By Eric Schaefer
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By Rachel Miller
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By Heather Hoch and Lauren Saria
By Robrt L. Pela
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Imagine you and a few of your friends -- say, 3,000 of them -- are looking for a good place to grab dinner out. Where would you go?
If you live in Anthem, the decision is simple: Persimmon Bar & Grille at Anthem Golf and Country Club. There's practically no other option for residents of Del Webb's monstrous, monochromatic, master-planned community on the edge of New River.
For the several thousand homeowners who were the first to bite last March at the Disneylike dream of an "unparalleled assortment of lifestyle amenities," the most there has been to munch on is dust kicked up by phalanxes of tractors digging yet another home "as original as you."
2708 W. Anthem Club Drive
Anthem, AZ 85086
Shrimp salad wrap: $9.50
Fairway burger: $7
American lamb chops: $23.50
Delmonico steak: $22
Chocolate torte: $5
Hours: Lunch, Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; dinner, Wednesday through Sunday, 6 to 9 p.m.; brunch, Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; grazing menu, Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Before Persimmon opened in February, in fact, Anthem denizens could find nourishment only at the Prime Outlets mall food court across I-17 (Taco Bell, Burger King, Subway) or down the road a bit at Black Canyon City (cowboy grub at Squaw Peak Steakhouse or the Rock Springs Cafe). Even groceries were almost 20 miles distant, until a Safeway opened within the Anthem compound a few weeks ago.
Certainly by the time Anthem is built out, there will be many more dining choices in the area. (Let's hope so -- the mini-city is expected to be home to about 50,000 people, and that's a lot of forks pounding the tables.) The good news, Anthemites, is that for the time being, Persimmon Bar & Grille handles your hunger quite nicely. Although some main-plate entrees still need a little work, most of the lunch and grazing dishes are enjoyable enough to make life in this feel-good commune of cookie-cutter homes almost endurable.
The better news, for the rest of us on the outside, is that Persimmon is open to the public -- if you happen to be traveling some 35 miles north of downtown Phoenix. Add it to your list of dining choices for the next time you visit friends and family incarcerated at the state juvenile detention center or the federal prison that separates Anthem from the rest of the Valley. Or if you get the munchies heading out to the Shangri-La nudist colony just over the mountain that shadows Anthem. Just turn right at the Anthemized kids on the neighborhood's entry billboard, grinning at you with teeth as large as your head.
Pass the grand fountains and rippling pennants announcing your arrival to Anthemityville's 5,800-acre "lifestyle experience." Don't stop at the VW bug-size golf ball marking the welcome center on your right, nor at the adjacent park with its kid-sized railroad, fishing lake or skateboard park. Just avert your eyes from the community center's rock-climbing wall, soaring waterslides and indoor sports courts -- they're for Anthem-approved residents only. You won't get through the country club gate, either, without stopping to give your name and license plate number.
Persimmon's interior looks perfect, in that glossy, model-home manner of complete theme coordination. Emerald green and whisky-brown carpet melds with faux marble tables, charcoal stone columns, leather wall cutouts and fat cherry wood crown molding. Color-matched silk plants are placed just so, copper wine buckets flank a fireplace for accent more than practicality, and everywhere are those curious decorator items that "pull" together a prefab room: glass orbs, decoupage boxes, non-statement oversize artwork.
The precision lends nouveau riche charm, but also makes the blemishes that much more jarring. Soaring display shelves are empty. At dinner one evening, a sunscreen completely blocks the breathtaking sunset view of Daisy Mountain through Persimmon's floor-to-ceiling windows -- until the chef strolls out from the kitchen, notices, and raises the blinds himself (just as the sunset slips away and leaves our bouncing reflections in the glass for the remainder of the evening). And why have two big-screen televisions playing -- sound off or not -- through what's supposed to be an elegant meal?
Don't expect country club service, either. Dinner prices hover around $20, à la carte, yet our youthful servers manage only snack-bar professionalism. One waitress is sweet and friendly but completely confused. We inquire about sides and are told that everything comes on a plain bed of greens -- or maybe some have potatoes, she's not sure. She describes the Delmonico steak as flank, even after we gently ask her to double-check with the kitchen. She has no clue at all regarding the lamb's preparation, and when reciting the evening's single special (swordfish), she has to pull out a crib sheet to read. Another waiter launches into a diatribe on how much he hates fungi when describing a soup du jour of marsala mushroom. We have to ask several times for fresh cutlery and side plates.
And somebody, please, correct the adjustment of the tabletop salt grinders. I like the idea of fresh-ground salt, but not when it comes out in a flurry of big chunks that, had we tested it on our food instead of our bread plates, would have destroyed the meal.
Fortunately, the fare is more polished. Persimmon is under the direction of executive chef John Bartilomo, formerly a lead instructor at the Scottsdale Culinary Institute. Surely he was obsessed with detail when teaching his students; he has brought the same level of care to this new restaurant.