Cafe Reviews

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Restaurant Roundup: Another Valley institution has gone to that great happy hour in the sky. For years, Scottsdale rib house Don and Charlie's has put out the mother of all happy-hour buffets. People would line up a half-hour before the doors opened, then rush in and demolish the high-quality freebies spread out before them. Sometimes, they'd even order more than one drink. Proprietor Don Carson writes me that he's been forced to make a change: "I was not able to utilize my banquet room for private parties, and because of this conflict I have eliminated the old happy-hour format." The new format involves charging for munchies. A half-slab of the trademark baby back ribs goes for $4.50; garlic cheese toast is $1.75; onion strings, $2.25; fried shrimp, $4.50; shrimp cocktail, $4.50; fried calamari, $3.50; chicken tenders, $2.50; stuffed cabbage roll, $1.50; and shrimp de Jonghe, $4.50. To help loyal customers get over the shock of paying for something they used to get for nothing, the restaurant has been handing out $5 happy-hour gift certificates. Don and Charlie's is at 7501 East Camelback. Happy hour is Monday through Friday, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Look for a late-June opening of EVOZ American Bar and Grill at the Scottsdale spot recently vacated by LaMorte's, and before that, Skip's Grill. According to the PR folks, the place will have a Harley motorcycle theme. It's at 7108 East Stetson. Lathrop's short run has come to an end. I thought the place had promise when it opened last fall, but apparently it never hit its stride. Taking over at 5201 North Central is Peppercorn Duck, a Southwest Restaurant Group venture. The company runs several Valley restaurants, including the excellent T-Bone Steakhouse and the popular tourist haunt Pinnacle Peak Patio. Here's hoping that Franco's Trattoria, this town's best northern Italian restaurant, will find new digs soon. Franco refused to renew his lease when it expired about six weeks ago--the place could only accommodate about 45 diners. He's trying to keep his staff together while looking around. With any luck, he should be reopening by the time the temperature starts dipping under 100.

Finally, I was checking out Tempe recently, and noticed that Shalimar, an Indian restaurant tucked away by the mosque at 616 South Forest, was virtually empty at dinnertime. I'm surprised. You'd think the good fare and reasonable prices would attract the student community and ethnic-food crowd. I remember particularly enjoying the vegetarian dishes. Pick a Peck of Pepper: Want to grow your own? Hot pepper, that is. You might want to get in touch with the Pepper Gal, a mail-order firm specializing in pepper seeds. It currently offers more than 200 scalding varieties. It's run by Betty and Bob Payton, who coincidentally head the National Hot Pepper Association, an 800-strong group of people apparently immune to stomach problems. For $20 a year, members get a quarterly newsletter filling them in on what's hot, and what's not. Call 1-305-565-4972 for more info. Put Down That Pizza and Come Out With Your Hands Up: Federal attorneys are set to prosecute an Alabama man for fraudulently buying $5,000 worth of pizza. Trade paper Restaurant News reports that Alex Thomas lifted the credit-card numbers of guests at the hotel where he worked. Then he'd phone in an order for four to six pizzas. He did this 73 times. The U.S. attorney said the suspect gave away some of the pizzas, but added, "We believe he ate most of them himself.

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Howard Seftel