I love a good challenge. So when a friend recently declared that "only seafood restaurants have good crab cakes" I was determined to prove her wrong. Armed with only a camera and the pipe dream of finding fresh fish in the desert, I headed out to two neighborhood restaurants in search of crab cakes that would live up to my Eastern seaboard-bred standards.
In One Corner: Maizie's Café & Bistro
4750 N. Central Ave. in Phoenix
Maizie's is a cozy neighborhood bistro tucked in a modern plaza along the light rail. Wine bottles line the back wall of the dining room and indoor tables are rather "intimately" placed. For more elbow room you can always head to the outdoor patio, a popular spot on moderate, sunny days.
The original challenger in this battle was Dave's Electric Brewpub, rumored by Yelpers to have awesome crab cakes. Unfortunately, when I popped in for a bite I was told the crab cakes are no longer on the menu. Bummer, Dave!!
Instead I hit up Churchill's, an English pub run by the folks behind Shakespeare's in Mesa. Crab cakes at an English pub? Yeah, I was wary too. But a few friends insisted that the crab cakes and crab-stuffed portobellos here are superb.
Churchill's isn't one of those shiny, touristy British Isles restaurants. It's more of a traditional pub with dim lighting, a pool table and a dingy wooden bar area with high-top tables that dominates half of the space. If it were legal again, I could imagine customers choking on a cloud of cigarette and cigar smoke.
Talk about a contrast. While the cakes at Maizie's looked like hand-packed lumps of crab browned in a skillet, the two crab cakes on this platter were covered in panko breadcrumbs and fried. A couple of iceberg leaves and a side of mayo rounded out the dish. Wow. Color me unimpressed.
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If Maizie's is the kind of place you take Mom for a lovely Sunday brunch, Churchill's is where Dad goes when he wants to drink beers and belch the national anthem. Don't discount the grub, though. I bit into a crab cake and was surprised by the burst of flavor.
Strings of white crab meat were complemented by blue cheese, mushrooms and celery. Sure, I know they're fillers, but they're damn good fillers. The earthy taste and smooth texture of the mushrooms contrasted nicely with the sharp, vinegary zing of the blue cheese. The outside of each cake was crisp and well-browned. The filling was a little too mushy, but still palatable. While these don't compare to the fresh Maryland crab cakes I had while living on the East Coast, they were pretty tasty.
Looks like beer and sports beats brunch and wine this time.
The Winner: Churchill's