The Hunt for Good Escargot in Metro Phoenix

Categories: Cafe Review

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Jackie Mercandetti
Escargot with bone marrow from Peite Maison in Scottsdale.
You think of them, perhaps, as garden pests. For me, they are a favorite meal. I eat snails. With a glass of good rosé and the proper amount of French bread, escargot are on my comestibles short list.

I've eaten them in sauces and in phyllo purses, wrapped in sourdough and cooked into stews, and once, very memorably, in a mediocre cassoulet at a place called Patin Couffin in Fayence, a small Provençal village. I remember more about Virginie, the transsexual septuagenarian who ran the place, than I do the cassoulet, in part because her English was so good and because she noticed that my hair was in dishabille and, licking the palm of her hand, patted it back into place. (Also, she sat down at our table, advised us against the fish course, and never stopped talking. Also, there was the part about how she used to be a man and now she was an old woman in a halter top.)

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Lunch Be a Lady: Exploring the Arcadia Lunch Scene

Categories: Cafe Review

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Jackie Mercandetti
Grilled Yellow Fin Tuna Nicoise Salad, asparagus soup, and charcuterie from The Market by Jennifer's.
If you're lucky enough to lounge during lunch like a modern-day Oscar Wilde character, you have plenty of options. Arcadia has expanded its lunch game in the past year with more and more places that cater to the upper-crust, midday meal crowd. Chestnut, Flower Child, and The Market by Jennifer's are three recent additions to the scene.

Each caters to the persnickety demands of the clientele it seeks to win over with gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, paleo, and other dietary options clearly labeled so that no one has to wonder -- though customers tend to loudly ask anyway. The restaurants also gravitate toward a vintage and quaint yet chic aesthetic that says, "I take myself and my lunch seriously."

If you're willing to drop a 20-spot or more on lunch, you're welcome to navigate the highs and lows of this rapidly increasing East Phoenix neighborhood's offerings. While Flower Child and Chestnut suffer from identity issues, The Market by Jennifer's goes for a more comforting culinary approach, resulting in less healthy but more interesting fare.

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Pony Tale: The New Pink Pony Misses the Point

Categories: Cafe Review

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Jackie Mercandetti
Pork chops with polenta, house chopped salad, and pretzel fondue from the Pink Pony.
The first time I visited the Pink Pony, following its floor­-to-­ceiling overhaul earlier this year, I was distracted. Where was the slightly shabby lounge singer, cracking us up with tacky renditions of ancient Pet Clark hits? The cozily dark bar, straight out of a 1930s Warner Bros. gangster film? Where was the fun of visiting an old Scottsdale steakhouse?

In the end, mostly disappointed by near-­miss appetizers and entrées, I left wondering, The Pink Pony's main draw, for decades, has been its scruffy sentimentality and dependable steak dinners. In a town full of upscale restaurants offering New American cuisine, we don't need another.

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Love Shack: Angry Crab Shack in Mesa Delivers Seafood by the Pound

Categories: Cafe Review

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Jackie Mercandetti
One pound of crawfish from Angry Crab Shack in Mesa.
Originality is dead. It is a universal truth that we have come to accept, whether it be with regard to Hollywood's inability to produce anything but sequels and remakes, fashion's predictable cycle of "what's old is new again" or restaurateurs who seem to latch on to a popular idea and perpetuate it ad naseum. We could have solved a litany of societal woes if any one of them garnered as many resources as does trying to discover the next Chipotle or a new twist on sushi.

But almost without exception, the old adage hold true: The imitator is rarely as good as the original.

And that brings us to a curious exception in the realm of restaurant game theory, a case where he who copies is far better than who he copied.

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An Homage to the Classic Caesar Salad

Categories: Cafe Review

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Jackie Mercandetti
Nobody does the Caesar quite like Alexi.
I remember Caesar salads the way other people recall first dates. I can recite for you my best Caesar, and my worst; can list for you the most disappointing Caesars in my life, and how they fell short. I especially recall my first Caesar, prepared by my paternal grandmother, Giovanina, when I was 7. It was dressed with long, flat croutons, each of them cradling an oily black anchovy. I stood and watched as she grated Parmesan directly into her dressing.

I've had kale Caesars, and Caesars with chopped tomato, and Caesars loaded down with steak and fish. I've endured grilled Caesars, a new form of torture; eaten Caesars at country club restaurants and pizza joints and even, as research while preparing to write this essay, one of those make-it-yourself bagged Caesars from the grocery. (It tasted like a plastic bag.)

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Taco Guild in Phoenix Is A Beautiful Place with So-So Food

Categories: Cafe Review

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Jackie Mercandetti
Taco trap: Beautiful setting, but so-so food at Taco Guild.
It doesn't take much to make an excellent taco. Oftentimes the very best ones come off of trucks or carts parked on the side of the road and its the simplicity of the dish that makes the dining so great.

But Taco Guild takes an altogether different approach. The restaurant offers creations that blend unexpected ingredients like bleu cheese with more tradition ones like chipotle cherry steak. In some cases the inventiveness yields successful results, but in other cases you end up with seriously unsavory eats.


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Little Miss BBQ in Phoenix, Where Well-Smoked Meat Takes Center Stage

Categories: Cafe Review

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Lauren Saria
Pork ribs from Little Miss BBQ in Texas.
Since opening three months ago, Little Miss BBQ has Phoenix diners crushing hard. The restaurant brings the great barbecue debate to our own backyard, offering smoked meats in the style of Central Texas.

Though owners Scott and Bekke Holmes will give you the option to uses one of a trio of sauces on the 'cue, you may want to forgo them all in favor of a more pure experience. Scott smokes his brisket for 11 hours in a custom-built R & O smoker made in Granbury, Texas, checking the heat every 15 minutes to ensure everything's going as planned. The result of such persistence is meat so good that the restaurant regularly -- almost always -- sells out by the end of the day.

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Guido's of Chicago: Time-Tested Traditions Preserve The Simple Pleasure of Eating

Categories: Cafe Review

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Jackie Mercandetti
Time-tested traditions abound at Guido's of Chicago in Scottsdale.
These days it's hard to find a place that does things the old fashioned way, without over-manipulating ingredients and reinterpreting every dish. Inevitably, we crave messy, imperfect, but real food. Places like Guido's of Chicago.

The restaurant has been serving some of the Windy City's most-popular eats in a Scottsdale strip mall for more than 30 years. Looking for an excellent rendition of Broaster chicken, a Chicago classic? You'll find the pressure fried chicken at Guido's, even though the restaurant is more of an Italian deli. Other specialties including housemade Italian sausage and a classic Italian beef sandwich that features highly seasoned top round soaked heavily in gravy.

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Jewel's Bakery and Cafe Is a Great Gluten-Free Bakery, but a Less Successful Cafe

Categories: Cafe Review

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Lauren Saria
Breakfast from Jewel's Bakery and Cafe in Phoenix.
Julie Moreno's idea to start a gluten-free restaurant started out of necessity. One of her children needed to go gluten-less and with six kids, she needed to be able to make good eats that would please the whole family. She started with an Internet-only bakery business called Jewel's Cupcake Shop, which eventually grew into a gluten-free breakfast and lunch bistro, Jewel's Bakery and Cafe.

At the restaurant Julie oversees the bakery side, while her daughter Justine serves as chef and restaurant manager. The good news is that Mom Moreno's baked goods -- including a near-perfect candied bacon cinnamon roll with sweet syrup and salty bacon -- are as good as ever. The bad news is that the restaurant' menu of gluten-free and vegan lunch and breakfast items falls mostly flat.

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Cuttlefish Ocean Kitchen in Scottsdale Ups the Ante of Fish Options in Phoenix

Categories: Cafe Review

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Jackie Mercandetti
Cuttlefish in Scottsdale has some hits and some misses.
Unlike their East Coast counterparts, chefs in Phoenix can't exactly just head to the nearest ocean and pick up a load of seafood, fresh off the boat. Of course, that doesn't mean there isn't any good seafood in town. But it does mean diners tend to approach seafood-centric restaurants with hesitation.

Late last year Cuttlefish Ocean Kitchen opened in Scottsdale, bringing a new fish-focused dining option to the Valley scene. The restaurant comes courtesy of chef Joey Maggiore, whose father is well-known Phoenix chef and restaurateur Tomaso Maggiore, whose experience includes working at his family restaurants in California. Cuttlefish serves a selection of Italian-inspired seafood dishes and while it may not be a perfect East Coast seafood joint, it's certainly a welcome addition to the Valley of the Sun.

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