Cafe Reviews

Chasing Amy: Overcooked Reality and the Decline of Western Civility

A tall, thin man with long, gray hair and a pair of saggy but expensive jeans shakes the handles of two doors of a restaurant. Behind him is a handful of onlookers. His wife, in shorts with hands on hips, leans in and reads the restaurant's hours posted on the window aloud: 5 to 10 p.m. They smile at each other.

"They look like they're set up for business," the man says to her, almost too loudly, his hands still gripping the door. "But they're closed. Amy's Baking Company is closed!"

The man chuckles, and he and his wife, shaking their heads, turn to leave. Some bystanders take his place, cupping their hands over their faces to peer into the restaurant. Others linger on the outdoor patio and look over the menu. Some take pictures.

"Curiosity seekers," I think to myself, nearly rolling my eyes. Yet, here I am.

I went to Amy's Baking Company in Scottsdale last week, weaving my car through the Shea Scottsdale Shopping Center's parking lot until coming upon the suddenly infamous restaurant, the one with the scalloped red banner across from Harkins Theatres Shea 14. The standard reasons I visit restaurants as a critic — the food, the wine, the atmosphere, the pedigree — didn't register in this case. Amy's hadn't signaled the faintest of blips on the Valley's radar of must-try dining — ever. I had come because of the Internet. And I wasn't happy about it.

Sorry, dozens of more-deserving restaurants, you'd have to wait.

On the day I visited Amy's Baking Company, I wasn't a food critic. Like everyone else outside the restaurant that afternoon, I was nothing more than — depending on how you looked at it — a gawker at a freak show or a rubbernecker at the scene of a terrible accident. Probably a little of both.

Although Amy Bouzaglo and her husband, Samy, started their restaurant in 2008, it's difficult, given the events that have unfolded over the past two weeks, to imagine Amy's Baking Company as ever being just a restaurant. But of course, it was. The same year that Tuck Shop opened, Arizona Restaurant Week debuted, and brand-new Noca launched its fried chicken nights — all bringing dining-scene buzz — Amy's humdrummed along. People came in (many, most likely, for a pre- or post-movie meal), ate, and left. Employees earned paychecks. Food was served. Dishes were washed, dirtied, and washed again.

Of course, that was before the Bouzaglos and their restaurant appeared this May 10 on the jaw-dropping season finale of celebrity chef and professional malcontent Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, a reality TV show on Fox in which the F-bomb-dropping Brit attempts to the save the mismanaged restaurants of America. It was before the Internet blew up in the wake of the broadcast, before the real got surreal, before the truth became lies and the lies looked like truths, before every hater and anonymous do-gooder, crazy, pontificator, and user became a performer in an online circus — before everyone, and everything, got so fucked up.

As in most doomsday plots, the catastrophe that would be Amy's Baking Company started innocently enough, much like in the opening scene of the movie 28 Days Later, in which good-intentioned animal rights activists free a monkey from a laboratory only to find out, rather gruesomely, that it has been infected with a rage virus that nearly brings a country to its knees.

In this case, the activist was Phoenix foodnik Joel LaTondress, who posted a bluntly critical one-star review of his experience at Amy's Baking Company on Yelp on August 1, 2010, two years after the restaurant had opened.

In a portion of the 700-word critique, LaTondress commented about the pizza he ordered:

"I took a bite and was immediately underwhelmed. The crust had very little character, was slightly sweet but had that store-bought quality to it. The pesto tasted okay, but the tomatoes were completely tasteless and overall, it just fell flat. It's margherita — the ingredients need to shine to make such a simple pizza. These ingredients were subpar. After two small pieces, I decided I was wasting my calories and just gave up on it."

And, then, about owner Samy Bouzaglo:

"He got very defensive about the pizza, but I hadn't really launched a harsh criticism on the pizza, just said I didn't really enjoy it. So I sat some more, with an empty drink, and realized they wanted me gone. The owner wouldn't make eye contact with me. The server never came back out asking if I wanted something else. And they still hadn't refilled my drink."

The next day, out of nowhere, came Amy Bouzaglo, firing back at LaTondress on Yelp in a 450-word retort calling him, among other things, a moron and accusing him of working for the competition, even suggesting that he lacked a palate sophisticated enough to tell the difference between homemade and store-bought pizza. When Chow Bella, New Times' food blog, reported on the fiasco, Amy continued her angry assault in the comments section of a blog post and argued with readers.

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Laura Hahnefeld
Contact: Laura Hahnefeld