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There's much to be said for late-night options that aren't even as good as Jerry's or Country Boys, especially when the prices are so manageable. But if you're willing to pry your wallet open a little wider, you can find even better quality.
The desserts at 5 & Diner, for instance, are classic. A friend of mine blames the chocolate cream pie there for regularly destroying her diet, and I have a weakness for that faux-'50s joint's fine rich malts, complete with the pockets of dry powder hiding here and there in the creamy semiliquid.
But for after-hours grub in all areas -- entrees, desserts, sandwiches, breakfasts -- that can stand alongside many of the better prime-time meals in the Valley, Scottsdale's Fast Freddy's, 7551 East Camelback, 480-970-9507, is a real find.
Tuna salad sandwich
The caveats first: In terms of decor, Fast Freddy's, part of the "Goldman Group of Restaurants," is a little on the tragically hip/corporate side. As with 5 & Diner, the theme is ersatz-McCarthy era, but here it's mixed with touches that look like they come from the rave scene. TV monitors dish out music videos, Jerry Springer and body-building contests on ESPN, and the walls are covered with a grayish beaten-metal siding that creates the atmosphere of some sort of Eurotrashy techno club.
Also, the place isn't always open. On Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, it's open from 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. Then it stays open round-the-clock from 6:30 a.m. Thursdays throughout the weekends, before closing ignominiously early on Sundays at -- argh! -- 11 p.m. Still, for the Valley, this ain't bad.
Finally, it's not particularly cheap. If your taste buds are sleepy, Jerry's or Country Boys may be good enough for them. But if they're wide awake and howling for the good stuff at any price, then you're ready for Freddy.
Put it this way -- you can get halibut there. Halibut. In a lemon basil sauce. At 2:18 a.m. Sure, it'll cost you 11 bucks, but that's comparable to, or less than, what you'd pay for halibut at most restaurants during the hours that respectable people eat.
Actually, except for liver and onions, the menu has pretty much anything you're likely to want. I heard a server there recommending the eggs Benedict to some diners at another table, and I took his advice. Good move -- Freddy's does the dish as well as any place I've been in the Valley, and it comes with a side of the fried potato/green pepper mix. A variation on the Benedict is the Spiny Benny -- the same dish, minus the ham steak, but with creamed spinach, mushrooms and bacon.
Another fascinating original on which I feasted was the Lemon Lights, pancakes with cottage cheese and lemon juice mixed into the batter, with a side of sausage or bacon for irony. The lemon adds a surprisingly strong, fresh kick to the pancakes. The menu also offers potato pancakes, caramel praline pancakes and matzo pancakes.
The more traditional diner fare kicks butt at Fast Freddy's, too. My wife believes that, just as a society may be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable members, so too a restaurant may be judged by how it treats its tuna fish. The plain old tuna fish sandwich at Freddy's rated raves, although the mediocre side salad with Caesar dressing wasn't the liveliest accompaniment the sandwich could have had.
There were some oddities on the menu that I wasn't willing either to brave or to pay for. I asked the server, a nice fellow dressed and coifed as if to play in Brian Setzer's Orchestra, if anyone had ever ordered the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the $5.95 price tag for which seems a tad steep, even allowing that it's double decker.
"No," he said flatly. He thought about this a minute, then enigmatically qualified his answer. "Well, one woman did. But she was a dancer, so she had plenty of money."
Okay, I asked, what about the jelly omelet? "Your choice of grape or strawberry jelly folded inside," the menu promises.
"No," he said again. "You know, most of the stuff you see on the menu and sort of go, 'What?' Well, everybody else sees it and sort of goes, 'What?' too."
Yet this is precisely what I find so splendid about the Fast Freddy's menu. I'll probably never want a grape-jelly omelet, but I want to live in a city where I can get one if the craving ever does hit me. Especially at 1:39 a.m. Bedtime knack: Katie Lamonda delivers late greats at Fast Freddy's.