Cafe Reviews

More Indie Breakfast Spots, Convenient Banh Mi, and Other Culinary Wishes for 2010

Sexy black leather boots. Rosetta Stone software to learn Spanish. Maybe a wine- and tapas-filled trip to Barcelona. And forget about snow — I'm dreaming of white truffles.

I want all kinds of stuff, and not just because it's Christmas. All year long, I'm not shy about saying what I want, and sometimes it actually happens. This past year, after constantly wondering aloud why somebody doesn't launch a great gourmet cheese shop, Lara Hardwick finally opened Petit Fromage, on Seventh Avenue. So I'm going to make a lot more wishes and see what happens in 2010. What's on my list?

1. More great indie breakfast spots. Man, it really shouldn't be so freaking hard to find breakfast. Especially downtown, there's a sad lack of simple, down-to-earth places to get your grub on in the a.m. — and weekend brunch doesn't count.

Good luck finding excellent pancakes, sausage, coffee, you name it, on a random Tuesday morning, for example. Matt's Big Breakfast has never let me down, but CenPho could stand to have another half-dozen Matt's, sans the wait at the door. I usually don't have time, and you probably don't either.

Likewise, I'd clone spots like Harlow's in Tempe and The Orange Table in Scottsdale, where the food is so tasty that it outshines anything else you'll eat all day. The recent boom in Central Phoenix independent coffee shops is at least a good start, though — I just hope they bring some kind of snacks and pastries into the equation.

2. A proliferation of interesting food trucks. In New York City, Los Angeles, Portland, and other major cities, you can eat really well by following mobile food vendors on Twitter, and then heading to wherever they're parked for a cheap gourmet bite to eat. For ambitious chefs who can't swing the overhead on a restaurant, it's an easy way to feed the masses.

But even though the trucks were one of 2009's biggest trends, they basically bypassed the Valley. Restrictions on licensed street vendors in Phoenix include a one-hour parking limitation — tough for anyone to set up, get the word out, and do much business within those constraints. Not to mention, vending's not allowed between 7 p.m. and sunrise, basically prime time for dinner and late-night munchies.

Since Phoenix is so car-centric to begin with, though, the area seems ripe for such a phenomenon (à la L.A.). I'm sick of envying other places for stuff like this — and I know local creatives who are interesting in operating trucks of their own. Now if only the law would accommodate it . . .

3. Big bags of money for chef Nobuo Fukuda. Santa can leave the sack of toys back at the elf workshop. The pesky recession has spooked a lot of investors out of supporting new restaurant projects around town, and James Beard Award-winning chef Nobuo Fukuda's still-unnamed izakaya is a prime example of a buzzworthy restaurant waiting to happen as soon as there's funding.

When it eventually opens, it'll be a moderately priced tavern where he plans to serve stylish but down-to-earth Japanese food. Depending on which location works out for him, he may also feature exquisite kappo tasting menus, along the lines of his cutting-edge cuisine at Sea Saw, which closed earlier this year.

Dinner at Sea Saw was always my present of choice for any gift-receiving occasion; now I'm just eager to eat Fukuda's food by any means necessary.

4. Mobs of hungry people at CityScape. Along with ASU Downtown and the light rail, Phoenix has really hung its hopes on the enormous downtown mixed-use project that finally opens in 2010, albeit in stages. And if all goes according to the current plan, the place will be filled not with chains that you can find in any city, but with locally owned restaurants. One of them, The Breakfast Club, will even be a tiny answer to my first Christmas wish.

The catch is that the development needs to be busy all the time, not just on game nights. If it does, it'll benefit the whole area and will inevitably lead to even more restaurants. If it doesn't, it could turn out like Scottsdale's chichi-but-sleepy SouthBridge, which still isn't up to full speed and has already had so much turnover. I hope CityScape takes off like a rocket.

5. More TV cameras. Guy Fieri is great for business. The star of the Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives has found a treasure trove of television fodder in the Valley, turning unassuming but great little restaurants into TV-worthy features. From Glendale's La Piazza al Forno, where the aroma of pizza wafts down the street, to Gilbert's idyllic burger joint, Joe's Farm Grill, Fieri's found all kinds of local spots to love, and the national exposure gives them a good bump.

Once producers discover that the local culinary scene goes well beyond diners, drive-ins, and dives — think of all the ethnic spots, fine-dining destinations, farmers markets, and self-promoting chefs who'd happily ham it up for the camera — they'll be showing up in droves.

So keep coming back, Guy, and bring more TV people with you.

6. Something unexpected. I adore an amazing, perfectly cooked steak. I love to sink my teeth into a juicy burger. I must be made out of pizza, if we are what we eat. And who could turn down a cupcake?

But the thrill of the new is a thrill, indeed. It's not a stretch to predict that we'll continue to see more new upscale steakhouses and gourmet pizza places and the like — I'm just eager to see what else is in the works.

How about a good slice of pie?

7. A Vietnamese banh mi shop near the New Times building. And finally, on a completely selfish, microcosmic level, I wish somebody would open up a cheap joint where I could eat when I'm on deadline. Bags of vending machine pretzels aren't cutting it. With barbecued pork sandwiches and sweet, potent iced coffee to fuel hours of typing, 2010 could be one hell of a productive year.

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Michele Laudig
Contact: Michele Laudig