West Side Pride
On one of the recent nights I visited Skye, the flashy new fine-dining destination in Peoria, the place was abuzz with rumors of a celebrity in the house. One of my friends did a little reconnaissance on her smoke break.
"So, I was standing there, minding my own business," she said, "and these girls next to me were all excited, saying they heard Jordin Sparks was here, having a party in the VIP lounge . . ."
We ooh'd and aah'd about it until one of the guys at the table piped up.
"Who's Jordin Sparks?"
Um, wow. Kudos to you if you actually don't know who Jordin Sparks is. I've tried really hard to block out the media frenzy for this season of American Idol, but it's hard to escape, especially because 17-year-old Sparks one of the Idol finalists, last I heard is from Glendale. The hometown hype machine is in overdrive.
My writing about Sparks only contributes to that, I suppose, but even if she really wasn't at Skye that night, the idea of an overnight celebrity hanging out there is fitting.
First of all, there's that West Side pride thing going on, just like with the Sparks phenomenon. If anybody deserves a nice, new, independently owned place to go to dinner a place to talk about, to see and be seen at, a place where you can order a good steak it's people in the far reaches of the northwest Valley, where chain restaurants abound. When it comes to upscale restaurants, Scottsdale has too many to count, but in Peoria, a pioneer like Skye is big news.
"I remember when this whole area used to be miles and miles of orange groves, and there were lots of bunnies," said my eavesdropping friend, wistfully. She grew up in Peoria and is amazed at how built-up it is. But she was quick to observe the upside. "My friends who still live around here would love this place."
Indeed, from the looks of the customers, Skye's fulfilling a need for a broad cross section of the public. The place is busy on weeknights and downright swamped on weekends, when you have to valet your car unless you want to take your chances and park at the IHOP or the Comfort Suites across the Arrowhead Fountain Center lot.
When I was there, I saw groups of retirees, kids dressed up for the prom, Gen X couples on dates, and packs of twentysomething girls in skintight clubwear. The majority of the diners, though, appeared to be 50-ish. Indeed, I took one of my baby boomer relatives to Skye and he thought it was great.
It was easy to figure out why, even before our meals were ready: All the music was geared toward my father-in-law's generation. The big deal about this restaurant besides the food, which I promise I'll get to is live entertainment, served up seven nights a week. Skye's sprawling two-story building has a few dining rooms, but the place to catch the action is in the high-ceiling, supper club-inspired main room, where there are tables on the floor level, curved booths around the sides, more tables on a raised tier in the rear, and bar seats in one corner. In front of it all is the stage and dance floor.
Nope, white people still can't dance, especially to an Elton John medley. But it sure was fun watching them try. Every band or solo performer who took the stage covered hits by Journey, ABBA, The Eagles, you get the idea. People were into it, too. A dance floor full of middle-aged ladies did the Electric Slide, while those twentysomething girls screamed along to "I Will Survive." It was painfully cheesy the anti-Snottsdale and, eventually, I gave in just like at a wedding reception. At one point, I accidentally blurted out the sha-la-la chorus to "Brown-Eyed Girl" and cracked myself up.
Chef Scott Tompkins' menu, too, was all about the crowd-pleasers some with a twist.
Fried appetizers got a light touch and came with tasty embellishments. Two miniature lobster corn dogs were accompanied by a tangy slaw of red pepper, asparagus, and bacon, while fried green tomatoes, delicately dusted with cornmeal, were garnished with a scattering of sweet celery leaves. And fried mushroom caps weren't too breaded, pleasantly bursting as I bit into them.
Salads were fine but unremarkable preludes to meat and potatoes, although the "D" tomato salad was a standout, with thick ripe slices of tomato, slivers of red onion, crunchy crumbles of bacon, and chunky blue cheese dressing. I was less enthusiastic about the bland Wisconsin cheddar fondue. The salty pretzel bread served with it was great, but there wasn't much of it to go around.
I had no complaints about the perfectly cooked meat we ordered, a prime New York steak with a lightly caramelized coating of cracked peppercorns, and a juicy filet mignon with buttery mashed Yukon potatoes. Veal scaloppini, in a light Marsala sauce, was melt-in-your-mouth tender. And the thick Kansas City pork chop, smothered in cream sauce with bacon (big surprise) and fresh sage, was very moist.
Generous chunks of rock lobster meat in the bowlful of gooey lobster macaroni and cheese tasted great, although this time the portion was too much. A smaller serving, with a side dish, would've been more appealing. St. Louis "The Hill" pasta penne with sweet Italian sausage, slices of beef tenderloin, and tomato cream sauce was too much, as well. On the other hand, shrimp Puerto Peñasco had just the right balance of flavors and textures, with plump, garlicky Gulf shrimp, crisp, flash-fried spinach, and creamy saffron risotto.
For dessert, I enjoyed the espresso-flavored chocolate decadence cake with whipped mascarpone cream, as well as warm bananas Foster, with buttery rum sauce, bananas, and vanilla ice cream atop a piece of spice cake. The chocolate-covered cheesecake lollipops turned me off they were so sugary and I couldn't force myself to eat more than a couple bites. But the apricot upside-down cake was delicious, with soft chunks of fruit and a doughy density that reminded me of pie crust.
I'm not sure if I would trek out to Skye again on my own because there are already a few upscale steak and seafood restaurants in my part of town. I realize that Skye's more geared toward the hungry populace of Peoria. But the next time I have visiting family to entertain, I know exactly where I'll take them.
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