Welcome to the 2018 edition of The Essentials, our catalog of indispensable and quintessential Phoenix food and drink. From now until May, we'll be sharing 50 dishes, drinks, and food experiences that make up the culinary backbone (and personality) of metro Phoenix. This list is highly eclectic, mixing classics with newer and lesser-known favorites. But all The Essentials have one thing in common: We think they're required eating (and drinking) in metro Phoenix.
36: Crispy Pig Ear and Amaro Cocktails from Crudo.
One of the most earthshaking things to happen to American cocktail culture has been the recent introduction of amaro, amari plural, Italian liqueurs made from peels, herbs, barks, and spices. These drinks date back to the days of antiquity. They are so ubiquitous today that many Italians brew their own batches at home, so common that their alien labels line the shelves of just about every great Phoenician mixologist.
Amari provide adept mixologists with a vast, infinitely varied new bag of tricks. Some amari are sweet, spiced, and charged with a lush flavor of oranges (Amaro Montenegro). Some taste like spearmint, tobacco, and bad dreams (Fernet Branca). The range is staggering. The stuff is wild. A good bar knows when to use which.
And Crudo in Arcadia knows what to do with amari.
A staple drink on the menu makes skillful use of Cardamaro, a faintly bitter amaro aged in oak, one with some spice and a vermouth-like character. The blueprint for this drink, called Rebel's Son, was designed by Micah Olson, former mixology mastermind of Crudo and the adjacent bar, Bar Crudo. Today, Ethan McCune, Kyle Landry, and chef Cullen Campbell oversee the drink program.
Rebel's Son combines Cardamaro with Old Overhault Rye (a great cheap rye), lemon, elderflower syrup, and rosemary. A giant rosemary sprig leans from the ice cubes like a mini Christmas tree. When you put your lips to the glass, you get a massive inhalation of pine. This gives your sip a sharp, herbaceous quality, which seems to intensify the blast of lemon and orange, and to nicely shape the weird depths of the milder amaro. Monin, an elderflower syrup, gives the drink a floral undercurrent. All these flavors meld into a refreshing blend.
This is a cocktail made for food. And rosemary is the perfect bridge to pork.
Campbell fries crispy pig's ear that's pretty much made for drinks. It takes two days, beginning with a slow overnight cook and ending with two dips in the fryer. Cut into strips of varying sizes, the ears are crunchy as hell. They are fiendishly salty and sweet, the sweetness coming from a shallow pool of repurposed pickling liquid under the ears, the same liquid used to transform the neon Serrano slices studding the pork.
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Crispy pig's ear and Rebel's Son, against the odds, make for a damn happy marriage. We have a cocktail that arguably uses a smell for its most dominant flavor, a drink with an oak-aged potion from Piedmont, Italy; and on the other hand, we have an ugly animal's ear that needs two days of culinary tricks to be edible.
Take a seat at one of Crudo's 12 stools and give this unlikely combo a taste. The only downside of sipping and munching at this cool, tranquil spot is that the flavors may haunt you into tomorrow.
Crudo. 3603 East Indian School Road; 602-358-8666.
Tuesday through Saturday 5 to 10 p.m.; closed Sunday and Monday.
*The bar usually stays open until 11 p.m. or later
The Essentials so far:
50: Soul food platter at Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles
49: The Bear at Short Leash Hot Dogs + Rollover Doughnuts
48: Grilled squid and other specialties at Andreoli Italian Grocer
47: I-10 Nachos at Cocina 10
46: Coffee made from ROC2 beans
45: The Haturo Sub Sandwich at Cheese 'n Stuff
44: Zookz at Zookz
43: Jade Red Chicken at Chino Bandido
42: Tasting menu at Quiessence at The Farm
41: Single-origin Papua New Guinea Bar at Zak's Chocolate
40: Green chile at Casa Reynoso
39: Brûlée burger from Paradise Valley Burger Company
38: Hand-pulled noodles from China Magic Noodle House
37: Carne adovada sliders at Dick's Hideaway
36: Crispy Pig Ear and Amaro Cocktails from Crudo