The humble hot dog is one of those things everyone eats as a child and debates rage over what city makes them best. Is it Chicago? Is it New York City? The simple answer to that question is “no.” Having grown up in Hollywood, California, my opinion on the matter is simple, the best hot dog in America is served up at Pink’s Hot Dogs in Hollywood, California. Some may say this is merely an opinion and they would be right, except for the fact Pink’s has been continually serving up tasty dogs in the original location, owned and operated by the Pink’s Family since 1939!!!
In 1999 Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordin proclamed Pink’s Hot Dogs a “Monumental Family Business,” for at that time, they had been feeding Angeleneo’s cravings for SIXTY years. I don’t know what criteria you judge
your restaurants by but at this point, they’ve been in business for 73 years so they must be doing something right.
Lets get to the dogs. Pink’s serves up a hot dog made to their specification by Hoffy, with a natural casing and prepared to order start to finish by ONE person. Regardless of time of day, you will likely wait in line somewhere between 30 and 45 minutes but when you get close enough to spy the menu, your mouth will water at the choices you can make. There are literally hundreds of hot dog combinations, many named after various celebrities who have partaken of a fast dog.
Regardless of my hunger level, I will always order two hot dogs, fries and two drinks at Pink’s, this trip the winning dogs were the Brooklyn Pastrami Swiss Cheese Dog topped only with mustard and my old stand-by, the Bacon Chili Cheese Dog topped with tomato, cheese, mustard chopped raw onion and of course, three strips of bacon.
First up, the Brooklyn Pastrami dog. A big, juicy mound of pastrami draped lovingly over a weiner whose casing just pops when you bite into it flooding your mouth with it’s juicy deliciousness. I have a soft spot in my heat for New York City and this dog gave me just the right combination of two of the City’s signature delicacies.
I have a professed love of bacon that has been well and exhaustively documented so topping that perfectly made weiner with three slices of crispy, porky goodness and then piling on beef chili, tomato and onions must be a hit right? ABSOLUTELY! This hot dog is visually appealing and doesn’t disappoint when it hits the mouth.
A half pound order of golden french fries really put the meal far over the top, caused me to take a deep breath and loosen my belt a bit. There was no way I was getting through even half of the fries but I wouldn’t have dreamt of not ordering them. If you get the chance, hey know a thing about onion rings as well.
Though Pink’s will make you a hot dog virtually any way you want it, the one thing they will not do is take any form of payment other thank cash (there is even a set of instructions on how to order and pay that you had better follow lest you piss off the long line of people behind you and leave hungry.)
Once in a while I get a newsletter/constant contact/mailing list type of email that doesn’t cause me to cringe and look for the unsubscribe link hidden somewhere at the bottom. Today’s was a little gem from The Herb Box (which I happen to love) announcing their “Summer Supper Club.” A series of eight 3 courses for $30 (including a glass of wine even) meals starting the week of June 12th. Some of the menu items look positively MOUTHWATERING and i’ll certainly be dropping in to take advantage of the DEAL! Take a look, make a reservation and le tme know what you thought of your meal!
I recently dropped by one of my favorite local, family owned and operated restaurants to warm my belly with delicious hot food. Why do I emphasize the word hot here? Well, This particular restaurant happens to be Hana Japanese eatery, my favorite place for sushi in Arizona. On this particular night, the mercury had dipped into the forties and I was in the mood for for something to counter the chill. I tweeted @HanaJapanese asking what was recommended and commented that i’d happily put my stomach into their hands. What followed was simply perfect.
A large, piping hot bowl of Miso Ramen soup was first brought to the table. Steam from the delicate, flavorful broth wafted into my nose causing my mouth to water. Generous amounts of ramen noodles paired with scallion, subtle spices and pork absolutely hit the spot. I thoroughly enjoyed the flavor, texture and warmth this lovely bowl of soup delivered and have since found myself craving more.
While doing damage to the aformentioned ramen, my server brought over a propane fired hibachi grill along with a tray of assorted vegetables and strips of raw steak. The grill was lighted and I was instructed to add the vegetables (asparagus, pumpkin, okra, long beans and portobello mushrooms) and then grill the meat to my desired temperature. Forget going to kitchy chains like Benihana or Sapporo where the show is more important than the food, grilling it yourself using quality ingredients and truly becoming a part of the experience is where it’s at! (not to mention, everyone seemed to be ooh-ing and ahh-ing at what was going on at my table adding to the over-all cool factor).
While the miso ramen was warming and hit the spot and the Hana Hibachi steak couldn’t possibly have been better, it was the Hana Lobster sauté that really made my night. Tender chunks of well seasoned, perfectly sautéed lobster served with pieces of chopped asparagus lay before me begging to be snapped up by my eager chopsticks. I just ate and smiled, you have to order this dish and enjoy it to understand how good it really is.
I simply must mention the dessert here, green tea mochi in this case. I am at a rare lack of words to describe the texture of this little gem. Green tea ice cream encased in a flour and sweet rice dough that was firm, slippery, sweet and refreshing all at the same time. I hate using word like “delicious” to describe food because it doesnt really tell you anything about the experience but I will here because this mochi is a little weird, fanciful and yes, DELICIOUS!
Stop by Hana Japanese Eatery in Central Phoenix for simple, quality ingredients prepared lovingly and skillfully by a knowledgeable staff and remember something else important, while they will tempt your palate with a plethora of flavors and gladly fill your belly, the restaurant is strictly BYOB so if you like beer, sake or wine with your meal you’d better bring your own.
So I have a bit of a crush on this place. Lux Central happens to be about 20 miles away from home past about just as many coffee shops but I find myself making the trek here several times a week.
I find Lux to be a bit of a love hate kind of place. Parking can be a battle as though there are a lot of spots and on street parking, it can still be a battle finding a place to tie up your horse. With free wifi and plenty of seating, Lux is a place you want to plop down for a while and do whatever it is you have to do but here it’s “coolness” works against it as even with plenty of seating, It can be a bit like the 101 freeway at rush hour trying to find a place to sit.
I wish I could say the coffee was what brought me in but to be honest, it’s average at best. The service is pretty good and the staff friendly and attentive. The food items i’ve had both baked and prepared freshly have all been adequate (the Mac n Cheese with bacon and Jalapeno was tasty, served in a large portion for the money and well executed but fire roasting the japapenos prior to adding them in would have elevated this dish to excellence!)
So what keeps me coming? Well, I can’t think of anyplace i’d rather to go hang-out, MacBook in hand, to get some work done and people watch. The atmosphere here is GREAT! A mixture or modern and retro furniture, exposed beam ceilings, varied work spaces, and locally produced art are on par with and in my opinion rival similar concepts in NYC, Seattle or San Francisco.
Did I mention the full bar? Fancy an adult beverage to take the edge off of that paper you need to write or the power point you’re putting together for the “big proposal” at work? You’re in the right place. The bartenders here will gladly mix you up anything from a classic coctail to a trendy CenPho treat to whet your whistle. I’d give Lux 4 stars if it were a bar that served food and happened to have coffee.
If your looking for great coffee i’d recommend Press Coffee Roasters, Cartel Coffee Lab or Echo Coffee. Lux is definitely my choice if you’re looking for a place to socialize, sit and get a little work done, plow through homework or just hang out and people watch. If the coffee were better i’d rate it 4 stars but as it stands, they only get the third from me because the whole package is so appealing.
It is certainly no secret to anyone who knows me, reads my blog, or follows me on Facebook or Twitter, that Im a foodie at heart and will go to great lengths to try new restaurants, dishes or types of cuisine I’ve not previously experienced. All of that having been said I have a HUGE food crush on a little gem hidden in Gilbert, Arizona at a place called Agritopia, I’m speaking of course of “The Coffee Shop.”
With such a simple name you would be tempted to assume this was a mere coffee shop slinging run of the mill or even above average coffee drinks and you would be WRONG. While The Coffee Shop does in fact serve up coffee drinks as expected, it is not caffeine which drew me in or keeps me going back.
Lets begin with how I found them and what has brought me to today. A few weeks ago Joe’s Farm Grill was having their 5th Annual customer appreciation day (they served in the neighborhood of 4000 free cheeseburgers but more on that later) and trusty pal Mikey and I dropped in to have a burger and fries. As we were leaving, I decided I wanted to stop by The Coffee Shop (which is on the same parcel of land) to see what It was all about.
Upon walking inside, the salivation began. There, arranged before me was just about the most mouthwatering display of cupcakes and whoopie pies I have ever seen. The first thing that caught my eye were the Coconut creme whoopie pies, seemingly very plain but with the promise of greatness if done well…and they were!
These Coconut creme whoopies are just about the best things I have ever eaten (and Ive eaten a LOT). Unlike many of the whoopie wannabe’s I’ve eaten in the past, the pastry chef here achieved the perfect balance of sweetness, moisture and density with the most pleasant, light crunchy outer texture. So flavorful was the shell that I was almost taken aback by the creme filling that was obviously made with absolute care and devotion to the craft. Simply incredible (I feel like there should be a new Food Network show called “Whoopie Pie Wars!”)
On to the next bit of tastiness in the form of a tray lined with cupcakes whose sign read “Chocolate chip cookie dough,’ YES please. They looked simple, well decorated but not overdone and I was keen to try one. No flaccid, tasteless frosting here, there’s butter creme on that there cupcake. Sprinkled with chocolate chips and what looks like chocolate Disco dust was the best tasting buttercream I can remember having eaten. They’ve somehow been able to create the essence of cookie dough in cake form, a bit of gooeyness, great flavor and yes, i’d eat a whole bag of them.
The PB&J cupcake found its way into my mouth next and took me back to my Grandmothers kitchen with her homemade bread, peanut butter and preserves only BETTER (sorry Grandma), it was deliciously dense, the peanut butter buttercream (say that 5 times really fast) was sweet, creamy and perfectly accompanied but a little dab of jelly on top (along with a generous squirt in the middle of the cupcake.) I highly recommend this one.
I did grab a few other cupcakes before lapsing into a sugar induced coma including cake batter, coconut and a strawberry one I got pictures of and ate but whose clever name I cannot remember (terrible journalist…oh, wait, as a Blogger I admire recently wrote, I’m not a “professional journalist!”). Everything i’ve had so far has caused me to make the 40 mile trek from home to The Coffee Shop for a treat I just can’t find anywhere else in the Valley. If you desire a creative, perfectly made treat, get into your car and make the trip from wherever you might be to THe Coffee Shop at Agritopia.
Check out the Chefs responsible for the creations I’ve mentioned and more on their recent winning episode of Cupcake Wars on the Television Food Network.
For some time now I had heard rumors of an absolutely MAD Chef by the name of Payton Curry brewing up a wickedly delicious seasonal menu in a slightly seedy section of Downtown Phoenix. In a tiny restaurant (and I use that term generously) called the “Welcome Diner,” Curry breaks from the constraints of working for someone else (Caffe’ Boa in Tempe, Arizona), and boldly does food exactly the way he wants to.
Sit at the counter (as you truly must), and you become a part of “The Payton Curry Show” where you as a guest are treated to masterful culinary creations while Curry entertains himself, his wife and everyone within earshot with his sharp brand of humor that keeps you wanting more; “He’s Payton F***in Curry” she says, “NO! She’s F***ing Payton Curry” he replies!” The repartee between Chef Payton Curry and his beautiful wife, Shantal Alessa Abdo-Curry is quick, often blue, hilarious and sincere. The food being prepared three feet away is elegant in it’s simplicity and flavorful beyond words.
Open only Sunday thru Tuesday from five until “there’s nothing else to serve,” with fluidly changing offerings based mainly on availability of hand selected local produce and Curry’s sneaky three am calls to his fish monger (more on that later), Welcome Diner puts on a culinary showcase of color, flavor and textures normally reserved for the very best of restaurants in the country.
First before me, a salad pairing impossibly juicy watermelon and Dungeness crab tossed with Nepitella, olives and salty capers which Curry says he came up with when “baked out of his f***ing mind!” ”Watermelon and crab, RIGHT?” he says, “it just doesn’t seem to make any sense but it’ll change your life,” and so it has. Splashed with citrus in the form of grapefruit juice, this dish is just plain amazing. It’s simple, colorful and allows each individual flavor and texture to be conveyed both singularly and as part of a larger whole. (it needs to be said, I generally avoid watermelon as I just don’t like it but in this one dish, my outlook has been completely changed).
Next up, Curry’s breathes life into what has become a culinarily mundane, often overly fussy dish beloved by residents up and down the Eastern seaboard. I speak of course of the crab cake! I don’t know what’s gotten into him here…There’s scarcely any breading, doesn’t Curry know his profit margin will be much better if he stuffs his creation with bread rather than lusciously flavorful jumbo sized lumps of crabmeat?? Crunchy bits of fresh celery, capers and herbs make this dish a poor choice to skip to the protestations of your straining belt.
What would you do with 144 grams of grade A Foie Gras? Well Curry (clearly having had a serious case of the “munchies”) would and has pan seared it with Rosemary, paired it with a bright, rustic and slightly tart jam between two pieces of buttery Essence Bakery brioche and called it his “FB&J sandwich,” elegant concept, simply executed.
The main course arrived in the form of Duroc tenderloin served over heirloom sungold tomato, a cold bean salad and a splash of salsa verde. This is the best pork dish I have ever eaten, period, end of story! As a card carrying member of the Pork Lovers Society of America, I’ve eaten more than my fair share of pork but there is nothing that prepared me for the tender, well balanced combination before me.
On a subsequent visit Curry threw together a little Halibut and crab Ceviche, light, delicate and perfect with the addition of a sprinkle of sulphur rich Hawaiian black sea salt that was almost too beautifully presented to eat.
Next, a decadent Summer Bolognese with fettucini and Salmon Belly Raviolo that absolutely must not go un-mentioned…Beautiful, texturally perfect and put together with flair, this pasta dish is a must eat!
A salad of yellow heirloom tomato and “a type of mozzerela” with nepitilla and a little saba (who knew tomato could taste so good?), again display Curry’s ability to elevate simple, honest ingredients to food worthy of praise.
Lest I forget the show stopper….Sitting at the counter on my second visit, enjoying the “Payton Curry show” and drifting ever so slowly into a food coma, I noticed a plate of pastel pink Langoustine that looked out of place both in the Welcome Diner and in the Arizona desert in general. Asked where he came across fresh langoustine, Curry grinned and said “there’s a funny story.”
Apparently Curry, having had a spontaneous spark of brilliance, slipped out of bed around three in the morning (told you I’d get back to this) for a clandestine phone call to his fish monger, clandestine because his wife was unawares until she awoke to find him whispering into the phone and demanded to know who he was talking to. Curry, like a young boy caught with his hand in a cookie jar meekly replied “baby, it’s the fish guy” to which she responded “yeah right” and promptly grabbed the phone, after a brief exchange, she said “she sounds pretty rough” and went back to sleep.
Succulent langoustine, smashed baby fingerlings, fresh chopped herbs, onion and tomato all brought together with a broth I’m almost ashamed to admit, caused me to lift my bowl and slurp loudly like a heathen to make sure I didn’t miss a drop. (Sure, I looked around like a drug fiend about to have a fix, making sure no one was looking my way first, but in the end, I could have cared less as it was so decadently delicious).
In the end, if you blink too long you will have missed one of the most important things to have happened on the Arizona culinary scene as Curry, wife Shantal and the show that truly makes you feel a part of what’s happening rather than a mere customer, will be no more. Welcome Diner goes dark after the Independence day fireworks fade from view. If you love food, make it your sole mission in life to get a seat at Curry’s counter before he’s done, tell him Tony sent you!
Narcisse Champagne lounge and Tea room held a baptism by bubbly as it were with their official Grand opening on January 27th amidst fanfare befitting North Scottsdale’s newest “it” spot.
Owners were on hand to greet guests, explain the concept and give tours to hundreds of VIP guests and Local Media personalities alike while champagne flowed freely courtesy of several distributors.
Tasty hors de ouveries, miniatures of full sized menu items, including white prawn with sweet and sour papaya, mint and chile and a tender ribeye with beech mushrooms, pearl onions and horseradish mashed potatoes were passed by attractive staff attired in risqué garb.
Not being one who frequently partakes in the bubble it was nice having knowledgeable people on hand to answer questions about several of seventy-five varietals available for purchase by the glass and to keep my champagne flute full.
Wandering throughout the establishment was a performance actress who I can only surmise was meant to be a bubble, uttering not a word nor offering anything more than a blank gaze, this apparition in white amused and confused guests, offering them bits of cloth and balls of cotton from her stash (I’m still unsure where she fit in but suffice to say, she was cool).
•a bit of advice-Never return an empty champagne bottle to the ice bucket upside-down! It shows an utter lack of respect for the prestigious beverage you have just consumed, and worse yet, a tactless disregard for the companions you have just shared it with.
With the opening of Narcisse, the “Beautiful people” of North Scottsdale have a new place to see, be seen and enjoy what once caused the blind Benedictine Monk Dom Pierre Perrignon to exclaim “come quickly brothers, I’m tasting stars!”
Over the years I’ve eaten my share of toffee, though I do enjoy it, toffee has never really been something I’ve craved or sought out. Lately, a group of people on Twitter that I call “The Foodie Faithful,” have been going on and on about Goodytwos Toffee so I thought I’d drop in and have a look/taste.
With trusty pal “Mikey” in tow, I entered the toffee shop and was immediately struck by the intricate simplicity of the toffee shop. Mother/Daughter team Donna Gabrilson and Stacey Barnes have arranged their toffee haven in an open and inviting way allowing guests (I say guests instead of customers because in two seconds, they make you feel welcome), to roam and sample their toffee creations at will.
With toffee left, right and center, you almost don’t know where to start but that’s where Donna (AKA “Traditional”) or Stacy (AKA “Nutty Twist”), come from the secret toffee making lair behind the curtain, greet you warmly and tell you their story (of significant note here, they talk to you rather than at you, engaging while informing), and quite a story it is. The recipes were inherited from their grandmother and from they way the toffee’s taste, these ladies paid attention!
Starting with Grandma’s Traditional toffee and offering up such delights as Nutty-twist (a double nutty lime and tequila infused toffee), Sweet & Salty (Almonds, vanilla, dark chocolate and sea salt) and Creme de la Crunch (fresh pecans and almonds, coffee liquor and white chocolate), there are flavors and textures to make your mouth water.
I can’t remember a time when I was so excited by toffee or so thoroughly engaged by a small business proprietor, Stacy took the time to explain the thoughts and processes behind each flavor, never tiring of questions, not once seeming to grow impatient for me to make my purchase and move on. As each guest entered the shop Stacy greeted them with a warm affection generally reserved for a favorite cousin.
Not only are the flavors wonderful (the toffees are just the right texture, crunchy but never sticking to your teeth), but the duo go out of their way to use the best ingredients available, sourced from local purveyors wherever possible. The two are extremely passionate about their craft and before you realize it, you find yourself drawn into the toffee world (adding to the growing list of toffee that you can’t wait to take home and devour), and having a genuinely good time.
Ever wonder what happens to all of those toffee pieces that aren’t quite big enough to stand on their own? Looking for something unique to put into a gift basket? Got a couple of scoops of ice cream that need livening up? Goodytwos has just the thing for you in the form of “Toppers.” Scoop up a jar of these tasty treats for use as a topping on just about anything!
Did I mention the selection of crunchy peanut-brittle (they’re famous for the 2 alarm with cayenne pepper and chile powder), or scratch-made Traditional toffee topped, chocolate dipped marshmallows? (yes, I did leave with a trio of these melt in your mouth pillows of flavor and texture.)
Those who know me well will tell you that I’m not generally one for gratuitously effusive praise but I can’t stop thinking about how genuine these toffee ladies are. If you’re having an off day, walk into the toffee shop, there’s no way you’ll leave without toffee in your mouth, a smile on your face and little if any memory of whatever it was that you were fretting about to begin with. (each bag of toffee even comes with a “Crunchy Truth” inside, a witty fortune cookie style aphorism).
If you find yourself craving something sweet and are anywhere near Scottsdale (or the Prescott/Flagstaff Farmers markets), find the time to visit Goodytwos toffee, it’ll be worth the trip! One final thought they will leave you with…