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We're not sure why more people don't know that there's a new-ish restaurant at the Secret Garden, but this is a secret we think should get out. This casual eatery, located in the shadow of South Mountain and housed in a restored 1929 Spanish-style mansion, is a real treasure. A New American menu featuring mostly locally grown foods, posted in the window, lured us in when we attended a wedding at the Secret Garden, a favorite place for matrimony over the past several years. We ventured back and were glad we did, because this still-largely-undiscovered "secret place" is unlike any other restaurant in town, and well worth the drive to 24th Street and Baseline.
We started with a drink under a massive carob tree, then moved onto the patio, where we enjoyed hors d'oeuvres and a glass of wine before moving indoors to the barrel-ceiling dining room for some sophisticated dining —and the discovery of another secret worth sharing: shrimp and grits, a taste sensation that's both down-home comfort food and light, fresh dinner fare. Also worth shouting about is the handmade papardelle with local sausages, cherry tomatoes, basil and shaved Pecorino. For dessert, don't miss ricotta fritters with fig and balsamic syrup.
Owners Pat Christofolo (formerly of the Farm at South Mountain) and her son, Dustin, have brought together some of the best local purveyors to make each menu item that much more special. Fossil Creek Creamery, Queen Creek Olive Mill, McClendon's Select, Power Ranches, and Black Mesa Ranch are among the names that make us feel like we're part of a special club of local food fans when we eat here. But forgive us for not wanting this to be an exclusive club — we're shouting out loud about this great place, hoping to make the House at Secret Garden not so secret any more.
We're still surprised whenever we hear someone say they've never heard of Tuck Shop, one of the best casual-dining spots in town. Opened about three years ago, Tuck Shop (named after snack stands popular in the UK, where one "tucks in" for a quick bite) offers tapas-style dining with a delicious menu designed by restaurant consultant Mitch Hoverman. We love the mac and cheese with prosciutto and lobster, the skirt steak, and especially the citrus-brined chicken and white cheddar waffles. And, seriously, where else in Phoenix can one go to get beer-battered cheese curds? We always start with those, and then move on to a plate of the dates stuffed with chorizo and Gruyère, washed down by a gin and tonic (with a paper-thin slice of cucumber as garnish!), because Tuck Shop makes its own tonic water, a slightly tart, lightly syrupy concoction that makes everything we eat while drinking it taste even better.
On weekends, there can sometimes be a wait for a table, but we love cozying up to strangers at the big communal table in the middle of the room — or eating at the bar. Tell a friend about Tuck Shop, which is tucked away at 12th and Oak streets, smack dab in the center of the Coronado historic neighborhood.