Chow Bella

Phoenix-Area Restaurants Featured on Food Network's Mystery Diners Find a Mixed Bag of Reactions

Mystery Diners, the cheesy new reality TV show on Food Network, has been focusing its high beams on metro Phoenix for the past month, featuring Haus Murphy's in Glendale, The Groves in Gilbert, Caffe Boa in Tempe, Blue Moose in Scottsdale, Big Earl's Greasy Eats in Cave Creek and Amaro Pizzeria and Vino Lounge (also in Cave Creek) in endless loops of restaurant drama.

And, apparently, people are watching. This can be a very, very good thing or a very, very bad thing, depending on the premise and details of the episode.

Frank Vairo of Amaro Pizzeria couldn't be happier about Managing Disaster, the episode that spotlighted his Cave Creek restaurant.

In that episode, a creepy, horn-dog manager hired a pretty woman over a plain-looking one, then sexually harassed the new hire. Vairo says Mystery Diners has brought him customers from New York, Georgia, and Louisiana, as well as locals who've driven up from Gilbert and Apache Junction.

He even got a call from Sir Mix-a-Lot's right-hand man, saying the famous MC and producer wanted to rent out Amaro for a Sunday night. Apparently, Mix-a-Lot is a Food Network fan.

Vairo swears his episode was based on reality and given little embellishment, adding, "In the restaurant business, sexual harassment is rampant. You're always going to have attractive women and douchebag managers."

But that's not how it went down for the citizens of Cave Creek, who are mad as hell over the way their town was portrayed in the Big Earl's Greasy Eats episode. And they've got a point.

In Big Earl's Gone Wild, a bartender lets staff members and customers stay to party after-hours, telling them to help themselves while she retires to the restroom with a random male customer.

In the June 20 issue of the Sonoran, a Cave Creek businessman (name withheld by request) writes an outraged open letter to Big Earl's owner and Cave Creek city councilwoman Kim Brennan , saying the show made the town "look like white trash" and surely couldn't have done any favors for other local businesses, who have now been tainted with Big Earl's special brand of sleaze.

The columnist who re-printed the letter went on to say that he'd learned from Big Earl's ex-employees that the supposedly longtime bartender "Claire" had been hired two days before the episode, and that all the partiers in the episode were hired actors.

It's certainly a strong possibility. Commenters on Chow Bella's previous Mystery Diner post were quick to point out that the show seemed completely fake, and the tip-off was the painfully stilted dialogue. No surprise there. If the show is 100 percent scripted, then restaurant owners are required to be pretty convincing actors.

I've called a few of the local restaurants who've been on Mystery Diners, and the employees I've spoken to all have been very guarded. They say they can't speak for the owners, and, conveniently enough, I can't seem to reach the owners.

But here's my conclusion. Whether Mystery Diners is reality or fiction, it's still lousy TV.

Check Mystery Diners for upcoming local episodes.

If there's something new to add to the story, we'll keep you posted.

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Nikki Buchanan