The House at Secret Garden: Happy Hour Report Card
Buchanan mixed olives with feta
The Spot: The House at Secret Garden, 2501 E. Baseline Road, Phoenix, 602-243-8539, www.houseatsecretgarden.com.
The Hours: Happy Hour is offered 5 to 6:30 p.m, Tuesday through Friday.
The Interior: If you're looking for a setting that's gracious, quiet and big on old school charm, you can't do better than this Spanish Colonial, 20s-era home, surrounded by shade trees and lush lawn. Wood floors, cove ceilings and a lovely old fireplace in the main dining room lend a touch of history and romance -- two things in short supply in restaurant decor these days. Happy hour happens indoors, so if you want a crack at the cozy, flower-filled patio, one of the city's most charming, thanks to a border of orchid trees, a fish pond and a stone fireplace, you'll want to come for lunch or dinner.
The Food: Pat Christofolo (The Farm Kitchen at South Mountain and Santa Barbara Catering) co-owns the restaurant with her son Dustin, who graduated a prestigious culinary school in Parma and brings playful Italian touches to the modern American menu here.
Try the golden polenta fries -- crunchy outside, creamy within -- and you'll see what I mean. Crisscrossed like Lincoln Logs and served with spicy aioli (do I detect Old Bay?), they're a fluffy, habit-forming alternative to plain old potatoes ($3.50).
Clever sweet potato planks -- disks of thickly sliced sweet potato, smeared with creme fraiche, topped with sheared green onion and crisp pancetta wheels -- make perfect snack food: sweet, salty and creamy at once. You'll mow through the first round and consider another ($5).
Sweet potato plank