Christie's Cabaret claims to have "the most amazing lunch in town," and the fact is, it probably does. Topnotch sandwiches. Chicken wings that are nothing short of perfect. The best blue cheese dressing you'll find anywhere.
And lots of made-up, stripped-down girls who, for $10, will straddle your legs and let you believe that they like it. It also has a very nice women's restroom.
"Not what you'd expect, is it?" asks Ted, the chef who prepared my exemplary turkey and Swiss.
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Well, for the most part, no.
When lascivious young men enroll in culinary school, Ted's job is the one they have their eyes on. But its appeal is really much wider. In fact, unless you have moral or personal objections to his surroundings, or just hate to cook, his position is hard to beat.
From the outside, his establishment leaves a lot to be desired. A block away from Van Buren's charge-by-the-hour motels, on the corner of 32nd Street and Washington, the "gentlemen's club" is in a gray industrial neighborhood with not much else to recommend it. Chain-link fence is predominant here, and on Washington Street, the yellow-line bus thunders by every 30 minutes, kicking up dirt and litter.
But within, Christie's is what its customers would call "a classy joint." According to manager Bill Methvin, who has been with the club since it opened here 10 years ago, the cabaret is wrapping up an 18-month renovation. The furnishings are brand-new and nicely done, and back-lit domes of stained glass have been installed in the ceiling. Also included in the remodel was the women's restroom, which is reserved for customers, not employees. It is tastefully decorated, and very clean.
Ted has a wife and three young children at home, and so asks that I identify him only as "Ted." His surname, however, is sewn on his jacket, a professional white uniform that befits a certified chef (which he is). He's a friendly, funny guy who probably deserves a gig this good.
"I'm the envy of everyone I know," he cheerfully admits, while two girls to our left paw at paying customers. These men, whose eyes lit up when the DJ announced two-for-one lap dances, apparently interpreted the phrase "the most amazing lunch in town" along different lines. They don't have food in front of them, just beer.
Ted and his wife are from out of state, but he has family ties to Phoenix, and he visited Arizona often before settling here a few years back. Likewise, he worked in the adult entertainment industry off and on before being hired by Christie's about six months ago.
"I've been everything from a doorman to a DJ," he says.
So the scene wasn't new to him. But, as a professional chef, the working conditions were.
"Most places are so intense," he says. "A lot of people in this business work 70 or 80 hours a week, just nonstop. Me, I work 40 hours, 50 at the most.
"It's very low-key. We can't hear the DJ in the kitchen, so we're back there with the radio on, just dancing and having a good time. The whole idea here is to have fun. . . . Let's face it, no one is here for a 30-minute lunch. If they come in, they're going to be here for a few hours. So if we mess something up, whoops! We make it again."
Christie's Cabaret is a Memphis chain that until recently was known as Tiffany's. But then jewelers Tiffany and Co. sued the strip clubs in federal court, prompting the name change to Christie's. Under the Tiffany's name, the club was once recognized as having Phoenix's best gentlemen's club lunch buffet. It's a tradition that Ted seems primed to continue.
"I do a lot of Italian," he says of his buffet creations. "Also roast turkey, beef stroganoff, things like that. I did a chicken provencal once, which, you know, people called 'chicken with herbs.'"
He shrugs. "It's really whatever I come up with. . . . I do try to keep things real simple, though, because, come on: The guys are not here for the food."
I return to Christie's on a Saturday night, having persuaded my boyfriend and a male friend to accompany me (it wasn't hard). We take a table near the stage, to which girls descend from a wide staircase; after a few provocative dances here, they begin working the floor. A girl in a feathery white bikini top is making a killing at the table next to us, draping her top around their necks like a lei.
Although his regular hours are banking hours, Ted often works on Saturday nights, too, and he's in the kitchen when I come in. But it's a few minutes before he can make it to my table. When he does, he explains he was busy with a special order: a Caesar salad for a V.I.P. customer in the balcony section.
I ask Ted if he puts anchovies in the Caesar. "You know, I don't," he admits. "I use capers. They give it the same saltiness, but I don't get comments like, 'What's this? Fish? Are you trying to kill me?'"
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For similar reasons, Ted doesn't bother to dress up his plates. "I don't do much with the presentation," he apologizes. "I mean, people aren't really looking at the food here."
No apology necessary. My chicken wings are brilliant. But I wonder: With a discriminating clientele to urge him on, what culinary feats would the man be capable of?
Such musings last as long as the next song, when a leggy redhead in implausibly high heels makes a careful descent to the stage. Like the people he cooks for, Ted is probably not looking for a fast exit.
Elan Head, who has been active in many civic organizations, is an open-minded fan of fine cooking in any guise.