Monday, April 28, 2008

Recent Eats

It's been a pretty slow past few food weeks, but here are some highlights...

Culver's has opened a couple stores recently in the Valley. One is somewhere in Mesa and the other is in our neck of the woods, at Deer Valley Rd and 19th Ave. So far I've been twice. Once on their opening last Thursday and again on Sunday with Tara. Service Thursday was laughable and about what you'd expect on opening day. The counter staff couldn't run the ordering system without their trainers and I could order stuff (relish) that they didn't actually have yet. Still, my burger wasn't bad. The fries ranged from floppy to a couple crispy ones. Definitely nothing remotely special. I got a concrete (frozen chocolate custard with a couple mix-ins) but that was a bad idea after the double burger. I barely ate half of it.

On Sunday, Tara and I stopped in. The original plan was for her to get a burger and some fried cheese curds (it's a Minnesota thing). After that, we were going to go to the new Lee Lee Supermarket in Glendale and I planned on getting something at a Vietnamese place called Pho-Licious across the street. Well, her bacon burger arrived with no bacon but an extra meat patty. I took it back and the manager said he couldn't take it back, but he'd get me some bacon, OR he'd make the correct burger and we could keep the wrong one as well. I opted for the second choice, since it would be a waste just to toss a perfectly good burger. So I got a free meal, just not what we'd planned. Tara liked the burger, but the cheese curds were breaded, so not the ideal way she likes them . The GOOD fried cheese curds at the Minnesota State Fair have more of a tempura-like batter. These were more like the fried cheese you'd get as an appetizer at an Italian joint or something. Not bad, but not the good stuff. They also didn't come with any type of sauce, which they needed.

After lunch, we headed to the new Lee Lee's at 75th Ave and Cactus. The long-time Chandler favorite opened the West Valley outpost on Thursday. It's in an old Albertsons (and you can recognize the layout as such) but it's definitely an Asian market. It doesn't seem quite as extensive as the original location, but it's still a great addition to the West Valley food scene. The shelves aren't quite fully stocked yet, but it's coming along. The in-store restaurant is still being finished but a small snack bar is open. Even though it's about 13 miles closer, we rarely find ourselves on the West Side, so we'll still make the trek to Chandler. The original location is only a few miles from Vonhanson's Meat Market, where we go all the time. Tara liked the new store, but I prefer the original for some intangible reason.

Even though I wasn't very hungry, we crossed Cactus so I could try Pho-Licious. The restaurant has a very nice interior, with granite table tops and a cool ceiling. Tara really like the interior treatment. She wasn't hungry and also isn't a fan of Vietnamese food, so I just opted to get an order each of spring rolls and egg rolls. Like a lot of Vietnamese places, service is somewhat brusque, but unlike most of them, it was also not very good. We weren't given any plates or utensils to eat with, despite one of the waiters just sitting in a booth zoning out and a waitress cleaning the table and floor near us but not noticing. I ended up going over and basically grabbing them myself. I did enjoy the food, though. The basic shrimp and pork spring rolls were fresh and had good flavor. The egg rolls were fried to a dark brown and once cooled, were very good as well. I wished they had a bit more filling, though. Still, they met my craving and for $7.00, the various rolls made a good snack.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Does Little Rangoon deserve a second chance?

Howard Seftel reviewed Little Rangoon today. After reading it, it might offer a good guide on what and how to order. Tara ordered the garlic noodles and found the garlic flavor lacking, while Howard seemed to have some that had strong flavor. And now that someone has clarified they spicy levels relative to a cuisine I'm intimately familiar with (Thai), we can be more confident in taking a chance and possibly getting some actual flavor.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


What a great way to end the weekend. The Red Sox are playing the Yankees on ESPN. And winning. :-D

Weekend Eats

This has been somewhat of a slow weekend. Tara's been in severe pain with cramps, so she's been very immobile this weekend. Yesterday she spent in bed, so I went to find something to eat. I thought about going to Stacy's, but I had a feeling she'd be VERY unhappy if I went alone. After some thought, I decided to try Humble Pie again. Tara's not a pizza fan, so she could care less if I went alone.

I got there about 4pm and they were pretty empty. One table of four, four or five people sitting at the bar seats, and some people seated outside. When the hostess asked how many and I said one, she pointed to the bar, but I asked for one of the four-seat high-tops. She said they were only for groups of four. I looked at the empty restaurant and said "You're kidding." She looked around and mumbled something about it not being busy so I could sit there if I wanted. Gee, thanks. Service was kind of slow but eventually I ordered the pistachios, roasted leek, shaved red onion, and parmesan pizza and a half Romaine and celery hearts Caesar with torn grilled sourdough croutons.

The salad arrived after a short wait. It was absolutely covered in finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano and that added a great flavor. It was perfectly dressed. Each piece was liberally covered in dressing, but not swimming with it. A cheesecloth-wrapped lemon wedge was on the side. I squeezed a bit of lemon juice and dove in. It was a really good salad. The dressing, cheese, and lemon all combined to form a flavor that really hit home. The lettuce and celery was chilled and crisp. A really good Caesar, although how traditional it is, I don't know. I do know I enjoyed it. That's all that matters, right? :)

The pizza was very similar in description of Pizzeria Bianco's Rosa: Red Onion, Parmigiano Reggiano, Rosemary, AZ Pistachios. I could see it sitting near the oven for quite a while before it was brought to my table. Considering how slow it was, it was a good guess it was mine. Despite the wait, it was still too hot to eat, so it's not a big deal. It, too, was very good. The crust was a bit blackened in spots, but that's not unusual for the fired pizzas. It wasn't as good as the Rosa. The primary reason seems to be that Reggiano wasn't used. The Rosa's cheese was nicely crisped, so it had that amazing flavor that Reggiano gets when baked. This pizza was missing that. It still had very good flavor and I finished the whole thing, but my hopes of finding a good Rosa substitute were dashed.

Overall, it was definitely a good meal. The pizza only suffers if compared to the PB version, but then, most do. I still enjoy the pizza and if I have other Tara-free days, it's certainly on my list of options.

Since Tara was homebound, I decided to be a nice boyfriend and stopped by Mr. Greek to grab her some hummus and a couple pitas. I'm happy to say it was still excellent and possibly the equal to Shish Kebab House's version. Tara made short work of it.

Today she was feeling better so we headed to JP Pancake. We hadn't been there since the unfortunate incident when she got her new car back in December. We got there just before noon and noticed they had a sign saying they were closing early today at noon. Tara and I debated trying to eat, but I went in and Rachel told me we were good to go. The other waitress said we were "grandfathered" in. It's good to be known by the waitstaff I guess. :)

Tara had their cinnamon French Toast with bacon and I had the Sunrise Breakfast (two pancakes, two eggs, and sausage). As usual, it was great and we were both happy. The table next to us had three soccer mom types at it who were (scarily) probably my age. They were talking about iTunes, iPods, burning LPs to CDs on their Bang & Olufsen (must be nice) stereo. It just seemed very funny to me to hear them speaking geek. At one point, the word "blowjob" was very audible, but unfortunately neither Tara or I caught the rest of that particular discussion thread.

The highlight of the weekend was my visit to Target before going to Humble Pie. I was waiting for them to fill a prescription and all of a sudden I heard shouting and fighting near the entrance. Along with most people, I headed that way and saw some guys attempting to subdue someone just outside the doors. The plainclothes security guy eventually got the very unwilling guy into some handcuffs. He apparently tried leave the store with a 22" Westinghouse TV and a large quantity of two-piece women's bathing suits. It seemed like a very daring choice of wardrobe for a somewhat scary looking, disheveled individual. I'm pretty sure he won't need to worry about a TV for a while.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Time Flies

Today is the fourth anniversary of my arrival in Phoenix. It seems like just yesterday that 100 seemed like it was unbearably hot and I didn't know how to pronounce "saguaro". I've lived in five different apartments/condos/houses, had three different cars (Tara still has one up on me on that count), four cellphones, but only one girlfriend. At least something is stable. Ish.

I still find myself missing Dallas. Of course, some things there I don't miss. My ex-girlfriend emailed me on Friday telling me that the apartment building we lived in together was damaged by a tornado that rolled through the area on Wednesday. She still lives in the same complex, but about 300 feet from that building. She said she can do without that type of excitement ever again. I never had the pleasure of experiencing a tornado during my time there.

I still compare the restaurants here to the ones I frequented in Texas. For the most part I've found at least one great restaurant for each of the cuisines I love. Hana, Osha, and Da Vang hold up nicely to Kampai Grill, Chow Thai, and Saigon Pho. What Phoenix seems to lack is the depth of field of restaurants. I had half a dozen regular Thai restaurants, easily twice that number of sushi places, and more Vietnamese restaurants than you could shake a stick at.

The Dallas area (and Texas in general) was also very disc golf friendly. There are more courses in the DFW area than all of Arizona. I spent many months playing disc golf in the summer of 2003. I was laid off and job hunting only took up so much of the day. Disc golf was cheap and gave me something to do. There was a fairly regular group of us who'd play. Teachers with the summer off, guys who worked nights, and others who were out of work like me. The Lake Lewisville course is still burned into my memory. Bear Creek DGC with all its poison ivy and water moccasins. Getting stuck in the creek at Jimmy Porter trying to recover a lost disc. Playing disc golf at midnite in early December with the temps in the 70s and getting the crap scared out of me when I stumbled upon a huge beaver on the beach at Lake Lewisville.

Phoenix has several courses, but most are at multipurpose parks and most people don't like getting a 175g piece of plastic upside the head. From first-hand experience, it's not fun. Plus trying to get up early on weekends before it's horribly hot is getting hard in my dotage. Worrying about getting bitten by a surly diamondback if I play the course that's a mile from home isn't a pleasant way to spend the morning. I usually play at either Conocido N Phoenix or Vista Del Camino in Scottsdale. VDC is a haul, but it's a bit more varied and generally better moving scenery.

I still consider Maine home, but having spent essentially the last 20 years in other states between college and jobs, it's not quite home home anymore. My summer visits remind me of what I love about it. The gorgeous scenery, plentiful seafood, and cool temps are a godsend after a few spring/summer months here. Then the winter visits remind me why I like living in the southern half of the country during those months.

Well, enough of memory lane.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Stacy's Smokehouse

Ever the slaves to mass media, Tara and I decided to try Stacy's Smokehouse Friday night. Michelle Laudig gave it a really good review in the current New Times and it sounded too good to pass up. Stacy's is located on the NW corner of Indian School and 17th St. We nearly missed it and had to turn quick before I drove past. The tiny parking lot was full and I had to squeeze Tara's Camry between the curb and a sweet Audi Cabriolet.

We entered the bright purple building from the rear entrance and were immediately hit by the saliva-inducing aroma of good smoked BBQ. A bunch of people were sitting in plastic chairs that lined the short hallway, waiting for their to-go orders. The main room is somewhat small, with five tables (four four-tops and a very wobbly two-top) and all but the two-top were taken. You order at the counter and the menu is written on a large chalkboard above the entry to the open kitchen area. The very busy but friendly lady at the counter also pointed out paper copies of the menu that definitely saved us some neck pain.

Judging by the aromas, I figured it would be hard to go wrong. After looking over the extensive menu, I decided to get a half-rack of pork ribs, a piece of white meat fried chicken, onion rings, and an Orange Crush. Tara got rib tips, beans, cornbread, and a Coke. As I was paying, an older guy looked like he was going to take the last table, so had Tara scurry over and snag it. Our order came to about $27. The lady handed me the drinks and I sat down at the two-top with Tara to wait.

It was quite chilly in the dining room and Tara was turning a bit blue as we were sitting under a ceiling fan going about 200 mph. I leaned on the table and nearly catapulted Tara's Coke into her. The table top was loosely secured to the base by four small nails that weren't pounded all the way in. Eventually a couple at a table near us left and after it was bussed, we jumped over to it.

Our food seemed to be taking quite a while, but we also noticed a constant stream of to-go orders coming out. After about 1/2 an hour, a table that was there before us got their food and ours came out immediately after.

First out was Tara's rib tips, cornbread, and beans, along with my onion rings topped with a great-looking piece of fried chicken. Tara's tips were good, but she said the little white cartilage pieces grossed her out. The beans were ok. They reminded me of canned baked beans. She really liked the cornbread. She thinks the rib tips were probably really good for what they are, but that she just ordered badly. Rib tip fans will probably love them.

The fried chicken was excellent. Moist, perfectly fried, and a bit crunchy. I was able to take a nice big bite and loved it. Tara tried it and wished she'd gotten a few pieces instead of her tips. The onion rings were very sweet but not too crunchy. They were good, but I wished for a bit more crunch.

A few minutes after the first food arrived, the lady came out with large styrofoam container holding the "half-rack" of ribs, cut into single ribs for convenience. I'm not sure if this is a different cut or what, but they filled the container and were covered in what turned out to be an outstanding bbq sauce. Since there was no way I was going to eat the ribs with the provided plastic utensils, I dove in with my hands. Luckily the lady also put a huge stack napkins. I took a bite of the ribs and they were amazing. Fall-off-the-bone tender with a great smoky flavor. I was able to eat three of the seven or eight ribs before I had to give up. Despite being cut with more fat then I like, these are my favorite ribs in the Valley. I ended up eating the leftovers cold and they were still great.

Between the fried chicken and ribs, we'll definitely be going back. According to Michelle's review, the chicken is only available after 3pm. I didn't see anything saying that in the restaurant, but I might have missed it. It's a true Mom-and-Pop place and the long wait for food might put some off, but after sampling the goods, we both think it's well worth any service quirks. Everyone was very friendly and helpful. I had polished off my first bottle of Crush and after our food was delivered, the lady asked if there was anything else. I said I needed a Crush, but I'd wait until the crowd at the counter died down. She grabbed another one for me and brought it out. After our meal was done, I went up to pay, but she refused. She said we'd be back and that was good enough for her.

And we'll definitely be back.