If people knew Hungarian food like we know Hungarian food, they'd be at Peter's Budapest Cafe every night of the week.

Prepare to indulge heartily here, and heavily. Hungarian food mostly is enormous platters of tender, juicy beef piled atop plump noodles; breaded, fried veal cutlets nestled alongside great hunks of buttery fried potatoes; and deep-fried mushrooms, proud of their grease and cloaked in fat suits of tartar sauce. It's classic comfort. Favorite dishes include gently sautéed chicken livers, oven-baked pork loin, meat loaf in chubby slabs, sausage-potato-egg casserole, and obese sausage links resting on a bed of glossy tricolor peppers. There's no holding back the good stuff, either, with pools of rich cream sauce, lava flows of molten cheese, dollops of tangy sour cream and desserts that are more huge, sugar-entombed shrines than simply food. But most gratifying for us, the cuisine is rapturous, thanks to creative use of distinguished spices like paprika (spicy-sweet crushed pepper powder) and poppy seeds, plus sour cream to enrich rather than overwhelm.

If people only knew. If they'd only give it a try. The Valley would be such a happier place.

We're choosy about our cookies. None of the prefab, out-of-a-bag stuff for us, thank you. We want fresh-baked, with only the finest all-natural ingredients. And this is exactly what we've found at Chocolate Star, where the ovens are always on and the larder is always stocked with delights like Ghirardelli chocolate, fresh whole eggs, Arizona pecans, real butter, black strap molasses, old-fashioned oats and plump raisins. We can buy a dozen cookies for us, or baskets with coffee for gift giving. The selection is short but oh so sweet: royal chocolate chip, spicy ginger crisps, oatmeal raisin, pecan sandies, double fudge, peanut butter, snickerdoodles and mocha coco. For choosy cookie chewers like us, the choice is clear -- Chocolate Star shines.

Cookies Amour owner Lynne Wellish doesn't just have to keep her customers happy. She's got to answer to the Greater Phoenix Vaad Hakashruth, the authority that determines whether a Jewish kitchen is kosher. She had a rabbi approve it before opening and pays a fee for ongoing inspections.

The result for her kosher-cookie-craving customers is a wide variety of premium treats, made with imported chocolate, real vanilla and butter (non-dairy types are available, too). They're baked daily; there is no freezer.

There's a favorite for everyone: chocolate chip, milk chocolate chip with pecans, oatmeal spice, apricot shortbread bars, classic peanut butter, raspberry shortbread bars, chocolate decadence and much more.

A friend has been gushing to us -- endlessly -- about this exciting ice cream shop he'd found in Chandler. Huh, we thought, we certainly respect his taste, but could a small store be that much better than the superpremium, handcrafted scoops we find in our local gourmet restaurants?

Oh yeah. We finally got out there to try it, and now, just try keeping us away. Angel Sweet makes its divine gelatos fresh every day, and is this stuff a knockout. Somehow, it manages to be low-fat, but you'd never know to taste the thick, rich Italian ice cream. One glance at the more than two dozen flavors on display, and our heads are spinning.

Angel Sweet's recipes, and many of its ingredients, come straight from Italy. Fruits are in high form, intense and arrogant, partnered with classic concoctions like tiramisu, panna cotta with caramel, and stracciatella (Italian chocolate chip).

Which reminds us: We really should give that friend a call back and thank him. But we can do that later, after we finish our dessert.

This stuff is truly good for you, and truly special. You can eat like a pig, yet leave still feeling petite. Even better, it's one of the only health food places in town that looks like a real, elegant restaurant rather than a hippie hangout hut.

What's magical? How about merza farangee (grilled eggplant with sautéed onion, garlic, tomato, fresh herbs, feta and olive oil, dipped with toasted garlic pita and cucumber-yogurt sauce), hummus-tabbouleh pita, or tofu portobello (sautéed silken tofu, spinach, onion, garlic, ginger root, tomato, feta, olive oil, lemon and soy sauce with brown rice, toasted almond-saffron-raisin)? When we crave chicken, we get it spicy with mushroom, bell pepper, onion, scallion, ginger root, celery, garlic, tomatoes, fresh herbs, Persian spices, feta and soy sauce. And while there's no beef, we can get shrimp (scampi) and lamb (gyros).

Even dessert is delicious, with velvety vegan creations including pumpkin pie, carrot and cheese cakes, or Persian saffron rice pudding. It's all a dream, capped with a hot cup of Persian chai tea with rose water, rose petals and cardamom.

Damn, it's hot. No matter what time of year you're reading this, we feel pretty safe in saying, damn, it's hot. So we find great relief in soaking our skulls at Island Ices, a funky place specializing in soft water Italian ices and frozen premium custards. A specialty of the house is ice and custard blended together as an Island Ice Shake.

It's as good for us as it tastes. Ices are made with real fruit, and custards are 90 percent fat free. Ice flavors are bright and refreshing, like cherry, lemon, mango, watermelon, pia colada, blueberry, grape, prickly pear and cotton candy. Custard comes in chocolate or swirl. And though we had to wonder when we heard about it, we're now devoted fans of the Island Breeze, a gelato combination of Italian ice scooped between two layers of custard. How cool is that?

When we're looking to get fresh, we head to Fresh Blenders. We have our reasons.

It could be the two free "super nutrients" blended into each smoothie. And these options are tangible substances -- bee pollen, oat bran, soy protein -- rather than chemical cocktails with vague, fancy names (a bowlful of "Femme Booste," anyone?).

It could be the immense variety. Fruit n' Tea Freezes of juice, fruit, green tea, vitamin C and folic acid. Vegetable blends of beet, carrot and celery juices. Cappuccino served hot, cold, flavored, in yogurt shakes. Non-dairy smoothies for the lactose-intolerant. MET-Rx shakes for the flab-intolerant.

Truth be told, the reason we love Fresh Blenders is this: Smoothies contain the only fruit our intestines ever see, and with flavors such as Orange Creamsicle Delight and Banana-Peanut Butter Yum Yum, this place makes nutritional noshing more score than chore. Plus the counter is piled with 98 percent fat-free cookies and brownies.

We can feel our thighs shrinking already.

Jamie Peachey
We know these tarts are special, since they're spelled in the très European "tartes." Each little jewel is handcrafted by the bistro's "Tarte Goddesses," and they're to die for (or at least diet for). We're thrilled with the expertly balanced flavors and the restraint in cloying, tooth-shattering sugar. The signature tarte is a symphony of chocolate crust brimming with bananas and coconut cream that's brûléed to order. We're also addicted to the white chocolate nectarine blueberry bread pudding tarte, a luscious mouthful made with homemade brioche, fresh fruit and caramel crème anglaise.

About a half-dozen tartes usually are on the menu, and they may change with the seasons (rustic peach in the summer). Yet whatever the selection, there's something that never changes about these desserts: They're divine.

Best Dessert For An Awkward First Date

Fondue at 6

On the episode wherein he scheduled a date with a deaf woman, Jerry Seinfeld made a fine suggestion: "How about six? Six is good."

While numbers never were our strong point, we can appreciate a simple mathematical formula now and again. Here's one: Gooey fondue plus swanky lounge plus tiny pitchforks plus sticky fingers equals sexy with a capital SEX. No matter the flavor -- Grand Marnier-Chocolate, Godiva White Chocolate or Butterscotch-Caramel -- this fondue formula liquefies first-date tension.

Like the mixed messages that make our dates so very frustrating, the nibbles are both nourishing (strawberries, raspberries, bananas) and naughty (cubes of cheesecake, bites of brownie, squares of sponge cake). And how enticing that, once the morsels are gone, there's no way to get to the remaining chocolate without plunging our fat fingers right into the pot. Sure, the room is filled with Scottsdale's thinnest and most beautiful. All the better to parade around with chocolate smeared across our ever-loving faces.

No one's looking -- just fondue it.

Hobe has been with us for 42 years, though the last decade has been a bit of a bumpy ride for the purveyor of fine meats, seafood and poultry. About 10 years ago, it was sold from its original family, and a roller coaster of quality ensued. Now, though, it's back in the hands of someone who really cares, Eric Fritchen, former assistant manager of A.J.'s Purveyor of Fine Foods. That means we have found -- again -- our fix for the best in prime and choice beef, ocean-fresh seafood, Young's farm turkey and chicken (absolutely the best in the world), lamb, and Arizona-raised shrimp.

It's fun to wander the shop and see what's new and exciting. If we want exotic game, we can ask for, and get, pretty much anything on special order. But we're captivated by that succulent steak, so thick and firm, blood red and singing with juices.

Woo-hoo, Hobe!

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