First Taste

Campfire Bistro at Tom's Thumb Fresh Market Fires Up Some Good Eats

When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).

Restaurant: Campfire Bistro at Tom's Thumb Fresh Market Location: 9393 East Bell Road, Scottsdale Open: Three months Eats: Southern-style barbecue Price Point: About $11 to $30 a person

Talk about multitasking.

Like the love child spawned from an errand-running orgy, Tom's Thumb Fresh Market in North Scottsdale has put a high-end car wash, gas station, coffee shop, bistro, farmers market, and wine shop all in one convenient location. And if you're hungry (and who wouldn't be after all those to-dos), there's Campfire Bistro, the counter-service eatery inside the market open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Campfire's eats certainly match the market's friendly yet decidedly upscale errand-running parts. And with the exception of a few technical difficulties, it's worth a pop-in if you're in the area.

Headed up by chef Tudie Frank-Johnson, formerly chef and owner of D'licious Dishes, the gourmet take-out eatery in Phoenix that closed last August after a three-year run, Campfire Bistro's menu features Frank-Johnson's Southern-style barbecue (also available for take-out) along with some other Mexican and American favorites.

The barbecue, smoked over hickory and pecan hardwoods, is very good -- tender and with a notable rich, smoky flavor. There is a sandwich of pulled pork ($7.99) loaded with meat atop a grilled bun; and better beef brisket that, when not served barely warm, is wonderful as a meal ($10.99) or sliced and atop a large, fresh salad ($10.99) of greens, tomato, red onion, toasted pecans, and blue cheese crumbles with a honey chipotle vinaigrette dressing. (A minor complaint, but the salad's glass bowl, while beautiful, is too deeply tapered at the bottom, making the mixing of the salad's ingredients difficult.)

To kick its flavor up a notch, burger lovers can add jalapeño bacon to Campfire's Black-n-Bleu Cheese Burger ($8.99) with grilled onions, tomatoes, and chipotle aioli. Hopefully, unlike my experience, the friendly counter person will ask for a requested temperature for the patty and not simply serve it well done.

Sides like fries, slaw, and country potato salad are solid, but be warned: a selection of fries means a heapin' helpin' portion size -- so be hungry or share with a friend. Better yet, split the baked mac-n-cheese ($7.99). On the menu as an entree, this creamy and cheesy delight's best feature is its crispy crumb topping.

And when it comes to over-seasoning, Campfire needs to pay closer attention to dishes like the smoked meat chili (cup $3.99) and red chile cheese enchiladas ($9.99). They look wonderful, but on my visit both were over-salted -- the enchiladas to the point of being left on the table, uneaten after just a few bites.

Campfire Bistro is inside Tom's Thumb Fresh Market, so eating there means grabbing one of a handful of tables in and around displays of barbecue products in wooden crates and selections of olive oils and cheeses found by way of blackboard signs. It's a well-thought out space -- big enough to hold a large variety of products yet laid out in a way that's friendly, comfortable, and conducive to browsing.

Campfire Grill's dishes, served up on white plates or inside baskets, can nearly make you forget you just ordered at a counter -- or that your car is going through the Polish Tunnel next door. And if it can adjust a few technical difficulties with some of its dishes, its selection of tasty eats is sure to make errand running in North Scottsdale a tasty endeavor.

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Laura Hahnefeld
Contact: Laura Hahnefeld