We heard rumors of a burgeoning food scene in Phoenix. We were skeptical but decided to fly in for a few days to see for ourselves. Then we learned that the heat can be so intense in Phoenix that it can ground flights. How can that even happen? (Apparently, the maximum operating temperature for many airplanes is just shy of 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius). Above that temperature the heat becomes a negative factor in the physics of flight, making high-heat takeoffs risky.)
So, back to the food. In a place where it is so hot that sometimes airplanes don’t work, how can a healthy agricultural system be sustained? Here’s where you might think we would launch into a story about the latest high-tech, temperature-controlled factory farm that shelters crops from the relentless heat. Fortunately, no. That would likely be super energy intensive and wasteful. But the story is no less high-tech.
The emergence of Phoenix as a place to go for food is a direct result of the ingenuity of the Hohokam people. A thousand years ago they figured out how to take advantage of the area’s fertile soil, which lay parched most of the year because there was no convenient source of water nearby. They engineered an elaborate system of canals to bring in a year-round supply of water. The system is a marvel and is so well-built that some parts of the original canals are still visible today.
In the 1860s, the Hohokam people had long vanished but their old canal system was put to use to support farming near the Vulture mine, to help feed the mine workers. This led to the founding of Phoenix where more farmers settled, taking advantage of the area’s surprisingly fertile land.
These days, where farms are bountiful chefs are sure to follow, and Phoenix is benefiting from the trend. To be sure the spreading of Silicon Valley business into the wide open and less expensive Southwest is a prime driver, delivering a new, young and hungry population to the area. With them have followed craft breweries, farmers’ markets, food trucks and a plethora of new restaurants to breathe new life into the Phoenix food scene. Here is a selection of our favorite food experiences from our Eat Phoenix trip.
It’s breakfast time and we are off to “fà-me” (the Italian word for hungry). And we are!
Fà-me is located on North Central Avenue between the historic Pierson Place district and Midtown. Founded by Ivan and Maria O’Farrill, who arrived in Phoenix from Mexico City but took the scenic route, honing their craft in New York and San Diego along the way. Ivan and Maria’s concept was to create a breakfast and mid-day establishment serving only farm fresh, locally sourced food.
It’s early Sunday morning and locals begin to arrive in a steady stream. Ivan treats us to some of his signature dishes accompanied by a selection of yummy juices as we sit outside to take advantage of the cool morning. As we feel the day heating up, the famous Arizona mist dispensers kick in and cool things down a few degrees.
Ivan, a quiet perfectionist, designed the dining space to feature an eclectic mix of handcrafted tables, lighting and artwork. The surroundings complement his menu of comfort food classics which draw on the culinary traditions of Mexico and France with a fresh Southwestern twist.
Fà-me serves the things you love for breakfast and lunch, but each dish is in a form that is slightly more sophisticated than you might expect. It’s casual dining but with a fine-dining flair. When in Phoenix make this your go-to place for tasty fresh food, impeccably prepared.
Farm & Craft
Just beyond Phoenix, in Scottsdale, is Farm & Craft. They focus on promoting healthy, sustainable local food, and we found it to be the perfect place for a relaxed open-air lunch.
Aside from their healthy lunch menu, Farm & Craft has a superb list of elixirs. Their home brewed Kombucha is a standout, and there are many stronger options with which to toast your health.
Their seasonal wellness menu is based on four food groups — stress relieving foods, probiotic ingredients, anti-inflammatory foods, and antioxidant boosters — something for whatever ails you. It’s a great place to grab a fresh meal for your health. And make sure you try one of their organic spirits. They’re delicious!
Next, we head south of the city to South Mountain Park. The park is comprised of over 16,000 acres, making it the largest municipal park in the country, and it has one of the highest densities of Chuckwallas. What, you don’t know what a Chuckwalla is? Neither did we. It’s a large, dark-colored lizard with a yellowtail.
A stone’s throw from the park is South Farm, a working farm that has been in operation for several generations. Visiting a farm is always great fun but this one also is the home of the restaurant, Quiessence.
Through the farm’s entrance and down a long tree-lined alley we walk through the lush grounds of the old farmhouse, now occupied by Quiessence. Co-owner and executive chef, Dustin Christofolo, uses garden-fresh ingredients to craft simple yet refined, seasonal, New American fare. His charcuterie boards feature an assortment of pickled fruits and handcrafted pates. It’s a great place to sample the best of Phoenix’s produce, prepared by a master chef.
If you can’t make it for dinner, breakfast and brunch are served at the adjacent Morning Glory Cafe. There you can enjoy freshly baked pastries, locally made sausages, and seasonal omelets, surrounded by South Farm’s organic gardens.
Short Leash Hotdogs
The food world is rich with the invention of dishes the public can’t get enough of. The Cesar salad, the Sandwich, Tiramisu, Banana Split and a just a few years back, the Cronut. Now Phoenix has its own invention, courtesy of local food truck, now a restaurant, Short Leash Hotdogs.
Short Leash Hotdogs owners Brad and Kate Moore love hot dogs; the bun that it traditionally comes in, not so much. As Brad tells it, dressing a hot dog in a bun is just too messy. Short Leash wanted to get creative with their dogs and a bun just did not give them the room they needed. With a bit of experimentation, they looked to the Far East and discovered that buttery naan bread is the perfect fit.
With the discovery, as their website states, they quickly became “Naan Believers”. In 2010 they took their idea on the road with a food truck and quickly garnered a loyal following. They had enough of a following to enable them to move into a permanent space … and then another.
Once you’ve tried them there’s no going back. All Short Leash Hotdogs are made from locally sourced meats and their scrumptious toppings are all fresh — definitely worth traveling for.
And don’t forget to finish up with Short Leash’s “scratch made brioche doughnuts” — yum!
For futher information like menus, opening hours, and reserverations, go to:
Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger
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