Cafe Reviews

Delux and De-lovely

I am terribly pained that all the fuss concerning the Boston Red Sox, the World Series, and the Curse of the Bambino is finally over. Not that I cared a whit for a bunch of gum-chewing knuckle-draggers running around a diamond to the cheers of the hoi polloi. I prefer sports played by and for gentlemen, like professional poker, billiards or miniature golf. This baseball stuff is for boors.

Still, I've enjoyed every moment of the Red Sox's rise, from the pennant to World Series championship to the inevitable post-win hooliganisms. That's because, for the most part, it's meant restaurants have been blissfully depopulated. So I've had a chance to eat in peace, have my pick of tables and receive unparalleled service. Indeed, at one little Eye-tie joint I stop by from time to time, my companion and I were the only ones present. Ha-ha! All the riffraff was either in the sports bars or at home, munching on Cheetos and drinking Old Milwaukee. If only every evening could be this pleasant!

The anomaly was a new kid on the block, the two-week-old Delux, which offers some 40 international beers on tap, a menu of gourmet burgers and salads, and a hip, suave ambiance that rivals even the Zen Bar at sushi spot Zen 32 in the same shopping complex. Yes, there was a TV on in one corner of the eatery, but few seemed to pay it any mind. Every night I stopped by, there were fetching ladies and chiseled young chaps, all casually dressed and focused on the food, the bevy and one another. They seemed oblivious to that Soporific (to me, anyhow) Series. It was as if I'd dropped through a hole in the desert and ended up in a world inhabited only by the beautiful people, or awakened from a deep sleep to discover myself a character on an episode of the HBO series Entourage.

The design is a bit of practical eye candy that maximizes the relatively small space while maintaining a sophisticated Scottsdale-ish aura in the middle of Phoenix. To one side are black-backed banquettes cushioned with brown Armani leather, and on the other is the granite-topped bar, behind which are a splendid array of beer taps for everything from Belgium's Tripel Karmeliet and Denver's Flying Dog in Heat Wheat, to Boulder's Avery White Rascal and San Diego's Alesmith Horny Devil. Between the bar and the banquette is a long, high common table, lighted from above by a steel shelf holding a number of candles. Outside are gray tables with chic red, blue and yellow chairs on a snug little patio, encircled by a low gate. Even the unisex restrooms look sharp, with black marble and an opaque glass window that you fortunately cannot see through.

Lighting is subdued and seductive, and here, too, the Zen Bar and Zen 32 come to mind. Indeed, they should come to mind, since both leapt from the cerebellum of the same fella, Lenny Rosenberg, the restaurateur who owns both establishments. On most nights of the week, the tall, thin, broad-shouldered Rosenberg is greeting guests, and helping his bright, youthful staff serve up hoppers of fries made to resemble mini-shopping carts, or "flights" (read: samplers) of one to four beers.

To say Rosenberg has the Midas touch wouldn't be much of an exaggeration. He owned the first 5 & Diner in the Valley, as well as Chap's and the Blue Burrito Grille. With Zen 32, he brought late-night sushi to town and made it a success by having his sushi chef at work until midnight. And he's playing the maverick here again by keeping the grill at Delux open until 2 a.m. and by keeping the prices comfortable for twenty- and thirtysomething urbanites. Rosenberg knows his crowd. These are the same folks (myself included) who like to eat late, and who enjoy quaffing a variety of exotic brewskis. I've said time and time again that if Phoenix wants to be taken seriously as a metropolis, it has to learn to stay up and open. Huzzahs to Rosenberg for realizing that there's money to be made while the soccer moms are snoozing in bed.

Already I've been to Delux about half a dozen times, and it's likely I'll be back until I've imbibed heavily from every spout behind the bar. My fave so far? Newport, Oregon's Rogue Dead Guy Ale, a lip-smacking amber mix of malt and hops, first brewed by Rogue to commemorate the Day of the Dead. Yes, I was sure the state of Oregon was good for something, and now I finally know what.

Of course, Delux would be just another cool bar if the food sucked or was just fair to middlin'. But Mr. Rosenberg is too savvy and too much of a perfectionist to allow this to be the case. Both the Delux burger and the Standard burger are blue-ribbon-worthy, and a bargain at $8 each. The Delux uses high-quality Niman Ranch beef "infused" with Maytag Blue and Gruyère cheeses, dressed with bacon, arugula and caramelized onions, and wedged betwixt slices of a demi-baguette. Tasty, but I prefer the Standard Burger. It's the same Niman Ranch beef, but more of it, in a traditional patty, with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and a slice of onion on an egg bun. Nothing fancy. Just a good burger, and enough of it to help soak up the alcohol.

The shoestring potatoes and/or sweet potatoes do an excellent job of this as well. Get a mixed order, and chase it with three or four pints. I was fond of the grilled chicken and the grilled veggie sandwiches, too, but the real surprise at Delux was the salads. The Chinese chicken is okay, but the beet salad really stands out, with glazed pecans, roasted beets, and Maytag Blue, tossed with a balsamic dressing. The sliced tomatoes with mozzarella, sprinkled with basil oil and vinegar, is simultaneously simple and irresistible. Fortunately, by the time this article runs, Delux will be serving lunch, for which such salads are perfect.

Re: desserts, Häagen-Dazs shakes and malts, or a "fudge lava" soufflé with chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream, are slightly ho-hum. So why not try something like a beer float, with rich chocolate-chocolate ice cream and, say, Guinness? If it works, Lenny, no charge for the idea, just name after moi, shake á la Stefan.

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