Guilty Pleasures

The Roasted Elephant Garlic Plate at Rokerij in Phoenix is Transcendent

The Guilty Pleasure: Roasted garlic plate
Where to Get it: Rokerij, Richardson's, and Dick's Hideaway
Price: $16 (may vary by restaurant)
What it Really Costs: A double-pack of extra-strength Altoid mints and possibly the inability to stand within breathing range of your significant other for days. 

The ancient Romans called garlic the stinking rose, a nickname that nicely encapsulates the contradictory nature of this essential culinary ingredient. 

In its raw form, garlic is bitter and pungent. Once cooked, it mellows out, infusing everything it touches with immeasurable flavor. And its flavor seems to stretch in every direction. Garlic can be fragrant yet subtle, delicate yet pervasive. It can be sweet and nutty, but also biting and acrid. It's fitting, then, that garlic defies easy technical classification, existing somewhere between herb, spice, and veggie (though officially, it's part of the allium onion family). 

Garlic, in other words, is transcendent. 

One of the best places in town to indulge in garlic's multifaceted glory is at the Richardson's family of New Mexico-themed restaurants, which includes Richardson's, Rokerij and Dick's Hideaway. All three restaurants are located in uptown Phoenix, near the vicinity of 16th Street and Bethany Home Road, and all three feature a roasted-garlic plate on the menu. 

This isn't just any old roasted-garlic plate, though. You won't find a dainty assortment of olive-sized garlic cloves. This is a plate of roasted elephant garlic — enormous, bulging bulbs of garlic, roughly the size and shape of small, decorative pears, roasted just long enough to be soft and pliable. 

On a recent visit to Rokerij, the stylish underground restaurant and bar located just across the patio from Richardson's, the garlic plate was served with roasted strips of red and green chile peppers, blanketed under a glossy patch of melted cheese and tomato sauce. The plate was generously garnished with grilled pieces of white bread, ideal for sopping up all that extra cheese and sauce. And underneath all that decadence, the plate was lined with a thin, nearly translucent tortilla, which deliciously soaked up all the rich layers of flavor. 

But the star of this plate is undoubtedly the elephant garlic, which is roasted with olive oil in a 500-degree oven, so that when it lands on your table, the thick garlic stem, still attached to one of the bulbs, has been charred to a soft, chalky black. 

The garlic bulbs, swollen and glistening, are enormously flavorful: deep and earthy, yet somehow also mild and well-balanced. Elephant garlic is technically a wild leek, but these roasted bulbs impart the kind of sweet, rich flavor that you've come to expect from garlic. 

Sure, the roasted garlic plate may not be the prettiest plate of food in Phoenix, but it's easily one of the most flavorful things on the Rokerij menu. Plus, you get the added bonus of spending time at Rokerij, a cozy uptown spot that stays open until midnight every day. So, if you ever feel a strange, late-night yen for the rich flavors of slowly roasted garlic, now you know where to go. 

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Patricia Escárcega was Phoenix New Times' food critic.