Lunch $10 and Under at Hillside Spot

Things have changed at Hillside Spot, the Ahwatukee breakfast joint owned by Gallo Blanco chef Doug Robson. For one thing, it's not just breakfast and lunch anymore. Hillside Spot now stays open until 9 p.m. on weeknights and 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday for dinner. The airy little eatery is so popular on Sundays when the Ahwatukee Farmers' Market is in season that the "order-at-the-counter and grab a seat" format is temporarily suspended during morning rush hours.

We checked in early one Sunday afternoon, just as the farmers' market was closing up shop for the day. A friendly hostess slash cashier seated us at the bar area overlooking the open kitchen, where we could see a handful of chefs slicing MJ Bread, scrambling eggs and slow-cooking barbecued meats. The feel of the farmers' market carries over to Hillside Spot. It's like the cafe is a living, breathing organism -- you can feel the energy flowing here.   

Hillside Spot is open and airy, with lofty industrial ceilings, a natural wood bar and a cozy patio where guests can warm themselves by a fire on brisk days. It's usually packed on weekend mornings, though the friendly, community feel has always prompted locals to share their tables with us on previous visits.

Breakfast is served until 4 p.m., along with a menu of lunch items including an affordable rice bowl, cheeseburger plate and Chilaquiles Verdes (corn tortilla casserole with chicken, cheese and eggs) for $9 each. Everything on the breakfast menu clocks in at less than $10, from the pastries and muffins to banana caramel pancakes ($7.50), levain & lox ($7), egg torta ($6) and $5 oatmeal. Torn between breakfast and the tasty bruschetta offerings with a side of roasted Mexican style corn-on-the-cob ($4), we opted for a Croque Madame ($8) -- the classic open-faced sandwich with ham, melted cheese and an egg on top.  

The Croque Madame arrived in short order, a hefty slice of MJ bread topped with ham and oozing gruyere. The bread was thick and crusty, yet still soft in the middle indicating freshness. 

MJ's levain tastes similar to wheat, with a rustic homemade quality. It's the kind of bread your great-grandmother would recognize if she were here today. The deli ham was salty, with a touch of sweetness, and the melted gruyere delightfully earthy with a nutty undertone.

The over-medium egg was perfectly cooked, with a slightly runny yolk and firm whites. As we dug in, the yolk oozed out over the sides of the sandwich, serving as a stand-in for the Bechamel we noticed on the menu description but not on the sandwich. Perhaps the chefs at Hillside went light on the creamy sauce and it blended into the gooey cheese, or maybe they left it off in favor of the egg we added? The Croque was scrumptious with or without it.   

As we got up to leave, a couple with several farmers' market bags "oohed" and "aahed" over the bakery case at the front counter. We couldn't help but stand alongside them as they asked about each item. And we couldn't help but take home a slice of the sweet cherry scented almond-apple coffee cake for just a few bucks more. As dangerous as that bakery case can be to our waistline, Hillside Spot's fresh, natural eats and community vibe always seem to hit the spot.

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