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"Dinnner" Companion

The Spike presumes that most people who have been to Mill Avenue in Tempe have run into Dennnis (with three ns) Skolnick.

This is the guy who calls himself the Mill Avenue Food Critic. For a small donation that allegedly goes to help the homeless or homeless cats (The Spike can't quite remember what the money is for; maybe Skolnick is homeless), Skolnick will advise you on where to eat in downtown Tempe.

Skolnick has been working the Avenue for years, despite at least one absence forced on him by the government to complete a jail term for a drug-related parole violation. The last time he called The Spike, he was living in a halfway house.

Skolnick steers hungry visitors to his favorite restaurants -- the ones that let him eat for free in exchange for his kind words.

This is the kind of entrepreneurship The Spike admires. And Skolnick has now grown his culinary panhandling into an even bigger venture.

"Dennnis' Mill Ave. Guide," a fluorescent yellow 16-page pamphlet, has recently been circulating around Tempe, stacked on counters in some restaurants and bars and stuffed in racks belonging to other local publications.

The guide contains Skolnick's write-ups on more than 60 restaurants (and not just the ones that feed him) as well as about a dozen shops and other Tempe attractions. He tells you where to park. He even has advertisers -- Pizzeria Uno and Fatburger -- which are, not surprisingly, two of his favorite places to eat.

The guide is primarily a review, partly a payback for places that have shunned him and, in Skolnick's trademark annoying way, something of a back-lot tour of downtown Tempe.

Take his fairly lengthy write-up on House of Tricks, for instance. "If I'm backed into a corner by a customer and asked the best' restaurant question and the person has plenty of funds, I always start with the House of Tricks . . . I like everything about the place except how generous they are toward me . . . They are tired of me suggesting that if I have a meal there I might be able to offer more accurate information. That is not very smart. I can live with their bad attitude. I'm most concerned about my customers and this place rules."

Or P.F. Chang's. "I recently offered to sample their food and write a better review. The manager never bothered to make eye contact while we were talking. They are not interested in me, the Mill Avenue community or anything except packing in the people who love the place. They have a selection of Chinese food and a bar with liquor. The absolute worst atmosphere and attitude. Nothing I say could hurt them . . . I am not even welcome in their bathroom really! This is the wallmarting of upscale food service. Like I care if you can park!"

Skolnick actually likes most of the restaurants he includes in the guide, whether they feed him or not. Pizzeria Uno (he mistakenly calls his major benefactor "Pizza Uno" in the guide) warrants almost a full-page dietary discourse complete with characters who work there. Z'Tejas is another winner in Skolnick's book, and he notes: "If I ever get off probation I might move to Austin, Texas," which, he tells us, is the home of the original Z'Tejas. Could be.

The guide is also available online at millavenuefoodcritic.com, where Skolnick, who is sincere in his unabashed boosterism of his 'hood, has included a brief introduction to Mill Avenue.

"When you visit a business on Mill Avenue, please be sure to mention that Dennnis sent me,'" he urges. "It might be worth a discount at many fine and cool businesses. It might also get you thrown out. It's a risk you just might take. I may be an idiot, but I ain't leading no hum drum life."

She Is Not a Crook

Elsewhere on the foodie scene, The Spike must dutifully report that RoxSand Scocos was so upset by its report on the sudden closure of her Biltmore Fashion Park restaurant that she had her attorney send us what we in this biz like to call a "demand letter." As in "we hereby demand that the New Times immediately prepare and publish a correction," writes Shaye Mann "For the Firm" of Jones, Skelton & Hochuli.

Mann called the July 10 item, headlined "Ironic Chef," a "disturbing article." He contends the item was "recklessly written and published, and is severely damaging to Scocos' reputation in both the local community and the cooking industry." Mann says Scocos did not pack up and disappear in "a midnight getaway" but simply let her lease expire so she could "focus on new and exciting challenges."

Mann contends that the item implied that "RoxSand's closure was wrongful, illegal, involved impropriety, and maybe even akin to some sort of criminal activity, as well as evasion of the law and her own responsibilities."

Duly noted, counselor.

But get a grip.

The Spike did not imply or report that RoxSand violated any laws. In America, Scocos has every right to pack up and move out without telling her employees oh, by the way, don't bother showing up for the lunch shift tomorrow because you're out of work.

This is by no means illegal, criminal or evading the law. Whether it's morally wrong or evading some sort of personal responsibility, well, let's just say The Spike thinks Scocos might have at least posted a note on the refrigerator.

The truth is, Scocos loaded up her considerable collection of arts, other furnishings and equipment after hours and without a word to the staff. They reported for work the next day to find their place of employment shuttered and abandoned. Nearby businesses also were atwitter about the sudden disappearance of their longtime neighbor.

The day after The Spike item appeared, Scocos' ex-husband, Spyro, called to say RoxSand was "devastated" that New Times, which has regularly touted Scocos as one of the Valley's leading chefs including a yearly nod in the Best of Phoenix issue, would turn on her. The Spike specifically asked him if the story was inaccurate and he said no, just that her feelings were hurt.

The Spike thinks a much better ending to this story would have been a farewell staff party featuring some of her signature desserts.

Spike us! E-mail [email protected] or call 602-229-8451.

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