A really good bagel is no mere alternative to toast — it's a meal unto itself. We're especially fond of NY Bagels 'N Bialys' hefty bad boys, whose thick crust and moist, dense crumb are just as satisfying (and filling!) as what you'd find in the best Big Apple bagel joints. That's because they make the dough from scratch, daily, and adhere to the old-fashioned boil-and-bake method that gives them their unique, crave­able texture. From Asiago to everything, there are more than two dozen flavors to choose from here, and if you're lucky, you'll stop by when a fresh batch comes out of the oven. The aroma alone is enough to make you drool, and the taste is one of life's simplest pleasures. Give us ours toasted, with a schmear, and we'll forget we ever missed Manhattan.

Bread Basket Bakery

Spelt doesn't sound tasty. Not at all. Doesn't even sound like food, let alone an ancient substance that lost out to wheat and barley in history's great grain race. Say you've got a kid who's allergic to wheat (there are worse things). Make your PB&J on two slices of good old-fashioned spelt, and he'll never know the difference. For the record, it's high in fiber, low in fat, and surprisingly tasty. Bread Basket Bakery is not a fancy joint. What you see — right in front of you — is what you get. Many of the baked goods are cooling on racks in the open kitchen. Point, pay, and eat. And if the very idea of spelt turns you off, the chocolate-covered macaroons are sure to bring you back.

Chatham's Fine Chocolates

Proprietors Chatham and Jennie Kitz truly have taken chocolate connoisseurship to the next level with their cacao-centric boutique, which celebrates world-class chocolatiers like Chocolat Moderne, Ghyslain, and Lillie Belle Farms. Beside a wall full of chocolate bars from around the world, there are hundreds of exotic truffles available here, each one with its own tiny display shelf. Intrigued by the strawberry-balsamic truffles, the milk chocolate hazelnut pralines, or the lavender-infused caramel with fleur de sel? Try them all — it's easy to assemble your own custom box. Each truffle also comes with its own ID card, complete with color photo and description, so you know what you're about to bite into. That's never been a concern for us, though. After spending so much time drooling over the offerings at Chatham's, we usually eat our purchases right on the spot.

Essence Bakery Cafe
Courtesy of Essence Bakery

One Friday morning, after a few hellacious days of office drama, a dear co-worker showed up bearing tiny cardboard boxes adorned with Essence Bakery stickers. Passing one to us, she said, "I thought we all needed to end the work week on a sweet note."

We peeked inside and could barely contain our glee at the sight of five freshly baked miniature treats — and we promise you, it wasn't just because we'd just been staring at the computer and listening to the steady rumble of our empty stomach. But still, those desserts were quite a sight, and we couldn't resist nibbling on them immediately.

What was inside?

A Mexican wedding cookie, coated with confectioner's sugar; a chocolate cookie; a chewy white chocolate and macadamia nut cookie; a creamy little square of chocolate cake; and a Lilliputian pound cake sprinkled with sugar. Before we knew it, we'd gobbled them all up — and we couldn't think of any better way to usher in the weekend.

Sweet Republic
Courtesy of Sweet Republic

If Phoenix in the summertime is hell, then Sweet Republic is pure heaven. So don't be surprised to find us at this cool, tangerine-colored ice cream shop, blissfully Web surfing (hey, we can't pass up the free Wi-Fi!) and nibbling at fresh, made-from-scratch artisanal ice creams. Owners Jan Wichayanuparp and Helen Yung opened their doors this summer — not a day too soon, we say — and quickly made a name for themselves with unusual flavors and premium ingredients, such as rBST-free milk.

We're keen on the salted butter caramel ice cream, lime-basil sorbet (so refreshing), and the addicting blue cheese ice cream. No, it's not as weird as it sounds; think sweet and seductive, like really good cheesecake.

Why is there often a line out the door of this pint-size gelato shop? Well, if you have to ask the question, you probably haven't stopped by yet. That's okay, though — it usually only takes a bite of this creamy, heavenly stuff to join the initiated. Owners Moreno and Marina Spangaro are natives of Trieste, Italy, and their homemade gelato is an authentic taste of the Old Country. Most places hawking gelato these days can whip up any flavor imaginable (bubblegum, anyone?) with the help of canned flavor pastes, but at Arlecchino, everything is made from scratch. That means melon and blood orange come and go with the seasons because they're made with organic, locally grown fruit. The dense, heady chocolate gelato is made from a secret blend of top-shelf cocoa, and the intense pistachio is flavored with pure Sicilian pistachios. Are you hungry yet? We thought so. Go ahead; get in line.

Who cares if the über-popular Pinkberry — a trend-setting frozen yogurt empire in Southern California and beyond — still hasn't opened a shop in these parts? Certainly not us, now that Ice Tango's on the scene. This homegrown enterprise is hip in its own right, a brightly colored, retro-modern hangout hawking the fro-yo that makes our toes curl. They call their plain yogurt flavor "twangy," and it's surprisingly good — light, tangy, and just sweet enough to make you eat more than you think you will. Ice Tango also offers frozen yogurt in half a dozen fruit flavors, from luscious mango to tart, refreshing pomegranate. They're all delish, and did we mention they're fat-free? Of course they are — how else could we justify topping our yogurt with everything from bananas to mochi to chocolate sprinkles?

Poppa Maize Gourmet Popcorn

The ghost of Orville Redenbacher may haunt us the rest of our days for admitting this, but for a while, we got pretty damn bored with popcorn. Don't get us wrong, we've definitely eaten our fair share of freshly popped kernels over the years, whether relaxing at the cinema, hanging out at the state fair, or scarfing down a bag at our desk at work. But frankly, after a while, our tongue was weary of the usual butter-and-salt seasoning, which is why a visit to the Poppa Maize was in order.

Our tired taste buds needed reviving by way of the staggering selection of almost two dozen flavored-popcorn selections the shop cooks up, and we weren't disappointed. It's like popcorn porn in a way, with such zesty and wild signature recipes as chili y lime, cheesy chipotle, and pineapple jalapeño. Want something sweeter? The Poppa Maize peeps gladly serve you such tasty popcorn concoctions as strawberries-and-cream, white chocolate, and apple-cinnamon. If you aren't in the mood to make the drive to their north Phoenix location, tins and bags (including ginormous, three-foot party bags) of each of their 22 flavors is available for purchase on the store's Web site. Our tongue sends us love letters every time we log on and place orders for more and, we're sure, yours will, too.

Poore Brothers

TastyKake reps their Philly 'hood in baked goods. Utz is the salty-snack beast of the Northeast. Where do you turn if you want to throw your A'z up and want local munchies to rise up? Enter Poore Brothers. Since '86, the Goodyear-based company has kettle-cooked their potato chips full of crunchiness and amazing flavors. Their dill pickle and guacamole varieties are gone, but they still rock with salt and cracked pepper, sweet Maui onion, and triple cheese jalapeño. It's easy to proclaim, "We the best!" on behalf of the home team when it's actually true.

Carl's designer vegetables are pure art. Heirloom seed stock, some near extinction, groomed and grown to produce some of the most tender and tasty tomatoes, greens, and herbs with an attention to detail that rivals Italian designer goods. With varietal names like Black Russian, Cherokee Purple, and Snowbell, these are no ordinary tomatoes, which show in a palette of colors that rival the spring collections in Milan. Even better, Carl's putting his design skills to use by cultivating a couple of signature tomatoes, which will include a Cherokee Orange. Ever seen purple haricots vert? They're our new favorite, thanks to Carl. His attention to gardening detail and creation of high-end and fragile foodstuffs has earned him the nickname "the Gucci gardener."

But unlike designer showrooms featuring evening gowns, these tasty bits won't cost an arm and a leg. Carl's got good taste, that's for sure, and so does his produce. (You can reach him directly at [email protected] or 623-846-4624.)

Be warned. These delicious delectables are delicate. And gone, baby, gone — faster than last season's Prada shoes. The market opens at 8 on Saturday mornings, and the best of the batch will be long gone by 9.

Best Of Phoenix®

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