Gourmet grub doesn't have to be expensive. This we learned at Trader Joe's, an amazing emporium of more than 800 upscale items for remarkably palatable prices. We love the freshness, and the variety of product, too. TJ's shelves -- and now ours, too -- are stocked with delicious things like sweet garlic sauce, artichoke lemon pesto, Satsuma mandarin oranges in syrup, Super Colossal Sevillano olives, Manchego cheese and Bluefort Aged Sheep's Milk Blue Cheese. TJ's has wines from around the world, organic cereals, mozzarella and tomato salad, poultry sausages, low-fat curried turkey burgers, ready-to-eat meats, Spaten Beers from Germany, Fiji Water, designer jerky, and even gourmet goodies for our pets.

We wouldn't trade Joe's for anything.

Saturdays, fall through spring, take on special meaning for gourmets who are looking to score some extra-special treasures for just a few shekels. Perhaps it's a bottle of little-known boutique wine, an obscure blue-veined cheese, artisan breads or organic produce. We find them here, all crafted or grown by independent vendors, and at factory-to-us pricing. Fair-weather Saturdays are when Guerithault operates his farmer's market, set up in the parking lot of his restaurant from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The market opens for the new season on October 13.

If all this shopping makes us hungry, we can pause to snack on some of chef Guerithault's mouth-watering creations. Made-to-order crepes always make their way to our mouths, the whisper-thin pancakes filled with any number of delectables, savory or sweet. Duck tamales delight our taste buds, and soufflés satisfy even our most formidable stomach rumblings.

Hey, we may be cheap, but with Vincent's market, we can still be classy, too.

Sportsman's Fine Wines & Spirits
Sportsman's has won our Best of Phoenix so many years now that some might think we own stock in this popular wine shop. Nothing could be further from the truth. What is true is that Sportsman's continues to surprise and delight with the breadth of its selection, expertise of knowledge, and flat-out friendliness to connoisseurs as well as people who couldn't find their way out of a vat of Boone's Farm. Looking for that perfect pairing for buffalo? Sportsman's recommends a 1997 Rombauer Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa. What's good with spicy Asian food? Select a 2000 Alexander Valley Vineyards Gewürztraminer. And for those stumped about what to serve with shellfish, a 1998 Merryvale Chardonnay "Reserve" is just the ticket (not for lobster, though). Sportsman's is easily the best game in town.
Duck And Decanter
Jamie Peachey
When we say, "Pass the cheese, please," it's no easy proposition. It takes several trips to cart over the more than 60 varieties the Duck brings in from around the world. This is a virtual tour of the classiest cheeses from France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, England, Belgium, and, of course, the good old U.S.A. Exploring for l'Explorateur, a triple-cream cheese with almost as much butterfat as butter? The Duck's got it. Salty, spicy Mimolette Cheddar is on the menu, too, along with Port Salut (made by Trappist monks), Bruder Basil, Chevagne (goat's milk) and gorgeous, hard Parmigiano Reggiano.

Not sure which is your favorite? The Duck offers free samples. If you like it, buy a pound, and they'll simply put it on your Duck bill.

Arizona Bread Company
Jamie Peachey
Many of the specialty breads here are wonderful -- the olive bread is a standout -- but if a bakery's all-important baguette doesn't deliver, then all the chocolate-cherry loaves in the world don't make up for the failure. The simple baguettes at Arizona Bread Company -- and the slightly larger and terribly useful sandwich-size baguettes -- display all the hallmarks of a good loaf of bread: thick, crisp crusts; chewy, airy centers; and a vaguely nutty, but never yeasty, flavor. Serve them with soup or salad, and call it a meal.

The word "chain" conjures up images of cookie-cutter chow and surroundings, unimaginative stuff created to appeal to the masses. That's why Chart House breaks the chain for us. The place is too pretty to be prefab, with lots of dark woods, a clubby, upscale style and unparalleled lakeside views, particularly at sunset.

The cuisine isn't chain-style, either. The fish is always market-fresh, and you can always get Pacific swordfish, Hawaiian mahi-mahi and yellowfin ahi, or California bluenose bass, served grilled, baked or blackened. Other preparations are more creative, like pan-seared sea scallops in ginger-soy broth, ginger-crusted miso halibut, or sesame-crusted salmon with coconut peanut sauce. Meats are a marvel, too, particularly the succulent prime rib, rack of lamb and filet mignon. Nothing beats the salad bar, either, groaning with a huge, gorgeous collection of things like fresh-tossed caesar with real anchovies, hearts of palm, marinated vegetables, and two kinds of rich, salty caviar.

Chain or not, we're charting our course to Chart House.

Think you've had a mixed green salad? Not until you've experienced this one, stocked with sprouts, carrots, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, tomato wedges and cucumber slices. Stir-fry shines, too, like the saguaro sesame tofu, tossing baked bean curd with steamed broccoli, carrots, zucchini, napa cabbage and ponzu vinaigrette over brown rice. We also love the Southwestern green corn tamale, studded with dairy-free black beans and topped with red pepper slices, black olives and parsley, all served over rice. Partaking of pizza? Go for the Arizona native, an herb crust piled high with soy mozzarella, green chile sauce, tomatoes, black olives, roasted red bell peppers, avocado, red onion and cilantro. For health food that makes us happy, nobody pleases us more than Desert Greens Cafe.

This place desperately needs to edit down its name to something you can say without taking a breath in the middle, but that's okay. Its noble intentions make up for it. As the menu says: "With respect for all life, we proudly serve all dishes free of meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and MSG." (We always knew MSG was a living parasite; now it's confirmed.)

What makes this vegetarian house so interesting is that it seeks to replicate the taste of animals instead of killing them for it. Substitutions are carefully crafted of soy and other mysterious ingredients to mimic meats, including veggie beef, veggie eel, veggie pork, veggie goose, veggie chicken, veggie squid, veggie shrimp, veggie fish, veggie duck and veggie meatballs. Some presentations are actually molded into shapes that look like the real thing. And, surprisingly enough, Supreme Master carries off this unusual concept with winning cuisine.

The cuisine at Mueller's can be difficult to pronounce -- gebackner camenbert mit preiselbeeren, for example -- but it's easy to swallow. Gebackner is a small baked round of Camembert served with sweet-sour lingonberries. Along with cream of carrot soup or herring in cream sauce gussied with apples and onions, it makes for an appealing appetizer.

Entrees are just as energetic, including altburger töpfle (pork tenderloin in a rich mushroom gravy over homemade spätzle noodles), Wiener schnitzel (breaded veal sautéed in butter), rinderfilet mit pfifferlinge (beef medallions with chanterelle mushrooms), and tunnes potz (pork tenderloin on a bed of spinach topped with a zesty tomato sauce).

Desserts? But of course. Try Black Forest cake or apple strudel.

Great German food, served in a great German setting, by owners with great German accents -- it doesn't get any better than this.

Vincent Market Bistro
Chef Vincent Guerithault's eponymous eatery, tucked into an (who would believe it?) office park between a gas station and a massage parlor, celebrated its 15th anniversary this year. When he first introduced his menu, people scoffed: a combination of classic French cooking with flavors of Mexico and the American Southwest -- in a town that didn't even stock cilantro in its grocery stores? Now that exotic herbs are available even at Safeway, the James Beard-celebrated Vincent's is still at the top of its class. We pray he never deprives us of his duck tamale with Anaheim chile, lobster chimichanga with basil pesto, and salmon quesadilla -- house-smoked fish laid over a thin, phyllo-like crust dabbed with dill and horseradish cream. Trends come and go. With Vincent's, however, superb Southwestern is here to stay.

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