I tried three new spots in the last week, but unfortunately none of them was all that great; clearly I need to keep branching out.
Phoenix has a surprisingly strong contingent of high-end burger joints, including three of the best-reviewed ones all within one long block of each other on Camelback just east of route 51. I’ve been to Zinburger and raved about it, but haven’t tried The Grind yet and just got to Delux yesterday for the first time (even though I first heard about it three or four years ago). They’re known more for their fries and for the general vibe of the place than for the burgers themselves, which I’d say also summarizes my experience there.
The fries are clearly a focus, and it’s the sweet potato fries that really stand out. Sweet potato fries rarely live up to the potential of the root vegetable involved, as they’re often soggy or mealy inside and rarely crispy on the outside, but these were among the best I’ve had. They’re cut thin, the exterior is crunchy, while the interior is light and fluffy like a regular French fry would be; the dipping sauce, a mixture of mayo, sour cream, cayenne pepper, and a few other spices, is kind of a poor man’s remoulade but complemented the sweetness of the sweet potato fries well. The regular fries were fine, not greasy at all but also not that crispy, and of course next to the sweet potatoes the regular fries seemed mild.
The burger, while huge (10 ounces), was a disappointment, primarily because the meat itself was underseasoned. They use Niman Ranch beef in both burger options (there are just two, and a limited number of toppings you can add/subtract), but even good-quality meat needs seasoning, especially salt, and this didn’t have enough. The burger was crying out for sauce – ketchup, mustard, anything – to give some depth to the flavor of the meat, but to me, that’s an error in the burger itself. (The burger might be better with condiments, but it shouldn’t require condiments to taste good.) Delux has a pretty wide selection of beer and wines, including a number of beer-tasting “flights;” the menu has interesting sandwiches and salads; but at the end of the day, if I go to a great burger place, I want a great burger, and Delux’s would be behind Zinburger and Blu Burger among Arizona burger joints.
Bliss on Fourth was named one of Phoenix magazine’s 21 best new restaurants of 2011, although that’s a dubious honor since two others have already closed. The concept is “urban hangout” with high-end comfort food, and while the menu hits that mark, the execution the other night wasn’t great.
Their two signature dishes are the pot roast with mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese (available with or without bacon); I went with the pot roast, which had clearly been out of the braise too long and had started to dry out, while the potatoes underneath were somewhere between lukewarm and cold. We ordered an appetizer of pretzel bread with three dipping sauces, but had to remind the server to actually serve it to us, and even when it came it was a little disappointing, since the bread was served in very thin slices – isn’t the point of pretzel bread to get the salty crust contrasting with the thick, spongy center? I wish the execution had been better, as it’s a cool concept in a great indoor/outdoor space, but watching the food come out of the kitchen from where we sat, I could see dishes sitting half-plated, waiting for the final ingredient and getting cooler by the second. Maybe they just need a better expediter, since the food itself tasted fine, but I can’t say I’m jazzed to go get cold potatoes again.
And speaking of mashed potatoes, I tried a reader suggestion (actually a reader’s friend’s suggestion) in Surprise, an Irish pub right near the ballpark called Irish Wolfhound. The interior is caught somewhere between a pub and a sports bar, but more concerning was the mash in the bangers-and-mash, which had a weird texture that I can only assume either came from a box or a freezer bag. If you can’t get that dish right, you’re not an Irish restaurant.