When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: Vovomeena Location: 1515 N. 7th Ave. Open: Just over a week Eats: Breakfast, brunch, and coffee Price: Between $10 and $20 per person
Although Vovomeena's locally crafted coffee and fresh-made breakfast and brunch items might seem out of place in an area where sushi rolls made Subway-style and fast-food burger joints placed directly across the street from each other pass for progress, it's a dining option that's desperately needed at the chain-infested, historic district corner of Seventh Avenue and McDowell in Phoenix.
And thanks to DJ Fernandes, owner of the Tuck Shop and its next-door little sister Astor House, Vovomeena (named after his grandmother) isn't just a comfortable spot to vote local, several dishes make it one worth stuffing the ballet box for.
The menu at Vovomeena is, for the most part, an extension of the breakfast menu at Astor House. Made up of comforting dishes inspired by a culinary travelogue of influences from Fernandes and menu co-creator Jessica Ruiz, some of them -- like the very good New Orleans-inspired biscuits and grillades, lightly fried boxty (traditional Irish potato pancake), and crunchy-coated Portuguese doughnuts -- can be found in both restaurants.
If you're in the mood for something sweet, you will want the pain perdu ($6.95), or New Orleans-style French toast made with banana bread pudding. Featuring two thick slices of warm, custard-soaked banana bread cooked then drizzled with a thick and sticky whiskey caramel sauce (more caramel than whiskey), sprinkled with powdered sugar, and topped with slices of fresh banana, its fruity-sweet taste pairs perfectly with plump links of slightly spicy Schriener's sausage.
On the savory side, there's a Mexican Benedict ($8.95), made with perfectly poached eggs, bright tomato, cilantro, and an excellent spicy and moist chorizo complemented by a light Hollandaise sauce. One minor complaint: Its gordita foundation was a bit too much bread per bite. The Benny did, however, fair better than the recommended piperrada ($7.50), a sauce from the Basque Country of Spain and France. Vovomeena's version, a mix of red and green pepper strips, tomato, onion, and pieces of pork shoulder served with two eggs on top provided too many peppers, not enough meat and, unless it was being scooped up by a crispy and crazy-good biscuit, little in the way of memorable flavor.
Along with the eats, caffeination, such as Japanese cold-brewed ice coffee (made in glass contraptions reminiscent of a junior high science project), mocha cappuccinos, or even a flight of three cold coffee brews, can be enjoyed in Vovomeena's dining area or on its front patio.
With the exception of the high ceiling, a "wall" made of several vertical ropes to separate the dining area from the ordering counter, and a long, erratic wooden fence installation traveling along one of its walls, Vovomeena looks and feels a lot like Astor House, too. The space is comfortable and inviting and there are touches of mid-century modern décor throughout.
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At an intersection choked with fast food chains, Vovomeena is a much-needed standout in an area desperate for a taste of local fare. I can't wait to return for another helping of it.