Ah, the humble Brussels sprout. Not many of us grew up with fond memories of these little cabbage-like veggies. Often steamed and served with little regard for culinary design or artistry, the Brussels sprout has garnered plenty of negative attention for its naturally strong and sometimes bitter flavor, similar in taste to cabbage but milder and with a denser texture. In fact, the little sprouts are not too far distant a cousin to better-regarded greens such as broccoli and kale.
The close connection is undoubtedly why it doesn't take much to turn the Brussels sprout into much more than just a healthy side dish. Look no farther than two of the Valley's best-known seasonally focused eateries to find roasted nuggets of sprout. We went, we ate, and -- to mom's delight -- we ate plenty of veggies.
Unlike the soggy sprouts we ate as children, today's trendy take on the dish often means roasting Brussels sprouts, a sure-fire way to avoid the mushy texture and rotten taste that comes from over-steaming.
In this corner: Beckett's Table The Setup: Seasonal American is the name of the game at Beckett's Table and the standout wine selection - recognized by Wine Spectator magazine earlier this year - doesn't hurt either. Since 2010 chef Justin Beckett has been fueling the Arcadia neighborhood insatiable appetite for current food trends at a comfortable but upscale neighborhood restaurant.
The Pros: The roasted Brussels sprouts appetizer comes simply done with pancetta and lemon vinaigrette. The healthy portion arrived quickly (although the kitchen wasn't all that busy) with a light green color that looked not too different from the steamed version. The lemon vinaigrette highlights the vegetable's naturally bitter flavors and the slightly firm texture had us full long before the dish was empty.
The Cons: While infinitely more bearable than we remembered from our youth, Beckett's Brussels certainly didn't leave us clamoring for more. For being roasted, the veggie was surprisingly green; any char was all but non-existent. The strips of panchetta were few and far between and it took quite a bit of finagling to get a piece of it on the fork with an accompanying sprout.
The price: $8
In the other corner: The Parlor
The Setup: Rustic yet casual, this Phoenix pizzeria aims to offer seasonally attentive fare in an Italian context. The handmade pastas and pizzas have brought customers through the doors since they opened in 2009 and with a well-designed interior and patio, wait times can get lengthy. With hip music and ever-memorable food, The Parlor promises a good time at a great price.
The Pros: This time our roasted Bruxelles arrived perfectly blackened and topped with a generous helping of pepperoncino, parmigiano and caramelized onions. Despite the extra ingredients the Brussels sprout's inherent flavor shined through, and the throughout roasting brought out a pleasant nutty flavor. With eyes closed we could have mistaken the sprouts for broccoli. Small red pepper flakes offered just enough kick to keep things interesting. These leftovers were definitely coming home.
The Cons: Although the Brussels sprouts are an antipasti, they arrived last to the table, after our other appetizer and a pasta entrée - then again, good things come to those who wait.
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The price: $9.50
The Winner: Both dishes offered a good product, but in the end only we can only credit one place with renewing our faith in the poor Brussels sprout. For turning something unpleasant into the kind of dish we'll be hard-pressed to not order again (and again and again), we'll have to give The Parlor the win for this Brussels sprout bout.
Now, where are those leftovers?