Best Of :: Food & Drink
Brothers Jay and Don Poore, of Arizona-based snack brand Poore Brothers Potato Chips, are the main characters in one of America's great corporate fairy tales. Once upon a time, the pair worked as engineers for snack food companies, installing and repairing machines in their plants. There they were introduced to the wonderful world of potato chips — not just the crispy crunch of the popular snack, but the process by which they're made. It was kind of like Willy Wonka's amazing chocolate factory, only with salty snacks instead of sweet. Oh, and there was no room for pretzel trees and toadstools made of onion straws. But we digress.
Jay and Don, inspired by what they saw, created a thick, kettle-cooked chip and marketed it as Bob's Texas Style Potato Chips. The chips were a hit. The bros sold that company, moved to the desert, and founded Poore Brothers.
In those days, the Poore brothers were a little, well, poorer than they are now. What's now a major snack corporation making unusual goodies such as Burger King Ketchup & Fries and Boulder Canyon Natural Rice & Adzuki Bean chips began with Jay and Don, a single kettle and one delivery truck. They handed out free samples and sold the chips to grocery stores and delis before Phoenicians became hooked. Jay and Don soon became the kings of a snack empire. They've never forgotten Phoenix, though. Poore Brothers sponsored the Arizona Diamondbacks' arrival in the mid-'90s and produced some Diamondbacks commemorative chip bags. And though they've since turned over the reins and reorganized under the Inventure Group name, Don occasionally consults for the company and Jay remains at the Goodyear plant.
A single kettle seems laughable now. One hundred thousand pounds of taters per day, sourced from Idaho and Maricopa County, are cooked in massive troughs and stirred by machine paddles. The brand itself has expanded to include "intensely different" flavors that appeal to Arizona tastes, such as Three Cheese Jalapeño, Sweet Maui Onion, and Mole. Of course, we still love the original. Oregon can keep their Kettle brand, and Snyder's of Hanover is just a visitor in this town. Phoenix's "home team" of snacks will always be Poore Brothers.
To the uninitiated, chef Joshua Hebert's contemporary American restaurant concept may take some getting used to. He calls it "improvisational cuisine," and in the same way that a jazz musician gets in a groove and spins off an impromptu melody, Hebert plays around with ingredients in unexpected, unpredictable ways. And while some of the Valley's top chefs are constantly tweaking their menus based on what's in season, Hebert eschews a menu altogether. Instead, guests guide their dining experience with a checklist indicating how many courses they'd like, which featured meat and seafood appeals (or doesn't appeal) to them, whether they'll eat raw foods, and any other preferences. (If it's reminiscent of omakase dining at a sushi bar, where you trust the chef to feed you well, that's because Hebert did a stint at Tokyo's Miyako Hotel several years back.) Beyond that, dinner is a series of tasty surprises — scallop carpaccio with radish, pickled grapes, and squash blossom pesto; foie gras with citrus coulis and spun sugar; mushroom-braised veal with morels, peas and fresh mint. Seafood is Hebert's forte, but he's also fond of the exotic, like roasted kangaroo. To be sure, the Posh kitchen can handle the most finicky diners, but the customers who'll have the most fun will simply leave their meal in Hebert's capable hands.
Now this is what we call progress. After years of light-rail construction — when the streets were torn up, local businesses took a hit, and most of us avoided the area altogether — the Central Corridor has bounced back in a big way. Our favorite sign is the emergence of new restaurants along the rail path, exemplified by a charming neighborhood spot called Maizie's Café & Bistro.
Just steps from the station at Camelback and Central, it's hip, affordable, and friendly, thanks to the hospitality of the Miller family, who opened this place last year. And the menu at Maizie's has personality, from the "not your average quesadilla" (Brie, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and pine nuts in a spinach tortilla), to the bacon- and blue cheese-stuffed "inside out" burger, to the breakfast pizza (served on weekends). If Maizie's is a sign of good things to come along the light rail, it's a bright future, indeed.
In the midst of a gloomy summer that saw the demise of too many favorite Valley restaurants, the debut of The Parlor was undoubtedly a bright spot. To stop by on a weeknight in July (when many places in town were scraping by) you would've been fooled into thinking you were here on a weekend during tourist season, in a much better economy. What is everyone lining up for? A recession-proof menu of pizzas from the wood-fired oven (we love the one with Schreiner's sausage), handmade pastas, sandwiches, and killer craft cocktails like the basil gimlet, made with fresh herbs from the restaurant's own garden.
The atmosphere's great, too, thanks to an eco-friendly renovation of the 53-year-old building, which used to house Salon de Venus. That's right, father-and-son owners Dan and Aric Mei (who own Nello's in Ahwatukee) have tranformed a beauty parlor into a pizza parlor — and it's every bit the hit we'd hoped for.
The historic Coronado District's restaurant row, stretching along Seventh Street between McDowell and Thomas, is full of great restaurants, but to get to one of our favorite spots in the area, you'll have to take a small detour. Nestled in the residential heart of the neighborhood, Tuck Shop does have an unlikely location (before its opening, some locals pitched a fit, and the city had to limit its business hours to dinner). Still, it's worth seeking out for its cozy mid-century atmosphere and its Southern-influenced comfort food.
Fried chicken, red beans and rice with sausage and Creole shrimp, and juicy skirt steak with mashed Yukon potatoes are just a few highlights. Tuck Shop also has a reasonably priced wine list and excellent cocktails. As you can probably tell, Tuck Shop is quite a find.
To walk into Joe's Real BBQ, right in the middle of downtown Gilbert, you'd think you'd stepped right back in time to the 1940s. The building itself, all gorgeous red brick, was constructed in 1929 as a Safeway Pay'n'Takit (ah, they just don't make 'em like they used to), while the restored John Deere tractor in the middle of the dining room is an authentic '40s relic. And just like an old-fashioned cafeteria, you grab a tray and get in line to order up plates of slow-cooked meats smoked over pecan wood — beef brisket, luscious pulled pork, and pork ribs so tender you'll gnaw them down to the bones. Homemade root beer and retro sodas in glass bottles only add to the vintage vibe. Amazingly, Joe's Real BBQ has been in business since only the late '90s, but it's still a total blast from the past.