Phoenix's love for local culture continues to flourish, this time at the 2015 Certified Local Fall Festival, which took place Saturday, November 14, in downtown Phoenix. The event, now in its 11th year, was put on by Local First Arizona and featured entertainment along with more than 100 vendors representing a variety of local businesses, restaurants, and breweries.
For us, naturally, the festival's culinary offerings took centerstage. Here are our five favorite bites from the event.
Jambalaya from Arrogant Butcher
It would be foolish to call Arizona a Southern state (despite it not being all that much farther north than the states that do bear the title) since it lacks a coastline or any strong propensity for jazz or blues. So, when the folks at Arrogant Butcher — a restaurant not particularly known for its soul food — decided to offer jambalaya at the Fall Festival, a head scratch was warranted. But this only made the quality of the jambalaya more surprising. Chicken, shrimp, and andouille sausage intermingled with rice and okra for a spicy and full-bodied bite that just might have fooled unsuspecting diners into thinking they were out on the bayou. It might not have passed the test of a Louisiana native, but for the circumstances at hand, we thought it was an excellent dish.
Mini Cannoli from Federal Pizza
In typical Upward Projects style, Federal Pizza has offered high-quality and consistent (if slightly uninspired) modern Italian food since its arrival on the Phoenix food scene. Some of the restaurant's best offerings were on display at Saturday's festival, including a classic cannoli. Federal's version of the Italian cafe staple included ricotta, pistachios, chocolate, and an orange undertone to cut through the sweetness of the pastry. The crunchy outer shell provided some pleasant textural variety, while its contents were airy, sweet, and slightly fruity, without being saccharine. This cannoli was certainly not breaking any barriers, but it did what it did with incredible proficiency.
Pumpkin Soup from Phoenix Public Market Cafe
This was not the Certified Local Fall Festival for nothing, as several restaurants served some aptly autumnal plates. One of the best was the pumpkin soup from Phoenix Public Market Cafe. The cafe doesn't typically have the most varied menu, but it always does comfort food incredibly well and followed that trend here. Crème fraîche, pomegranate seeds, and chives topped this warm pumpkin soup, giving it a dynamic flavor with hints of tomato and squash, and some tang and crunch from the pomegranate and chives. It was also served in the highest volume of all the samples at the festival, and everybody in attendance was better off for it.
Lamb Bolognese from Federal Pizza
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Federal Pizza clearly did not struggle to please the crowds at this year's Certified Local Fall Festival. The cannoli it presented was excellent, but it paled in comparison to its very serious and very rich lamb bolognese. This was a dish not tailored for the faint of heart. It had incredible lamb, with just the right amount of gamey funk, both American-style bacon and pancetta, torchio pasta, hearty bolognese sauce, and large shavings of Parmesan reggiano. Despite all the ingredients, it was not overpowering. The flavors were complex enough to give a reprieve from the strength of the red meat and sauce combination. Each bite coated the mouth and left lingering flavor long after. A little more subtlety could have benefitted this dish, but all in all, it was hard to beat.
Rabbit Meatball from the Parlor
Rabbit is uncommon in many restaurants, perhaps because some feel that the animal's cuteness trumps its food value. But if the Parlor has taught us anything at this year's Certified Local Festival, it's that the cuter the animal is, the better the meat. The Parlor's rabbit meatball with mushroom ragù and puréed sweet potato was arguably the best dish present Saturday, and it was certainly the best presented. The meatballs were gamey but dynamic, and closer inspection revealed fennel and other herbs interspersed throughout. The ragù provided a hearty accompaniment, but the real star of the dish was the sweet potato purée. By plating time, it was slightly cooler than the other elements, which created an incredible composition of sensory experiences. The sweetness complemented the more savory elements well, and perhaps most importantly, if the dish evoked sentiments of one word, it would be fall.