Cafe Reviews

Beggar's Banquet

Selective amnesia and creative revisionism run rampant this time of year, like social diseases in a pre-penicillin bordello. I can't frown too much upon my comrades in criticism for wanting to repress the negatives and stack up the positives in their year-end catchalls like a pack of lily-livered Panglosses. I've done the same myself in Januarys past. Not out of cowardice, mind you, but in an attempt to bury all of my unrewarding alimentary experiences and move on with hope for better noshing in the año nuevo.

This year, my recollections of the good, the bad and the ugly in restaurantland are bobbing up uncontrollably, and proving as difficult to dodge as Dr. Phil's goofy visage on the idiot box. It's like someone slipped a tab of acid into my corned beef sammy, and I don't have any choice but to ride out the hallucinogenic wave. What can you do? Go ask Alice when she's 10 feet tall, and hold on as we spiral down the tube to my crab-assy retrospective of dining in the PHX.

Pork butts and pierogi at Stanley's Home Made Sausage Co., 2201 East McDowell Road, 602-275-8788.
Don't think I've downed anything greasier than the pork butts and pierogi at Stanley's. They're better than a bag of the best ganja. Call it a natural high, but after ingesting massive amounts of Stanley's sow shoulder, called "pork butt" by some, and those hearty house-made Polish dumplings known as pierogi, I'm ready to do my Rip Van Winkle impersonation. Stanley's crafts 46 different kinds of meats and sausages, and they move more butt than a Destiny's Child video.

The Stockyards' "swinging beef," 5009 East Washington Street, 602-273-7378.
Insert your own Brokeback Mountain joke, but I can't get enough of those euphemistically dubbed calf fries over at The Stockyards. Veal oysters, indeed! Why, if I'd known these deep-fried bovine bollocks were so scrumptious with a side of roasted pepper and chipotle relish, I'd have become a cojónes-craving cowpoke long ago.

Scummy scrim at Christopher's Fermier Brasserie, 2584 East Camelback Road, 602-522-2344.
My meals at Christopher's were quite disappointing. Little of the French bistro grub at this overhyped Biltmore dinosaur lived up to all the ink that's been spilled on its behalf. A pall of ennui hangs over the place, as if it were some old war-horse waiting to be shot. What made it among the most memorable of the year for me were the then-dirty curtains dividing one dining area from another. Appalling at such an uppity establishment. Yet they seemed emblematic of the restaurant's general lackadaisicalness.

Kiss me, you mad cow! The sautéed tongue at Mirage Grill and Bar, 3345 West Greenway Road, 602-358-8444.
Who says Phoenix ain't the big city? When you can sup on tender filets of beef tongue sautéed in garlic and olive oil at some swank, marble-lined Bulgarian eatery on the west side, that's about as cosmopolitan a dining experience as you'll find. Mirage gives more than great tongue, of course. But like my first make-out session in junior high, it's the tongue I remember most.

À votre service: Being pampered at Vincent Guerithault on Camelback, 3930 East Camelback Road, 602-224-0225.
As your arbiter of all things digestive, there's nothing I like better than a clean kill when it comes to sizing up an eatery. I went into Vincent's thinking I'd finish with the great man's head on my mantel, but Guerithault's entire staff charmed the pants right off my carbuncled caboose. The chow impressed as well, but it was the service that won the day. And, no, they did not know who I was: I witnessed the staff treating every diner with the same seductive schmoozosity.

The produce and meat aisles at Phoenix Ranch Market, 1602 East Roosevelt Street, 602-254-6676.
Phoenix Ranch Market is a magical, 53,000-square-foot walk-through encyclopedia of Hispanic eats. Sure, slurping up a bowl of birria and a coconutty agua fresca in the food court is fun, but I really enjoy touring PRM's produce and meat aisles. The former stocks everything from stacks of dried chiles and hibiscus to sugar cane, yuca root and jicama. The latter sells beef tripe, whole cow heads, huge cow tongues, and so on. A must-visit.

Porterhouse rules: 48 ounces of short loin at Durant's, 2611 North Central Avenue, 602-264-5967.
I've left my mark on Phoenix, and I owe it all to the "du ranch," as some of the employees refer to this renowned chophouse. By tucking in a three-pound porterhouse in one sitting, I was entered on that roll-call of greatness known as The Porterhouse Club, with the name Stephen "Hoover" Lemons to be emblazoned in bronze on a plaque nearby those of such serious fressers as Mafia underboss Sammy "The Bull" Gravano. Look, ma, I'm king of the world!

Gustatory glory: Marvelous repasts at Binkley's Restaurant, 6920 East Cave Creek Road, Cave Creek, 480-437-1072.
The other day I received a press release announcing that executive chef Beau MacMillan of the Sanctuary Resort has been selected to compete on the Food Network's Iron Chef America. No slight to MacMillan, but as far as I'm concerned, Phoenix's true Iron Chef is Kevin Binkley of Binkley's Restaurant in Cave Creek, the closest thing the Valley has to chef Thomas Keller's much-ballyhooed French Laundry. Binkley's Gallic-inspired American cuisine is well worth the long, winding drive up to javelina country.

Restaurant 28's Carolina comfort food, 5025 West Olive Avenue, Glendale, 623-934-0920.
You can take the boy out of Carolina, but if you cut him, he'll still bleed Tar Heel blue. Lord knows, I've tried eluding my past like a cloud of angry hornets, but escape is futile, especially when you place a plate of Restaurant 28's vinegar-based N.C.-style pulled pork before me. Add in some hush puppies and a side of collard greens, and I'll take my shoes off and start jabbering away like I just stepped off the set of Cold Mountain.

The jumbo fork at Vu, 7500 East Doubletree Ranch Road (Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort and Spa at Gainey Ranch), Scottsdale, 480-444-1234.
Chef William Bradley may be one of the most talented, highfalutin hash-slingers in the Valley, but there's nothing sillier than having to eat the small, nouvelle-size portions at his acclaimed restaurant Vu with the jumbo fork you're given. The utensil's perfect if you're the size of the late Andre the Giant. Otherwise, it'll make you feel like Verne Troyer trying on Shaq's NBA uniform. I'm guessing that years hence I'll have no idea what I ate at Vu, but I'll always recall that freakin' fork.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons