Best Place to Buy Art You Can Manhandle 2009 | Practical Art | Shopping & Services | Phoenix

Ever been "finger-wagged" by one of those serious-as-cancer security guards at the Phoenix Art Museum? You know, you sneak in for a closer look at one of the paintings, and the guard is in your face, index finger zipping back and forth like a windshield wiper? Hey, it's their job; we get it. It's just a bit Big Bro for our taste.

Our taste, in fact, runs more to the intimate and the hands-on, and that's why we love this gallery-slash-emporium, founded in 2007 by Jane Reddin, a retired partner at the law firm of Lewis and Roca. Inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century, Reddin carries only handcrafted goods by artists and artisans fed up with shoddy, mass-produced wares.

But don't expect Grandma Moses crap. In addition to generally excellent visual art, you'll find touchable treasures such as kitchenware, furniture, clothing, jewelry, garden goods, door stops, fused-glass business-card holders, blown-glass beer mugs, hand-bound photo books, handmade soaps, organic-cotton baby blankets, vases, rugs, sake sets, mosaic-tile mirrors, and night lights.

About the only thing you won't find is a finger-wagging sentry.

Kraig Foote had a brilliant idea. He invited students to sell their art at a gallery on high-end Marshall Way in Scottsdale. The students get a start, the customers get a bargain. Genius, right? We think so, and obviously so does the market — Foote has teetered, for sure, but he hasn't fallen, as so many of his fellow Marshall Way-ers have in the past year. We wish him and his artists the best of luck moving forward.

Once we find a flower shop we like, we latch on as if it were our hairdresser. So we understand if you don't feel right about even reading this. But if you're new in town, or your florist moved to Vegas, or you're ready to cheat on whoever usually trims your stems, Phoenix Flower Shops is a worthy aspirant. The established local chainlet offers breathtaking designs, personal service, Web deals, and everything from stuffed animals to fine giftware to snacky treats to accompany the finest blossoms, delivered worldwide. But here's the deal for us penny-pinching DIY-ers: Choose your own assortment from PFS' insanely well-stocked vats of fresh, lovely stems every Friday (except certain holiday weekends; call to check) for 50 percent off the usual prices. Whether you're fancying up a family event or impressing a new crush, it's a great way to spread cheer to more people with more flowers, more often.
Judy Nichols

Flowers are overdone. Edible Arrangements look a little creepy. So when you care enough to send the very best, send cookies! Urban Cookies creates adorable care packages for any occasion under the blazing sun. Each brown box is customized with a design of your choosing and squared off with a fanciful ribbon. As for the contents, you can't go wrong. There's the dark chocolate walnut coconut-rolled oat cookie called the Urban, a milk chocolate and molasses brown sugar creation called the Simple Urban, a coconut-pineapple dream known as the Urban Tropic, and the Urban Trail, which somehow manages to involve almonds, sunflower seeds, brown rice crisps, oats, and raisins. Gift packages start at $25 for eight cookies. Um, did we mention we just broke our pinkie toe and could use a little TLC right now?

From the professional pastry chef to the neophyte fondant user to the 6-year-old looking for anything with Elmo on it, ABC has it — and a pretty pink bakery box to put it in. We're pretty sure this place carries every Wilton product on the market; you can find cake toppers for every holiday (and, yes, aisles devoted to cartoon and TV characters, including the furry red monster); and we've been known to spend way more time than should be allowed staring at the dozens of varieties of sprinkles. In the end, you may go running home to Betty Crocker, but you can decorate her cake in style, thanks to ABC, and no one will have to know.

Don't laugh at us, but we needed a new meat thermometer. Our heart was set on the Redi-Fork Digital Probe Thermometer with Detachable Tines and Rapid Read TipTake, but who wants to pay retail for such a high-end item? We certainly didn't, so we headed out to Le Gourmet Chef and almost wished, once we arrived, that we hadn't. But only because we wound up with a new set of galvanized cookware and some once-pricey oven mitts we would never had bought if they were full price. This place is like a gorgeous museum of all things cookery, from tiny sugar cube tongs to electric griddles, and everything at bargain basement prices. Our meat thermometer is magnificent, and it cost us less than half what it would have anywhere else. Definitely worth the drive to Anthem. We're going back!

The only confusing thing about this amazing pointy emporium is its name: Phoenix Knife House is located in Scottsdale. Geography aside, everything about Eytan Zias' knife shop makes perfect sense. Zias is a former chef whose love for all things sharp led him to open a store that also offers cookbooks, whetstones, and chef's uniforms. But it's the dozen specialty lines of cutlery — including rare Masahiro and Misono knives — that most folks come here for. That and the even rarer service of by-hand knife sharpening that Phoenix Knife House offers. Which makes this place (dare we?) a cut above the rest.

After Googling the daylights out of "where to buy smoked paprika," imagine our delight in discovering that the most-recommended online spice shop boasts one of its 41 worldwide retail outlets right here in Scottsdale. With soft green walls and clever crate displays housing spices from around the world, Penzeys Spices has created a playground for cooks. From three varieties of saffron to whole star anise to "double vanilla" extract, there are aromatic samples of every item throughout the store.

Who knew Ceylon cinnamon smelled so vastly different from its Vietnamese counterpart? Peppered throughout the store are notepads free for the taking, serving up recipes like "Festive Mural of Flavor Turkey Dinner" and "Tsardust Chicken Thighs." We expected the location and the specialty nature of this shop to equate to stress on the wallet, but au contraire. Penzeys' spices and extracts come in a variety of sizes and in bulk, and weigh in cheaper, ounce for ounce, than the blander grocery store stuff.

If Viagra isn't your bag, maybe damiana leaf is. The Mexican-grown herb's one of many supposed aphrodisiac herbs available at Chakra 4, a shop chock-full of bulk herbs for just about any ailment. Patrons can pick from hundreds of herbs, including astragalus root (supposedly an immune booster), lycii berries (an alleged anti-inflammatory), chrysanthemum flowers (for tasty teas), and deer-antler powder (for God-knows-what). And if you don't know what herbs you need, the staff at Chakra 4 is well versed in New Age medicinal brews and tinctures and will be more than happy to help out. The store also includes a variety of mushrooms, dried berries, and ready-made tinctures and teas.

There are just a few tasting grounds for serious gourmets in the Valley, and we've discovered a new hot spot. Cucina Olive Oils does just two things but does them with panache: gourmet olive oils and vinegars. Huge vats line this quaint, Tuscan-themed boutique, and there are tiny, plastic shot glasses for tastes. How about a Meyer lemon olive oil blended with a fruity black currant balsamic for a fresh summertime vinaigrette? Owner Chrissy Guglielmo encourages customers not only to sample the vast international selection but to combine flavors for the full experience. Cucina also offers regular cooking classes and demos for a small fee. Learn how to make a strawberry balsamic chocolate truffle and take home the tangy main ingredient.

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