…nearly a month after my trip to The Bay my interview travels would take me to Phoenix/Scottsdale, a place I’d never really considered before, but a place with a job that just seemed “right” and a number of fellow gourmands, foodies, and chow-hounds who really reached out with their recommendations and offers to meet up for meals – a great group, each and every one. With days jammed packed with interviews, practice visits, sightseeing, and a hockey game this short trip would actually prove to be a little tricky in planning but after getting a general feel for the local logistics the restaurants fell into place nicely with breakfast, lunch, and dinner planned strategically each day along with a few snacks. Beginning first with breakfast, just as my trip did, there were three proper sit down breakfasts in The Valley and the first took place less than an hour after I hopped of the plane at The Farm at South Mountain.
With bags packed light and my car easily obtained the drive to Morning Glory Café would be a straight forward 15 minutes from Sky Harbor Airport and arriving at the large farm I proceeded down the gravel path through gardens of streaming sunlight that I quite simply did not expect to see in the “desert.” With signs delineating the location of the café (and the oft raved Quiescence next door) parking was found under a shady tree and checking the thermostat, 87 degrees Fahrenheit at 8:45am) I hopped out of the car and walked down the path to the restaurant only to find the patio approximately 1/3 full. Greeted promptly by a thin young woman and subsequently by the elderly gentleman who would be my server I was told to “sit anywhere you like.”
Selecting a seat in the shade as my pale Midwestern complexion certainly was not ready for an hour in the Arizona sun it would be mere moments before Cliff would stop by with the menu and a bucket of condiments to inform me of the daily pastry special and to ask if I had any questions. Requesting a coffee I was informed that the coffee, water, and tea are all “help yourself” and suggesting I’d need a minute to browse the menu I was told to take my time.
With the menu concise but full of excellent choices largely consisting of locally sourced meats and organic produce I spent a few moments weighing my decision and with my choices made I motioned to Cliff who stopped by to take my order and warn me “you’d better be hungry” before departing for the kitchen. Undeterred by his warning I next proceeded to the coffee stand where biodegradable cups and lids were provided for both water and coffee and after getting a cup of each I returned to my seat where I sipped the thin and mildly acidic locally roasted Café Cortez coffee while awaiting my appetizer.
Prebaked but still warm, the first item to arrive at my table would be the pastry of the day – a Blueberry Muffin nearly the size of my fist and bespeckled with crystals of cane sugar. First tasting the muffin as it was and then gilding the proverbial lily with salted California Dairies butter the muffin would prove to be quite impressive in its density but also in its fluffiness as the medium-size blueberries burst with flavor within the buttermilk batter with tinges of cinnamon tickling the palate.
With coffee refilled and a short wait as the patio filled another pair of tables with locals (and regulars judging by the greeting) Cliff would arrive perhaps twenty minutes after I was seated with the main course – the “Farm Monte Cristo” consisting of two thick slices of fluffy rustic French Toast sandwiched around slow baked local ham, two over easy eggs, and melting cheddar cheese. Apparently expecting me to be overwhelmed by the size Cliff offered me a “good luck and bon appetite” before stepping away and with that I set out to douse the amalgam with warm organic maple syrup and take a bite; a bite that more or less redefined the Monte Cristo for all time as the bread was not the least bit oily but rather light and fluffy with a nearly croissant textured interior and slight yeasty notes mellowed by the syrup and the powdered sugar. Moving next to the ham – young, fresh, lean, and salty – and then the sharp cheddar and creamy eggs the flavor was in a word “perfect;” salty, sweet, creamy, crunchy, and at the same time surprisingly light. It was not only the best breakfast item I had in Phoenix, but the best sandwich I’ve had in a very long time.
With Cliff returning surprised that I’d finished the meal and offering me a “good job” I joked (well, not really joked as I really did go for pastry and pizza afterward) that the sandwich “wasn’t that big, but it was THAT good” and thanking him for the service I requested the tab while getting yet another coffee to enjoy while I checked my mail and another cup to go. Noting now that the experience of such a great sandwich, setting, and service is not “cheap” ($23 with tax and tip) I can say without a doubt that if I do end up in Phoenix long term Cliff will not make the mistake of underestimating my capacity again because without a doubt I’ll be a regular.
With a whole day of eating including a 26-course masterpiece at Binkley’s behind me the second day of my trip to the Valley would be a clinic day…starting at 8:00…which of course meant a 10 mile run at 5:00am was not out of the question, nor was breakfast beforehand, in this case a place recently brought to national attention by (insert synonym for annoying) food personality Guy Fieri – Over Easy Café. Not particularly a fan of Fieri but having found some of his recommendations to at least be interesting (and in the case of Rino’s Place occasionally outstanding) the restaurant fit my time frame as well as location and as such I decided to give it a go.
Arriving shortly after the doors opened at 6:30 Over Easy Café was easily located via GPS and attached to the Phoenix Coyotes Ice Den practice facility I allocated parking quickly and after a quick browse of the rink I made my way into the café – a starkly decorated seemingly converted office space with a breakfast bar and Formica all around and with a few tables of patrons already seated I was greeted at the door with the suggestion to sit anywhere I like. In this case electing for a two-top near the doors I took my seat where silverware wrapped in napkins along with the menu were already in place and grabbing a copy of the local paper I started to peruse the menu moments before service would arrive, a pleasant young lady named Samantha who appeared to be the only server working the room.
Clearly a place for regulars as nearly ever patron to enter after me was greeted by name Samantha welcomed me and filling my water asked if I’d like coffee while I perused the menu; an offer I gladly agreed to when I noted that they were serving the same locally roasted Café Cortez as the day prior at Morning Glory.
With my coffee being readied and having already perused the online menu I would be ready to order by the time Samantha returned and with the time just before 7:00 I opted for two dishes, both garnering a “good choice,” and sat back to read the paper and listen to the overhead radio while I waited perhaps fifteen minutes for my plates to arrive.
With service efficient and friendly throughout my stay and coffee maintained near full along with my water my two plates would arrive simultaneously and having heard some (Food Network) call Over Easy the best breakfast in the state while the posters on the walls hailed Fieri’s commentary I started first with their signature item of Waffle Dogs, three chorizo spiced pork breakfast sausages on sticks dipped in the house waffle batter and fried to a golden brown and dusted with powdered sugar. Warned that these were hot in temperature but mild in flavor Samantha suggested a combination of maple syrup (not authentic maple, mind you) and hot sauce as a condiment for this and first tasting the Dogs themselves and then with syrup and sauce I had to admit they were better dressed but not terribly impressive either way. A bit spicy and a nice blend of sweet and savory the overall impression was that yes, this was kind of like a corndog, but without the cornbread and thus inferior. Light and without oiliness the crispness was appreciated, but overall rather lacking for a “signature” dish.
Moving next to my second selection, the better of the two by some degree, a half order of Caramelized banana & pecan French toast was delivered – a dish that would clearly be tasty based simply on ingredients, but actually a nice preparation with the single slice of buttery brioche crisp on the exterior and custard like on the inside topped with fresh bananas, crunchy pecans, and a thick caramel sauce that tasted good on the toast and equally delicious spooned into my coffee. Certainly not a breakfast for those lacking a sweet tooth one slice was definitely enough, especially after the waffle dogs.
With a coffee offered for the road and the clock just shy of 7:45 I accepted the to-go cup and after paying the admittedly modest tab plus tip made my way from the restaurant en route to clinic along with the newspaper housing and sports sections that I was encouraged to take along with me. Overall a nice place with good service I cannot say I’d go out of my way for Over Easy, but considering its location I could certainly see it making a great breakfast spot after a morning skate – goodness knows it would have trumped the Denny’s or Bob Evans I frequented after hockey as a lad.
Another long day – clinic all morning, lunch at Barrio Café, and a late dinner at Kai – yet the morning routine would repeat itself again with a great twelve mile run around Kierland making me wish every hour of every day was like Phoenix before dawn. Showered and refreshed by the in-room Starbucks Africa Kitamu and readied for another long day of eating, sightseeing, eating, hockey, and eating I made my way to the car and set my GPS for the town of Gilbert; destination Liberty Market, home of what many (including the local paper) have noted to be the best Bread Pudding around.
A functioning grocery since 1935 and located in a building under a water tower every bit showing its age I approached Liberty Market slowly due to the local farmer’s market – a market containing much of what has now been out of season in Ohio for at least a month – and with parking readily available I made my way into Liberty Market via the side door. Passing the al fresco dining area, the kitchen, and subsequently the store and pastry counter to take my place in a line six deep I grabbed a paper menu on the way in to browse though in all reality it was not really necessary; I knew what I was there for and the pastry case had already tempted me with any number of appetizers.
Standing in line while others made their decisions, some a full meal and some merely pastries to go, when I eventually reached the coffee bar I was greeted by a young man with spacers and sleeves to fit his blasé demeanor and placing my order the price was recited and a number was handed to me with any number of seats to choose from both inside and out. Opting this time for the indoors and filling a glass with water and ice I took a seat with a full view of the room and placing my number on the table was left to wait for perhaps 10 minutes while reading a local guidebook detailing Liberty’s history as well as the other restaurants in Joe Johnston’s stable.
Sipping my water while watching a small boy barely make a dent in his enormous pile of eggs my first course of the meal at Liberty would arrive hot from the pastry case in the form of the largest Cinnamon Roll I’ve eaten to date – a squared off yeasty pastry nearly filling the 12” by 12”plate and inundating what I can only imagine to be a 6 foot diameter with the smells of butter, cinnamon, and sugar. Large yet impressively light with wispy dough sandwiching layers of cinnamon and butter and the entirely lacquered in a thin sugar shell the Cinnamon Roll wowed in flavor as much as it did in size and without being the belly buster of Cinnabon was a perfect size to share as an appetizer – or, if you’re feeling truly ravenous (gluttonous) to enjoy on your own.
With the cinnamon roll easily dispatched of and now wishing I’d have gotten coffee but not wanting to withstand the 10+ deep line my second dish would arrive approximately fifteen minutes on the heels of the cinnamon roll and given all its hype I truly expected the Griddled Bread Pudding to be mind blowing, but alas it was merely very good. Served with real maple syrup and approximately half the size and twice the weight of the cinnamon roll the bread pudding was in reality nearly flawless French Toast – a caramelized exterior and a moist custard interior, but what he had in texture it unfortunately lacked in taste. Largely eggy but also with slight notes of cinnamon and vanilla that perked up with the syrup perhaps part of my disillusionment with the pudding was actually how sweet its predecessor had been but overall it just felt like something was missing – perhaps some fruit, whipped cream, or caramelized nuts to add a bit of texture and nuance (this is apparently how they serve the dessert, non-griddled, bread pudding.)
Overall a very nice spot and a place I’d definitely return to for the baked goods as well as to try the pancakes, plus perhaps the griddled bread pudding with a side of fruit as a starter and one of those incredible looking Sticky Buns or scones as dessert. Additionally, a third interesting breakfast in three days in the Valley and a good sign that breakfast and brunch are definitely worth going out for – a far cry from my current environs back home.