New York's Shake Shack Doesn't Disappoint

Categories: Schaefer

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Eric Schaefer
Shaken, not stirred.
Welcome to "Schaefer," in which Eric Schaefer -- a local guy with a big (but discerning) appetite and a sense of humor to match -- takes on the Phoenix food scene.

Ask even the most educated New Yorker to identify the center of the universe and he'll answer, "New York City, of course."

I learned this lesson the painful way as a freshman in college at a Midwestern university where my college dorm was populated disproportionately by New Yorkers -- and loud ones, at that. They couldn't believe that I had never traveled to New York City because, really, hadn't everyone been to New York City?

Everything was better there. The bagels ("It's the water, stupid!"), the pizza, the culture, the shopping, the . . . everything. And it wasn't "New York City," it was "the city." Because, really, is there another city?

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The 40-Year-Old . . . Vegetarian?

Categories: Schaefer

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Amy Silverman
Will Schaefer veg out?
While local food enthusiasts were battling the crowds and the rain at the Devoured food festival, I was happily devouring a flawless porterhouse steak at The Camelback Inn's BLT Steak. When it comes to high-end steakhouses, I've always been loyal to Mastro's, but I'm quite certain BLT Steak is as good and, likely, a hell of a lot better.

The Great Steakhouse Debate will continue as long as this town welcomes every steak-oriented restaurant in the country, but I'm not here to argue about steaks.

I'm here to say that I really want to be a vegetarian.

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Oregano's Can Teach Us All a Lesson

Categories: Schaefer

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J.K. Grence
The pizza cookie at Oregano's.
Welcome to "Schaefer," in which Eric Schaefer -- a local guy with a big (but discerning) appetite and a sense of humor to match -- takes on the Phoenix food scene.

I'd like a job at Oregano's. If anyone from corporate is reading this, please call me, okay?

Never mind the fact that I already have a full-time job, not to mention a long list of family obligations. I want to work at Oregano's.

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Noca to Reopen February 12, and We've Got the Menu (in Progress)

Categories: Schaefer

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Chow Bella
Eliot Wexler
Eliot Wexler is insane. I can say that without fear of retribution because he has become a close friend of mine since he opened Noca in August 2008. To say that he is obsessive about food doesn't even begin to do it justice; Eliot is hell-bent on sourcing the highest-quality ingredients, food costs be damned. My allegation of insanity is a high compliment.

I still remember my first meal at Noca, where I sat, and what I ordered. It wasn't long before my wife and I regularly inhabited seats 109 and 110 at the chef's counter. We ate there often enough that I told Eliot I should have an ownership stake in the restaurant. (I don't.) I didn't know him before the restaurant opened, but we ate there enough that Eliot, and many of the staff, became friends.

In the meantime, the economy tanked.

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Live Rabbits and Fried Pickles at First Friday in Phoenix

Categories: Schaefer

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Eric Schaefer
Fried pickles on First Friday.
Welcome to "Schaefer," in which Eric Schaefer -- a local guy with a big (but discerning) appetite and a sense of humor to match -- takes on the Phoenix food scene.

I may very well be one of the few Phoenicians who somehow has managed to avoid the social and cultural phenomenon known as First Friday. Sure, I've passed through it on my way to a downtown sporting event, but I never managed to travel downtown purely for the purpose of First Friday. And if you think that Phoenix is nothing more than a cultural black hole of strip malls and bad stucco, then one visit to First Friday likely will be enough to change your mind.

An opening of an excellent art exhibit by James Cook at the Willo North Gallery brought me downtown, and it seemed a good enough excuse to delve deeper into the downtown scene. Roosevelt Street is packed with people of all ages, ethnicities, and nearly every stereotype that exists. Street musicians, open galleries, food trucks, and stalls selling everything from bongs to crafts (and hand-crafted bongs!) are a great reminder that, culturally speaking, there is a lot of life in Phoenix.

And, of course, I ate.

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Thai Boat Noodle Soup Is the New Pho

Categories: Schaefer

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Eric Schaefer
Welcome to "Schaefer," in which Eric Schaefer -- a local guy with a big (but discerning) appetite and a sense of humor to match -- takes on the Phoenix food scene.

For my last column of 2013, I'm sharing with you a secret. No, it's nothing terribly earth-shattering or lascivious, but it will add a dimension to your culinary repertoire that probably didn't exist until now. And I suspect that it will become an obsession for you, just as it has for me.

It's Thai Boat Noodle Soup, or kuay teow rhua.

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Bombay Spice Copies Chipotle Concept

Categories: Schaefer

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Eric Schaefer
Vindaloo at Bombay Spice.
Welcome to "Schaefer," in which Eric Schaefer -- a local guy with a big (but discerning) appetite and a sense of humor to match -- takes on the Phoenix food scene.

Like it or not, it's hard to deny that Chipotle has become an incredible restaurant success story. Quality, if not authentic, food and a user-friendly build-it-how-you-want it service model. It's ripe for plagiary, and we've already started to see the concept copied for everything ranging from enchiladas to pizzas.

Enter Bombay Spice Indian Grill. Actually, it's Bombay Spice Part II....Bombay Spice already existed as a fast-casual table service restaurant, but recast itself in the Chipotle image with a new location near the intersection of Tatum and Cactus. In the world of ethnic food, there are general two camps: those dead-set on authenticity and those open to more interpretation. I fall into the latter camp, and have always believed that "watered-down" ethnic food is better than no ethnic food, especially if it opens people's minds and palates to new flavors, makes cuisines less intimidating, and gives a reason for someone to delve further into more authentic offerings. It's like a gateway drug. For reasons that I'm not sure of, Indian food has never reached the mainstream in the same way as Japanese and Chinese. Bombay Spice is a very good start, but don't expect authenticity.

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Eric Schaefer Gives Thanks for Latkes and Ham

Categories: Schaefer

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Amy Silverman
Some people take this whole thing a little too far.
Welcome to "Schaefer," in which Eric Schaefer -- a local guy with a big (but discerning) appetite and a sense of humor to match -- takes on the Phoenix food scene.

In case you hadn't figured it out by now, I'm Jewish. What that really means is that in between my time spent feeling guilty about something, running Hollywood, polishing the horns that I tuck into my hair, and prevailing over Wall Street, I'm probably obsessing over food or -- more likely -- obsessing over food while simultaneously feeling guilty about something and fantasizing about Sarah Silverman.

One of the particularly weird things about Judaism (and there are many) is that the calendar is based on the lunar cycle, while the Gregorian calendar is based on the solar cycle. This means that Jewish holidays fall at different times of the year relative to the Gregorian calendar. Truthfully, I've never quite understood it, but as a self-professed Jewish Buddhist Atheist, there isn't much about religion that I truly understand.

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The Phoenix Food Scene Has a Long Way to Go

Categories: Schaefer

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Creative Commons
Hillstone is good, but can't Phoenix do better?
Welcome to "Schaefer," in which Eric Schaefer -- a local guy with a big (but discerning) appetite and a sense of humor to match -- takes on the Phoenix food scene.

As much as I hate to admit it, U.S. Representative Michelle Bachmann is right: The end times are upon us.

Although she made that statement (with joy, I might add) in reference to President Obama's foreign policy, the same inference could be made from the dismal and declining state of restaurant offerings in Arizona.

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Steak 'N Shake in Tempe Disappoints; Nothing Like the Midwest Favorite

Categories: Schaefer

Eric Schaefer
Chili mac -- from a Steak 'N Shake in the midwest, not Tempe.
Welcome to "Schaefer," in which Eric Schaefer -- a local guy with a big (but discerning) appetite and a sense of humor to match -- takes on the Phoenix food scene.

What would you do if you were responsible for the long-awaited expansion of a Midwestern legend into a city densely populated with Midwestern transplants? If it were up to me, I'd err on the side of "don't mess with a good thing."

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