Best Place to Hang with the (Food | Network) Stars 2011 | "Lunch & Learn" | Food & Drink | Phoenix

Best Place to Hang with the (Food Network) Stars

"Lunch & Learn"

Yeah, yeah, you'll pick up all kinds of helpful kitchen tips at Sanctuary's "Lunch & Learn" series — which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year — but the truth is, if you're going to shell out $125 for a cooking lesson, it'd better be from the likes of Robert Irvine. And it just might be. Each summer, Sanctuary executive chef Beau MacMillan invites a few of his Food Network pals out for a posh little summer vacay and a lap around the kitchen — and you're invited, too. This past summer, Irvine hit town, along with Marcus Samuelsson, and the lineup always includes cream-of-the-crop local chefs, as well. The 2012 schedule will show up on Sanctuary's website next spring — and space is limited.
We are of the firm opinion that you're never too old to play with your food, and the kind folks at Le Chalet are in complete agreement. Le Chalet is known for its rich French menu, with drool-worthy crêpes and ooey, gooey fondue. It's more fun than a run-of-the-mill dinner date and a bit quainter than that other fondue chain. Try the Swiss cheese fondue with Gruyère, white wine, and kirschwasser (a sour cherry liqueur), served with crusty bread cubes. If a dipping dessert is more your style, enjoy a rich chocolate ganache or salted butter caramel fondues, each served with fruit, brownie bites, and cream puffs. At Le Chalet you can dunk, swirl, submerge, and dip to the delight of your inner child.
Back in the day — read: pre-kids — we came to the Camelback Inn for long, luxurious visits to the hotel spa. We love that spa. Hot rock massages, thick white robes, and a crystal-blue pool with the prettiest view of Camelback Mountain. We sat outside and ate the hotel's signature yellow gazpacho. And we were happy. Then we had kids. And we were happy, but in a much more, um, complicated way. To say the least. So now, when we need to steal back a tranquil moment or two, we pack the whole family in the station wagon and head to the Camelback Inn. The spa is definitely out, which is why we're so glad to have Rita's Kitchen. This place reminds us of the hotel coffee shops of our own youth, casual outposts in fancy-pants places where the waitstaff is patient and the menu's kid-friendly, but the sweet life's still on display. We can have that same cup of gazpacho while our kids frolic on the nearby grass hills, dance to live music, and munch chicken strips (with healthy veggies and fruit on the side, if you can wrestle the fries out of their grubby paws). Add a glass of sangria, a roaring fire (when seasonally appropriate), and that view of Camelback Mountain — and we are happy.Readers' Choice:
Evie Carpenter
We don't know about you, but we could happily end our days on this planet without another trip to IHOP. Or Red Robin. Or any of the other places people with kids are expected to eat. Frankly, we'd rather stay home and cry in our Top Ramen. But now we don't have to, thanks to the kind folks at St. Francis, who understand our plight. Who would have thought that the hippest restaurant in town would be so gracious? Just the other day, they posted their kids' lunch menu, which includes seasonal veggies with buttermilk dressing dip; "big" hamburger and fries; cheese pizza with salad; and "li'l" turkey sandwich with fries. Better check their website before you pack the kids in the car, to be sure the deal's still good; in researching this piece, we noticed quite a debate on Facebook over whether St. Francis was making the right move in being so kid-friendly . . .
Lauren Saria
The ratatouille omelette at Vincent's Market Bistro.
We always arrive at Vincent Market Bistro with the best of intentions. The Organic Vegetable Medley salad is a wonderful, seasonal mix of super-fresh veggies, tossed in a light vinaigrette — so tasty we forget we're eating so light. And if it were only that salad that passed our lips, we'd look like Heidi Klum. Alas, that evil Vincent Guerithault has other plans. Each and every lunch at his sweet little bistro begins with a plateful of fresh-baked croissants. Even if we are able to keep our paws off the bread, you can be guaranteed that, at meal's end, the waiter will arrive with dessert — maybe a lemon bar with housemade raspberry sorbet or some decadent chocolate thing. If you didn't actually order it, it doesn't have calories, right? That's what we'll keep telling ourselves, because amazingly, the croissants and the dessert are free; we can manage to get out of this ritzy place at lunchtime for just a bit over $10. Now if we could just get into our jeans.
Order these cupcakes for your next gathering and your guests will think you are a big fat liar. As the deliciousness goes down, they will never believe these gems are totally vegan and, if you ask, gluten-free. You'll hear "How?" over and over. Rikki Hale of Rikki Cupcakes serves up other gluten-free treats as well, and welcomes the challenge of any other allergy issues. Rikki's motto is, "I don't need a soapbox; I just need a box of cookies." And with that, she'll prove that sweet and gluten-free do go together.
Want an unusual venue to go along with your tasty breakfast? Pop this address in your iPhone's map app and venture out to Chandler Municipal Airport for a down-home breakfast at the bustling Hangar Cafe. Sit at the counter and you'll likely find yourself scarfing down steak 'n' eggs next to sky jockeys fortifying themselves before they take their Cessnas for a spin. (In our case, we spotted Los Angeles Dodger and former ASU star Andre Ethier noshing the morning after his team spanked the D-Backs.) Huevos rancheros, omelets, chicken-fried steak, biscuits and gravy, breakfast burritos, and sweet stuff like pancakes and waffles make up the Hangar's expansive menu. And just as you'd expect from an inexpensive, no-frills breakfast joint, the serving sizes are generous, to say the least. Make sure you get sautéed green pepper and onions on your hash browns, because they really hit the spot. After you've loaded up for a hard day of work (or just a hard day doin' nothing at all), go upstairs and sit a spell on the Hangar's carpeted and covered observation deck for your daily moment of Zen watching the single-prop planes glide toward Earth and touch down safely.
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Chase Field
Time was, hot dogs, peanuts, Cracker Jack, and a cold beer would about do it at a ballgame. But that was then, and this is now. We are always on the prowl for different fare, even at the yard. We are very fond of Chase Field. No, it's not Wrigley Field or Fenway Park, and it doesn't look like much from the outside, but the place is quite inviting once you step through the turnstiles. And we absolutely love the green corn and beef tamales that East Valley chef Rey Cota and his friendly staff serve up for five bucks apiece at each of the Diamondbacks' 81 home games. Located way down the left-field line, the little tamale stand is popular with both locals and out-of-towners eager to sample local fare. Unlike the home team, these tamales simply can't be beaten.
Maui Dog's food challenge is unique, featuring two "shaggy"-style Kahuna Lava Dogs (half-pound beef dogs bathed in chili, Maui cole slaw, and Monterey jack cheese), two more dogs of your choice, two double-beef sliders, and one small basket each of French fries and tater tots. It's also a good deal — finish in 30 minutes and the $35 meal is free, plus you get a special T-shirt that gets you 15 percent off any future purchases you make while wearing it. You get a little punch card fully stamped and good for one free future meal, even if you fail. Cowabunga.
Normally, finishing a few chili peppers would be no problem, but the eating challenge at this annual festival of tacos and tequila consists of seven rounds of increasingly hot peppers — the last of which is the dreaded ghost chili, a pepper so hot that the Indian military recently approved its use in hand grenades. If mind-numbing oral pain and the loss of control of all facial functions sound fun to you, go for it. Finish each pepper within the three-minute time limit and you win a sizable cash prize, the respect of the crowd, and an almost certain case of the lava shits. Hooray?

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