Sportsman's Fine Wines & Spirits
In the local wine community, Sportsman's is a big deal. The biggest deal in the state, actually, boasting more than 3,000 bottles. It's a jet-setting collection of vintages from wineries across the globe, with boutiquey gems for bargain hunters and extravagant, obscure selections to please the pickiest connoisseurs around. But while size does matter, there's another detail we appreciate beyond raw numbers: service. After all, what good is such overwhelming variety if nobody's there to help you navigate the terroir? At Sportsman's, the friendly employees will field questions from wine geeks and novices alike, find a perfect pairing for your dinner menu, or just help you pick a nice bottle for your budget. Their unpretentious enthusiasm for wine is so infectious, you might be tempted to hang out and socialize all afternoon. (And lucky you: There's an in-house wine bar for exactly that purpose.)
Cheuvront Wine & Cheese Cafe
Most of the time, we're at the mercy of the kitchen when it comes to ordering a cheese plate. The selection can be a total gustatory grab bag, and sometimes that stinks more than a plateful of Limburger. But at Cheuvront, nothing's left up to chance. Pick a familiar fromage, like powerful Parmigiano Reggiano or creamy Camembert, or go with something exotic perhaps a smoky Idiazabal from Spain, or a smooth Pierre Robert from France. In all, the impressive menu lists 49 offerings from all around the world, and a mouthwatering description of each variety (complete with a handy suggested wine pairing) allows even clueless cheese lovers to order fearlessly and experiment with new flavors. And while cheese has lately edged out dessert as the final course at a number of trendy restaurants, at Cheuvront, they'll still let you start with it. Sounds cheesy, and that's just how we like it!
In most cities, you'll stumble on the best bakery in town just walking down the street. In Phoenix, you probably won't find it unless you've just gotten out of the nearby county jail or gone to visit someone there. We're pretty sure the kind folks at the Sweet Pea won't bake a file into one of their dense chocolate cakes, but they will distract you from the troubles of your day with rosemary shortbread or mojito cookies. We really love the peanut butter and jelly cookie "sandwich" in fact, we love it all, right down to the Pepto pink walls and the owner's collection of vintage cake plates. The Sweet Pea also caters, and there's a promise of lunch service in the future, as well as a coffee shop opening soon next door. Jackson Street might just be happenin' yet.
Milk 'n' More Store
This is as close to the cow's teat as you can get (or want to get, for that matter). The Milk n More Store is on the same property as those giant industrial vats filled with creamy milk that you might have passed on Hardy Drive and Broadway Road in Tempe. The kind United Dairymen of Arizona decided to let the public tap into the freshness by opening a small store. Located on the south side of Broadway and with plenty of parking, it's easy to swing right in. With its low markup, the little retailer is used most by the employees but is also open to anyone else who misses the tastes (and somehow the smell that still lingers) of a real dairy.
Bashas'
Those of us who love doughnuts went into panic mode recently when all the Valley locations of Krispy Kreme closed suddenly. Where, oh where, will we go now to get our doughnuts? Fortunately, there is an alternative for all of you pastry junkies out there. For the best doughnut deal in town, go to Bashas' grocery stores. The trick is, you have to know when to go. During the bakery's regular business hours, you can get a dozen doughnuts for $4.99, which is not bad. However, when the bakery closes at 8 p.m., all of the leftover doughnuts and rolls are boxed up and sold for $1.99 per dozen. That's a smokin' deal cheaper than those boxes of run-of-the-mill Dolly Madison doughnuts, in fact. And the pastries themselves are pretty good, too. The best part is, the people who box up the doughnuts do an excellent job of creating a good variety, so you don't have to be stuck with a dozen of the same thing. Each box has a wide range of goodies cream-filled, crullers, maple-glazed, chocolate frosted, some with nuts, some without. You can usually find something to satisfy the tastes of everyone in the family. The downside? After the bakery closes, these doughnuts go pretty quickly. If you get to the store after 9 p.m., you may be left empty-handed.
DJ's Bagel Cafe
We searched far and wide, and finally found the best bagels in the northeast. No, not New York Fountain Hills. D.J.'s bagels are big, hard on the outside, and soft but not fluffy on the inside. We'd swear they come from the Upper West Side of Manhattan, they're that good. Certainly worth the drive; and just think, at least it's not a plane ride cross-country.
La Grande Orange Grocery
Courtesy of La Grande Orange
So much is made these days of comfort food but really, all that steak and mashed potatoes (and don't get us started on the fried stuff) just gets us too full. And too guilty. For us, true comfort is found in the perfect English muffin, a simple creation made incredibly delicious by the talented folks at La Grande Orange, the I-wish-they-had-one-on-my-corner neighborhood market and restaurant at the far western tip of the Arcadia neighborhood. Yes, you can buy Tammie and MJ Coe's cakes, cookies and breads at La Grande Orange; however, the English muffins are made not by the Coes, but on site at the Big O. The key is that each is cooked on the stovetop, giving the thick bread a crispy, buttery outside that perfectly complements the doughy innards. You can order them toasted alongside a full breakfast, but we prefer to sneak off with a whole box and eat them plain. They're that good.
If chocolate truly is the Food of the Gods and you won't find anyone arguing that around these parts then this little shop at the Hilton Village offers manna from heaven. The enthusiastic owner, Chatham, will chat about and sample! all things chocolate. His idea of a good time is to walk a novice around his store and tell tales of artisan chocolatiers around the globe and how he came upon them. Chatham's has 240 individual pieces of chocolate to choose from none Hershey's and none cheap but each a uniquely scrumptious experience. And if you have the hots for some of the best hot chocolate you'll ever make, Chatham's got it.
For years, Colin Redding and his family have molded big names onto chocolates, making a business out of helping companies promote the good name of Neiman Marcus or America West Airlines. But recently, Colin has branched out, molding some rather interesting confections for galleries on Roosevelt Row. He made bugs for MADE Art Boutique's Roots show, and motorcycles for someone at five15. We even saw a box of boobs (the kind that come in pairs) for another show. Colin will make what you want, at a reasonable price, at his factory in Gilbert. And he doesn't even have Oompa Loompas helping him.
We love the latest trend in dessert: gelato. Not long ago, we had just one or two spots to hit for the dense, allegedly healthier-than-ice cream treat. Now there are many choices, but the decision is not hard at all. We pick Arlecchino Gelateria, sample spoons down. Marina and Moreno Spangaro, who hail from Trieste, Italy, landed in the Arcadia neighborhood in the La Grande Orange complex, and we can't think of a better location for them. We haven't tried a flavor we don't like, but we're particularly fond of the peanut butter, which somehow manages to be peanuttier than eating the stuff straight from the jar. The nocciatella hazelnut with layers of Nutella is divine, and the cortina is unusual, with sweet almond mingling with lingonberries. Our absolute favorite is the mistico light vanilla cream mixed with cookies dipped in Kahlúa and coffee. Thank you, Spangaros, for bringing a little bit of Italy to Phoenix.

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