Best Bite Before (or After) Visiting SMoCA

The Orange Table

Orange Table
Jamie Peachey

Even if the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art weren't right next door, The Orange Table would still be Old Town Scottsdale's best neighborhood cafe. But the proximity to SMoCA creates a great synergy — you can fuel up before checking out the latest exhibition, or swing by afterward to discuss the art over a meal. Earlier in the day, the breakfast menu is one of the tastiest in the Valley, with huge, fluffy pancakes, incredible corned beef hash, and eye-opening coffee concoctions. Later on, lunch and dinner bring great sandwiches and burgers (we're suckers for the Arrogant Bastard Rustler cheeseburger). And then there's the beer list, full of noteworthy craft brews that lure us into The Orange Table late into the evening. The museum might give you food for thought, but this hip little joint feeds your more urgent cravings.

Udder Delights
Jackie Mercandetti

Step through the door of this Gilbert ice cream shop and you know you are in for a treat. We are here to recommend the chocolate milkshake, but frankly, the shop's case of homemade ice cream is so wowing that you may fill your stomach just by tasting samples. Save some room for a milkshake, which hits every mark — chocolate taste, creaminess, and richness — on our checklist. You can have the best of both worlds: Pop in for your milkshake and take home a couple of Udder Delights' $1 pre-filled cups from the self-serve freezer.

Last year saw the closing of not a few chocolate shops in Phoenix, which meant we had to cast the net a bit wider for this year's winner. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because we might not otherwise have made the trek to the Northwest Valley and found Chocolate Surprise, a delightful gem on Bell Road. Out front, hand-drawn pastel-colored cocoa beans chalked on the sidewalk prepare you for the thick chocolaty smell that hits when you walk through the door. The chocolatiers behind Chocolate Surprise were trained at the prestigious École Chocolat, a school for "chocolate arts" in Vancouver. They're professionals, and it shows. Chocolate Surprise sells dozens of artisanal truffles in fun flavors such as orange Dreamsicle, rose, sea salt caramel, and crème brûlée, in addition to safe classics like caramel squares and chocolate turtles. And at only $1.60 apiece, you can nibble on several different kinds if you have a long drive home.

Avalon

Sometimes we don't mind skipping the sweet stuff at the end of the meal, because plenty of restaurants treat dessert like a sugary afterthought. But not Avalon. After a lavish feast of executive chef Travis Watson's "contemporary coastal cuisine" — California-meets-Mediterranean fare with an emphasis on seafood — we'll always make room for a little extra somethin' somethin'. That's because Watson used to be the corporate pastry chef for Fox Restaurant Concepts, and his desserts are as playfully creative as they are yummy. From a modern twist on strawberry shortcake and a festive brownie sundae with toffee popcorn, to Avalon's hauntingly decadent roasted banana bread pudding, these confections are pure pleasure from the first bite to the final plate licking.

Let Them Eat Cake

When we heard there was a bakery in town serving up a cupcake dedicated to Michael Jackson, we knew we had to check it out. When we heard that the cupcake in question was made of vanilla cake with a fudge center, we were on our way in a matter of minutes (with much snickering and several inappropriate jokes). But it seems we are the ones with the politically incorrect minds.

It became apparent when we arrived at Let Them Eat Cake that Barbara Gardner, the owner of the bakery, had no intention of making any sort of commentary about the late star's mid-life change-of-shade. But we still thought it was funny to share — and tasty enough to recommend. Gardner designed the cupcake with a sparkling glove on top, in honor of MJ's favorite accessory (aside from the face mask). And, completely inappropriate or not, the cupcake was delicious.

Tammie Coe Cakes

We owe Tammie Coe an apology. For years, we've admired the beauty of her cakes — striped Mad Hatter-esque creations with impossibly smooth icing in vibrant colors. Our favorite is a recent creation — plain white covered perfectly with rainbow sprinkles, with a candy candle on top. Adorable.

But we've long refused to eat Coe's fancy cakes; the icing is beautiful, but to be honest, it's not so easy on the taste buds. Then we got hooked on those reality shows about cake decorating (Cake Boss on TLC and The Food Network's Ace of Cakes) and we learned about fondant. Coe is a local fondant pioneer, it turns out — taking a cake-decorating staple and making it mainstream. When we decided to try out fondant for ourselves, the first thing the clerk at the baking supply store said was, "Now, you know no one really ever eats fondant, right? It tastes horrible. You're supposed to peel it off and eat the butter-cream frosting underneath."

Oops. Our apologies, Tammie. You really do take the cake — and make it look better than anyone else.

New Orleans Sno Ball
Evie Carpenter

The snow cone is perfect in its simplicity — ice, bathed in a sweet, flavored syrup. No finer snow cone is found in our hot metropolis than New Orleans Sno Ball. This isn't your ballpark or state fair snow cone, no sirree. Instead of rock-hard chunks of ice, the Sno Ball shaves ice into soft flakes, piled into a cup, that melt on your tongue. Owner Abron Morgan hand-blends more than 50 sophisticated flavors, like real almond, apricot, real vanilla, and margarita, and then layers them so that the sweet flavor is evenly dispersed. As any snow cone aficionado will tell you, evenly dispersed flavor is critical to the cone's being good to the last drop. Of course, if your inner child reigns supreme in the flavor department, he's got classics like Tutti-Frutti and Blue Eagle (bubblegum). If your inner child is concerned about calories, don't fret, because you'd have to eat a lot of Sno Ball before you hit the 100-calorie mark. Soft, shaved ice, loaded with flavor, and lo-cal? We're on our way.

The Gelato Maker

Gelato Maker owner Yaron Cohen dispenses samples of gelato like a benevolent judge dispenses justice. He stands behind the counter, confidently presiding over the rainbow of flavors, and sizes up his customers' tastes. Ask to try the coconut gelato and he'll also suggest you taste his favorite, mojito. Interested in Nutella? You should also sample the hazelnut gelato, called nocilla. "The secret is the fresh ingredients," Cohen says, as he brags about $300 shipments of pistachios from Sicily. The Gelato Maker opened in April and we're not telling how many times we've been since.

Scratch Pastries
Courtesy of Scratch

Scratch is a bright and airy French cafe — in a strip mall. We promise you'll forget your proximity to Subway as soon as you're in the door. The menu is populated with croque madames and savory crèpes oozing Comte, goat, and Brie cheeses. But the pièce de resistance (sorry, we did mention it's a French cafe, right?) is the glass pastry counter filled with raspberry and lemon tartes, French meringues, and gorgeous pyramids and domes made of chocolate. Even if you're not a freak for sweets, the pastries are masterpieces, each a little work of art.

District American Kitchen and Wine Bar

Because District is situated inside the new downtown Sheraton, it's expected that hotel guests would eat here. But interestingly enough, the restaurant seems to be going after locals, too, with a comfort-food menu that name-drops plenty of local purveyors and gives creative twists to American standards. One such classic is something we just don't see on restaurant menus in the Southwest but wouldn't mind if we did: whoopie pies. These traditional Amish treats, with cream sandwiched between two moist round cakes, get a tasty update at District. They're pumpkin instead of the typical chocolate cake, teamed with a frothy bourbon malt milkshake that's as yummy as it sounds. Earlier this year, the New York Times published a story about how whoopie pies are suddenly in vogue. We knew it already.

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