Saturday, October 20, 2012

Ever Heard of a Werefox?

No? Well, neither had I until I watched an episode of The Culinary Adventures of Baron Ambrosia entitled the “Werefox of Phoenix” on the Cooking Channel. A brief synopsis of the plot has “Baron, also known as ‘Eats Like a Bear,’ head(ing) to Phoenix, AZ to ask a Native American Chief for his daughter’s hand in marriage. He soon finds that the village is being harassed by a hungry ‘Werefox.’ Baron goes off in search of a food delicious enough to convince the ‘Werefox’ to leave the village in peace” (

Like Nadia G’s Bitchin’ Kitchen, The Culinary Adventures of Baron Ambrosia got its start on the internet and developed an almost cult-like following before being picked up by a local New York TV station. The series “first premiered on Cooking Channel as a pilot episode, to great enthusiasm. In his full series, Baron continues to take culinary consciousness to a whole new level. His discerning palate and passion for flavor lead him on cross-country adventures, revealing America's unsung heroes of culinary excellence. Along the way, the Baron finds himself tangled in stories of mystery, comedy and intrigue” (

Sound weird? It is. But you never know where you’ll stumble upon a great dining recommendation, and, thanks to the Baron and our new friend in Page, AZ, Roger Farrison, we found The Fry Bread House located just north of—appropriately named enough—Indian School Road.

And not just any restaurant but a 2012 recipient of a James Beard Foundation American Classics Award. And the first Native American restaurant to receive this award since the Foundation’s inception in 1998.

Writing about the Beard Foundation’s recognition, Howard Seftel, Arizona Republic restaurant critic, noted: “Cecelia Miller of the Tohono O'odham Nation opened her first Fry Bread House in 1992, using the same fry-bread recipes and techniques she learned as a child.
She tops the hand-stretched, deep-fried dough with such savory toppings as red chile stew and chorizo and cheese and her dessert fry bread with a killer combination of butter and chocolate….. Miller's son, Fry Bread House manager Michael Perry, said he was ‘floored’ by the honor. ‘It's a testament to my mother and her hard work,’ he said. ‘We wanted something for the community.’

“The Fry Bread House in central Phoenix is a tiny, loud, non-descript spot… Come during the lunch-hour rush and you'll find yourself at the end of a line snaking back from the ‘Order Here’ counter out the front door….

“The committee cited Fry Bread House's ‘blissfully delicious specialty,’ which it calls ‘downy bronze cushions the size of dinner plates…. It also cited the ‘all-native staff’ and the ‘democratic’ clientele: ‘friends of the house to hipsters to businessmen and the ever-present lucky traveler.’”

We arrived just after twelve noon and a line was beginning to form. Fortunately, most of those in line were ordering take out so, after placing our order at the front counter, we were able to snag one of the last remaining tables in this small space that can’t seat more than thirty.
While there are a small number of menu choices, The Fry Bread House is best known for their fry bread tacos which can be ordered in at least a half dozen varieties.

Our name was called—or rather Ozzie’s was called—and Chuck set forth to retrieve our lunch. Have I ever told you that he uses the name Ozzie when ordering at most counter service restaurants? He figures that there may be more than one Chuck present and he doesn’t want anyone else to lay claim to his food. More than one Ozzie? Not much of a chance.

So Chuck returns to the table and I take one look at this giant taco. Do I see a to-go container in my future? Yes, I do. I had ordered the Green Taco with green chile beef, lettuce, and cheese which the menu told me would be spicy.
Was it ever! But like with the green chile at Los Ojos in Jemez Springs, NM, the more I ate the more I wanted to eat.

Somewhere I read that this has something to do with the endorphin effect. In an article entitled "Science of Chile Peppers," Jane Butel wrote: “Chiles, which are a fruit from the nightshade family, possess unique characteristics. They are able to produce a substance called capsaicin, a substance that no other plant is capable of producing…. The wonderful healthful properties of Capsaicin stem from its ability to stimulate an endorphin reaction. The proportion of capsaicin present in a chile is in direct proportion to the endorphin reaction or ‘high’ one will get. This high is triggered by the hotness of the chiles, and is an internal reaction; the more capsaicin one eats in total, the healthier and more stimulated one will be. Generally, endorphin reactions only come from intense physical activity… The health benefits are totally amazing…” (

I looked around the room and saw some diners eating their tacos by pulling off small pieces with their hands while others were using forks. Me? I just picked the whole baby up and ate it like you would a hard shell taco. Sure some chile fell out the one end. Isn’t that what the fork is for?

Chuck’s choice was the Indian Taco with refried pinto beans, lettuce, and cheese. It was also good, but next to mine, tasted quite tame.
But the real star of the meal as stated above is the ‘blissfully delicious specialty,’ or ‘downy bronze cushions’—the fry bread itself. Although the portion size seems huge, the fry bread is so light and airy that the taco is not at all filling.

No to-go box for me.

We finished our meal with one of the dessert fry breads. We passed the butter and chocolate topping and the cinnamon and sugar topping, and opted for just honey and powdered sugar.
This was like the best New Mexico soppapilla—light and crisp. We were tempted to order a second but restraint got the best of us.

This is the third “American Classics” restaurants we have visited (The others were Mary & Tito in Albuquerque and The Shed in Santa Fe.), and I love seeing these favorites being recognized beyond their local dining base. This 5.0 Addie “hole in the wall” is a definite Phoenix keeper.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

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