Best of Phoenix®

Best Of 2009


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Best Of :: Food & Drink

Best Use of Fondant
Tammie Coe Cakes

We owe Tammie Coe an apology. For years, we've admired the beauty of her cakes — striped Mad Hatter-esque creations with impossibly smooth icing in vibrant colors. Our favorite is a recent creation — plain white covered perfectly with rainbow sprinkles, with a candy candle on top. Adorable.

But we've long refused to eat Coe's fancy cakes; the icing is beautiful, but to be honest, it's not so easy on the taste buds. Then we got hooked on those reality shows about cake decorating (Cake Boss on TLC and The Food Network's Ace of Cakes) and we learned about fondant. Coe is a local fondant pioneer, it turns out — taking a cake-decorating staple and making it mainstream. When we decided to try out fondant for ourselves, the first thing the clerk at the baking supply store said was, "Now, you know no one really ever eats fondant, right? It tastes horrible. You're supposed to peel it off and eat the butter-cream frosting underneath."

Oops. Our apologies, Tammie. You really do take the cake — and make it look better than anyone else.

610 E. Roosevelt St., Phoenix, 85004
4410 N. 40th St., Phoenix, 85018
Best New Restaurant

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.

7167 E. Rancho Vista Dr., Scottsdale, 85251
Best New Eatery Along the Light Rail
Maizie's Café & Bistro

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.

4750 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 85012
Best Hot Spot
The Parlor Pizzeria
Heather Hoch

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.

1916 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 85016
Best Hidden Gem
Tuck Shop
Jackie Mercandetti

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.

2245 N. 12th St., Phoenix, 85006
Best Old-Fashioned Charm
Joe's Real BBQ
Courtesy of Joe's Real BBQ

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.

301 N. Gilbert Rd., Gilbert, 85234

Best Use of Fondant: Tammie Coe Cakes


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