BEST SUNDAY BRUNCH 2004 | Squash Blossom | Food & Drink | Phoenix
We love fancy hotels, but we don't like getting gussied up, particularly on a Sunday morning. That's why the brunch at the Hyatt's Squash Blossom is so perfect. No one expects you to dress up. Oh yeah, and don't get us started on the food. Well, since you asked, we recommend that you starve yourself all day Saturday, because this is a serious pig-out. Along with the piles of fresh fruit, omelets cooked to order and mounds of baked goods, the Squash Blossom offers both paella and Caesar salad stations, as well as carved meats.

Loosen those sweatpants, and belly up to the omelet bar. Readers' Choice: The Phoenician

If the Pink Pony were a big, nasty redhead, we'd plant one right on her over-lipsticked kisser. You see, so much of what passes for the restaurant industry in this Valley of pawnshops and palm trees is so corporate and lacking in class that the historic Pink Pony looks better the longer we dwell here. Blimey, the Pink Pony's been around since Truman was Prez, y'all. Now that's history. Moreover, the Pink Pony has served such baseball legends as Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Willie Mays and Billy Martin. The place is a veritable shrine to the game of baseball with framed jerseys from the likes of Sammy Sosa and Gene Autry. And its late owner Charlie Briley was instrumental in bringing the Cactus League to the Valley. But even if you know as much about America's Game as a hedgehog does about rocket science, the Double P should still appeal to you, assuming you have an ounce of style in your corpus. Just pay a visit on a Friday or Saturday night, ease into one of the slightly worn, black vinyl booths, order a stiff drink and a fat steak, and chill like Joltin' Joe did in the day. By the time you make it to your second cocktail, the lounge singer will be halfway into a finger-poppin' version of "Mack the Knife," and it'll be like you slipped through a wrinkle in time.

We love the drive up to Sanctuary, the super-chic hotel nestled up against the north side of Camelback Mountain, and we love the fiery hot wasabi nuts they serve in the cozy bar. After a cocktail or two at elements, the beautifully arranged bottles behind the bar twinkle, particularly at twilight. Or maybe it's just the cocktails. Either way, this is a perfect spot to end the day, just a short drive to either downtown Scottsdale or the Biltmore.

Cheers! Readers' Choice: elements

The lobby of the Biltmore is so elegant, you just can't help but feel your best as you sink into a chair in the lobby bar and eye that brand-new guy or gal. Good choice. A drink is the perfect first date. If you like each other, you can eat dinner at the hotel restaurant, or head a few blocks south to Biltmore Fashion Park, which houses several fine dining options. If there's a lull in the conversation, you can count on the lobby bar at the Biltmore for some prime people-watching -- or charm your date with some little-known facts about the hotel's history ("Did you know that Irving Berlin wrote 'White Christmas' outside at the pool here?").

Just think -- if the date goes really well, you're just steps from the hotel check-in desk. Readers' Choice: Oregano's Pizza Bistro

One of the first things we do as soon as fall arrives is call House of Tricks for a lunch reservation. We love to sip a raspberry iced tea (the trick is real raspberries) on the patio in front of this decidedly non-chain restaurant right off Mill Avenue.

There's still enough hustle and bustle to keep our eyes busy as we watch the downtown Tempe and Arizona State University traffic, and the best part is that we feel like we're guests at someone's home, dining under a vine-covered trellis. Evenings are equally delightful at the outdoor bar, and the food is consistently some of the best we've had in town. Readers' Choice: Mickey's Hangover

You think you know "The Girl From Ipanema" until you've heard it played by Nicole Pesce, the resident pianist at My Florist Cafe. Ditto "Flight of the Bumblebee," which she's been known to pair with Elton John's "Rocket Man" or any of several Jelly Roll Morton numbers. Is it any wonder, then, that folks come from far and wide to listen to this amazingly talented lass play everything from Rachmaninoff to Billy Joel, in a signature style that's part Tchaikovsky, part Eurolounge, and always very groovy? During a standard six-hour set, Pesce (who's played with Buddy Greco and once toured the country with the Jerry Lewis Orchestra) is likely to shift from Franz Liszt to Frank Sinatra and on into her infamous ABBA medley, nodding and smiling all the while as if to say, "Hey, music is music, pal." Somehow, though, music is a little bit more musical when Pesce plays it. But don't take our word for it. Hang back after supping on one of My Florist's signature salads, and listen while Pesce arpeggios her way through Van Morrison, Queen, and an arrangement of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" that must be heard to be believed.

There are enough police officers eating at this relaxed pub at all hours of the day to inspire confidence no matter what color the folks at Homeland Security announce. What are the cops eating? It sounds un-American, but everyone is here for gourmet burgers. An outfit called Snake River Farms imported to the States a herd of cattle from Japan and fed them barley, wheat and alfalfa in a natural, unconfined setting. Whatever. The resulting Kobe beef burgers, created without growth hormones, are a wonder. Wash down the protein with a half-dozen local brews or Sonora's own handmade root beer.

The Emerald Lounge is the CBGB of Phoenix. All the proper elements are there: a garage-like punk-rock stage where you can peep such acts as Hell on Heels, Smut Muffin, and Spaz Kitty; a cool bar with an even cooler bartender -- Don "Mr. Spock" Baber; ice-cold beers on tap; and the sort of inky darkness that takes your eyes about 10 minutes to adjust to. Even then, you'll never be certain that "the dime" in the low-cut blouse beside you isn't "a deuce" -- or vice versa -- until the sunlight hits her bedsheets the next morning. But then, the darkness hides a multitude of sins both ways, bubba. The real reason we like the club's crepuscular ambiance so much is that we can hide out and be as sociable or as unsociable as we want to be.

And if it allows us the occasional anonymous, surreptitious grope of the opposite sex, that's not so wrong, is it?

When it comes to late-night decadence, it's hard to bite Zen 32's steelo. Not only can you order a plate of yellowtail sashimi or tuna rolls, and a pint of Kirin beer or a bottle of hot sake, but there's plenty of eye candy to gaze upon while you consume mass quantities. The waitresses are booful (and yes, that spelling's correct, Jack) wearing those long, Japanese-style skirts with the slits up the side, and there are plenty of hot babes of both sexes in the Zen Bar in the back.

Whether you're a chickie on the prowl or a hunk on the hunt, after 10 p.m., the Zen Bar turns into a pickup spot legendary for the hookup luck it bestows upon sushi noshers of all stripes. Alicia Silverstone-like lovelies feed each other Tootsie rolls (with eel, shrimp and snow crab), while Brad Pitt-like studlies chew their edamame (i.e., soy nuts, bee-ahtch) and hope that girl on her fifth sake bomb needs a ride home.

Seoul Jung Restaurant is not only one of the best Korean barbecue houses in the Valley, it also boasts one of the bigger Korean menus in town, with everything from kimchee pancakes and yook hwe (Korean steak tartare) to broiled mackerel and abalone porridge. In addition, it's got an impressive list of authentic Korean barbecue dishes, which includes the standard bulgogi (marinated beef), beef tongue, tripe, pork, prawns, and so on.

You can grill these on the gas ranges set into your table, or have the kitchen do it for you. In either case, you get a huge array of panchan, the pickled and marinated veggies, seafood items, etc., that are like the Korean equivalent to Spanish tapas.

It doesn't take much to over-order. But when you inevitably do so, you're the beneficiary of a veritable Korean cornucopia of eats, remedied only by prolonged gorging and the help of more than one take-home box.

Thus, a visit to Seoul Jung makes gluttony fun.

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