I generally don’t visit the same place more than once – a quick glance at my blog would prove this point; Alinea, Eleven Madison Park, Bouchon, and The Griddle Café round out a list of spots that I’ve experienced more than twice, and all are places where the food and the people made me want to go back as soon as I walked out the door. Sure there have been other restaurants that have stirred such emotions but for whatever reason – generally distance or a desire to try something new – I have not yet had the opportunity. With that said, I’ve now been to La Grande Orange Grocery and Pizzeria four times in four months and if you count Chelsea’s kitchen as part of the LGO empire that number becomes five – the most times I’ve been to any single space except perhaps the quick casual and fast food restaurants I frequented during my childhood and early years of college.
Described simply as “an organic coffee and breakfast bar, café, pizzeria, and funky retail grocery” La Grande Orange was one of the first places I visited on my seminal trip to Phoenix and the place I first suggested to my mother after driving cross country to pick up gifts for my sister and aunt back home. Sort of like The Cracker Barrel (for mainstream reference – I apologize to those I may have offended) or Southport Grocery and Café (more appropriately) in scope with a small store and bakery up front and a full-fledged kitchen/restaurant in back I’d originally planned to write my standard review of LGO and all of the things I’ve purchased, eaten, and loved but eventually decided that such a mission would be shortsighted and considering the fact that I now own a home in Phoenix also rather futile – unless they close/burn down or I move/die this list will simply grown and grow. Instead what I will do from here on out is seasonal updates with salient notes and pictures; from the black and white garden gnome salt&pepper shakers, toad banks and elk-horn knives to the baked goods, pancakes, and pizzas I love this place.
Ethiopian Reserve Coffee/Decaf/Black and Tan from ROC2: I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that at least half the reason I spend so much time at LGO is related to the free Wi-Fi and copious refills of coffee from The Roastery of Cave Creek. Owned and operated by Dave Anderson and Michael Smith with operations not far from my home I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy some of their single origins from Central America, but for a blend the two offered up at LGO are both excellent with brighter citrus notes accenting the Ethiopian and lower cocoa and earthen notes in the Black and Tan. Beats wildflower or paradise any day of the week in the battle for best freely refillable coffee.
Croque Madame with Whole Wheat, Tomato, Egg, Ham, Gruyere: I don’t like Dijon and as such I requested the Croque without and what I received was superlative as the savory ham and aged gruyere were briny and bold yet tamed admirably by the crusty bread and sweet, bright tomatoes. Topped off with a runny egg, sea salt, and just a touch of cracked pepper this wasn’t quite a traditional croque but it was delicious…though the accoutrements of sour pickles and sweet melon didn’t really ‘fit.’
Famous French Pancakes with honey, strawberries, and crème fraiche: My grandmother was Hungarian and as I remember it she was also a very good cook, a talent my mother unfortunately did not inherit save for a couple of dishes; one of these dishes was Hungarian palacsinta or sweet pancakes. Sort of like a French crepe but with a bit more tooth LGO’s “French Pancakes” reminded me much more of palacsinta than crepe and while others may think this a bad thing I thought it was sublime. When mom comes back to visit this is on the short list of ‘must tries.’
Baked Chicken Wings with Point Reyes Blue Cheese: From the “LGO Pizzeria” menu that begins service at 4pm on weekdays and 11am on weekends it’d be hard for me to imagine a better way to watch football in a public space than at La Grande Orange. Not a fan of bars, beers, or greasy bites LGO offers up a tasteful menu of traditional American gameday fare highlighted by these $1/ea. seared, seasoned, baked to order wings. Featuring organic chicken, plenty of heat, and just a bit of char what really sets these wings apart is how plump and juicy they remain even without frying and also the dressing – a sort of “ranch” with subtle sourness, lots of chives, and big chunks of bleu cheese throughout.
LGO Pizzeria Pizza – Half Classic Margherita and Half Roasted Corn with Laura Chenel Goat Cheese, Corn, roasted tomatoes, and basil: An interesting pie to say the least, what strikes me most about LGO’s pizza is the crust – a sort of sourdough starter that the team is making when the place opens at 6:30am and allowing to rise on the counter as lunch/dinner approaches. Topped with the superior ingredients that LGO is well known for and slathered with a lot of quality olive oil plus a bit of butter the crust gets a great crunch without getting much char and although the oven isn’t hot enough to generate the same blister as Bianco or Pomo (particularly as the bakers are opening/closing it frequently to put new pizzas in and take finished ones out) the structure remains supple with a great chew. Much more willing to go half/half than the vast majority of high end pizzerias these days I found the Margherita as good as the ingredients, though they went a bit light on the tomatoes for my tastes while the Roasted corn was excellent, the smoky sweetness of the corn proving a perfect foil to the punchy chevre.
Blueberry Muffin with Whole Wheat Streusel: Admitting my sweet tooth and wearing it on my sleeve, the first of many pastries sampled at LGO (aside from the Red Velvet Cupcake during my recruitment trip) was this, a killer whole wheat muffin topped with buttery cinnamon streusel and literally bursting with fresh blueberries. Clearly seasonal with their focus on using fresh, never frozen ingredients I was stunned by the quality of the berries as summer had recently come to a close but hefty in butter and berries while light and fluffy on the bite this was a great muffin.
Pumpkin Spice Muffin: A second muffin, this one just before Halloween, was even better than the first in terms of composition – and with a surprise burst of tangy cream cheese filling on the inside a contender for best pumpkin novelty I’ve had in recent memory. Big and bold with the flavors of pumpkin, cinnamon, and nutmeg all perfuming the palate and moist like pumpkin pie without being wet I particularly loved the salty toasted pumpkin seeds topping off the muffin – a savory touch that worked nicely with the sweet filling.
English Muffin with Blackberry Preserves: Not technically a muffin like those above, but perhaps LGO’s most famous muffin (can be shipped worldwide by the dozen) this moist and doughy take on the classic is probably pretty good from your home toaster, but what makes it worth the $2 on site is the treatment – butter lacquered and cooked on the stovetop providing the outside a crisp bite that gives way to the pillow within. A bag of these and a jar of local honey, preserves, or pretty much any topping sold at LGO Grocery would make for a lovely start to Sunday breakfast at home.
Blackberry Almond Dumpling: If this is available at LGO you should do yourself a favor and buy two. Powder sugar dusted and crispy like a croissant on its exterior with a wispy pull-apart interior somewhere between the aforementioned croissant and a cinnamon roll this ‘dumpling’ was rife with frangipane and fresh blackberries, but more so with butter. Served warm and well-endowed to make a substantial mess of clothing both black and white I would recommend this one only as a fork and knife pastry, though any mess you make will be worth it.
Pistachio Chocolate Cream Puff: A cream puff per LGO but a dressed up Paris Brest to me this wheel of choux was perhaps not as texturally sound or traditional as some of the hazelnut versions of France and elsewhere but with crackling pastry topped with a cocoa shell and crunchy pistachios plus an interior of pistachio tinged pastry cream it would be hard to be disappointed by this one. Every bit as unique as Dominique Ansel’s Paris/NY but not quite as decadent I personally loved the sweet meets savory aspects of this one but would definitely go early as the shell was starting to get a bit moist by the time I enjoyed this around noon.
Crème Fraiche Coffee Cake: I’ll totally admit to being a sucker for coffee cake, and even more for butter cake – but prior to entering La Grande Orange that Saturday morning I had no idea there was crème fraiche cake. With the traditional style obviously focused on sour cream, or in the rare case cream cheese, this take would up the ante in the savories department and with sours nicely balanced by cinnamon and what I swear was cardamom and maybe even rosemary I could have eaten a whole loaf of this if LGO had provided me jam. With a fine crumb and delicately sweet this went great with coffee but I could see it equally well suited alongside afternoon tea and sandwiches or cheese.
Old Timer Cupcake: Having already enjoyed the Red Velvet cupcake on a prior visit (as well as the Red Velvet Cake from LGO at Chelsea’s Kitchen earlier that day) I decided to try the Old Timer on my most recent visit to LGO and while I’m not sure if you can call it a cupcake since it is covered top to bottom with a crunchy dark chocolate shell and therefore more like a Ding Dong (or King Don for you Midwesterners) it is still quite delicious as the dark chocolate shell, airy chocolate angel food cake, and light cream all come together much like the classic Hostess version, but with a bit less of the artificial sweetness. Great with a cup of coffee there is really nothing ‘special’ here, just a really good piece of chocolate cake that goes nicely with a cup of coffee (or a big glass of milk.)
AtoZ Cookie and French Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookie: Two more things that go great with milk or coffee, these half pound cookies are without a doubt amongst the best I’ve ever tasted. Two choices amongst a daily half-dozen or so each of these decadent creations sets a high standard for texture with the outer rim slightly crisp while the interior falls just short of ‘set’ but where they truly excel are the ingredients – the former a sort of kitchen sink concoction of corn flakes, caramel, oats, toffee, and who knows what else while the second is simply a perfect dark chocolate chunk cookie heavily garnished with a hefty shake of fresh flaked fleur de sel. Go early when they’re warm – and before they sell out.
Campfire Smores Brownie: In a word, decadent and in another, intense; for the chocolate lover this is an absolute must (but even then it is probably best shared.) Dense, moist, and rife with dark chocolate while house made marshmallows and graham crackers attempt to add some levity this certainly isn’t an everyday treat but as a capper to a an LGO pizza it worked quite nicely.
Having experienced such great food at the grocery and pizzeria a trip down 40th street to LGO Hospitality’s proper restaurant – Chelsea’s Kitchen – would prove to be much of the same and with brunch service starting at 9:30am I arrived just a few minutes after the doors opened to find the patio already partially filled as the warm sun and late October breeze filtered through the space. A large restaurant with an enormous open kitchen, plenty of seating, and vastly more parking than the grocery I’d heard some mixed things about Chelsea’s but with the same high standards of food, service, and setting I really enjoyed my visit – though perhaps not QUITE as much as my frequent stops down the street.
Hotcakes: Having asked my server, Jenna, if I could order the children’s hotcakes as a side dish to my main course I was instead offered the option of an individual cake for $2 (as opposed to the children’s $6) and happy to take her up on the offer the hotcake turned out to be light, fluffy, and golden brown; perhaps not the most exciting option on the menu but a textbook example of how a pancake should be done – particularly when paired with high quality pure maple syrup.
Dixie Pan-Fried Chicken with Mashed Potatoes and Grilled Vegetables: The main reason I visited Chelsea’s on the day that I did was because I was going to noca for the Fried Chicken showdown that evening – what better way to prepare for fried chicken than with fried chicken? With that noted, the comparison between the bird from Chelsea’s and that of noca, fnb, or any other are a little bit difficult because of the style of preparation, but all things being equal what I really enjoyed about the chicken at Chelsea’s was the moisture content of the meat and comparatively light breading overlying the well brined bird. Crisp and savory with just a bit of spice further enhanced by the peppery potatoes this was down home comfort food – like the hotcakes nothing fancy, just well-made with superior ingredients, though I will say the mashed potatoes and vegetables could have used a bit more salt…and the chicken was even better with a drizzle of the leftover maple syrup from the hotcakes.
Red Velvet Cake with Butter Pecan Gelato from Grateful Spoon and Fresh Mint: A thick slice of LGO’s classic cake served with a scoop of butter pecan gelato from Grateful Spoon and a mint leaf – much like my meal at Lo-Lo’s it wouldn’t have seemed right to end a breakfast of fried chicken without a slice of red velvet and while I still prefer the version at Lo-Lo’s overall it is only by the slimmest of margins and based entirely on a personal preference for a sweeter frosting, something La Grande Orange shies away from, instead focusing on the slightly sour notes to help temper the otherwise dense chocolate cake. Six of one, half dozen of the other – and the gelato was excellent, though more butter than pecan, and definitely upping the dish’s sweetness factor but a significant degree.
A great room and a lovely patio with professional service and fresh, natural, and delicious food I’m sure I’ll find myself back a Chelsea’s Kitchen soon – but likely not before a good dozen additional visits to the grocery and pizzeria.