Saturday, December 18, 2010

Some Quick Phoenix Bites

Our friend Tom from Philadelphia was in Tempe, AZ for a business meeting and we were meeting him for lunch before he flew off to Chicago. Yes, that Tom. The one we met up with in San Diego. The man gets around.

If we’d had more time we would have taken him to Joe’s Farm Grill in Gilbert for the Ahi Tuna Sandwich with Asian slaw. If we’d had more time, we would have taken him to Andreoli Italian Grocer in Scottsdale for anything on the menu. But we didn’t have much time. Then Chuck found Harlow’s Café in Tempe listed as Phoenix Magazine’s "Best of the Valley Diner."

The magazine described Harlow’s as: “A bottomless cup of coffee, breakfast served all day, and duct tape on the frayed carpet—these are the hallmarks of a great diner, and the charming Harlow’s Café has all that and more. Want a heart-stopping patty melt? Got it. Fluffy biscuits and country sausage gravy? Yep. How about a basic, but good, French dip? Harlow’s has you covered. About the only fancy thing on the menu is the addition of avocado slices on the BLT deluxe. Fast service comes with a smile, too.”

Not only was Harlow’s Café a Best of the Valley, Phoenix New Times awarded the café the "Best Hangover Breakfast" in 2010, 2007, and 2004, and their Eggs Maximilian (flour tortillas topped with hash browns, your choice of salsa or green chile beef sauce, three whipped and pan-fried eggs, sour cream, and salsa) was listed as one of Chow Bella’s 100 Favorite Dishes. said: “Harlow’s Cafe is a secret neighborhood treasure.... The interior is quaint. There are lots of chandeliers, and plenty of booths. You’ll also find a breakfast counter. If you like the Diners of back East, Harlow’s will tickle your fancy. If you’re expecting a quiet, quaint atmos-phere, you may be disap-pointed. Harlow’s is always packed with a mix of regulars, partiers, bikers, and people looking for a great morning meal. Though Harlow’s serves lunch, there real talent is breakfast.”

So the three of us passed on the list burgers, sandwiches, and salads and looked to the breakfast offerings. But, before we ordered, Tom took a leisurely walk through the diner furtively spying on the other diners’ plates. He reported back that the omelets looked good and the salads looked large.

Tom ordered the J. Sullivan—grilled corn beef hash folded inside a three egg omelet and covered with melted cheddar cheese. His omelet, like Chuck’s and my choices, came with a large serving of very good and very crusty home fries.

Chuck had been looking at the “South of the Border Breakfast” listing and then he saw a menu listing that we haven’t encountered since we left the South. Creamed chipped beef on toast. It is an interesting phenomenon. Every diner in the East (and some in the South) lists creamed chipped beef, but you never see biscuits and gravy. Outside of the East, you seldom see creamed chipped beef, but always see biscuits and gravy. So Chuck took advantage of this opportunity and ordered the creamed chipped beef. I somehow neglected to take a taste.

When I later asked him how it was, he responded: “It was creamed chipped beef. Kind of bland.”

If his was bland, mine—the Chorizo-Rito Burro—was anything but. A huge portion of their homemade chorizo was scrambled with two eggs, then wrapped in a flour tortilla and topped with their homemade salsa. The chorizo sausage was ultra spicy—almost too much so. This was one of those dishes where the first half tastes wonderful and the second half not so wonderful. Chuck and I later speculated that we should have shared our plates so that each of us would have some bland and some spicy.

Harlow’s Café served its purpose, and we got Tom to the airport with plenty of time to spare. But I am not sure that I would rush back the next time we are in Phoenix, so I give it a 3.0 Addie rating.

Soon after our arrival in Phoenix, Chuck’s Aunt Evie invited us to her home for dinner. Since we hadn’t seen her since mid-April we had a lot to catch up on before sitting down to dinner. On the menu that night were scallop puffs topped with a jalapeño sauce, baked asparagus wrapped with ham and crescent roll strips, tossed salad, potato pancakes, roasted pork loin, and peach pie.

Everything tasted great, but the pork loin was fantastic. Slow roasted it developed marvelous flavor from garlic and fresh sage. Then, toward the end of the roasting process, Evie added sliced apples which added just a slight sweetness. The meat was super moist and tender and the pan juices with hints of garlic, sage, and apple made a great sauce. And lucky us. Evie gave me a large portion of the roast to take home; it was just as good when reheated the next day and served with mashed potatoes.

After an afternoon at the Musical Instrument Museum, we thought it seemed fitting to stop at a food museum--of sorts.

Mac Alpine's Restaurant and Soda Fountain fit the bill, after all it had been awarded Phoenix New Times "Best Old School Soda Shop" (2006). We were greeted by the neon in the window, and fhe four of us (cousin Raina, Jesse, Kate, and I) grabbed the four stools at the end of the curved counter.

The weathered Pepsi and Prince Albert signs and the 1952 jukebox contribute to the feeling of stepping back in time.

The restaurant is also equipped with the original counter from when the building was a drug store back in '28. The restaurant seats 45, but tonight the counter stools were all occupied, while some of the booths were open.

Our server paused from the construction of an animal cracker sundae for this photo.

By the way, who does this young man look like? (Our impression is below.)

His counterpart also looked the part of a '50s soda fountain waitress in her pink and black uniform.

Putting the two servers behind the equipment of days gone by added further to our impression of stopping for a milk shake after that evening's sock hop at the gym.

The youngsters ordered two milk shakes. Raina had the banana shake (on the left in the photo) made with pecan praline ice cream; Jesse ordered the chocolate malt.

We shared a banana split with pecan praline ice cream with caramel topping, chocolate malted krunch with chocolate, and black cherry ice cream with pineapple topping.

If our memory of the banana splits and milk shakes of the '50s was that those were the best banana splits and milk shakes we ever tasted, then our evening at Mac Alpine's was a brief return to an authentic '50a soda fountain.
We thought that the soda jerk looked like Marcel from the Bravo Networks' show Top Chef--it's the hair.

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