By Heather Hoch
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Those of us curious about what was going on at the northwest corner of Campbell and 40th Street now have our answer: Ingo's Tasty Food, the newest restaurant concept from LGO Hospitality, has opened there. The folks behind popular Arcadia staples including La Grande Orange Grocery, Chelsea's Kitchen, and Grateful Spoon Gelato have turned the former parking lot of their now-defunct Radio Milano into the home of a gleaming metal-and-brick, single-room cylindrical structure so gorgeous that, after arriving there, I wanted to dash home and write a mash note to its creator, Phoenix-based architect Will Bruder.
Instead, I stayed and ate hamburgers. I was glad I did.
Part upscale diner, part theater-in-the-round, Ingo's interior offers a single curved counter where guests can sit on one of a dozen pleather stools and watch Chef Dom Ruggerio and his distractingly attractive staff prepare their meals. I opted, on my first and second visits to Ingo's, to dine al fresco in the curbside, stabilized-granite-covered beer and wine garden. (Kimber Stonehouse, formerly of Sportsman's Fine Wine and Spirits, oversees a well-balanced beer and wine list that's heavy on French vin.) I'm told that this wide, uncovered patio will remain usable in the blistering summertime heat with the addition of overhead misters and big umbrellas to shade outdoor diners.
4502 N. 40th Street
Phoenix, AZ 85018
Region: East Phoenix
While Ingo's cuisine is pretty straightforward, the diner's concept is heavy on cute gimmickry, like daily specials handwritten on Post-it notes, signage promoting silly hand gestures (a thumbs-up, these signs explain, means "We love it! Cooks are awesome and cool!"), and a confusing queueing system involving numbered feet painted on the floor, which a staff member explained to me twice (and which I'm still not sure I understand).
There's no starting cautiously at Ingo's; the closest thing to an appetizer is the Fresh Shattered Potato Chips, which come thick-cut, hot and crisp, and lightly salted. Served with a glob of tangy lebni, a Lebanese yogurt dip that caused a small portion of them to go limp and soggy, the chips went well with the citrusy, fruit-filled blush sangria, which I switched to after discovering that the rosé I'd ordered was a sparkling wine, something the menu didn't specify.
Salads, which are offered as one of those "Post-it Note" daily specials, are unremarkable. One tossed shaved Brussels sprouts, fennel, and Pink Lady apples with almonds and blue cheese and was underdressed with an oily blush vinaigrette that did nothing to enhance any of the flavors. Another combined baby mustard greens with nicely crisp roasted butternut squash, dried apricots, and mozzarella, this time drenched with a sherry mustard vinaigrette that made the greens limp.
The Heirloom Brown Rice Bowl was equally unexciting. Black beans and organic rice paired with pistachios and feta offered a nice combination of textures, and the soft-boiled egg on top was a nice touch, but the flavors were lost to the fire of a super-hot jalapeño sauce.
Ruggerio's strong suit clearly is sandwich-making. The Crispy Chicken Sandwich improves on this menu standard with moist white meat schnitzel teamed with Granny Smith apple slices and dill pickle. And the No. 1 Tuna Burger, which marries the nicely moist fish with bulgur wheat and avocado, is made distinctive by a generous helping of smooth, housemade aioli.
As nice as these sandwiches were, I suspect I'll never eat either of them again, because Ingo's burgers are such stunners, and they're what I'll be going back for. In an era when beef patties are likely to be overdressed by zealous chefs intent to impress — crammed with truffles, draped in obscure cheeses, and, in one recently memorable instance, marinated in port — I want an uncomplicated burger that tastes not like fortified wine, but like a hamburger.
Fortunately, Ruggerio concurs. Each of his gourmet burgers begins with a thick puck of grass-fed beef, cooked to a pinkish medium rare and seasoned with only salt and pepper. The simple cheddar cheeseburger is moist and chophouse-sized and the best proof that Ingo's (named for the childhood music teacher of one of LGO's owners) is really all about the perfect burger.
I tend to avoid barbecue burgers, which often are overpowered by too-tangy sauce or taste too much like the grill they were seared on. Not so Ingo's Paris Texas Burger, served with smoky-sharp apple barbecue sauce and pancetta, which complement rather than defeat that delicious patty.
The Ingo Burger is the real star here. It's a juicy take on the Reuben, with a thick, tightly packed patty of perfectly cooked beef in place of corned beef, housemade Dijon sauce, a slice of Fol Epi, a French cow's milk cheese that here takes the place of Swiss, and the tang of wilted sauerkraut under a soft, shiny-crusted poppy-seed bun from the LGO Bake Shop. Perfect.
I hope the LGO people get those summer misters installed. I can overlook intemperate weather, silly contrivances like hand gestures and Post-it notes, and the unfortunate choice to serve on disposable plates and offer plastic cutlery, which seem at odds with Bruder's well-known sustainability principles; perhaps there's no room in Ingo's tiny round room for a dishwasher. But only when I'm eating hamburgers as well prepared and tasty as Ingo's are.