Roadrunner Park Farmers Market

The Valley's many, many farmers markets employ a canny scheduling strategy to attract scarce growers and busy customers: They're not all held at the same day and time. Saturday mornings are particularly competitive, all the same, and the Paradise Valley area is blessed with a venerable institution that presents a plethora of produce from fertile fields scattered all around town.

Roadrunner Park Farmers Market is Phoenix's oldest (it celebrates 20 years in business this fall), and that's a good thing — it feels like a portable weekly neighborhood where everybody knows everybody. Under the park's tall pines, chugging Sonoran coffee and listening to live banjo music, you'll peep no fewer than eight hardworking farm stands — some expansive, some teensy, but all bringing a good variety of local, seasonal wares, including Hom's colorful Asian specialties, Pinnacle Gardens' pampered organics, and plump, spotless veg and eggs from Lewis' Hen House and Veggie Farm. One Windmill Farms, Big Happy Farms, and Crooked Sky Farms help round out the selection with everything from ancient indigenous bean species to famous Queen Creek peaches. Once you've chosen a favorite farm, find out about subscribing to their harvest as a CSA (community-supported agriculture) member.

Mesa Community Farmers Market

Among the motley crowd at a farmers market, you'll find organic locavores, indie craft fanatics, and people who just want to get out of the house. Then there are those whose mission is to fondle underage livestock, and Kathryn Marshall is their go-to gal. When the high temp for the day is predicted under 100 degrees, Marshall brings a portable pen and frisky Alpine goat kids to the Mesa market along with her Double Blessing soaps, lotions, and other handmade luxuries (www.dbgoatsmilk.com). The wee wethers are quite the conversation starters; as they try to chew your fingers off, Marshall will tell you that their mom's milk is higher in butterfat than any other mammal's moo (except reindeer — and, climate aside, it's way harder to get them in the car). The luxe cosmetics smell like a bajillion kinds of herbs, fruit, and flowers, and not even a tiny bit like goats.

Downtown Phoenix Farmers Market

If you're a big old dog slut — sorry, a dog aficionado — you're familiar with the challenges. First, you need the canine equivalent of a pick-up bar. Downtown Phoenix Community Market fills that bill, 'cause everybody who's anybody is there with their person on a leash. Then you want to make sure that your type of dog hangs out there, right? Well, check and mate, buddy, because you'll peep everything from crunchy hippie mongrels to boutique-bred, loft-dwelling yuppie puppies. (Maybe you'll even be tempted to step outside your comfort zone.) And no one will think you're a skeeve if you ask for some petting and kisses — it's going on all over, like it's a swingers club up in there. (But remember, arf means arf.) Finally, there's the DPCM vibe — so friendly and unpretentious, you might become a regular for the food, crafts, and entertainment, even after you've settled down with The One.

Joe's Farm Grill's Fresh as Can Be Fontina Burger
David Holden
Joe's Farm Grill's Fresh as Can Be Fontina Burger

Maybe it's the affordable housing prices or the constant sunshine that attracts transplants from all over the globe, but whatever the reason, Phoenix has become the melting pot of the Southwest. It's rare to find a native Phoenician and even rarer to find one like restaurateur Joe Johnston, who manages to make even the newest desert dweller feel at home in his trio of Gilbert restaurants: Joe's Real BBQ, Liberty Market, and Joe's Farm Grill.

Johnston grew up in the slump block ranch that now houses Joe's Farm Grill and never ventured far from home. In 1995, after stints as an engineer and co-founder of the original Coffee Plantation, he opened Joe's Real BBQ in a historic brick building in Gilbert's Heritage District. The restaurant became a mainstay with local families and his smoky-sweet meats have captured awards, including several New Times Best of Phoenix picks.

While Phoenix-area developers were busy demolishing older houses to build ivory towers for businessmen and yuppie couples, Johnston wanted something different for his family's original farmland. He imagined a quiet village where neighbors would get together for coffee and swap stories about their kids and grandkids — a community with heart. Builder Scott Homes shared a similar vision. Up sprang Agritopia, a master-planned community with 15 acres of working farmland and quaint bungalows with large sitting porches. How strong is his belief in the project? Johnston and his parents were among the first homebuyers at Agritopia, and Joe's Farm Grill uses fresh produce from the community's crops.

Furthering his commitment to preserving the Valley's past, Johnston and wife Cindy bought and repurposed the nearby 1935 Liberty Market grocery building into a retro-urban eatery last year, keeping the brick walls and the adorable pink and green vintage neon sign.

By now, Gilbert's "King of the Grill" could easily have retired to a tropical island, so we're glad his desert roots run deep. Johnston still eats family meals at his restaurants. He served free drinks to Liberty Market customers on the 45th anniversary of his prized antique Faema E61 espresso maker. And every spring, he hosts "Free Barbecue Day" at Joe's Real BBQ, where guests can chat with him and score a complimentary meal. Though he still has plenty of real relations here in town, Joe Johnston always manages to make the rest of us feel like family.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

Hanny's
Lauren Cusimano

We think Hanny's deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as ASU's downtown campus, Janet Echelman's mesmerizing mesh sculpture floating above the civic park, and the CityScape development. This restaurant really is a point of pride for the downtown renaissance, for multiple reasons. First off, owner Karl Kopp, known for his Scottsdale watering hole AZ88, invested millions to transform the circa-1947 building (originally a clothing store) from a vacant eyesore that the fire department used to torch for training sessions into a stunningly restored example of International Style architecture. Now it's on the Phoenix Historic Property Register. Hanny's also caters to hungry downtown denizens from lunchtime to late night; bruschetta, big salads, and crispy Roman pizzas are just a few of the tasty offerings. Beyond that, we're happy that Hanny's gives us a stylish place to relax over an after-work cocktail or an evening glass of wine. Any city would be lucky to have a place like Hanny's in the middle of its downtown, so we're thrilled to have it in ours.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

The Brooklyn Cafe
Jackie Mercandetti

For the past eight years, Martin Antonelli has combined his advertising background, passion for family, and love of poetry into a charming French restaurant, Voltaire, in Scottsdale. It's his homage to family and food, instead of a typically trendy faux-French bistro.

After an extensive career in New York, Antonelli sought a change and an outlet for his creativity. When his son mentioned that the restaurant where he was working as chef was for sale, Antonelli jumped at the chance and moved to Scottsdale. The building that is Voltaire's home was once a farmhouse, complete with outbuildings. Antonelli began to give it his stamp by creating a warm, peaceful, and creative haven for fans of French cuisine.

Artwork created by Antonelli dots the walls, and in a charming waiting room, he's included such family items as his mother Valentinas's recipe box and her needlepoint and sewing supplies, which are stashed in a box next to a chair, just as you'd have seen them at her home.

And that's the point for a man like Martin Antonelli: to master the classics — whether in food, art, or poetry — and combine them in a way that they feel like home. You can get a taste by signing up for his regular e-mails, which include his poetry:

"Footprints" by Martin Antonelli

The future lays before you like a clean, untouched stretch of sand,

Waiting for your footprints.

Who will you be?

How high you reach is how much you will grow.

How much you seek is how far you will go.

How deep is your search is how much you will see.

How big you make your dream is how great you will be.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

Brothers Jay and Don Poore, of Arizona-based snack brand Poore Brothers Potato Chips, are the main characters in one of America's great corporate fairy tales. Once upon a time, the pair worked as engineers for snack food companies, installing and repairing machines in their plants. There they were introduced to the wonderful world of potato chips — not just the crispy crunch of the popular snack, but the process by which they're made. It was kind of like Willy Wonka's amazing chocolate factory, only with salty snacks instead of sweet. Oh, and there was no room for pretzel trees and toadstools made of onion straws. But we digress.

Jay and Don, inspired by what they saw, created a thick, kettle-cooked chip and marketed it as Bob's Texas Style Potato Chips. The chips were a hit. The bros sold that company, moved to the desert, and founded Poore Brothers.

In those days, the Poore brothers were a little, well, poorer than they are now. What's now a major snack corporation making unusual goodies such as Burger King Ketchup & Fries and Boulder Canyon Natural Rice & Adzuki Bean chips began with Jay and Don, a single kettle and one delivery truck. They handed out free samples and sold the chips to grocery stores and delis before Phoenicians became hooked. Jay and Don soon became the kings of a snack empire. They've never forgotten Phoenix, though. Poore Brothers sponsored the Arizona Diamondbacks' arrival in the mid-'90s and produced some Diamondbacks commemorative chip bags. And though they've since turned over the reins and reorganized under the Inventure Group name, Don occasionally consults for the company and Jay remains at the Goodyear plant.

A single kettle seems laughable now. One hundred thousand pounds of taters per day, sourced from Idaho and Maricopa County, are cooked in massive troughs and stirred by machine paddles. The brand itself has expanded to include "intensely different" flavors that appeal to Arizona tastes, such as Three Cheese Jalapeño, Sweet Maui Onion, and Mole. Of course, we still love the original. Oregon can keep their Kettle brand, and Snyder's of Hanover is just a visitor in this town. Phoenix's "home team" of snacks will always be Poore Brothers.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

Sweet Republic
New Times

Talk about a cool idea.

When number crunching started to wear thin, globetrotters Helen Yung and Jan Wichayanuparp left the world of finance for the world of ice cream — and the Valley's better for it.

Their adorable, citrus-hued ice cream shop, Sweet Republic, opened last year with a distinctive point of view and a uniquely tasty product that attracted the attention of foodies well beyond the vicinity of the Shea Boulevard strip mall where they sell a rotating selection of freshly made frozen treats. Earlier this year, they even got a nod from Bon Appetit magazine, which included them in a list of "Best Ice Cream Shops" in the whole U.S. of A.

Yung and Wichyanuparp's luscious, artisanal ice cream is free of artificial ingredients, made with rBST-free milk, and is homemade in every aspect, from the brownie chunks in the Brownie Swirl ice cream to the cones they scoop it into. In addition, the shop itself is sustainably designed and features free Wi-Fi, making it a fun place to chill — literally.

Although Sweet Republic always keeps such classic flavors as Belgian chocolate and vanilla bean in regular rotation, Yung and Wichyanuparp's experience living in such far-flung places as London, Hong Kong, and Singapore shows up in the more exotic flavors. Salted butter caramel and the Cheese Course Duo (Roquefort blue cheese ice cream with Medjool dates) have become cult favorites, and depending on the day, they might even have bacon ice cream.

From their regular posts on Twitter to their appearances at First Fridays in their ice cream bus, the Sweet Republic gals are impressively proactive in getting the word out about their scrumptious creations.

But trust us: Ice cream this good still speaks for itself.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

Vincent Market Bistro

In the more than 20 years since French chef Vincent Guerithault established himself in Phoenix, the city's been good to him — he's become one of the most respected, well-known chefs in the region. But he's also been good to us in return, keeping customers well fed with his distinctive, deeply personal dishes.

Guerithault's menus are a reflection of his love for Southwestern ingredients as well as his finesse with classic French culinary techniques. At his namesake fine-dining spot, he's become famous for such creations as duck tamales with Anaheim chiles and raisins; grilled rack of lamb with thyme, garlic, rosemary, and spicy pepper jelly; and perfect soufflés, including a tequila "gold" version. For these, Guerithault has amassed a loyal following as well as a slew of national media nods.

But the chef hasn't settled on running a successful restaurant — he's way too ambitious. Guerithault has also expanded his influence by creating a mini-empire at the corner of 40th Street and Camelback.

It encompasses a catering business, a lunch-delivery service (cleverly called Vincent's Van Go, with cheerful, Van Gogh-inspired artwork on the vehicles), a cookbook (co-authored with Esquire food writer John Mariani), and a casual eatery called Vincent's Market Bistro, right behind his main place.

In the evening, he serves thin-crust pizzas baked in a mobile wood-burning oven that parks out back. And on Saturday mornings (except in the hot summer months), he organizes a charming farmers market, where locals stop by for fresh produce, cheeses, olives, and maybe a made-to-order crepe. It's like a little piece of France, right in the middle of Phoenix.

How does Guerithault pull it all off? We're wracking our brains over it — as we nibble on a croissant, of course.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

Welcome Diner
Jackie Mercandetti Photo

Phoenix is not a serendipitous city. We're stuck in our cars most of the time, deliberately driving from point A to point B in our strip-malled, paved-over landscape. How in the world does anyone make a new acquaintance here? You just have to be more proactive, and places like Welcome Diner go a long way in creating an intimate, neighborhood feel. Of course, if you don't care to banter with the cook or acknowledge the person sitting next to you, don't bother with this postage-stamp-size vintage diner, where a compact, nine-seat counter faces a short-order kitchen (complete with antique potato slicer for the French fries). Privacy is nil, and the bohemian crew of downtown regulars are friendly indeed. Stop by for a burger, and you might leave with a new pal.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

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