Mealing and Dealing

The Copper Club Restaurant, America West Arena, 201 East Jefferson, Phoenix, 379-7777. Lunch, Monday through Friday, 11a.m. to 2 p.m.

Today's quiz: Choose the statement that best describes your downtown-job situation.

1. When you arrive at work, you pull into a parking spot with a) your name on it; b) your father-in-law's name on it; c) the chalk outline of the guy who parked there yesterday.

Location Info

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America West Arena

201 E. Jefferson St.
Phoenix, AZ 85004-2412

Category: Sports and Recreation

Region: Central Phoenix

2. Your office door has a sign that reads a) Executive Vice President; b) Director of Finance; c)Men.

3. At the midmorning break, you like to check a) how the Japanese stock market is doing; b)how 30-year treasury bonds are doing; c) how your lottery numbers are doing.

If you answered "a" or "b" to these questions, there's a good chance you've eaten lunch, on the company dime, at the Copper Club. It's the ritzy room on the second floor of America West Arena, where this town's movers and shakers can move and shake in peace. Here is a place where things can get done: Business people are putting together deals, lobbyists are wooing legislators and lawyers are billing clients for a "working" lunch hour.

On the other hand, if you chose "c," the Coyote Springs Brewing Company may be a better downtown lunchtime option.

The Copper Club isn't interested in attracting the brown-bagging masses. It's pitched to the tailored-suits-and-coordinated-outfits crowd. Look for lots of clubby touches: dark wood, plush burgundy carpeting, eye-catching chandeliers, elegant china (Royal Doulton), greenery in Oriental vases, linen-draped tables. Televisions are tuned to ESPN seniors golf--if you're into As the World Turns, you'll have to tape it at home.

Decorative copper lozenges hanging from the walls seem like an odd touch at first glance. But they make more sense after you read the menu and learn that the restaurant is named "in honor of [copper producer] Phelps Dodge Corporation's many contributions to the state." The gushing continues: "As you enjoy [Copper Club's] special ambiance, we hope you will be reminded of Arizona's rich heritage and the important part played in all our lives by one of the state's most important natural resources ... copper."

It's hard to take this drivel seriously. But it's especially difficult to swallow when you consider the modus operandi of the person behind it. After all, Jerry Colangelo is a man who'd cheerfully name his new stadium Preparation-H Ballpark if that company forked over enough dough.

Fortunately, what comes out of the kitchen is a lot easier to swallow than what comes out of the arena's public relations office.

The menu designers obviously don't believe premeal nibbles are profitable at noon. If you want to pay for something to eat before your lunch platter arrives, you'll have to go with soup. The cream of banana squash, one day's special, seemed heavier on the cream than on the squash, but that's no great cause for complaint. Otherwise, the only preliminary attack you can make on hunger pangs is to assault the basket of warm sourdough and whole-wheat rolls.

Lunches are sufficiently hearty--hardworking executives need proper fueling. Some of the dishes are also very well-crafted.

As evidence, check out the Scallop Napoleon, a daily special we encountered on the first visit. The deferential waiter couldn't have been more pleased with my choice: "Ah, that's Mr. Colangelo's favorite," he beamed. His admiring gaze clearly indicated that he thought I was upper-management material.

I can understand Mr. Colangelo's enthusiasm. It's a pretty creation: a two-story tower fashioned from layers of sliced eggplant brushed with sundried tomatoes, each layer topped with three juicy sea scallops. It's all ringed with colorful bits of zucchini, potato and summer squash in a tomato-cream sauce. One quibble: The eggplant needs to be cooked longer or cut thinner--it's a bit chewy.

Penne pasta with smoked chicken is equally satisfying, especially if you're into carbohydrate-loading. You get a large bowl of noodles crammed with slices of smoked chicken breast, tossed with sun-dried tomatoes, basil, pine nuts and mascarpone cheese. The dish has an unexpected and distinctively sweet taste, which may take a couple of bites to get used to. But it's worth persevering.

Chicken and dumplings are almost--almost--perfect. The rich broth harbors gorgeously tender strips of white-meat chicken, carrots, celery andirresistibly light, puffy, cheese-sprinkled dumplings. Why, oh, why, then, did someone in the kitchen decide to heap on the salt with a shovel? I'd like to try this again when the flavors are allowed to speak for themselves.

The meat loaf is not exactly to my taste. I prefer it thick and hefty; Copper Club's model is too light, crumbling at the first touch of a fork. First-rate, creamy mashed potatoes helped ease my disappointment. The triple-decker-club sandwich, however, has no defects. It's a big-enough-for-two monster on good 12-grain bread, loaded with ham, turkey and bacon.

Desserts are made in-house and wheeled over to the table on a dessert cart. The server fondles each one, giving a descriptive spiel at the same time. It's an effective selling technique, and you won't feel any buyer's remorse after your purchase. The excellent mud pie is thick and fudgy, lined with caramel sauce, peanuts, chocolate chips and whipped cream. Even better is the dessert tortilla. It's made from almond-brittle candy, and stuffed with kiwi, strawberries, papaya and white chocolate shavings, moistened by a papaya sauce. I could get used to this.

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