Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Where else can you find professional athletes competing against B-movie actors competing against aging talk-show hosts all broadcast on a hit TV show other than in the arena of ballroom dancing? Thanks to Dancing with the Stars, ballroom is hot hot hot right now. And we've discovered the place in the Valley to get the most important equipment you will need for America's newest favorite "sport" dancing shoes.
Suede soles and heel height seem to be the most important factors for the serious dancer, and if you mean business, you're in luck here. From casual "social dancers" to the most competitive of the ballroom crowd, folks are heading to this Tempe store for their extensive selection.
We've gotta warn you, this place isn't easy to find. After more than three years at this location, Great American still doesn't have a sign over its door (evidently, it doesn't need one). Sandwiched between a nail salon and a wedding shop in this nondescript (formerly Michael's) plaza, you will find only a small sign on the door as a welcome.
Inside, you'll know you're in the right place: There are walls of men's and women's styles to choose from from the sensible black "practice shoe" to full on blinged-out sandals. Anything you don't find can be special-ordered. You'd better really wanna swing and salsa, though, as the average price runs $140 a pair (they do have some clearance styles). Totally worth the price tag, the die-hards tell us.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!)