La Grande Orange Grocery
Courtesy of La Grande Orange
Anyone who laments Phoenix as a minefield of strip malls needs to head straight to the southwest corner of 40th Street and Campbell Avenue, to see what Kris and Craig DeMarco have done. Sure, they had a big shell of a former post office, which is now the wine bar Postino, but they also spearheaded the groovy makeover of the strip mall that fronts Postino with the corner market La Grande Orange. There's no hint of the grungy convenience store that stood in that spot for years; now you can get everything from fresh flowers to freshly baked English muffins at the Big O, as the locals call it. Next door, LGO serves its signature pizza, and a few feet down, Tammie Coe bakes her beautiful cakes and Paper Joy cranks out wonderful invites.

This corner is testament to what a few creative minds -- and more than a few well-placed dollars -- can do.

Kazimierz Wine & Whiskey Bar
Kazimierz Wine & Whiskey Bar
If some wine lists are like poems or short stories, then Kazimierz World Wine Bar's list is like reading a Russian novelist of old -- like Tolstoy or Dostoevsky. You're not going to finish it in one sitting. As Yoda might say, overwhelmed you will be. After all, the list is made up of 2,600 wines from 40 countries, with 225 varietals represented. Prices range from less than $10 for a glass to upward of $4,400 per bottle, and there are plenty of lovely noshes to partake of while you imbibe. Nuts and cheese, if you wish only a nibble. Or Egyptian flatbread pizzas if you need something more substantial. Kazimierz shares its wine cellar with Cowboy Ciao and Sea Saw, and with this sort of largess, why shouldn't it? The whole thing is set up like some medieval speakeasy, with faux rock walls, a wooden roof, and a "secret" entrance in the back. Deep couches and dim lighting make for romantic interludes with that special cork dork in your life. And even if you don't know your Beaujolais from your Ripple, Kazimierz is still a sweet place to kick it.
Whole Foods Market
Be it from cow, goat, sheep, yak, llama or any other milkable mammal, we crave cheese in all its fat-laden, smelly grandeur. From mild-mannered Monterey Jack, Gruyère, Gouda and Havarti to rock-on Roquefort, Castello, Brie and Manchego, we can't get enough of the stuff, so it's a good thing we're near a Whole Foods Market, where the selection is nothing less than a veritable United Nations of Cheeses.

And since Whole Foods is admittedly dedicated to high-quality, mostly organic comestibles, both its imported and domestic cheeses contain no artificial flavors or colors or synthetic preservatives, be they from the wilds of Wisconsin, the plains of Spain or the frigid fjords of Scandinavia. We've found it hard to choose from all the artisanal cheeses this place offers -- those specialty cheeses of limited production that may include flavorings such as herbs, spices, fruits and nuts, like cabra al vino, which literally translated means Drunken Goat. It's a hard-to-find Spanish goat cheese from the province of Murcia dunked in red wine and aged to tangy perfection, almost always available here.

Best of all, Whole Foods likes cheese shopping for its customers to be risk-free, so you can ask for a little nibble of that triple-crème Camembert or the $16-a-pound Basque country Idiazabal before you commit yourself to spending beaucoup bucks for a pound of it.


Alaska Family Salmon

Once you've tasted real wild salmon, you can't ever go back to those sea spuds of the deep -- you know, the tasteless, fatty, red-food-coloring-added, farm-raised variety that swim lazily around in their pens doing the backstroke and munching on prefab fish-food pellets. And we've found just the place where you can get the wild stuff all year long: Alaska Family Salmon.

A fourth-generation, family-owned and -operated fishing business based in Alaska, this store's wiggly offerings are pulled in, fussin' and fightin', from Cook Inlet, where it meets the Kenai River, and flown to Phoenix either fresh or flash frozen within eight hours, depending on the season. It's firm, real, salmon-colored, delectable fish flesh, from pristine, virtually contaminant-free cold waters. No antibiotics. No pens. Just good-tastin' fish for grilling, poaching or sushi making.

Besides fresh, fresh-frozen and smoked king and sockeye salmon fillets and whole fish, Alaska Family Salmon also carries fresh halibut, wild Alaska king crab, scallops and razor clams. And you can't beat the prices here with a stick or a fishing pole.


Gluten Free for You

Gluten Free for You
For the one in every 133 people who suffers from genetic autoimmune gluten intolerance in one form or another, jokes about the Texas Two-Step and Montezuma's Revenge are not particularly funny. Nor is the fact that these people can't ingest any grain product containing gluten (including wheat, rye and barley) without suffering even more severe consequences, like intestinal damage, joint pain, unwelcome weight loss and malnutrition.

Relief for the gluten-intolerant has come to town. Gluten Free for You, co-owned by Kris Anderson and Tom Rich (who himself is gluten-intolerant), specializes in bread, pasta and cracker products that are guaranteed gluten-free. Not only does it carry ready-made foods made from rice, potato, soy, tapioca and bean flour, but it also stocks mixes for making bakery items, including wheat- and gluten-free cakes and muffins. Gluten Free for You also maintains a convenient Web site, from which you can buy its products by mail order.

We can't imagine a world without pizza, bagels, ice cream cones or cookies; now celiac sufferers in Phoenix don't need to live in one.

Old Heidelberg German Bakery
From the pretzels to the strudel, this outpost of the old country is the finest place in town to find fresh-baked German goods. We also had fun browsing the aisles of the small market. Who knew so many varieties of gummis existed? Old Heidelberg also features a wide selection of sausage, and, judging by the accents we overheard on our visit, is about as authentic as you're going to get, in these parts.
Karsh's Bakery
If you walk into a Valley bakery and ask for mandel bread (instead of biscotti) or challah (rather than egg bread), some folks around here might think you're a little meshugana. But not the staff at Karsh's. They've run the Jewish bakery in town for decades, providing the city with rugalach, bagels and onion rolls. You can get the best black-and-white cookie around at Karsh's, and they'll even bake you a wedding cake or a birthday cake with your mug on it. Without official rabbinical blessings, the place isn't technically kosher (it's open on Saturdays, an obvious no-no but an even more obvious "yes," given that Karsh's is trying to run a business in a not-so-Jewish town!) but it does use kosher products and honors kosher baking practices.

That's kosher enough for us! Pass the rye.

Barb's Bakery
Diana Martinez
The folks at Barb's are so accommodating when it comes to decorating their infamous iced cookies that we once brought Mexican paper flowers and asked if they could match the colors. They could, and unfortunately (because we didn't think ahead) our guests left the party smeared with shocking pink, red and dark purple icing. Yuck. We suggest you stick to pastels, for your own good, but even with a limited color palette you can choose from a wide variety of cookie cutters or bring your own -- even a martini-shaped cutter, which we bought online and provided to Barb's staff, who happily created a cocktail almost as good as the real thing.

Okay, so we've got a thing for iced cookies. You will, too, after you try Barb's cookies, which taste as good as they look.

Stanley's Home Made Sausage Co.
Sarah Whitmire
This is the best sausage fest ever: meaty butts, thick kielbasas, and Hungarians that'll leave your mouth orange with paprika. May sound like the after-party for an all-male revue, but get your gray matter out of the gutter! We're talking about McDowell's own Stanley's Home Made Sausage Co., which has been in business since 1963 under three sets of owners. For the past 16 years, it's been in the hands of the Stevanovic family -- 31-year-old Marko, and his mom and dad, Emilia and Vukadin. They handcraft some 46 different kinds of meats and sausages, everything from smoked pork butt and bratwurst to hot dogs with natural skins and sausages made like those from Hungary, Yugoslavia and Romania. Amazingly, the Stevanovics move some 2,000 to 5,000 pounds of meat a week through the McDowell location, as well as through their new store on Bell Road. They produce some of the best Polish pierogi in the Valley as well. Ah, soft dumplings and a nice hunk of butt -- what else could you hope for?
Freshly baked rugalah
Heather Hoch
Freshly baked rugalah
After a trip to Yasha From Russia, we really wish we could read Russian, Bulgarian, even a smidge of Turkish. That's because the majority of labels in this incredible deli market are written in those languages and several others that use the Cyrillic alphabet, which is Greek to us, so to speak.

Where do we begin? Yasha has one of the most extensive inventories of Eastern European and Russian delicacies this side of Uzbekistan. You name it, Yasha's got it -- dried and salted, pickled, marinated and sauced fish of what seem like a thousand and one species (like, what is a sprat, anyway?), fresh pickled tomatoes and cucumbers, cheeses made from cow, goat and sheep milk (including kashkaval, a tangy sheep's milk cheese from Bulgaria), dumplings with potato, cheese, meat or sour cabbage filling, Russian pastries, cookies and candies, jams and jellies, teas and coffees -- plus fancy imported china and tea glasses to eat and drink them from. And good luck trying to choose from Yasha's army of sausages and salami (you have to try the gypsy sausage, a peppery, salami-like sausage that's addictive). Looking for ikra, better known to non-Russians as eggplant caviar? Ajvar (roasted red pepper dip/sauce)? How about guvetch (Bulgarian lamb ragout) or imam bayeldi (Russian eggplant and tomato appetizer)? They're all here. And to wash everything down, Yasha graciously offers a dizzying selection of esoteric wines and spirits from Russia, Georgia, Romania and Bulgaria, among other Eastern producers.

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