BEST SUNDAY BRUNCH 2005 | Lon's at the Hermosa Inn | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Jackie Mercandetti
For us, the best Sunday brunch is enjoyed at the table, with the food coming to us. Buffets are so much work. We'd rather relax in a beautiful setting with strong coffee and fresh juice. That's why our favorite place to brunch is Lon's, where we feel like we've been invited to dine with good friends -- who happen to be good cooks with impeccable taste. Lon's is in one of the most beautiful settings in town (you'll feel far out of town, in fact, when you enter the grounds), and the food is equally lovely. Dishes like eggs Megargee (poached eggs on wood-grilled natural beef steak and English muffin with grilled tomatoes, asparagus and smoked chile hollandaise) are served family-style at the table, so you can graze without getting up. Or try the warm cornmeal griddle cake with hazelnuts and sun-dried cranberries with huckleberry sauce. Not as hungry? You can order a bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon. Your food will still come with a lovely setting on the side.
A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou patio, House of Tricks. That's all we ask. Well, you might want to throw in a field green salad with beets and a Dijon sherry vinaigrette alongside the basket of bread and bottle of wine (from a fine selection). And the coriander-crusted rack of lamb with serrano-mint syrup and pear salsa's not bad. We know we're making this place sound super-fancy, but you can show up in shorts and no one will blink. Instead, you'll be treated to the best seat in the house -- on the pretty brick patio (you can sit inside in shorts, too, but trust us), beneath a maze of grapevines, outside the 1920s bungalow that House of Tricks has called home since the late 1980s. We also like to call the outdoor bar home -- a lovely tile-covered affair with high, comfortable stools and wonderful cocktails.

This is one of the few spots in town where you'll find us outdoors in summer, under the twinkly lights, drinking a cold glass of Chardonnay.

Patricia Escarcega
It goes without saying that the view, like real estate, depends upon location, location, location. It also goes without saying that most businesses that invest in the view don't have enough money left to invest in the food.

Such is not the case with Different Pointe of View, located on top of an 1,800-foot mountain just north of Thunderbird Road. You can enjoy this spectacular outlook while sampling from a wine cellar stocked with a mere 86,000 bottles; more than 800 different wines are carried on the menu. Chef Ivan Flowers runs a kitchen that keeps pace nicely with the staggering alcoholic assemblage.

Bonus points if you can name the star witness in the state's most infamous corruption trial who was involved in a fatal car accident exiting the restaurant.

Courtesy of Bistro 24
We are certain we detect just the hint of an English accent when we speak to Jeffrey Hattrick, the Tea Maître d' (yes, there is such a thing) at the Ritz. But Hattrick cheerfully admits that he hails from Portland, Oregon. No matter, we'd let him read our leaves any day -- he clearly knows his way around the tea pot. In fact, Hattrick tells us, he heads up tea service for the entire Ritz-Carlton chain. Lucky us. We put ourselves in Hattrick's capable hands, and he pours a lovely Earl Grey Supreme (plain old Earl Grey is clearly not good enough for the Ritz!).

We lean back into the comfortable lobby couches at the Ritz, and sip. Then we pig out. Er, we mean nibble. We promise, after Jeffrey's tea we will never make fun of a cucumber sandwich again. Now we understand that whole lemon curd thing. And we will never forget the pastries, nor the chocolate dipped strawberries.

Sated, we sink back into the pillows and sip more tea, our reverie broken when Jeffrey politely clears his throat to announce the presence of a birthday girl in the lobby and then launches into song.

What a tea party!

Under the best possible circumstances, dining out with kids is enough to send you to bed for the night with a very, very bad headache. We have developed a close, personal relationship with Easy Mac, Kraft's foolproof (as long as you nuke the noodles, not the cheese powder -- true story) mac 'n' cheese. But mom and dad cannot live by faux-cheese noodles alone, and baby sitters are expensive. So sometimes we venture out, Tylenol waiting by the bed.

On such evenings, we're grateful to the very kind staff at C-Fu Gourmet. The cavernous hall of a restaurant is a great spot for dim sum, and an even better place to let the kids run (almost) free. From the fish tanks in the front to the generally empty sections in the back, this is a place where kids definitely feel like members of the family.

You won't find mac 'n' cheese or chicken nuggets on this expansive menu, but what kid doesn't like to cover herself in white rice, or slurp egg drop soup? Speaking of slurping, we've had many fun family contests, slurping lo mein noodles at C-Fu, and as long as you pad the tip a little, no one will mind the mess you leave behind.

Nicole Hoffman
One of our toddler's first words was "Mugget" -- short, of course, for Chicken McNugget. Who knows what's in those things (well, thanks to a certain book and a movie, now we know and want to forget), but let's face it: There comes a time when even the most health-conscious parent needs to feed the kid, and fast. We recommend Taco Del Mar. At first we thought this was not a kid-friendly joint, since the restaurant's motto appears to be "Roll a Fat One." (Burritos, you lowlife!) But then we saw a high chair in the corner, and a kid menu on the wall. For just $1.99, we fed Junior a quesadilla and a drink, more than she could eat and enough for us to snack on, too. Taco Del Mar could probably scare up a few veggies on the side, too, along with a jumbo burrito (pork mole or fish sound good?) for you.

The nice kid behind the counter even gave us a coloring book and pack of crayons, promising that if the kid colors the back, we can bring it in for a free child meal next time. We do have to warn you, though: There's an enormous fake swordfish on the wall at the Mill Avenue location. This led to an uncomfortable conversation:

"Mommy, look at the fish!" "Uh-huh."

"Mommy, remember when the orange Dorothy fish died and Daddy flushed her down the toilet?"

"Um, uh-huh."

"Mommy, why did orange Dorothy die?"

"Um, um. Uh. Um, don't you want some more of that delicious quesadilla, sweetie?"

As a parent, you can't prepare for everything, but at least this way you can prepare to avoid McDonald's.

From a culinary perspective, the only thing worse than "cafeteria" is "hospital cafeteria." Which is why we were so surprised when we visited the cafeteria at Phoenix Children's Hospital in central Phoenix. At first, we thought we were just sleep-deprived and distracted, and that maybe that salad wasn't so fresh, those veggies weren't so tasty, that pizza wasn't so good that we'd consider coming back even when we didn't have a sick kid.

But then we learned that PCH's executive chef is Mensur Duzic, a German-trained chef who has worked in Bosnia and, upon his immigration to the Valley, for resorts all over town, including The Buttes in Tempe and the Sunburst Resort in Scottsdale.

On a recent visit to see someone else's sick kid, we tried the food with a clearer head. Sure enough, Duzic's talents were evident in the roast chicken, and you'd never get away with paying $2.75 for a half chicken at the fancy restaurants where he used to work.

Okay, we admit, the surroundings might be a bit of a downer, even with the colorful artwork on the walls. But once a year, Chef Duzic donates a meal for 10 to a hospital fund raiser. (Check the hospital's Web site for future details.) You can eat well and do good. What could taste better?

It was only a matter of time before the North Central vibe crept into Sunnyslope. Drive along the bridle path on Central Avenue, over a slight hill, and there's Sunnyslope -- you can't miss it, it's marked with a huge "S" on a low mountain, right there. Before you hit the mountain, veer east into Corbins parking lot -- you can't miss that, either, it's painted a bright, obnoxious orange. To be truthful, there's much that's obnoxious about Corbins: It's obscenely loud, clearly no one's done anything about acoustics. The crowd is, um, eclectic. (Don't be surprised if the chick at the next table asks you for a sip of your drink -- and not in an effort to pick up on you, she just wants some.)

But settle in and check out the sleek decor, then look at the menu, and you'll be reminded of AZ 88, the quasi-gay bar in Scottsdale, one of the first cool places to drink and dine in the Valley. Some AZ 88 originals opened Corbins, and it was a smart move -- the place was packed on a Monday night in August.

If we were dining at AZ 88, we would have ordered a salad, natch. But when in Rome, we figured. So we got onion rings. They were very, very good.

We must confess to a certain trepidation whenever our sophisticated Manhattanite friends come for a visit. To hear them tell it, everything in the Big Apple is so fabulous, it's hard to presume that anything here can possibly measure up to their standards. So that's why their reaction to dining at Patsy Grimaldi's charmingly traditional pizzeria is so gratifying. Apparently, New Yorkers wait in line for hours to get Patsy's pizza at its flagship Brooklyn Bridge location, but in Scottsdale, you can often just walk right in. And as our New York friends can tell you, the pizza here is just as good.


Cold Stone Creamery

Even the proudest Phoenician can't help but be a bit deflated walking the Arizona State University campus with a New York visitor and hearing, "Gee, where are all the people?"

That's why we were so delighted to hear a squeal when we passed Cold Stone Creamery. We like Cold Stone's ice cream, sure, but for us, it's no big deal -- we can have it any time, at one of dozens of shops that the Scottsdale-based company runs in town. But our friend was through the door, already placing her order in, well, a New York minute. Turns out Cold Stone's the hottest thing to hit Manhattan since Coors started selling beer east of the Mississippi. But it's still hard to get to, in the Big Apple. There isn't a Cold Stone on every corner -- yet.

We watched our friend gorge on a vanilla/cookie dough mix-in and thought to ourselves, "See? Phoenix isn't so bad after all."

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