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Best Of 2007


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Readers' Choice


Best Of :: Shopping & Services

AJ's Fine Foods
Jackie Mercandetti

It's great to order the cheese course after a meal at a nice restaurant, but these days, you don't need to rely on the whims of the kitchen to try an interesting cheese. Actually, it's much more fun to find your own fromage and serve it at home, where you can take your time enjoying it. Over the course of the evening, as it eases into room temperature, the cheese will become deliciously soft, perhaps even runny, and its flavors will become more intense. There's nothing to it, really. Just pick out a few kinds, put them out on a cutting board, and watch your friends devour it. (Trust us, it's one of the most rewarding and least labor-intensive ways to entertain guests.) For the best variety, head to AJ's, where the cheese counter is stocked with all the same boutique and imported cheeses you'd find at an upscale eatery or your favorite swanky wine bar. Service here is friendly and knowledgeable, and if they don't have what you're looking for, chances are, they'll gladly get it. Now you never need to go without your Humboldt Fog.

4430 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 85018
ABC Baking Cake Decorating

We've been shopping at ABC Baking for years, and have yet to walk in the place and not have our deepest wish fulfilled — and we have some odd wishes, including a need for pink bakery boxes in assorted sizes, sugar violets, and tiny plastic ballerinas that dance on the tops of cupcakes. If you're a serious baker, you're in luck — these folks know what they're doing, and will provide you with all the hard-core tools of the trade, from pastry tubes to cake pans in shapes you never imagined. This year, we had a special desire for sprinkles (see our cover) and we knew right where to go. ABC has an entire section devoted to nothing but — both the nonpareil and sugar varieties, in every hue imaginable. As you noticed, we chose classic rainbow.

2853 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 85016

This candy company doesn't sell prickly pear jellies or candy rocks. (Thank goodness — have you ever tried to eat a candy rock?) They're much more creative than that. Instead, you can order small bags of treats, including Arizona Great Fruits (hard candies in citrus flavors), Margaritas on the Rocks (flavored like tequila, lime, and salt) and Hot Chocolate (again, hard candy, flavored with New Mexico chile, chocolate, and vanilla). Our personal favorites are the Fortune Tamales, cinnamon candies wrapped like tamales, including "spicy sayings" in Spanish and English. All clever twists on old favorites, but not too icky sweet. Yummy!

Chatham's Fine Chocolates

Finally a place where we can let our chocolate freak flags fly, and nobody will give us a funny look. On the contrary, it's de rigueur to gush about cacao confections here, and the more exotic, the better. The proprietors are so enthusiastic that they're like gourmet chocolate cheerleaders. How about the marzipan filled with rum and spiced poached black mission figs, dipped in chocolate, and encrusted with crushed almonds? It's divine. Dark chocolate filled with caramel and sprinkled with pink sea salt? Exquisite. Or the lavender and peppercorn-infused dark chocolate ganache with candied violet petals? Totally freakin' mind-blowing. (Okay, that last one is our description, not theirs.) With about 270 individual pieces of chocolate from more than a dozen artisan chocolatiers plus the biggest selection of fancy chocolate bars we've ever seen this bonbon-sized boutique is just the place to go to break out of your Hershey's shell.

Chocoholics, take note: The shop just moved from Scottsdale to Phoenix, where it reopens in early October.

114 W. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 85013

There are lots of ways to satisfy your craving for sweet/salty (and don't act like you don't know what we're talking about), but our favorite is with a caramel-dipped, chocolate-covered pretzel rod from Granny's. We've spotted Granny's rods at Starbucks in Seattle and closer to home, at MADE art boutique and at Granny's quaint HQ in Gilbert — where, if you're particularly kind to the owners, you might just get a behind-the-scenes tour. We've seen the vat they heat that caramel in, and let's just say we wouldn't be surprised if lives have been lost. We're here to tell you, it's well worth the sacrifice.

1035 N. McQueen Rd., Gilbert, 85233

Falling for the gelato at Arlecchino is kind of like finding religion.

At first, you try to be rational. (There are new gelato places cropping up all over town. I can find gelato a lot closer to home.)

Then, some healthy skepticism kicks in. (What's all the fuss? How can it really be that good?)

Pretty soon, you admit that you're curious. (Man, my friends won't shut up about Arlecchino. I think I need to try it.)

You educate yourself. (Wow. Arlecchino's owner trained with a gelato master in Italy, and he makes every pan of gelato from scratch...) Next, you do some soul-searching. (Chocolate, pistachio, or strawberry?

Finally, you take a leap of faith, and dig in. Within a bite or two, the potent flavors and dense, creamy texture overwhelm your taste buds. You've never tasted gelato this good anywhere, ever. It's so delicious, it's almost hard to explain the sensation. Like fireworks, or ecstasy, or... (Heaven!)




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