I made a side trip to Cave Creek en route back from Anthem on Friday specifically to try Bryan’s Black Mountain BBQ, allegedly the best Q in the Valley … and I have to say I haven’t found anything close to this good in the state. Both the pulled pork and the brisket bore modest smoke rings but were very moist with good smoke flavor, and the crispy edges of the brisket had a strong kick from the dry rub. The pork needed no sauce beyond the thin, slightly spicy, slightly acid sauce it’s served in, which didn’t mask the taste of the meat at all. The brisket did need sauce if only for some salt on the interior portions of the meat; their house sauce is sweet and smoky without any heat, although there’s a hot version available as well. A generous quarter pound of each meat – really, there had to be close to a pound of meat on the plate – plus two sides is $13.25 before tax; the sides were the lone disappointment, as the potato salad was absolutely covered in mayo and the cole slaw had green olives in it that overwhelmed everything else. But I would drive an hour just to get that smoked meat, especially with nothing close to it down our way.
bld in Chandler (Germann & Dobson, just south of the Santan Freeway) stands for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as they’re open for all three meals. (It’s unrelated to the bld in Los Angeles which I tried in 2008.) My wife and I went at lunchtime but both ordered breakfast, as that menu was much more appealing. Both portions were enormous, more than either of us could finish. I went with the short rib benedict, two halves of an English muffin each topped with a large chunk of braised short rib, a poached egg, and a red wine Hollandaise the color of black raspberry ice cream. The short rib was tender and still bore hints of the braising liquid (red wine-based) but was a little light on seasoning; the poached eggs were perfect, while the hollandaise brought some acidity and brightness to the whole dish, although I couldn’t quite convince myself that something lavender should be savory rather than sweet. The breakfast potatoes on the side were peppery but barely above room temperature. My wife ordered the “green chili pork tostada,” which is really chilaquiles with an enormous portion of braised, shredded pork shoulder, with refried beans, cotija cheese, and fried eggs on top. The pork was tangy, maybe a little too much, and I thought the ratio of meat to everything else was too high, but my wife (who ordered it without the beans) thought it was excellent. bld reminded me of the Hillside Spot, still my favorite place to eat around here, with the advantage of being much closer to the house than the Spot is even if the food isn’t quite as good.
I’ve tried two Vietnamese places in Chandler, Pho Chandler at Arizona Ave and Ocotillo (south of the Santan) and Cyclo on Chandler Blvd east of Dobson (right across from the Valley’s best gelato, Angel Sweet). I ordered roughly the same entree at both places, bún (rice vermicelli) with grilled pork and a fried egg roll, and Pho Chandler was the winner, with more flavorful meats and less fatty pieces as well as more greens underneath the noodles. Pho Chandler also has a pork short ribs appetizer that is a must-order – small pieces of pork still on the bone served in a sweet-spicy sauce with tamarind and Thai basil. The bún at Cyclo included pork and beef, and the beef could not have had less flavor if they’d boiled it without seasoning. One thing I found peculiar at both restaurants was the use of thicker noodles than I’ve had at Vietnamese restaurants elsewhere, mostly in Boston, which changes the texture of the final dish substantially. I’d also give Pho Chandler a nod over Cyclo for friendlier service.
In Scottsdale, I’ve now had lunch at Culinary Dropout, located just across Camelback from Fashion Square Mall, three times when meeting friends in from out of town or who work in the area, and it’s been a home run each time. The orecchiette with short rib meat and butter beans in a tomato sauce is bright and fresh but very filling with a late kick; I’m mildly obsessed with short ribs, by far my favorite cut of cow, and even with all of the other heavier elements in the dish the rib meat remains the clear star, accentuated by the acidity of the tomato sauce. The chicken hash with fried egg and black truffles is a rich and hearty if you’re into mushrooms, but was a little on the light side for lunch. The turkey pastrami on a pretzel roll was good but my least favorite of the three dishes, primarily because the meat is so salty and then comes on a salty roll with good yet also salty hand-cut fries on the side … I love salt and season aggressively when I cook, but this felt like a dish aimed at getting you to order another beer. (I could think of worse outcomes, though.) The place has kind of a funky gastropub look and feel, but the food is strong enough for a business lunch.
Zinburger is owned by the same restaurant group as Culinary Dropout and the eponymous dish there is so good I have now made my own version several times at home. Located across from the Ritz-Carlton in a small mall featuring a Cheesecake Factory – and really, how stupid do you have to be to go eat that garbage with Zinburger about 30-40 meters away? – Zinburger offers DIY burger options, but the version that bears the restaurant’s name is the winner: Zinfandel-braised onions, Manchego cheese, and a thin layer of mayonnaise. I’m not sure how Zinburger does their onions, but my version comes pretty close – I caramelize them in the traditional way, then deglaze the pan with wine and let the onions plump back up a little with the new liquid before serving. They also offer several types of hand-cut fries, including “double truffle fries” and sweet potato, both of which were excellent although I find sweet potato fries a little too sweet. (Sweet potato chips, on the other hand, are awesome.) I regret to inform you that I did not try any of Zinburger’s shakes.