Best Of :: Goods & Services
We visited Al's with a neophyte beader this summer and came away with a single word: wow. Organized as though Martha Stewart herself had masterminded it, and completely covered in nothing but strings of beads of every make and color, Al's is so clearly the best bead store that it's enough to turn even the least-interested-in-beading crafter into a happy dabbler. Al's offers variety, selection, and quality, with a wide range of materials to both hobbyists and professional jewelers. The personable staff is wise enough to leave shoppers mostly alone to browse and get creative, and knowledgeable enough to confer on both materials and technique needed for pretty much every jewelry design. Glass cases housing silver and precious stones and tables of bead-filled bowls are surrounded by walls neatly arranged by material (everything from glass to jade to semi-precious stuff — and, oh, the turquoise!), color, and size. Al's can compete with any Garment District supply shop or gemstone-fair dealer, offering rare materials like watermelon tourmaline or simpler pieces made of paper or colored glass. Al's real secret weapon is Lisa, a beader who can answer any question you've got about beading ("Can I thread this on wire?") and will gently steer you away from mistakes she's made herself ("Don't mix crystals with those mountain-stone beads — trust me!"). The only problem with Al's is coming up with reasons not to go back there every single day.
Giant Coffee is the sweetheart of the downtown Phoenix coffee scene. Casual, comfortable ambiance? Check. Well-crafted coffee drinks? You know it. Breakfast burritos and house-baked pastries are just the icing on the cake. The space is open and airy, with huge open windows that sweep in sunlight and fresh air (a welcome and generally unfamiliar phenomenon for the laptop crowd). It's really the small things that make Giant so great in our eyes; its dedication to using simple, quality ingredients puts Giant a step above the rest. Local organic eggs are the heart of the breakfast burritos (warmed slowly in the oven). Giant's tableside tea service feels luxurious but is presented free of pretense. Rich, buttery Straus Creamery "Barista Milk" is the perfect complement to Four Barrel Coffee's espresso blend — only barely homogenized, it retains remarkable complexity of flavor and lends a creamy texture to the shop's milk-based drinks.
Readers Choice: Cartel Coffee & Beer House
Our pick for Best Iced Coffee is a newcomer to the metro Phoenix coffee scene — and we can't wait to see where its maker takes us from here. Despite being open for less than a year, Peixoto Coffee has managed to bring delightful innovations to the table. Owner Julia Peixoto Peters imports coffee grown on her father's farm in Brazil, which her husband, Jeff Peters, then roasts in-house. Cold brew has become boringly ubiquitous, but Peixoto's iced coffee is — for lack of a better word — thrilling. Ground beans are steeped in cold water until the mixture is heavily concentrated. The concentrate is then diluted to a more drinkable — but still full-bodied — cold-brewed coffee. What happens next is what sets Peixoto's iced coffee apart: It stores its cold brew in nitrous kegs and feeds it through a tap system (yup, just like beer). The resultant cup — served with or without ice in a chilled pint glass — has a silky texture, smooth, malty body, and beautiful cascading visual effect.
Pardon the pun, but Press Coffee Roasters continues to im-Press us. Despite their diverse origins, Press Coffee Roasters' offerings demonstrate the company's unparalleled commitment to coffee clarity and balance. Each one waltzes gracefully between sweetness, acidity, and bitterness. The company's approach to roasting is exceptionally nuanced, and it's managed to maintain a high level of quality despite recent expansion. As a rule, we don't want to be made to taste how a coffee's beans were roasted. Too light and even the sweetest coffee will taste little more than grassy or sour; too dark and complex and cups become little more than ashy, bitter lumps of charcoal. Press takes great care to ensure that its coffees' natural sugars are perfectly caramelized and that each cup is flavorful, unique, and free of overt roast influence.
Back in 2013, Arizona Distilling Company made history with the release of Copper City Bourbon, the first spirit to be made legally in the Phoenix area since Prohibition. Not long after came the Tempe distillery's Desert Dry Gin, a distinctly Arizonan spirit made with local botanicals (it earned a double gold medal this year at the San Francisco Spirits Competition this year), and in the years since, the childhood friends behind the craft distillery haven't let up — in fact, they're just getting started. We love the line of limited-edition whiskeys the distillery has been making with local grains, and we can't wait for the debut of the company's line of tequila, made in collaboration with a distillery in Mexico. Soon they'll be moving the whole operation to bigger digs, with room for a larger tasting room. We can only imagine what they'll do with all that extra space.
Yes, Total Wine and BevMo are just around the corner, but it's worth the trip to this South Scottsdale wine shop. Here, you can find great deals on bottles from all over the world, and the knowledgeable staff will be more than happy to help you pick out the perfect bottle for the occasion. There are shelves and shelves of French, Italian, and, of course, Arizona wines, and if AZ Wine Co. somehow doesn't have what you want, it'll be more than happy to order it. Every Thursday at 6 p.m., the store hosts weekly wine tastings, which are great gatherings for wine geeks who want to talk shop and compare notes.
Readers choice: Total Wine
A sister store to the well-stocked Tops Liquors in Tempe, Mesa's Sun Devil Liquor matches that store in selection, ambiance, and wonderful aroma (someone get Standard Wax on a "cardboard and hops" — stat). Like Tops, the store comes complete with its own satellite bar, but the Sun Devil Wine Cellar & Pub has one advantage over Taste of Tops: It's underground. Nothing makes you feel as though you're slipping into a speakeasy more than descending the staircase and finding yourself in the dimly lit cellar, where exclusive tastings are held and live jazz adds to the comfort.
Readers Choice: Total Wine
If it can be smoked, Herb'n Legend in Phoenix has something classy to smoke it in. This head shop has inexpensive but decent glass and acrylic bubblers and water pipes that will get the job done. At the high end, masterpieces of glass art will impress the hell out of your pals both before and after a bong session. Prices are pretty good, too, for the average tools most smokers will need. And if you don't have a thousand dollars handy, it's worth it to spend a few minutes gazing at the colorful, artistic pieces on the shelves. You'll also find fancy tobacco pipes and a huge selection of dabbing rigs for wax aficionados. Fantastic selection, friendly staff, and high art — everything we want from a head shop.
Readers Choice: Sky High Smoke Shop
What's not to like about a retail store that sells marijuana in Arizona? Before voters approved the Medical Marijuana Act in 2010, selling bulk buds and hashish was a severe felony with likely prison time for offenders. Now (if you qualify) you can walk into one of nearly 90 dispensaries in the state and walk out with a truly mind-blowing variety of marijuana products. Several factors make Harvest of Tempe better than the others. The selection is vast: At last count, the menu boasted 28 strains of pot, a smorgasbord of edibles purchased from other Valley dispensaries, a few tinctures including CBD-heavy mixtures that might be good for various medical ailments, and a cornucopia of concentrates like shatter and wax. Efficiency is the key feature at Harvest. Unlike most other dispensaries, you're in and out in minutes. Customers usually get buzzed to the showroom immediately, and it's not uncommon to find the sales area crowded with staff members chatting up customers with questions about the products. One wall contains shelves with jars of sample buds and edibles. It's a more casual, urban experience than dispensaries that try to emulate a doctor's office. Not that you'll find black lights and Bob Marley posters here. Professionally run, clean, with knowledgeable staff members on the sales floor and cashiers behind a glass security wall, Harvest has the quick-service model others should follow.
Readers Choice: Herbal Wellness Center
Most every smoker has his or her favorite marijuana strain, but for a little while in early 2015, something special was going on with a type of cannabis called Afghan Kush. Tight, fragrant buds, lots of red hairs. It was said to be an indica, which it must have been due to the full-brain feeling — not a strain for getting much work done. Great for sleep, pain, and TV. The strain was locally grown or perhaps came from California or Colorado. Several dispensaries in town carried it. When they did, it sold out quickly. By mid-spring, it was all gone.
"Got any Afghan Kush?" we'd ask repeatedly at the places that previously carried it.
"No," would come the response, always with a knowing smile.
"Do you have anything like Afghan Kush?"
"No, there's nothing like it," budtenders at two different dispensaries said.
So far, so true. Harvest time can't be too far away, though.Found at various Arizona dispensaries
Contrary to popular belief, the worst thing about edibles is not that they might work too well, causing you to curl in a corner whimpering for eight hours like New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. No, the worst thing about edibles is when they don't work. Paying serious green for a buzz that never arrives is something no true cannabist wants to do.
Bhang chocolate bars solve that problem. They start with Venezuelan criollo cacao from the company's California headquarters and then infuse it with hash oil and sell it at Harvest and other dispensaries. They look like Kit-Kats imprinted with Bhang logos and marijuana leaves. Bhang bars have a consistency in effect that others lack, and it's easy to get the dosing right. Pick single, double, or triple strength — whatever's right for your own needs; each is packed with a respective one, two, or three grams of hash oil — and decide how many of the four connected chocolate bars inside each wrapper to eat. Apart from some gummi candies that are sprayed with hash oil instead of made with infused oil throughout, no other edible contains as few calories for its potency, local budtenders say. Flavors include dark chocolate, milk chocolate, cookies and cream, and others we haven't tried yet.
Novices beware: These are the real deal. You don't want to end up like Dowd, so go cautiously at first. Ripping open the silvery inner sleeve, you won't find a golden ticket. But satisfying and delicious, covered in chocolate and a miracle or two — that's Bhang medicated chocolates.www.gotbhang.com
Finding the perfect present is hard enough. But getting a gift for someone who seeks out the scientific and, more important, the strange? That's a special skill on its own. Lucky for buyers of the bizarre, Curious Nature caters to lovers of the creepy and crawly. The downtown boutique offers everything from framed insects and animal bones to taxidermy and wet specimens, as well as classes to learn how to make these creations yourself. If you aren't quite on board with accessorizing your home with anatomy, the emporium also sells stones, minerals, tillandsias, books, jewelry, posters, candles — even a few pampering products to keep your skin and facial hair in check. Admit it. You're curious now, aren't you?