Cafe Reviews

Fry Girl Reveals the Origins of Festival Foods' Arizona Hot Dog

Check the scene: A music festival in Tennessee 25 years ago. Chicagoan Rich Hollerbach meets Philadelphian Tony Scalia. They know big cities, and they know big-city food that packs a punch. Rich has downed dozens of Chicago dogs, and Tony's chowed enough cheese steaks to fill the Liberty Bell. Cue forged friendship. Cue common vision. Cue business plan: Set up shop in Phoenix and cater greasy goodness to the masses.

Years later, business is booming, and Rich and Tony hit the event circuit with their grab-and-go grub: burgers at Bonnaroo, cheese steaks at Coachella, Italian sausage at Cactus League parks. The Copper State's been good to these easy cuisiners. Payback time. But how?

Flash-forward to Rich's kitchen in 2008: Tony's there and they start talking. Chicago's got the hot dog. Philly's got the cheese steak. What's Phoenix got? Nada. Zilch. Not anymore. Time to get cookin' on an Arizona anomaly. Take what feeds the state — Mexican, American, Southwestern flavors — and mix accordingly.

Trial and error. Lots of no-goods, yuck-os, and throwaways. Wait, taste this: a grilled, Vienna beef dog topped with jalapeño cheese, crispy bacon, pico de gallo, and Southwestern ranch sauce. Whoa. Spicy, lip-smackin' goodness. Time to grab the family unit for a taste test. Verdict? Thumbs up and big grins. Yeah, that's it — that's Arizona. Nailed it big time.

Pass out the cigars. These two fast-food daddies just gave birth to the Arizona Hot Dog. You want one? Yeah, you do. Dig this dog's digs at Rich and Tony's first and only restaurant, Festival Foods, in the food court of Arizona Mills.

Don't let the daffy décor deceive you, because this fare's for real. Think it's gonna be a freeze-fest? Think again. From the fresh-cut potato chips and curly fries cranked out at the counter window to the thinly shaved Philly cheese steak beef sliced in the kitchen, this circus of food is crazy-good. Try the fry bread for something unique, or feast freak-show style with a deep-fried Twinkie (avoid the Snickers, doesn't compare). And get ready for a plateful of plenty because Rich and Tony don't portion-pinch.

Panda Express? Please. Sbarro? S-no. The next time you're milling around Arizona Mills, fork over your food court dough to the two transients of taste turned creators of the Arizona Hot Dog. And tell 'em Fry Girl sent you.