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As for meals, Postino isn't about dinner; it's about superior snacking. What an incredible offering of noshes, too. An olive bowl, overflowing with sharp fruit. Pesto and bread. Prosciutto with sweet-tart figs. Specialty cheeses, flanked with nuts, fruit and toast. And the best of them all, an antipasto platter laden with assorted meats, cheeses, breads, olives and fruits. But then there's the bruschetta, a massive serving of four flatbreads spread on a wooden cutting board. Toppings are indulgent: roasted artichoke, mozzarella with tomato and basil, crushed tomato basil, white Tuscan bean, goat cheese, ricotta with pistachios, roasted peppers and goat cheese, salami pesto, or prosciutto with figs and mascarpone. Just promise us that if we're not there, you'll have some for us.
Then we grew up. One day, we wandered into Roaring Fork, chef Robert McGrath's cowboy cafe, and life was never the same. Because we found mac-n-cheese on his menu, but mac-n-cheese unlike any mac-n-cheese we'd ever had before. Sheer heaven.
McGrath puts an American West spin on his noodles, with a wow base of puréed poblano chile. More than macaroni, he sautés diced red bell pepper, red onion, minced garlic and corn kernels in corn oil until just tender. Then he stirs in the pasta and green chile, plus lots of grated pepper Jack cheese and heavy cream. The finishing touch -- generous sprinkles of kosher salt and cracked black pepper.
Sorry, Mom, we love you, but Velveeta just can't cut it anymore.
For that state staple, we nominate Spyros Scocos' recipe. As owner of Iguana Lounge, he has taken a classic and infused it with funky Cuban charm. This soup arrives in a large parfait glass, tumbled in bright broth so sparkly we suspect carbonation. It bobs with sharp fresh tomato, red pepper, avocado, celery, scallion and onion. Even in its oversize portion, it disappears all too quickly.
The dogs in question are all-beef Viennas imported from Chicago. Our favorite style is the traditional, tucked in a bun and dressed with mustard, relish, onions, pickle, tomatoes and sauerkraut. Just one is a full meal at just $3.15, partnered (for free) with hot, mealy French fries or soupy coleslaw. But sometimes we want to step out a little, and for that, we turn to the Cheddar dog, the chili dog or the ultimate, the chili/cheese dog. The Chicago Co. doesn't disappoint with fans of Polish dogs, fire dogs or bagel dogs, either. Once, when we were feeling really macho, we tried to take on the massive "Dave Jantz Double Dog." It bit us back.
How much do we love these dogs? We still smile when we think of the Valentine's Day note posted once on the daily special board. It read, "Vienna Hot Dog w/fries 2.25. Nothing says I love you' like a steamin' weenie." We couldn't have said it better ourselves.
Here, the beef is doused with Burgundy as it cooks on a special, extra-thick grill (to keep the wine from evaporating too fast). It's drenched not just once, but four times, then topped with cheese if we like, and drenched two more times. Big Mac, ha. Our basic burger is a whopping one-third pound, with no special sauce needed -- this big, beefy taste doesn't hide. Toppings include fresh, crisp lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle. If we want more, we can add beef chili with beans and more onion. When we're super hungry, we pig out with the super wineburger, a full two-third-pounder with cheese.
Sorry, Ronald, but our favorite burger chef goes by the name of Harvey.
Interestingly enough, we had originally fallen in love with the Windy City's signature sandwich right here in Phoenix, when one of our friends, a Chicago transplant, introduced us to Luke's.
So simple a recipe, but so often other places cut corners and it comes out all wrong. At Luke's, the meat is premium, thinly sliced and so tender it's almost lace. The jus is critical -- it's got to be all natural, thick, peppery and so generously applied that the French roll supporting it gets soggy down to its deepest ends. It's got to be a mess, with beef falling off the edges of the bread, reined in only by an optional cloak of melted provolone.
Luke, the Chicago beef force is definitely with you.
Sometimes we get them with rotisserie prime rib or chicken. But often enough, we simply sit at the bar, sipping a glass of Penfolds Shiraz/Cabernet, slowly munching the hot, mealy slabs like cocktail nuts. After a few salty handfuls, we're almost sloppy in our happiness. It's Roti-Joe's, for when we just want to fry, fry away from this hectic world.
The secret's in the meat, imported beef thinly sliced/chopped, tossed on the grill and heaped in insanely high portions on a soft Italian roll (wheat is available, but c'mon, white's the only way to go). There are 11 steaks to tempt us, ranging from just meat, to pizza, to our choice, the model loaded with juicy grilled mushrooms, peppers, onions and lots of gooey cheese. Sometimes we get hot or sweet peppers (free add-ons), but lately, since a friend turned us on to the treat, we've been asking for a swab of mayo. It's rich and wicked. Toss in a stack of crispy hot crinkle fries and we're ready for a blissful nap.
The steaks are available in chicken, too, and it's lovely, tender breast to be sure. But is chicken really steak? Who cares?