearly perfect as the slight char from the wood oven gave each pie a lovely crunch yet pliable interior that could support the ingredients without disturbing them. Moving next to the toppings – no sauce here – just thinly sliced onions, intense salty cheese, crunchy smooth pistachios, and a touch of rosemary to pique everything else. Marvelous.

                Moving next to another of Bianco’s signatures, the WISEGUY with wood Roasted Onion, House Smoked Mozzarella, and Fennel Sausage I was pleasantly surprised by the mildness of both the onions and the fennel, both present but not overwhelming, while the slight spice of the sausage floated above the pools of creamy cow’s milk mozzarella. Another well balanced pie, though I do feel it could have done with just a touch less olive oil…a small quibble, to be sure.

                For the third choice, the BIANCOVERDE with Fresh Mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano, Ricotta, and Arugula would be the only pizza we modified from the menu description – in this case by adding a $3 supplement of Organic 'La Quercia' Prosciutto Americano from Iowa that was every bit worth the cost. Again featuring that same pliable smoky crust but this time topping it first with the trio of cheeses before adding the arugula and prosciutto after it exited the oven this “Salad Pizza” was a valuable addition to the lineup largely because of the quality of the ingredients and the balance achieved by using each lightly. From the smooth mozzarella to the puddles of ricotta and tangy Parmigiano up through the slight bitters of the greens and the powerful saline notes of the pork everything simply clicked though for some the lack of spice was an issue – an issue easily amendable by the red pepper provided on request (try getting that at Una, Lucali, or Great Lake.)

                For the final selection, that of the man who’d experienced Chris’ work longer and more frequently than the rest of us combined, there was no way I was going to miss out on the MARGHERITA while I was here and thankfully he’d ordered it (thus preventing me from ordering both it and the ROSA.) With the stars of the show well known – simply the freshest Tomato Sauce with light hints of sweetness, oregano, and garlic plus Fresh Mozzarella, and Basil – this was a no nonsense sort of pie that hit on all cylinders; tangy, creamy, aromatic, smoky, and perfect. While not the absolute greatest Margherita I’ve ever had, a top 5 member for sure and when paired with the rest of the menu, the service, and the setting a pizza definitely worthy of the fame especially considering the fact that Bianco uses all local ingredients including tomatoes from California in the making of his sauce.

                Eating, sharing, talking, and then eating some more while the service checked in occasionally to see if we needed anything else our time at Bianco felt much longer than it was and when it was all said and done only four slices remained – two of the WISEGUY and two the BIANCOVERDE – all wrapped up and going home with their respective owners while I took home with me the memories of some of the best pizza I’ve ever experienced and (perhaps more importantly) the experience of meeting with some great people for outstanding pizza in a setting where people have a passion for what they are doing without all the pretense. Yeah Chris didn’t build the oven and furniture by hand like Lucali, and perhaps Pizzeria Bianco doesn’t fly all their ingredients in from Italy like Una, and sure Chris’ health prevents him from being ever present at the oven like Dom at DiFara or Nick at Great Lake but in the end the results are the same…this is some really great pizza well worth going out of your way for.

                -----
                Pizzeria Bianco
                623 E Adams St, Phoenix, AZ 85004

                3 Replies
                1. re: uhockey

                  So where does Tacconelli's fit in your top bunch ?

                  1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                    A conservative #6. I'd need to taste them side by side with Supino and Delfina to determine 5/6/7 on the list.

                    http://endoedibles.com

                2. Where do you compare Binkley's to Chez L'Ami Jean and Chez Dumonet in meal quality

                  I believe I recalled you going to both of those places this summer (or at least one of them)

                  I dont think the dining vibe at any of them is really the same but they are all around the same price point (i think)

                  after typing this i have a craving for rice pudding heh

                  -----
                  Binkley's
                  6920 E. Cave Creek Rd., Cave Creek, AZ 85331

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Dapuma

                    They are entirely different, but I enjoyed my meal and time at Binkley's much more than either - particularly Dumonet which was merely okay.

                    http://endoedibles.com

                    -----
                    Binkley's
                    6920 E. Cave Creek Rd., Cave Creek, AZ 85331