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Native American Comfort Foods: A Gem of Fall in Phoenix

A tray of fall comfort foods from Fry Bread HouseEXPAND
A tray of fall comfort foods from Fry Bread House
Chris Malloy

Fry Bread House in Phoenix cooks some of the city's great comfort food. Bread fried in oil, heaped with red chile and cheese. Tacos jammed with chorizo. Nachos. Pozole. A whole menu section of dessert fry breads. The options are tantalizing and many.

But when the calendar flips to fall, look to this landmark restaurant's Hatch chile stews and squash burro.

In some parts of town, in the tingling spaces within noseshot of a tumbling metal roasting chamber, you can feel the end of summer coming with the wild smell of roasting chiles. There is no doubt: Hatch chiles have arrived from New Mexico.

People and restaurants are treating them with metal and fire, to best tap into the ferocious spirit of the pepper. With that deeply roasted smell, you immediately know green chile across town is about to get a little better.

Come late summer and Hatch season, Fry Bread House buys the peppers in large sacks. The cooks roast the reputable green chiles, using some fresh, and freezing many so that the supply will last into the winter.

If you order a bowl of green chile in later summer or the first days of fall, when the temperature cools and you start to crave soupy warm foods, it will be made with Hatch chiles. In the murky, spiced depths of the green chile, you can see long shards of pepper. They have been stewed so long their vegetable shape almost melds with the nature of the soup, blending in like a chameleon.

This stew could probably power a McLaren or B-52. The spice is furious. It is an aggressive spice heat, though roasted, doesn’t torch your throat with the chile flamethrower that toasted peppers tend to. The heat is clean and lighter, strong but not overwhelming, leaving some power in your tongue to taste what else is in the stew: tomatoes, onions, tiny hunks of fatty beef.

On the side, wrapped in paper and foil, comes ceme’t. This hot, tortilla-like flatbread can be unfurled and dipped in the soup, breaking up the spice a little and bringing toasted-flour notes that go warmly with the potent stew.

The other fall dish you should look up at Fry Bread House is a squash burro.

This burro is currently on special. The word “squash” may put an expectation of an orange- or yellow-fleshed vegetable in your mind, and you may be disappointed to see green poking out of your ceme’t burro, once you’ve knifed or bitten in.

This squash burro is way better than it sounds.EXPAND
This squash burro is way better than it sounds.
Chris Malloy

There is nothing but squash, corn, and onions in this burro. Some salt and pepper, too. But there isn’t even cheese. And you sure won’t find any pickled onions or tight zags of crema anywhere within or without this grippable meal, as round as a soup can. Simplicity seems to be the guiding philosophy behind many of the best meals here in town. The propensity holds true here.

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How do a few indigenous vegetables have so much flavor?

This is the magic of this burro. It’s one of the most satisfying burros I’ve had in town, and I’m not quite sure how it works. Or rather, I know the improbable potentials of simplicity, the parroted aphorisms about modest parts and massive sums. And knowing this I am still surprised.

The ceme’t is thin, hot, and splotched with brown marks from the steel cooking disc. The corn and squash are cooked well, liberally stuffed into the tube of toasted wheat. And that, really, is all you need to step through a warm lunchtime portal right into fall.

The Fry Bread House. 4545 North Seventh Avenue, 602-351-2345.
Monday to Thursday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; closed Sunday.

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