Where do hospitality employees go for good food when they're done with work? Many restaurants close at 11 p.m. on weekends. Nightclubs don't kick patrons out until 1 a.m. And resorts never shut their doors. What's a starving late-shift staffer to do?
Keegan's used to be the "in" spot for the cooking crowd. But many are now heading to Western Pizza, a high-tech-looking eatery in Phoenix that's open until 3 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Debuted just six months ago, the pizza shop has become a favorite witching-hour haunt for staffers from Lon's, Mary Elaine's, Windows on the Green and Royal Palms Hotel.
It's also increasingly popular with ultra-trendy nightclubbers bored with Denny's -- recently a customer, worried about security at the late hour, parked his $50,000 Harley-Davidson inside Western Pizza's magnet-strewn steel walls. Don't you just wish you were there to tip it over?
Besides the predawn service, though, what's the draw? Take it from me: The pie is primo. My favorites are the two best sellers -- barbecue chicken with pine nuts; and mushroom, pepperoni, salami, ham, peppers and onions (the meat is layered high and thin like a hoagie, then buried under a truckload of mozzarella).
Western Pizza co-owner Brent Wolfe tells me his is "Canadian" pizza, but that simply means it's a spin-off of the 18-store Western Pizza based up north. Yet, the only Canadian influence is in the bubbly crisp dough and smooth tomato sauce. Everything else on the menu has been adapted to local tastes by Wolfe's wife and partner, Lisa.
It doesn't hurt that the portions are huge, either. Last week, Wolfe served a party of five "300-pound" bouncers from Sanctuary stopping in for a late-night snack. Against his dire warnings, they ordered three 18-inch pizzas, a large order of fries and gravy, and souviaki (Greek-herb pork on a stick). "Each pizza is about two and a half inches thick and weighs about 20 pounds," Wolfe says. "They tried very hard, but had to give up halfway through."
Given the store's instant popularity, Wolfe already plans to expand into Kierland in North Scottsdale, and to Mill Avenue in Tempe.
Should Chris Bianco be worried? I say no, and Wolfe agrees on the same points.
"Bianco's pie is really good," he explains. "But we're not selling comparable things. He's got his own fresh garden and more exotic ingredients. There's definitely room for both of us here."
Don't Gulp This Wine: Arizona has produced its first Master Sommelier, in an impressive accomplishment by Greg Tresner of Mary Elaine's. After studying for more than a decade, Tresner underwent a grueling, three-day exam with tests on theory, tasting and service, decanting and bizarre trivia like grape variety and soil conditions in obscure places.
This is a big deal, Phoenicians. There are only 42 Master Sommeliers in the country and just 97 worldwide. And Tresner's timing couldn't be better: Mary Elaine's has just doubled its wine selection to almost 2,000 of the globe's best labels.
A peek at Mary Elaine's wine list the other day sure made me swallow hard. There are some serious labels -- and serious prices -- being served at this tony Phoenician Resort restaurant. Wines by the bottle are available for up to $6,500. A magnum of 1945 Bordeaux-Sauternes produced by Chateau d'Yquem Semillon goes down smoothly for $12,000. And for those who limit their indulgence, by-the-glass selections include a 1795 Terrantez Madeira produced by Barbeito for a cozy $479.
There is one wine on Mary Elaine's huge list that I won't order, though, simply because I'd be hesitant to even try to pronounce it: Trockenbeerenauslese of Alois Kracher, a kicky little dessert wine from Germany.
Mary Elaine's is exotic. And with a $3 million wine collection, it's really expensive. But what else would we expect from a place that was recently designated as both an AAA Five Diamond and a Mobil Five Star restaurant?
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Blue Who: As if Paul Bigelow didn't have enough demands on his time managing Scottsdale's remaining Hops! Bistro & Brewery, he's teamed up with partner José Leyva to open Blue Adobe Grill in Mesa. I've been watching this former Taliano's space for the last few months, hoping against hope that its promised New Mexican cuisine would be wonderful.
Even though it's only been open a few weeks, it's got great potential. Imagine spicy New Mexican red and green chiles decking out tenderloin relleno, honey pork tamales, pecan-grilled chicken and jumbo-shrimp pasta. At this early date, there are still some hiccups (tamales are extraordinarily dry; rice is undercooked), but here's betting Bigelow and Leyva will soon have a winner on their hands.
Given that our long-standing New Mexican dining choice, Richardson's, has customers' undies in a bunch lately, Blue Adobe is a welcome alternative. I don't know what's motivating Richardson's staff lately, but reader complaints are on the rise about unfriendly service and subpar food.
After Dinner Mint: The "E" has disappeared from LEO. The Jewish-style deli, named as an acronym for "Late, Early, Often," has discontinued breakfast. Bummer. I liked the early-morning noshes of blintzes, smoked fish platters and eggs with kosher salami. The "L" actually is better -- the restaurant now remains open until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. "O" diners will notice some other menu changes: the addition of several non-deli-style plates like bacon-wrapped filet mignon, swordfish with papaya-red onion salsa and skirt steak with trendy sauces like portobello cabernet, garlic rosemary or spicy Argentine chimichurri.