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October 04, 2010

The Quarterly Report - Q3 2010

Corned Beef @ Chestnut Lane Dominic Armato

Man, this is great. No better way to help clean out the archives than the quarterly report. Wish I'd thought of this four years ago. 'Course, this is only about a third of the actual backlog... the ones that I don't think I could expand into full posts, or the ones for which I'm no longer clinging to the belief I someday might. Typically, they're based on an even smaller sample than a normal post. So, you know, weigh opinions appropriately. Here they are, in order determined by random.org:

Patty MeltDominic Armato

Jerry's Restaurant
2323 E Thomas Road, Phoenix, AZ 85016

"Nighthawks at the diner, Emma's 49er.
It's a rendezvous of strangers
around the coffee urn tonight..."

I may have some unreasonably romantic notions about diners. It comes from listening to too much Tom Waits. So when seeking something greasy at 2:00 AM, an independent joint on Thomas sounds a lot better than the closest outpost of 5 and Diner. Why do faux retro when you can do real retro? The menus make me sad, not for their contents but because they're playing to their competition by kitsching it up with illustrations and cute names. You're an old-school diner. Be an old-school diner. But on my last visit, two kids out way past curfew were drinking milkshakes and telling dirty jokes in the corner, the waitress finished every sentence with "Hon," and on my way out I crossed paths with the least convincing drag queen anywhere ever. So maybe things haven't changed all that much since the '70s. Foodwise, Jerry's certainly fits the bill. The griddled sandwiches are super crisp, the food's greasy without going over the top, and the salads are made with a wedge of industrial tomato, a slice of cucumber and an iceberg lettuce mix for which I'm sure many in the restaurant industry could name the exact Sysco catalog number. So after a couple of trips, it sure seems like everything I'm looking for in a late night diner. Don't get me wrong, I know a diner can transcend the greasy spoon stereotype. I've been there. But at 2:00 AM, I'm usually just looking for a newspaper and a decent cup of coffee and a sandwich that's greasy and salty and that I'm sure to regret about two hours later. That's Jerry's all over.

Sweet and Spicy BurgerDominic Armato

The Grind
3961 E. Camelback Road, Phoenix, AZ 85018

Yeah, I know, I wrote about The Grind in the last quarterly report. But there are two reasons I need to jump right back in. First, because my last few visits seem to indicate that their consistency issues are on the wane. The burger still might be cooked a half a step hotter than you ordered it, but all of the ones I've had since I last wrote have been ON. Second, I like to compile a list of my favorite dishes of the year at the end of the year, and I like to have already mentioned those dishes. So I'm mentioning it. This is the sweet and spicy burger, and it's currently ticketed for my favorites of the year. You know, the thousand degree oven sounds like a marketing ploy, but damn if that crust doesn't make these burgers fantastic. This one's topped with crisp tempura-fried ratatouille, fresh watercress and a sweet chile jam of sorts, and it's just killer. And as aggressive as that jam is, they use just enough to bring out the beef rather than killing it. That's the thing about The Grind, and why they've earned my devotion over some other local burger options. Even with the creative toppings, they're still about the beef.

Oaxaca SpecialDominic Armato

1202 E Mohave Street, Phoenix, AZ 85034

Props to Chow Bella for creating a little bit of "I want that" urgency a few weeks ago. Everybody else knows about Carolina's but me, it seems, and the place is awesome -- a total dive that's nonetheless jam-packed with just about every demographic represented in this city. It reminds me a little of Chicago's beef stands, where the best attract everybody, transcending the usual racial, ethnic and economic barriers that separate restaurant clientele. There's a lot on the menu, but the thing here is burros. Cheap burros. And why people call them burros here is still a mystery to me. But Carolina's is a total guilty pleasure, salty, spicy grease bombs wrapped in incredibly fresh flour tortillas. This would be some of the best booze food in the city if they didn't close up shop before happy hour is even over at some places. The Oaxaca Special, object of my culinary lust that brought me here in the first place, is filled with chorizo, beans, potato and cheese, and that pretty much tells you all you need to know about it. It appeals to your basest food instincts, and there are few things more enjoyable than embracing your basest food instincts from time to time.

Cau Cau de MariscosDominic Armato

Rincon Peruano
5925 W. Olive Avenue, Glendale, Arizona 85302

As part of the citywide Peruvian blitz that ended with me deciding I didn't really need to revisit anywhere other than Contigo Peru, I ate at three other places. Rincon Peruano is the only one that I feel bears mentioning, even if I can't recommend it all that highly. If I lived next door to it in Glendale, I'd probably still truck down to Mesa for Contigo. Of course, I realize not everybody shares my dedication to the entire Phoenix metro area when it comes to hitting my favorite spots. You could get a decent meal at Rincon Peruano, but I don't think it's going to go a long way towards winning over fans of the cuisine. The ceviche lacked punch, the anticuchos could have used a little more time in the marinade and the cau cau apparently got all of the lomo saltado's salt. Which I guess is all my way of saying that you should just drive down to Mesa.

Lobster CobbDominic Armato

Chestnut Lane
4225 E. Camelback Road, Phoenix, AZ 85018

UPDATE : Chestnut Lane has closed
I have an unhealthy affinity for "ladies who lunch" type places. Actually, healthy affinity is a more accurate way to put it. You know the breed of restaurant -- shabby chic interior, salads, soups, sandwiches, fresh ingredients, pretty presentations, small portions, big prices. It's a proven formula, and Chestnut Lane nails it right on the head in just the right 'hood. Really, everything I've had here had been light and delicious and light -- lobster cobb salad, not-so-creamy cream soup of the day, simple sandwiches made with Class A ingredients and meticulously wrapped in crisp paper. I write in passive-aggressive fashion because I hate admitting to myself that I love this stuff. Which isn't to say that I can't quibble. The pedantic food terminology police would like to point out that Guinness mustard, sweet pickles, vidalia onion and fontina cheese do not a "classic reuben" make, folks, no matter how tasty the sandwich. And while this particular oversized American tries to make it a point never to complain about portion size, I think some of the sandwiches would leave my three-year-old hungry. But I suppose that's what enables me to have both a salad and sandwich and spend $25 on my lunch. As an old high school roommate once said, the best kind of scam is the kind you recognize as a scam and participate in anyway. Of course, he was talking about "McDonald's has Monopoly" at the time. Our weaknesses have apparently become more refined and more expensive in the intervening years.

Aaron's ChoiceDominic Armato

9301 E. Shea Boulevard, Scottsdale, AZ 85260

Chompie's sandwiches, on the other hand, are triple the size but I wouldn't buy them at a third of the price (eek, that was coming out swinging). I lost count of the places where I read that Chompie's was a great place for a classic New York deli sandwich, but now I'm fighting the urge to track them all down and post angry rebuttals. It was one visit, but when you make corned beef sandwiches for a living, you don't wake up on the wrong side of the bed one day and suddenly get EVERYTHING wrong. Really, I think I've established myself not as a teardown blogger, but rather somebody who tries to look for the good. And in this case, I got nothin'. I'll take the blame for not noticing that the Aaron's special was on an onion roll rather than rye, but my blame ends there. And really, guys, I've bought a lot of onion rolls in my day and I don't think I've ever tasted one so insipid. I'd wager big that the cole slaw on the sandwich and the accompanying potato salad both came out of huge plastic tubs. All of which would be forgivable if the beef were good, but it's not. The corned beef was dry and tough with almost no fat and even less flavor. The "hot" pastrami was cold and had the consistency of boiled deli ham. I should've noticed up front that the menu mentioned that it was roasted(?) and steamed, but didn't say a thing about it being smoked. I hate to be so harsh based on a single lunch, but really, any long-established place touting itself as a New York deli that serves you a corned beef and/or pastrami sandwich that bad deserves it, no matter what the circumstances.


"I have an unhealthy affinity for "ladies who lunch" type places."---skilletdoux

Oh, that's nuthin'! Put a taco salad before me and I turn into Tinkerbell!

PS. Imagine being guarded inside a closed CP tent with only two canteens of water and a giant photo of Aaron's Choice before you! That's good training! Water discipline!

That you like "Ladies that Lunch" places is perhaps the most shocking thing I have ever read about you. A man who loves street food also loves places where there might be a flower on the table and a sports coat for lunch might be appropriate? Shocking.

My food shame is that I often think mayo makes something better.

Re: "And why people call them burros here is still a mystery to me"

Isn't this just a play on words? Burrito = little donkey, Burro = regular donkey. So are they just bragging about the portion size?


Anon Man... It's not about the flowers or sport coats. It's about everything being very light and fresh and meticulously prepared. Careful, precise, clean-tasting sandwiches and salads are a weakness.

And doesn't mayo usually make things better?

UKMatt... It's a good thought, but evidence doesn't support it. In fact, the burros here are actually a lot smaller than burritos elsewhere. They're the antithesis of the Mission burrito. Rather than stuffing them with everything under the sun plus three cups of rice, they tend to be more minimal.

Careful, precise, clean-tasting sandwiches and salads are a weakness.

Right. I like my sandwhiches big and messy and with lots of mayo, and you like yours with manicured bread and garlic aoili ($3 upcharge). We all have our secret shames.

Dom -

Sometime, you need to try Joe's Farm Grill out in Gilbert. Take the kids - it's a nice spot to let the kids roam while you get to eat nicely prepared, organic fast-food. I had an excellent lunch there - the onion rings and burger were very good. I wanted to try the tuna, but they were just getting their fish delivery when I got there and didn't have it prepped yet.

Good eats.

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