Forks up, Phoenix! Chow Bella and Roosevelt Row present the third annual Pie Social Saturday, November 3rd, from 2 to 6 p.m. on Roosevelt Row in downtown Phoenix. We've got an all-star line up of bakers making pies for you to taste, and from now til Pie Social, we'll introduce them to you, one by one.
Today: Virginia Senior of Urban Beans
It's been a month since Virginia Senior moved in, but her new place is far from looking like home. We enter through the back patio doors and find ourselves stepping into a kitchen that looks like a scene from an HGTV show - no cabinets, torn open ceiling and a starling lack of any kitchen appliances. Of course, she did warn us the place wasn't ready when we asked to meet at her home rather than at her coffee house and restaurant, Urban Beans.
Senior, originally an architect by trade, walks us through her extensive plans for the space, which include what amounts to a complete revamp of the downstairs that will turn the focus to the kitchen/dining/living space. She paints for us a mental image of a large, open kitchen with two custom-made farm tables that will serve as space for food prep as well as for eating. It sounds simply lovely.
"It wouldn't take long," Senior says of the renovations. "If I had time to concentrate on it."
The conversation turns next to the focus of most of her energies at the moment: plans to create an Urban Beans alter ego, which she's named Tertio Wine Bar.
Wine? Ok, we're listening.
Senior explains her plans to amp up the patio and the nightlife offerings at the 7th street location with table service, increased wine offerings and a new menu of small plates.
"It's kind of a big secret I tell everyone about," she says with a laugh.
As she talks about the project, menu planning and restaurant renovations Senior's passion for her craft becomes increasingly clear. It's obvious she's spent hours thinking about every detail of the plans, which is good. Expanding a business, even a successful one, in the struggling economy is a gamble, but Senior is far from naive. She's been riding the ups and downs for years and yet, it hasn't seemed to dampen her spirit for the business one bit.
"The way I describe it is Urban Beans is bringing her little sister in," Senior explains. "And eventually, she'll become the big sister."
We've been hanging out for a while now, and it's finally time to get down to the cooking - if you can call it cooking. Really, it's more "urban camping" since she'll be cooking with nothing more than a table, induction burner and a small selection of grade-A ingredients.
With Swiss chard, garlic, eggs, cracked black pepper and a little hot sauce, Senior prepares what she describes as a "country peasant dish." She sautés the chard in garlic and oil and uses the water from within the leafy greens to poach the eggs on top.
"Did you get this recipe from somewhere?" we ask as we watch the elegantly, simple mean come together.
The answer is no and we feel a pang of guilt for all the times we've gotten take out because "there's nothing in the pantry." We learn Senior's knack for elevating simple ingredients will become a prominent feature of the Tertio menu. Though she's a vegetarian, Senior's been playing around with bacon wrapped figs and roasts. Combined with the smells of roasting garlic, it's enough to get our stomachs rumbling.
The meal comes with a healthy (ok, probably more than healthy) serving of wine and when booze starts flowing, so does the conversation. Soon enough we've gotten from whatever food and pie related talk we started with, to politics, the "S-word" (Starbucks) and what it really takes to be successful as an independent restaurant.
Turns out Senior got a lot to say about the revitalization of downtown and what it means for her business - and her customers. She talks knowledgably and with enthusiasm about the importance and value of quirky, independently-owned restaurants. She knows what the Urban Beans clientele wants, but recognizes that restaurants can't be one-size-fits-all.
"They all have 'corks' in them," she says of independent restaurants. "But I know not everyone in Scottsdale wants that. Some people like the comfort of...the S-word."
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The hours pass, the sun sets and Dakota (Senior's white Greyhound) drops in and out of the conversation, though he's clearly not interested in any of our topics of choice. We're a plastic cup or two deep in the pleasant South American white wine when we finally rise - slowly - to take our leave. If the food and drink and great conversation are anything like what Senior's got planned for her wine bar, we have a good feeling the people will come.
"I want it to be a little sigh inside of Phoenix," Senior describes. "I want it to be a destination."
Want to read about the other competitors? Traci Wilbur Makes Pumpkin Cheesecake Corianne Sizemore Makes Raspberry Pop Tarts Tammie Coe Makes Eyeball Cupcakes Karen Olson Makes Chocolate Chip Cookies Brady Breese Makes Pumpkin Bread Joan O'Connor Makes Mediterranean Pasta Salad Monti Carlo Makes Banana Bread Muffins Mamma Toledo Makes Egg Sammies with Horseradish Cheese Slade Grove Makes Gluten-Free Amaretti Cookies Jeff Kraus Makes the "First Time Crepe" -- Nutella, Elderflower, Spiced Walnuts and More David Duarte Makes Peanut Butter Crunch Bars Winnona Herr Makes Butterscotch Bananas Foster Pudding