In a five-page, single-spaced letter sent to me last week, the Sirrines point out that "every major newspaper and magazine has given us an award and a great review for what we have accomplished in our food and buildings since we opened a year and a half ago, except you."
There are more than 10,000 eating and drinking establishments in Arizona. I'd say Rancho de Tia Rosa is in pretty good company with the many thousands of fine restaurants that didn't get Best of Phoenix awards, either.
But the real thorn in the Sirrines' side is about who did get an award, Gecko Grill in Gilbert. The Gecko was designated Best Az-Mex Restaurant, lauded for its gringo-friendly Sonoran-style fare like tacos, tamales, enchiladas, burros, tostadas and such, all homemade with fresh-daily ingredients.
The problem? The Gecko is owned by Francisco and Jose Moreno, who used to work for the Sirrines at their previous restaurant, Rosa's Mexican Grill in Mesa. After quitting Rosa's, the Morenos opened Gecko about a year ago, and according to the Sirrines, the pair burglarized not only secret family recipes from them, but also furniture.
"Their shrimp tacos are just like ours, their fish tacos are just like ours, their salsa is just like ours, their spinach enchilada is just like ours . . . I even saw a dozen of my chairs from Rosa's in their new restaurant that they stole."
The Sirrines feel ripped off that we gave "their" award to "copycats." Yet this is not the first time I've pointed out to restaurateurs that it's pretty impossible to copyright food. Okay, so both Rancho and Gecko have spinach enchiladas topped with creamy green chile sauce. But so does Manuel's Mexican Food, a chain restaurant.
"Of course there are similarities on our menu," Francisco Moreno says. "[The Sirrines] taught me to cook. We're both fighting for best quality ingredients."
Moreno says he's sorry the Sirrines are so upset, and if they really want the Best of Phoenix award, they can come to his restaurant and pick up the plaque.
As for the chairs, Moreno says they were given to him as trade for work at Rosa's. "I told [Dennis] before he could take them back if he wanted, and he didn't. I don't even have them anymore; I gave them away."
Now everyone just relax and get back to cooking.