BEST VODKA-INFUSED HIGH TEA 2007 | The Ritz-Carlton | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Courtesy of Bistro 24
If holding a stiff drink in your hand is more your cup of tea, then the Ritz-Carlton is for you. Around the world, the hotel chain is known for its signature, afternoon tea service. But on Thursday and Friday afternoons in Phoenix, the hotel's "salon de thé" takes a twist. Jeffrey, the Ritz-Carlton's tea master, has created a line of tea-infused cocktails and mar-tea-nis for the hotel's high-tea-turned-happy-hour, called "Tea with a Twist." When the traditional tea service ends at 5 p.m., the real fun begins. Tea master Jeffrey, who is also a jazz singer, and Nicole (the popular pianist from My Florist Cafe) team up with percussionist E.J. Rodriguez (from the Deborah Harry/Jazz Passengers CD Live in Spain) to fill the Lobby Lounge while you get your drink on with delights spiked with high-quality oolong, sencha, and jasmine. Now that's what we call high tea!
What we love about the food at this cool downtown tavern is how quirky and unexpected it is. (It's not unlike the watering hole itself, which resides in a restored, century-old house, where indie rock blares from the sound system and craft brews flow from the taps.) If your idea of bar food is fries, greasy pizza, and hot wings, you're in for a surprise. Owner Matt Pool's notion of what goes well with beer is pretty eclectic, from top-notch deviled eggs and chips with homemade dips to kicky beans and franks, and an assortment of stellar sammies. Our favorite is the Honeymooner, a grilled bologna and cheddar cheese sandwich with a crisp, buttery crust, followed by the Norcino, stuffed with layers of Italian meats. The Roosevelt also does an awesome panini-style grilled cheese with homemade tomato soup, as well as an impressive hot pretzel, and a cheese plate with selections that change often. Indeed, it all tastes great with a cold one, but we'd be hungry for this place even if it weren't a bar.
Lauren Saria
The ratatouille omelette at Vincent's Market Bistro.
More than 20 years since Chef Vincent Guerithault first dazzled Phoenix foodies with his ground-breaking menu — which combines traditional French cuisine with distinctively Southwestern touches — his restaurant still sets an example for fine dining in the Valley. Nowadays, of course, Guerithault's fusion cuisine is considered classic, unlike so many restaurant trends that have come and gone over the past couple of decades. Duck tamales with Anaheim chiles, corn ravioli with truffle oil, shrimp beignets, and house-smoked salmon quesadillas — honestly, we can't see ourselves ever tiring of this stuff. Same goes for the upscale but unpretentious atmosphere, and service so gracious that they'll hardly let you out the door without a bite of dessert, even when you're too stuffed to order it. Indeed, it's hard to turn down a free slice of fruit tart, but if you're really smart, you'll plan ahead and leave some room for the wonderful chocolate soufflé. It's so warm and intensely flavored that you'll float out of the restaurant on a cloud.
Lauren Saria
The ratatouille omelette at Vincent's Market Bistro.
No, you really can't have too much of a good thing. Chef Vincent Guerithault clearly knew he had a winning formula with his long-running Saturday market, which takes place during nonsummer months in the parking lot outside of his eponymous fine-dining establishment. So, a few years ago, taking the idea a step further, he opened Vincent's Market Bistro, right on the same property, giving fans of the market — and folks who weren't up for a fancy feast next door — the chance to enjoy casual French fare all year long. Serving breakfast, lunch, early dinner, and weekend brunch, the kitchen turns out lovely salads, grilled fish and meat prepared Provenal-style, perfect omelets, and traditional dishes like tartiflette (a baked crock full of potatoes, Reblochon cheese, onions, ham, and bacon), as well as classic coq au vin. Complimentary croissants and dessert are thoughtful touches that turn any meal here into a delightful occasion.
Jacob Tyler Dunn
Just because it's gourmet doesn't mean it's pretentious. On the contrary, Pizzeria Bianco's menu is streamlined and simple, with only six kinds of pizza and 10 add-ons. These rustic pies don't try to show off with outlandish combinations of exotic toppings. Instead, they're all about the best, freshest ingredients available, from handmade mozzarella to local, organic vegetables. And the crust? Just incredible, the perfect balance between crisp and chewy. Chef-owner Chris Bianco mans the wood-fired oven himself, so every pizza's up to par. Clearly, the guy's turned pizza-making into a Zen art, and that's why foodies from across the country are clamoring to get here. Among locals, though, Pizzeria Bianco's surprisingly controversial — besides crowds of adoring fans, there are plenty of folks who get their panties in a bunch about the lengthy wait (sometimes an hour or two, sometimes three or more). "Why should we wait that long for pizza when we can get something just as good in our own 'hood?" they say. Well, we've tried all the alternatives, and though there's plenty of decent pizza in these parts, none of it could take the place of Bianco's distinctive pies. There's just no comparison. And really, the wait ain't so bad if you go next door to Bar Bianco for a cheese plate and a bottle of wine. At least there's hope of getting a table if you hang out long enough. Just imagine if Pizzeria Bianco required reservations — then the waiting list would probably be a month or two! We can't stand the thought.
Back East, there's no shortage of great little local joints where you can grab a quick slice or two, suck down a soda, and get on with your day. But for some reason, the Valley's got a severe shortage in that department. (Sure, there's plenty of pizza to be found, as long as you're hungry for a whole pie.)

Good thing there's Mamma Mia, a fast, friendly pizzeria with just a handful of seats and a small counter in front of the brick oven.

Of course, they have whole pizzas, subs, strombolis and pastas, too, but we can't think of a better place for a cheap, tasty slice when we're in a hurry.

Run by New Jersey natives, Mamma Mia serves up an exemplary piece of pizza, with a thin, crisp crust, primo sauce with a bit of tomatoey sweetness, and just the right amount of cheese, all bubbly and lightly browned. Every neighborhood should have a spot like this.

Does the absence of red sauce on a pizza make any difference? You bet it does. White pizza's a class unto itself — a distinctly craveable dish that seems simple, but is hard to find done as beautifully as Miele's fine pie. Here, the crust is crisp and flavorful, thin but still sturdy enough to hold a gooey, bubbly layer of melted mozzarella dotted with globs of creamy ricotta. A few delicate shreds of fresh basil add an aromatic touch that complements the subtle flavors of the cheese, and there's enough garlic on there to make your tongue tingle. While our pizza's still in the oven, we usually start off with an order of Miele's doughy, hot-out-of-the-oven garlic knots, just to get in the mood. Sure, they're filling, but once the white pizza arrives, we get lost in garlicky bliss. How blissful, you ask? Well, let's just say that we've never had to worry about leftovers from Miele's.
Jamie Peachey
Most of the time, we can behave ourselves at restaurants, politely munching on an appetizer that we'd rather inhale, or discreetly digging into an entree that we feel like shoveling into our mouth. Not when it comes to burgers, though. When we get our hands around a good one, all attempts at civility fall by the wayside, and our primal instincts go into overdrive. Please forgive us if hot juices are dribbling down our chin when we sink our teeth into a thick, juicy beef patty — at times like that, we can't be bothered with a napkin, especially when it's The Orange Table's ridiculous Arrogant Bastard Rustler cheeseburger. That's right. They use a splash of our favorite craft brew, Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale, to simmer a half-pound of ground Angus, which they slather with mayo and barbecue sauce, then top with melted provolone, bacon, and veggies. As an extra bonus, they give you the nearly full bottle of brewski for just three bucks more. But one word of caution: don't order the beer before the burger, unless you're ready to drink another round. The squeaky-clean staff at Orange Table won't take your back-washed beer back to the kitchen once you've started drinking. You'll have to order a fresh one. Ah, the sacrifice . . .
David Holden
Joe's Farm Grill's Fresh as Can Be Fontina Burger
Nothing goes better with a juicy Fontina burger or a grilled all-beef hot dog than a good basket of fries, and at Joe's Farm Grill — a Jetsons-esque eatery with its own organic farm, located in East Gilbert's Agritopia community — they've turned fry-making into an art-form. Cooked in trans-fat-free oil, Joe's standard-issue fries are crisp and light, a tribute to all that's tasty about a potato. But what really keeps us coming to this far corner of the Valley are the variations: fries smothered in homemade chili and a handful of cheddar cheese; baked potato fries done up in sour cream, cheese, chives and crumbled bacon; addicting sweet potato fries with chunky pineapple-serrano dipping sauce; and the most garlicky garlic fries the Valley's ever seen. Tossed with olive oil, herbs, and pecorino romano, these potent potatoes will keep the vampires at bay for at least a week.
Chicken wings are just an afterthought at so many restaurants, often buried in a list of run-of-the-mill starters like mozzarella sticks or fried jalapeños. That's why we head to Long Wong's when we have a real hankering for them. Here, wings are the star of the menu — no mere appetizer, but the main dish itself. The people at Long Wong's understand wings, which means they totally get why a big pile of six or 10 of these babies equals a meal to us. Fried to a golden crisp, and still moist inside, we're happy to eat 'em unadorned, but the sauces are just too good to pass up. We're keen on honey hot and garlic parmesan cheese, but we also love the classic, tangy hot sauce. Beyond mild, medium, and hot, Long Wong's bumps up the heat level another notch with addicting, deliciously brutal "suicide" sauce. If you catch us chowing down on wings at Wong's, don't worry if you see us looking a little teary-eyed. Those are tears of joy.

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