Christopher Wharton, who teaches nutrition, spends his days well-dressed and instructing students at the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus -- but on the weekends he's sweating it out at the Downtown Phoenix Public Market since he's also the co-founder of Chow Locally -- the newest way to get your local food fix. It's safe to say that Wharton is thinking about food just about every second of the day but he's conscious about putting most good stuff.
Here's a nutritionist-approved perfect food day that will keep you happy but won't blow your diet -- completely:
Breakfast: I'm a nutrition professor, so I feel compelled to note that I'm checking my nutrition credentials at the door and describing my Perfect Food Day in terms of the experience (and not necessarily the nutritional value). To start things off, I would head to The Coffee Shop in Gilbert, where Jessica Cuff and team make some of the best coffee in town, and hands down, the best scones. An iced Americano with a splash of soy milk, plus an orange-chocolate chip scone makes for the perfect balance of flavors. For me, juxtaposing the roasted bite of really good espresso with a sweet and moist treat is a match made in gustatory heaven. Couple that with the laid-back, cooler-than-hipster-cool feel of the Coffee Shop, and I couldn't start my day off any better.
Snack: Usually, by 10 am I'm looking for something to tide me over 'til lunch. I am often downtown for either work or play, so I'm surrounded with excellent options for snacks and meals. Easily one of the best places to stop in for a snack would be the Downtown Phoenix Public Market's Urban Grocery. Cindy Gentry has successfully married a passion for supporting local foods with an excellent shopping and eating experience, making this shop the ideal of social entrepreneurship. The Urban Grocery offers a number of excellent 'sides,' often made with local ingredients. By default, I'll choose the beet salad when beets are in season. Their earthy sweetness seems to satisfy me unlike any other vegetable. Grab a cup of cucumber water (offered free to customers) and the snack reaches a whole new level of refreshing.
Lunch: One of my favorite places in the Valley, perhaps my favorite restaurant period, is House of Tricks in Tempe. As this is my 'Perfect Food Day,' I'm going to bend the rules just a bit and describe one of my favorite Tricks meals I would happily eat for lunch even though they generally serve it as a starter in the evening. This particular meal is their Seared Scallops, served on a cauliflower puree with golden raisin gastrique, crispy caper berries and lemon cream. It's light, and therefore perfect for lunch, and if you pair it with a salad - any at this delightful restaurant will do - you have well balanced lunchtime fare. Although I'm very much a beer man, scallops go particularly well with a smartly chosen white wine. I love a wine that carries hints of citrus and is perhaps a bit on the mild side for a meal like this, so I would go with the Huneeus 'Illumination' Sauvignon Blanc. House of Tricks offers amazing ambiance inside or out, but I would imagine my Perfect Food Day occurring amidst perfect weather, of course. So, I'd take this meal on their charming patio. After all, excellent food and wine go extremely well with a gentle, relaxing breeze.
Dinner: We have a nice outdoor grill at home, and when the weather turns cooler in the evenings, my wife and I love to do our cooking outside. Our specialty is grilled pizza, the idea of which sometimes confounds our friends ("How do you grill pizza?? Doesn't the dough drip through the grill?"). It's actually an easy thing to do, and you can make the equivalent of gourmet pizza right at home. We start by making homemade, whole-grain pizza dough, an excellent recipe for which can be found in Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food, or here (we substitute a portion of the white flour with whole wheat and rye flours). Once the dough has had a chance to rise, we roll it out and brush olive oil on one side. Throwing the dough directly on the grill this way allows it to firm up so quickly that it won't drip through. Brush oil again and flip, then add your ingredients. Our favorite pizza by far includes homemade pizza sauce (my wife's no-longer secret ingredient: cinnamon), feta, sundried tomatoes, basil, and garlic. The latter ingredients we often can get from Maya's Farm or Crooked Sky Farms. I couple this excellent pizza with an Oak Creek Nut Brown Ale, my absolute favorite local brew, and blissful consumption ensues.
Dessert: To complete my East Valley-to-Phoenix-and-Back Again Food Tour, I would complete my day at Udder Delights. This ice cream shop, owned and run by Casey Stechnij (whose Superstition Farm also supplies the dairy) offers up traditional as well as occasionally inventive ice creams and sorbets. The best part: their engaging staff encourages sampling, so you never leave feeling as if you made the wrong choice. I found my favorite flavor there long ago, and whenever I see it available in the ice cream case, I forego the sampling so that I might more quickly indulge. Red velvet-cheese cake ice cream. I need say no more.
I have lived in the Phoenix area for three years now, and I recently came to realize that we are blessed in the valley to live amidst an amazing food scene. Much like other aspects of the valley, it is simply spread out across multiple towns. So long as you are willing to search for the best spots across the West Valley, Phoenix, Tempe, the East Valley, and towns in between, you are sure to find excellent examples of almost any cuisine you like. As such, it's not actually that difficult to piece together a pretty-close-to-perfect food day for yourself.
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