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Kasha's Cafe & Grill, 18631 North 19th Avenue, Phoenix, 582-2996. Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., Fridays and Saturdays; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sundays.
Imagine members of a local bowling team discussing where they should have dinner after a night at the alley. One guy wants mozzarella sticks and a Philly cheese-steak sandwich. Someone else longs for broasted alligator tail and elk chops. Another craves battered zucchini slices and a chicken-and-ribs combo. A fourth pleads for grilled quail and a buffalo steak. The team captain doesn't care what he eats, as long as there are several dozen beers on tap and a flaming cherries jubilee dessert. In the old days, it would have been unlikely that team unity could have been maintained, confronted with such divergent tastes. But that was before Kasha's arrived on the Valley scene. Offering what must be the weirdest combination of menu options this side of Krypton, Kasha's is a delightful hoot.
It's run by a husband-and-wife team that recently disposed of a liquor store and looked around for something else to do. She wanted to set up a bar. He wanted a restaurant. We got Kasha's. (It's scary to think what might have resulted if hubby had pushed for an oil-and-lube shop.) The place doesn't look like much. A bar and cooking area juts out into the center of a large, barnlike room. Coffee-shop-type booths and tables, a couple of wall-mounted televisions inexplicably not tuned to ESPN and some Ansel Adams prints complete the less-than-mesmerizing effect. Aside from the diverse dining choices, Kasha's has another attraction--its method of cooking. Rattlesnake, alligator, Rocky Mountain oysters, quail, zucchini, potatoes and chicken all come broasted. That means quick-cooking in bubbling oil heated to approximately the surface temperature of Venus--360 degrees. You definitely don't want to put your face too close to the broaster. Broasting is supposed to make food less greasy than ordinary deep-fat frying. The broasted-zucchini appetizer didn't permit us to make any definitive observations, because we demolished it too fast. The squash, dipped in beer batter, is as good as I've had, crisp and irresistible.
It's best swilled with any of the outstanding beers on tap, which include such formidable names as Pilsner Urquell, Watney's, Warsteiner, Double Diamond and Labatt's. A large glass of one of these premium brews runs three bucks. Meals come with soup or salad, and both are far better than I would have imagined. The navy-bean soup lacks the commercial, salty taste that ruins most efforts, while bits of bacon add to the attraction. And though the salad is just the usual mix of greens, I enjoyed the lemony, Middle Eastern-style house dressing. There's a wonderful loaf of warm, crusty sourdough bread in the breadbasket, too.
The main-dish list reads as if it were devised by Timothy Leary in consultation with Marlin Perkins. Folks who plan their Saturday afternoons around reruns of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom should enjoy the two meaty elk chops in a heavy wine sauce. Elk packs a powerful, gamy wallop, but these chops are tender enough to make it all palatable. (What do you drink, asked one of my pals, with elk? Elkohol, of course.) Buffalo steak is another option for the bow-and-arrow crowd. It's a generous, charbroiled portion with plenty of flavor. Buffalo doesn't have the fat and cholesterol of prime beef--that's good. On the other hand, you won't get any of prime beef's juicy tenderness, either. If you've just got to have buffalo, you might be happier with it in Kasha's burger form. The wildlife extends to the appetizer list, as well. Broasted alligator tail sounded too interesting to pass up. We wondered where the proprietors secured the alligator meat. Visions of banjo-pluckin', swamp-wadin' Georgia backwoodsmen wrestling a reluctant critter onto the back of a pickup and driving west danced through our heads. The truth, alas, isn't quite so picturesque. All of Kasha's exotic meats are farm-raised, supplied by Shamrock Foods. Unfortunately, alligator tail--even broasted alligator tail--has few gastronomic charms once the novelty wears off. The more familiar main dishes are pretty tasty and cheap, an appealing duo. The signature broasted chicken comes with crisp skin and very moist meat. I can't vouch for any low-cal claims, but I can vouch for the fact that the chicken is cooked to order, and is not sitting around catching a few rays beneath a tanning lamp. The Philly cheese steak comes on a fresh sourdough roll with hefty amounts of grilled beef, onions, cheese and peppers. The chicken fettuccine Alfredo features a broasted chicken breast--bone and all--over lots of creamy pasta. It's bizarre, but filling enough to dent any appetite. And the $6.95 price tag will certainly please bargain hunters. Ribs was the only dish we couldn't work up any enthusiasm about. The ribs are meaty and tender enough, but severely short on the flavor that drives carnivores to gnaw on the bones. After our waitress informed us of the two dessert possibilities, I turned toward the kitchen door, half expecting to see Rod Serling peering out. That's because instead of apple pie and chocolate cake, Kasha's serves flaming cherries jubilee and bananas Foster. These two expensive treats are usually prepared tableside by tuxedo-clad servers in the glitziest continental restaurants. You'd have to imagine a McDonald's Happy Meal of McPheasant Under Glass to appreciate my level of astonishment.