Halfway through our huevos rancheros, he walked through the door, like a prune-faced version of Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter: a ghost of Christmas past embodying all the corruption, avarice and prudish anti-porn politics of the Reagan years. Could it be, out from whatever rock he'd been hiding under since serving four and a half years in the federal pen for chiseling elderly investors out of hundreds of millions of dollars, that here was Charles Keating in the flesh? The same swindler who stuck the American people with a bill of billions when his Lincoln Savings went belly up in 1989 as part of the S&L scandal? The guy who had U.S. senators in his pocket back in the day, and spent his free time in futile crusades against porn magnates such as Larry Flynt? Hey, who knew he liked rice and beans? Come to find out, Keating wasn't just there to pick up a few tacos to go. According to a recent column by our own John Dougherty, Keating is helping powerful Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, the owner of El Portal, to develop a parcel of land near her restaurant, which she and hubby Earl bought at fire-sale prices from the Arizona Public Service Company. You never know, with all of the real estate speculation in downtown these days, maybe the Keating-Wilcox partnership is a harbinger of those bad old times being new again. Care for some real estate shenanigans with your machaca? Well, I don't mind if I do . . .
Durant's
With the ghosts of such renowned tipplers of yore like John Wayne and Jack Durant roaming the place, it's no wonder that this Phoenix classic serves what we regard as the best drunk food ever conceived on the face of the planet. Indeed, after our fifth or sixth Crown and Coke, what we want is a plate or two of "Durant's debris." Rumored to be the leftovers of all the fine steaks served at Durant's -- hence the title "debris" -- these come as two skewers of mesquite-broiled cubes of filet mignon, rib eye, and New York strip, separated by scallions, with garlic aioli as a condiment. This Atkins-friendly appetizer soaks up quite a bit of that John Barleycorn in our tummy-tum-tums, making room for more firewater yet! Sure, you don't necessarily have to be drunk to order the debris, but where would be the fun in that?
If dodging and delaying are the hallmarks of a great director of communications, then Lisa Allen MacPherson is the grand master of flackdom. It's MacPherson who is responsible for turning Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio into a worldwide celebrity, with an endless stream of ridiculous publicity stunts meant to advance Joe's tough-guy persona, ranging from pink underwear to starving inmates inside the Tent City jail. MacPherson will stop at nothing in her eternal quest to pimp her media whore of a boss, and is willing to do anything to get Arpaio on television, including help entrap an innocent man charged with attempting to bomb Arpaio's car. (The man was finally acquitted after being locked in the county jail for four years, and has now filed a wrongful-arrest suit against Maricopa County.) MacPherson routinely refuses to provide accurate, timely and -- most important -- honest information about activities of the fourth-largest sheriff's office in the nation. But despite her title, Arpaio didn't hire MacPherson to direct communications. He hired her to make him famous. And she's succeeded beyond Arpaio's wildest expectations. How many other county sheriffs can you name?
Life is short, pallie. Nothing's guaranteed in this crazy-ass world, except that eventual date with Doctor Death, and the fact that The Man owns your ass from diapers to dust. So what's the point? Is it all so bad people will burn in Hades and goody two-shoes and snitches will get to strap on wings and kiss God's blessed hiney for infinity? Basically, all we can figure is that it's about the few creature comforts you can snatch from a rotten existence before you croak. You know, "A loaf of bread, a jug of wine and thou." Except in our case, we'll take a stack of Benjies instead of that loaf of bread, a night with a supermodel instead of thou, and a case of Kiltlifter Scottish-Style Ale in bottles instead of that jug o' vino. Yes, that malty, amber ambrosia with its faint smokiness is one of the few reasons we have to live! Because we ain't got no stack of Benjies, no supermodel, and no jug of Cristal. But Kiltlifter you can boost at just about any local supermarket, Cap'n, even though it's made by the kind folks at Four Peaks Brewery in Tempe. Think of it as non-prescription Prozac, dawg, and get you some.
We certainly don't begrudge this up-and-coming pal of County Attorney Andy Thomas for her striking good looks. Cool-looking blondes in business suits actually do something for some of us. Nor do we care much either way about her political persuasion, which runs along the lines of fellow onetime "Republican BABE of the Week" honorees Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham (go to jerseyGOP.com if you don't believe us). But Rachel, pleeeease, did anyone ever teach you the phrase "full disclosure"? In her book review of Mr. Thomas' latest tome for a Web site called intellectualconservative.com last May, Rachel wrote that "Andrew Peyton Thomas, the district attorney for Maricopa County, Arizona, and a graduate of Harvard Law School, has put together a well-written, intriguing exposé on the state of free speech at his alma mater, providing an insider's perspective of the top law professors in the country." Never mind that, for God's sake, Rachel, the guy hired you as one of his SPECIAL ASSISTANTS. Even your narrowly focused audience might have liked to know that tidbit, don't ya think? Still, you look pretty good in that business suit . . .
Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery
Imagine 40,000 gallons of beer on the wall. That's what the Rock Bottom brewery chain produces every year, using the finest hand-selected hops and malted barley from Yakima Valley in the Northwest. Rock Bottom's got three other Valley locations (see the Web site for locales in Glendale, Ahwatukee and Scottsdale), but the Desert Ridge location boasts brewmaster Brian Helton, who makes his favorite local brewski, the Gila Pale Ale, with a tasty touch of caramel malt and orange citrus hop. The local lager menu also includes Roadrunner Brown, the El Jefe Hefeweizen (an unfiltered wheat ale with a hint of banana, clove and vanilla), and the scrumptious Saguaro Stout, a creamy dry stout with dark chocolate and oatmeal flavor. And the brews are good to go, with half-gallon "growlers" and quarter- and half-barrel kegs available for takeout. Rock Bottom, you're tops with us.
He's looking a little bit grumpier these days, and we like it! Maybe ol' Lew misses his pal Kent Dana. Or maybe Channel 12's got him doing double duty with the "Storm Team." Nevertheless, having the Valley's top TV newsman getting a little bit ornery in the twilight of his career is a great thing for local news. Lew's smart, concise, and uses his voice with an authoritative elegance. And with Kent's move to CBS 5, Lew is the best thing Channel 12 has to offer.
We have no earthly idea what you're going to do once you finish reading all these Best Ofs. Change your underwear finally, we hope. But we do know what we're doing once we're finished writing all these puppies: heading over to the Clarendon's Camus restaurant and bar, where we plan to grab a stool and ease into one of Carson Quinn's many mah-velous martinis. See, Quinn is a real artist when it comes to crafting variations on this classic cocktail. Once the top dog over at the Merc Bar, Quinn came on over to the Clarendon when it gave him carte blanche to follow his muse and create a bar/restaurant to match the newly boutiqued Clarendon. The Mighty Quinn named his new place after his favorite novelist Albert Camus, and, needless to say, the specialty martinis there kick much kahuna, like the Carson City Martini, a citrusy mix of Amaretto and Absolut Citron, garnished with a maraschino cherry; or the Camus Blood Orange Martini, a luscious, icy concoction of Hanger One Mandarin, Triple Sec, lime, and a blood orange purée garnished with an orange peel. There are others, sure, but this is what we'll be imbibing once the last BOP is done, which we pray will be soon.
If local TV is a numbers game, Kent Dana wins hands down. Take, for instance, the five-year deal he signed with Channel 5 last October, rumored to be for an astonishing $650,000 a year. In May's Nielsen ratings, a month after Dana officially defected from NBC affiliate KPNX Channel 12 to take over the anchor chair at CBS-5, KPHO was up 35 percent in its ratings from a year earlier. In July, the Nielsens showed an additional 21 percent increase. And KPHO's 10 p.m. newscast, which four years ago was fifth in the local rankings (that's out of five stations, by the way), is just one point away from the top spot with Dana on board. "We've been on a growth pattern for a few years," says CBS-5 general manager Steve Hammel, who refuses to confirm Dana's allegedly astronomical salary. "But Kent has certainly accelerated that pattern. What people like about him most is that he could be your next-door neighbor. He just has this aura about him that is very down-to-earth." What do we like most about Kent? It's pretty simple: As opposed to the competition, he seems to enjoy reporting the news more than just listening to the sound of his own voice.
Sierra Bonita Grill
Here's how to mix a good mojito: Take a lime and put it into the microwave for about 20 seconds. This makes it easier to extract the juice from the bugger. Squeeze into a tall mortar (a bowl will do, if you are as ill-equipped as we are). Add a tablespoon of sugar, plus four or five washed mint leaves. Muddle the holy hell out of the mess (that means mush it up real good), and pour the contents into a tall glass of ice cubes. Fill the glass to about three-quarters of an inch from the top with good white rum. Top the concoction with club soda, shake well and drink. We're sure there's a way to make a larger portion of mojitos, say, a pitcher full, but our math skills aren't good enough to provide the measurements. Obviously, lots of white rum is the most important part of an excellent mojito. There are many places in the PHX that attempt the mojito, but few understand this basic premise. One that does is the Southwestern restaurant Sierra Bonita Grill, whose mojitos will drop you on your ass, pard. You will be happily drinking mojito after mojito at the place, thinking all is well -- because Sierra Bonita's version of the libation tastes like minty lemonade -- and then: POW! On a night when the temperature's below a dry 95, try savoring this refreshing cocktail on SB's bar-adjacent veranda. There's something about the night air that makes a mojito or three kick in roadrunner-fast.

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