Saturday, July 9, 2011

Breakfast/lunch places in Phoenix

We enjoy our weekends, especially eating a late breakfast or lunch. Our favorite standby is Harlow's in Tempe. I love their chorizo in any number of their dishes, especially the huge Eggs Maximilian. Even the simple chorizo and eggs is a great way to start the day. Their chorizo, for me, has the perfect balance of flavor and heat. We even have a favorite waitress who remembers us, Katrina. Harlow's is one of those places that attracts everyone: college kids from ASU, hipsters, families, bikers, Scottsdale pretty people, and the like.

Sometimes, though, a change is nice.

One of our friends was checking in on Foursquare a lot at a place called Joe's Diner, on 16th Street between Camelback and Indian School. I tried it solo while Tara was out of town and loved it. After several trips, the only thing I didn't love was their sausage patties. They were kinda dry and rubbery and not up to the rest of the food. They are your basic diner, with breakfast, lunch, and a bunch of sandwiches, plus daily specials. Nothing earth-shattering, but everything is done very well. The owners have been there every weekend when we've gone. Joe comes out of the kitchen and chats with customers. On one visit, he asked me about the food, and I told him my dislike of the sausage compared to the rest of the food. In a subsequent visit, the sausage was vastly improved and he confirmed that he'd changed the recipe. The only thing I have problems with now is their chorizo. It's made for him by Carolina's using his own recipe. It's very bland for chorizo, with hardly any flavor and no heat. Luckily they have so much else that is fantastic, it's not really an issue for me. I also like that both Joe and his wife (who always says hi to us when we go) are free to recommend other places to eat. Joe admitted his Italian sandwich is an homage/copy of DeFalco's in Scottsdale. His wife recommended Bertha's in Arcadia, 5th Ave Cafe at 5th Ave and Thomas, and Times Square at I17 and Deer Valley. JK also mentioned that their coffee is great.

Today we were able to try 5th Ave Cafe for a late breakfast. It's a nice space right on the corner with a little bit of parking out front and more in the back. We got there about 1/2 before they closed for lunch. Service was pleasant although there were a few small issues with timing. I also saw another table have an ordering issue/language barrier problem, but they fixed it and several of the staff apologized for the mix-up. They did keep our drinks refilled like troopers, as just about any server who walked by when a glass was empty would immediately ask if we wanted refills. For our meals, Tara got the biscuits and gravy plate, which came with a couple scrambled eggs and red potatoes. They were some excellent biscuits and gravy and Tara loved the herbed potatoes, crunchy outside and creamy inside. I got the Chorizo Cowboy, a skillet scramble of eggs, chorizo, hash browns, and cheese sprinkled on top. I also got a side of sausage. The scramble was really good. It didn't have the nice chorizo flavor of Harlow's, but it was still quite good. The hash browns were very finely grated, so they were very crispy. It all worked. It came with a huge buttered tortilla, so I used 1/2 my skillet to make a breakfast burrito. I stuffed myself and still had some leftover scramble. The only odd thing was when the waitress dropped off some syrup on her first delivery of our meals. Tara and I gave each other an odd look, as we couldn't figure what required syrup. On her second trip, she had my dish and a huge plate with a "short stack" of pancakes, which looked really good. She asked who had them and we said nobody. She later admitted she'd keyed it into our order by mistake. I'd gotten a $10 gift cert from and even with two drinks, our order was still under the $20 min before tax. Not a bad deal. 5th Ave Cafe will definitely be in our rotation now.

On the complete opposite end of the cost spectrum, there's St Francis at Camelback and 1st St. A friend had posted pictures of his brunch there a while back and it looked so good, we had to try it. Along with our friend JK, we went for their Sunday brunch a couple weeks ago. Unfortunately, they have a live band and horrible acoustics, so we could barely hear ourselves talk. The food, however, was spectacular.
The Bakers Board, with scones, baguette, rosemary mini-biscuits, a mini-cinnamon bun, and toppings for the breads, was a meal in itself. The scones with creme fraische were incredible. The bread with the butter and jam was also right up there. Tara and JK thought the mini-biscuits were a bit over-kneaded, but I still loved them. The cinnamon bun with homemade caramel sauce was my least favorite. The sauce had too much of a burnt flavor for me.
While waiting for our table, Tara spied a group eating fingerling potatoes that looked too tempting to pass up. Cooked with rosemary, sage, sprinkled with a pecorino cheese, and served with a lemon aioli, they were crazy good.
Tara ordered the House Made Biscuit, with fennel sausage gravy and two fried eggs on top. Hands-down this was the best biscuit and gravy I've had. The gravy had a strong flavor with huge chunks of sausage. The biscuit was easily four inches across. A great dish.
JK had the Wood-Oven Baked Eggs, with red wine braised beef, summer vegetables, tomatoes, and gruyere. I had a tiny taste, yet it had a ton of flavor.
I had the Pork Chile Verde, with cilantro, lime, jack cheese, two sunny side up eggs, and homemade cornbread. I was in love with it. Not quite as good as the dreamy Carne Adovada at Dick's Hideaway, it was still fantastic. Not too much heat from the spices and a great melding of flavors. The only let down was the homemade cornbread. Compared to the other baked goods, it was out of it's league. It didn't help that it was served cold. Warm with some butter would have made a huge difference.
With our drinks, including a couple mimosas, the bill came to $85 for the three of us. Ouch. If you don't go nuts like we did trying so much, and forgo the mimosas, it would be much more manageable. Still, the food was so good, it would be hard to not order some extra dishes.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Zaytoon Kabob Bistro - North Phoenix

Wow, I didn't realize it's been so long since I posted. Things have been quite hectic. We moved to a new house in February, so January was full of searching, applying, and moving prep. We're finally mostly all settled.

Some of the first mail we got at our new place was a ValuPak of coupons. One was for a local, fairly new Middle Eastern place called Zaytoon Kabob Bistro. They are located in one of the small strip malls on the southwest corner of Greenway and Tatum. Since we moved farther from the large cluster of restaurants at 7th St/Bell, we've been looking for new places that are closer to home.

Zaytoon is a five month old restaurant. You order at the counter and they bring your food out to you. As the name implies, most of their menu is kabobs, either in wraps or entree form. Ground beef, chicken, shrimp, lamb, veggie, and a few others. They also have daily specials. On my first visit, the friendly and helpful girl at the register explained that the owner is Iranian and the specials are all Iranian specialties. They are unique on the menu and not just discounted regular items. I think that's a great idea.

On my first visit, I got the gyro wrap to go, along with an order of hummus. These are my usual measuring sticks for a new Middle Eastern restaurant. The gyro meat is made in-house. The gyros wrap was huge. A large quantity of gyro meat (beef and lamb), along with veggies and sauce, all wrapped in a fresh, house-made tandoori bread. It was very good. The hummus was excellent. There was an added flavor I couldn't identify, but it was obviously made in-house as well. This was evidenced by a few whole or nearly whole chickpeas that escaped processing. Tara and I ranked this as our second favorite hummus after Z's Greek on Thomas near 40th Street.

On my second take-out visit, I got the chicken kabob entree (marinated boneless chicken, breast or thigh), which came with basmati rice and 1/2 a piece of tandoori bread. The chicken was also very good, with a nice marinated flavor. It came with a massive side of rice, easily enough for two or three people. The rice was OK. It was basic basmati rice, nothing special. For that, you head to Eden's Grill just down Tatum at Thunderbird. Their rice is amazing, but a different review.

Tonight, Tara didn't feel like cooking and suggested we go to Zaytoon, as she hadn't tried it yet outside of the hummus. Surprisingly, they were nearly packed on a Wednesday night. They have around 15 tables and most were taken. A huge group was ordering at the register when we arrived, but the owner let his son deal with them and took our order at the other end of the counter. He was incredibly friendly and helpful. Tara got the ground beef kabobs (ground beef mixed with onions and Zaytoon seasonings). I got the daily special: Eggplant Stew (A stew of beef, yellow split peas, and eggplant in a saffron tomato sauce, served with steamed basmati rice.
We also got a hummus appetizer with two extra pieces of tandoori bread. The owner even asked the kitchen to do our order in front of the large group so we wouldn't have to wait for twelve dishes to be done before ours.

The hummus arrived before I even made my way to the table after getting my drink. I let the extremely hot bread cool before dug in, but Tara didn't way as she has a higher pain threshold. The hummus was still as good as we remembered. It was a very large portion and we found we couldn't stop eating it. As we did, we noticed the large group started to get their meals. That was fine, as they were there before us and we had a ton of hummus to keep us very happy.

After about half of the large group had their meals, our came out. Immediately after we got them, the owner came out and apologized for our meals taking longer than normal. This caught us by surprise as it didn't seem to take long at all. We assured him that we didn't even notice and were just finishing the hummus in any case. Sometimes you can't beat the service at a Mom and Pop place.

Tara's ground beef kabobs were excellent. She even went so far as to say there were better than the ones she used to get when we frequented Shish Kabab House in Glendale. High praise indeed.

My stew was very good, although I'm not sure I'd get it again. The saffron tomato sauce had a very interesting flavor, and I'm sure people love it, but it was right on the border of my tastes. I didn't DISlike it, but I'm not sure it's something I'd order again. What I did love is that it DID have a distinct flavor and didn't seem to be too toned-down for the general public.

All the plates and utensils are plastic and the interior is very clean if not too special. All of the staff has been very friendly on all my visits and the owner even more so tonight. The best part is that the most expensive items on the menu (the lamb and the shrimp entrees) top out at $9.99. The generous portion of hummus was only $3.75. My daily special was only $7.99. It's a great alternative to Chili's or other chains down at the Cactus and Tatum area. Judging by the large mid-week crowd and owner greeting many patrons like regulars, they have quite a following already.