Best Coffee House 2002 | LUX | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Dominique Chatterjee
Desert at Lux
Husband-and-wife team Daniel Wayne and Felicia Ruiz-Wayne have got a great gimmick. Don't spend any money on decor, just focus on premium coffees, sweet snacks and way cool reading material (funky magazines, art books, trendy tabloids). And don't hesitate to charge the big bucks for the experience.

Is it vintage? Is it modern? We can't tell, but we get a kick out of LUX's who-cares approach to stark white walls, mismatched furniture, concrete charisma and bare, gallery-style lighting. The only eye candy is rotating works from local artists, primarily photographers who can preview their displays on one of the light tables scattered around the small space.

The owners know their coffee, returning to Phoenix after operating a caffeine store in Seattle. The stuff is strong and flavorful, including old-fashioned drip brew. The patrons here are part of the scene, too, with wild hair, untamed expressions and deep, quiet countenances. That they're nibbling on snickerdoodle cookies is fun; just as tasty are the fruit Danish, muffins and cinnamon rolls.

Some attitude with your coffee? That's priceless.

We interviewed a dozen different caterers, in search of one who would handle every last detail of a casual Sunday night cocktail-and-hors d'oeuvres party for 90 people. Then we remembered the chic buffet dinner we'd enjoyed at a friend's wedding, catered by Dad's. The chefs had fused Italian cuisine with a Mexican fiesta menu and made it work. We worried that Dad's fancy service and tasty vittles would come with fancy prices attached, but we needn't have. After much comparison shopping, we discovered that Dad's -- which has been in business since 1975 -- offers the most for less. They said "yes" to every one of our requests -- glass wine goblets, black tablecloths, white wood chairs, and a separate china service for the birthday cake we planned to serve -- and "no" when we asked if we'd get charged extra for last-minute changes or a fudged head count. Dad's offers breakfast and brunch menus, and upscale-but-still-affordable cold buffets. It'll put together a casual dinner for 10 or a fancy feast for a hundred, and can customize any menu with a little notice. A complete bar service is available, and Dad's efficient, attractive waitstaff will even stay after to clean up.
Courtesy of La Grande Orange
Typically, our farmers' markets are a collection of locally grown produce, maybe some kettle corn, perhaps some bottled salsas and honey lined up on tables under a tent in the park. We've usually got to plan our weekend around them, since they're open intermittent Saturdays, depending on the weather.

Now we've got La Grande Orange, a charming oasis that's open every day, rain or shine (owned by Craig DeMarco, also owner of Postino Winecafé next door). It's an actual store, see, a little commune of the Valley's top food sources, like Tammie Coe Cakes (a former chef of Michael's at the Citadel), Victory Farms produce, wood-fired pizza from ex-Bianco guy Carl Bonacci, artisan breads, designer wines and beers (from neighboring Nonni's Kitchen), and Java Garden, an adjacent coffee stand in a tiny tranquil garden setting.

We come in through the kitchen in back, stopping to watch as staff crafts its pastries, carves its meats, and hustles so we can fill our baskets with fresh asparagus, Genovese basil plucked from tin buckets, sour cream blueberry muffins, a bottle of imported pesto, ciabatta, and a truffle of banana pudding, chocolate mousse and espresso angel food cake. We're low on Cheer detergent and Bounty paper towels, so we grab those, too.

While we've been shopping, the kitchen has been preparing our breakfast order: smoked salmon on an English muffin slicked with cream cheese, capers and onion, with fresh blackberries, raspberries, peach and lemon on the side. We eat it off plastic plates at one of the handful of tables in the front of the store. And by the time we leave, we're feeling grateful to La Grande Orange for not being just another farmers' market.

2611 North Central

several Valley locations

several Valley locations

California Pizza Kitchen
several Valley locations

Cheesecake Factory
several Valley locations

several Valley locations

Courtesy of J.P. Pancakes
It takes a lot to get us out of bed before noon. Cold cereal won't do it. An everyday scrambled eggs 'n' bacon breakfast from Denny's most certainly won't. But J.P. will.

All the expected items are available, but they're unexpectedly good. A biscuit combo mounds a duo of fat dough rounds with two eggs, cubed grilled potatoes and ladles of creamy, sausage-studded gravy. French toast is just fabulous, splayed six slices across and fashioned from thick challah dipped in lots of egg and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Dress it up with cinnamon, fresh strawberries or gingered peach compote. Specialty pancakes are indeed special, crowned with fresh blueberries, blended with chopped mixed nuts, or crafted from natural whole grains. A wonderful oven-baked apple pancake comes glistening with fresh sliced apples and sugar-cinnamon glaze. Fancier and fantastic: five kinds of Belgian waffles, or a plate of three eggs scrambled with silky lox and chopped onion, partnered with three pancakes, buttery home fries or toast. And the pigs in a blanket are terrific. Plus, breakfast is served all day. That's well worth waking up for.

Cafe Ted is one of the most beautiful restaurants we've ever seen. That has a lot to do with its tranquil setting, off a private garden in an office complex in the high Sonoran Desert. Rather than following signs, we hunt the place down by following the slinky aromas of freshly baked muffins, Italian coffees and homemade cinnamon coffee cake. And what a beautiful way to start the day. The menu here is a creative offering of upscale American favorites, Italian coffees and an endless number of flavored espressos.

Breakfast is big. The office crowds flood in for starters like two poached eggs perched atop fresh-baked cornbread biscuits so rich, cheesy and kernel-clustered that they deserve their own billing. A "fiesta" hollandaise sauce is thin but rich, studded with tomatoes, and we make our own Benedict by adding slabs of Belgian bacon, four nicely salty pieces served with seasoned cherry tomatoes. Another wonderful reason for braving the dizzying daylight is the pancakes, three large orbs infused with lots of earthy nutmeg. We get ours topped with fresh, tart raspberries, alternating bites with strong hot coffee. Ted's at the head of the breakfast class.

We know we're getting older when it's a Saturday morning and our brain isn't pounding. We also know we're getting older when, if we do go out and drink, we're in a horrible world of hurt the next day. The kind that even hair of the dog won't heal.

But we're not ready to give up the grapes. So now, we just factor in a good, greasy breakfast to follow a night marinating ourselves in alcohol. The fat somehow absorbs the pain and calms the stomach. Or perhaps it just bloats us enough that we can crawl back into bed and conk out until our bodies have banished the toxins. Either way, we find ample excuse to work in a meal at New York Bagels 'n' Bialys.

The service here is as crabby as we feel. It's a little dark and dingy, so we don't even have to shower first. And the menu -- plus portions -- is massive. Cheap doesn't hurt, either (what's with the $10 cocktails at nightclubs these days?). For less than $7, we can fill up and out with three eggs any style, plus a choice of huge amounts of bacon, sausage, ham, pastrami, corned beef or salami. The plate includes (homemade) bagel or bialy, home fries and juicy tomatoes or cottage cheese.

Now if we could just get our breakfast companion to stop chewing so loudly.

We know Chandler is so far east that it feels like New Mexico, but if you actually know the difference between a bagel and a doughnut, and wouldn't eat a fruit bagel if someone pinned you and shoved it down your throat, it's worth the drive. Yeah, they have fruit bagels and fancy cream cheese, too, but they have real live New York bagels. Honest. Add a great deli with items like ambrosia salad, whitefish, black-and-white cookies and chubs, and you'll swear you were on the corner of Second and 10th, except that it's a lot bigger, a lot cleaner, and in a strip mall with parking. We recommend the "everything" bagel with cream cheese, but that's just us.
Pretzel carts are the first things we leap upon whenever we hit Manhattan; at a buck, pretzels are the only remaining bargain to be found in the big city.

So imagine our glee at the opening of Walker's, a shrine to handmade soft pretzels. Don't be confused; Walker's is an entire cafe, with a full, impressive menu of soups, salads, sandwiches, pizza, etc. But its specialty, and rightly so, is the perfect pretzel. They're steamy hot, cloaked with coarse salt and pulled in pliant, chewy mouthfuls. We can get them plain or salted. We can get a side of cheese dip (Velveeta, it has to be). And we can get a superb pretzel dog -- the frank juicy with beef liquor, wrapped in a golden bundle of dough.

Walker's even has a dessert pretzel, lavishly sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. What a delicious deal.

We actually hate the term "comfort food." It's been used so much over the last year that it makes us think the world is full of babies needing their blankies. But the truth is, some dishes invite us to curl up and cuddle more than others. When we miss our grandma and grandpa, we head to Weather Vane, where we can always count on those down-home dishes that fit us as close as flannel PJs.

Sweet, tart blackberry cobbler with buttery fluted crust. Fresh baked biscuits from scratch. Light-as-air strawberry shortcake. Creamy cheesecake. Oh, my. We're getting ahead of ourselves in our lust for dessert. First, we should start with dinner, tucking in to center cut pork chops, meat loaf swimming in gravy, or a Reuben. These are full meals, partnered with soup, salad or coleslaw, vegetables, biscuits and potatoes.

We're feeling awfully warm and cuddly.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of