Before I get to the food, the BBC’s site had a somewhat scary article about a link between hot beverages and esophogeal cancer. Consuming beverages over 160 F – which would include black tea and drip coffee – was associated with higher incidence of that very nasty type of cancer. On the bright side, green tea should be brewed at 160, so it’ll be served around 150-155, and the milk in espresso-based drinks should only be heated to 160, meaning that it’s also consumed below that mark. Of course, almost any coffee place that serves green tea will serve it around 200 degrees, including Charbucks, so do what I do and ask the barista to throw an ice cube or two in there.
On to Phoenix eats.Havana Café is a local mini-chain of three restaurants, one on Bell near 64th in northern Phoenix. The food is Caribbean rather than just Cuban, with a lot of Puerto Rican dishes and, most importantly, maduros up the wazoo. The ingredients are clearly very high quality and the food aims for a somewhat “cleaner” look than typical Cuban joints. The pollo Cubano, a half chicken breast marinated in a lime-orange mojo and pan-seared, was bright and tangy, while the pollo ajillo had hints of garlic but probably wouldn’t give your neighborhood vampire more than a brief scare. Just about all entrees come with white rice, most come with black beans, and I think all come with maduros, which were spectacular. They also have a huge selection of tapas featuring foods from the same Caribbean islands as well as a few from Spain; their mofongo is good, as are the masas de puerco, but their tostones were coasters and their alcapurrías were very greasy. I recommend it for lunch, but not for dinner, when they charge fine-dining prices for what is more or less peasant food. It’s a solid 50.
A reader (sorry, I’m too lazy to see which of you it was) suggested the Cornish Pasty Company over by Arizona State, and it’s now a major Klaw recommendation. The concept is great – it’s a tiny place in a strip mall, dark and narrow … like the mines in which the Cornish men who ate the pasties their wives made would work. A Cornish pasty is a type of pocket pie, a flaky pie crust wrapped around a filling that usually contains meat and root vegetables. The Cornish pasty company offers a few dozen pasty varieties, but I went with the “Oggie,” with the classic Cornish pasty filling of beef, onions, and potatoes. The filling was rich and thick and peppery, and the meat was soft enough and cubed well enough that it didn’t require a knife, and the crust was flaky and buttery and perfectly browned. The pasty itself cost $6.50 (I think it’s the cheapest one on the menu) and I barely got past half of it. On a sample of two meals – plus a bit of a caramel apple dessert pasty – I’m giving it a 60.
Another reader suggestion, Los Olivos, was less successful. It’s somewhere between really authentic Mexican food and chain Tex-Mex food; the portions were generous but everything was overdone – oversalted, overflavored, and oversauced. My wife, usually less critical than I am, said that her food wasn’t bad so much as “a mess.”
One of our favorites from last year, Blu Burger, is still going and still serving amazing Wagyu (American Kobe) burgers, but their location in Scottsdale near Kierland closed on March 7th. They still have three other locations and are opening two more soon (according to our server) in Peoria and Chandler. We did hit the one in north Scottsdale twice, and everything was the same except for the fact that while they still offer sautéed mushrooms as a topping for $1 extra, they no longer offer raw mushrooms as a topping. When I pointed out the absurdity of this, the server told me that they cook all the mushrooms they get.
The Phoenix Ranch Market near Phoenix airport has a full-service restaurant, Tradiciones, that offers mostly different fare from the quick-service options available inside the market. (Speaking of which, the quick-service food is still excellent, but they seem to be slacking on trimming the carnitas before cooking; the last two times I went there I ended up having to remove large chunks of pork fat from my mouth. Pork fat is good for cooking, not so much for eating.) The best thing going at Tradiciones is the tortilla chips served before the meal – just made, not in the least greasy, and salted. The food itself was just average; I tried the pollo asado, which seems to be a signature dish of the restaurant and the market, and it was … roast chicken. Good roast chicken, but really, it was just roast chicken. The absence of carnitas or chili verde (the latter only in a burrito, I believe) on the menu was a disappointment. The food is better inside the market and much cheaper. Grade 50.
Brian from Laveen has been pushing Joe’s BBQ for years, and I finally had a reason to go out that far to try it. It was solid-average. The Q had good flavor – I went with pulled pork and brisket – but was kind of dry, which is odd since the place was busy. I often find dry Q is the result of low turnover, since Q is something you have to make in advance and try to keep warm until it’s ordered. BBQ beans were good, a little sweet but not too much so, and the corn was, well, corn. The homemade root beer is good but strong, almost spicy. It’s a fringe 50 for me.
Raul and Theresa’s in Goodyear is a little tough to find – you have to go past the stadium, behind the airport, and you might drive right past it as I did – but worth the trip. It’s straight-up Mexican food with the usual suspects on the menu, but the food is incredibly fresh. The guacamole was an easy 65 on the scale, maybe a 70, bright green, chunky, and tasting primarily of avocadoes, not of all the junk that usually gets layered into it. The rice that’s served with every dish was fresh, not too salty, with a good tooth. My entrée was chicken enchiladas with red sauce, obviously made to order, and probably about 10% more food than I really needed to eat. Again, the actual flavor of the chicken came through, enhanced by the red sauce, not drowned by it. Overall grade 60.
Butterfield’s was our one breakfast out, and it’s a zoo on Sundays, not helped by a server with two personalities (alternating between friendly and why-the-hell-are-you-bothering-me) and no ability to estimate wait times (he was off by 100%, and not in the good way). The food was mostly good – I had a waffle that was light with good crust and an almost cakelike flavor, and I tasted the pancakes, which were not heavy and had that same flavor, which I’m thinking was vanilla combined with butter. The chicken apple maple sausage wasn’t dry but also didn’t have much flavor beyond apple. My wife loved her whole wheat brioche French toast. The restaurant is a solid 50, but plays up because of the big menu.
Goldbar Espresso in Tempe seems to get rave reviews, and they talk a good game about the freshness of their coffee, but the espresso there is atrocious – they pull the most diluted shots I think I’ve ever had, with maybe twice the water that they should be using, so the result is something like what you’d get if you tried to make espresso using Maxwell House grounds. I sort of knew I was in trouble when I walked in and looked at the menu board and saw a caffe mocha as the first item; if a coffee place really prides itself on its coffee, shouldn’t espresso be the top listing? And they use Hershey’s syrup in their mochas, too. Hershey’s is to chocolate what McDonald’s is to beef and what Bud Light is to beer. Anyway, my wife went to Starbucks and I went a month without coffee.
I’ve mentioned Gelato Spot before, but having stopped there at least a half-dozen times last month I’m upping my grade to a 55. I had found in the past that they kept the gelato too cold, but they’ve fixed the problem, and their chocolate seems darker than it was in the past. The coconut gelato is still a favorite. I did try the chocolate caramel brownie flavor, but it was too sweet, and there’s something about their caramel that I don’t like, a sourness that shows up in the caramel gelato too.