We braved a trip deep into the hot desert and rolled into Phoenix. After getting a room and unloading the car, we drove up to Thee Pitts Again. In an area where most of the buildings look like ubiquitous corporate strip mall crap, Thee Pitts Again really stands out as an inviting destination. It’s a bit garish, with lots of color, neon and stainless steel; but you have to appreciate that it’s bold in its appeal. The inside matches the outside with lots of comfortable booths, tying in with the old-style diner vibe. I have to warn you, if you’re averse to the color pink, you might have to shield your eyes a little as you take it all in. There’s enough pink on the walls to make Pinky Tuscadero envious. I asked about the pink and was told that it is their pig theme. I should also warn you, if you like twangy country music, you’ll love this place. (Note: We stopped by Alice Cooperstown later that night and I got enough rock and roll into my ears to repair the disturbance in the force.)
We drew a waitress named Tammy and she took good care of us. She was warm and friendly, which is just how we like our servers. We were a little frazzled from the long hot drive, and needed the TLC. We ordered a 3/2 (three meats/two sides) of pulled pork, brisket, chop, and the sides of baked beans and mashed potatoes & gravy. The meal includes corn bread with honey butter. On balance, it was a satisfying meal at a good price. Good portions, good value. My favorite meat was the chop; which is a blend of beef, pork and ham, chopped up and cooked together in BBQ sauce. It was very rich, and would probably make a killer sandwich. Anna liked the pulled pork the best, and it was excellent (although I’m not a big fan of pulled pork). The brisket was fair. We both thought the baked beans were scrumptious and the mashed potatoes were piping hot.
Tammy told us that they make the mashed potatoes and gravy from scratch, and I just want to comment here that they tasted as if they had just won a contest for imitating the mashed potatoes and gravy at KFC. I mean that in a good way. Personally, I happen to like the flavors of the Colonel’s mashed potatoes and gravy (and so I was pleased); but it just struck me as odd when you’re not expecting it. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to KFC, and maybe my palate is off; but they tasted and felt very similar to me. The cornbread was good. Anna said the honey butter was too sweet, and coming from her, well, I’d probably get a cavity just looking at it. I went for the straight butter myself.
Overall it was a pleasant experience. The place is charming and there are tons of memorabilia and pictures to look at. Tons of trophies too. We wandered up to the register and ended up having a nice long chat with Tammy and Megan, who happens to be the owner’s daughter. We started off talking about Thee Pitts Again in particular, and then it descended into a DDD Phoenix free-for-all. We were there at that deadish late afternoon lull between lunch and dinner and so the girls weren’t too busy. Megan is a fan of the show and we got to hear some of her stories from the road. Afterwards we memorialized the whole event with a picture of the girls with Anna (and one of their giant trophies). We rolled out of there with smiles on our faces (and some sweet smoky BBQ grub in our bellies). Sadly, the pictures didn’t turn out; and come to think of it, when girls take pictures with big trophies aren’t they supposed to be wearing bikinis and high heels? It’s too bad the pictures didn’t turn out because that’s where three lovely ladies met.
We jumped on the freeway for the drive north to Roberto’s Authentic Mexican Food (which has moved from its original gas station location). We weren’t starving to death of course, but I knew I was in for a taqueria treat (and salivating like one of Pavlov’s dogs). I already knew I was going to have my beloved tacos al pastor (and that makes me a happy guy).
Roberto’s is now located in an upscale strip mall and is very tastefully decorated and inviting. The place is light, bright and spotless. They also boast a large outdoor patio with plenty of seating and views of the surrounding hills. One of the owners, Roger Amaya, was right there at the helm taking orders, serving food and wiping down tables. He was very friendly and it was obvious to us that he loves making and serving their authentic Mexcan food (which is precisely the reason why we love DDD).
I wish we could have pigged out, but we had big dinner plans and needed to save our appetite. We ordered some tacos al pastor and a fish taco. Little did I know I was about to get blindsided. Roger served the tacos himself, and it was hard to have to take the pictures first. The al pastor tasted even better than it looks in the picture and these are big full-sized tacos. I doused them good with the hot salsa and I was in taco heaven. It was hard to stop eating long enough to try Anna’s fish taco, but I’m glad I did because it was one of the best fish tacos I’ve ever had. I couldn’t believe all the flavors. It was a masterpiece with delicately breaded and fried pollock.
The real kicker for me though was the fresh salsa. It was without a doubt the best I’ve ever had anywhere (and that’s saying a lot). It was super fresh, well balanced, and it will definitely get your attention on the back end. On the front end you get the fresh tomato, garlic and cilantro; and the back end has some butt kicking habanero. To put it as mildly as I possibly can, I was totally blown away. I told Roger that I make salsa at home and asked if he could he help me with my recipe. We talked about my recipe and then he told me that his was completely different (and completely secret).
Here’s the good news… Roger makes his killer salsas fresh every morning and you can have it shipped straight to your house. Roger bottles the fresh salsa, packs it in dry ice, and it can be at your doorstep in a day or two. Amazing. Check out their website at www.robertosaz.com
After I finished my tacos and licked the plate, I still had a little salsa left in the cup. I tipped it back and got up to go wash my hands. By the time I reached the bathroom, my mouth was on fire. I was cursing myself, “Damn that was dumb!” (but it hurts so good). It’s official. In honor of my visit to Roberto’s, I’m going to compile my Top Ten list of favorite taco stands so that I can put them on it.
If you make it to Phoenix, go to Roberto’s and make sure you arrive starving to death. Roberto’s has a full menu of other delights like burritos, taco salad, quesadillas and nachos. They also serve ice cold adult beverages, so you get everything but the Mariachi band. The food is killer, but it doesn’t even have to be good with that salsa. As Guy often says, you could put that salsa on a flip flop and it would taste good.
After our brief stop at Alice Cooperstown we headed out to Joe’s Farm Grill for a full dinner. I should mention that Alice Cooperstown has the most impressive display of rock memorabilia that I have ever seen (and that’s putting it mildly).
It was well after dark by the time we arrived at Joe’s Farm Grill. We took a stroll around the grounds and gardens, but it was too dark to make anything out. Back in the center of things, Joe’s is well lit with lots of inviting tables, indoors or out. Joe’s Farm Grill also sports a Starship Enterprise apparatus that dispenses everything from ketchup to ranch dressing and barbecue sauce. It’s a fully self-serve, grab whatever you want from drinks to gourmet mustards, napkins and toothpicks. I was impressed. I like to take care of myself and get what I want. If I’m going to let a food server do it for me, I’m counting on him or her to be good at it.
We ordered most of the food that was featured on the show. We started with the Fontina Burger which features a delectable char-broiled beef patty with Fontina cheese, grilled mushrooms, red peppers, and a pecan pesto. The burger was good and evoked an Italian quality, with the rich pesto. We accompanied the burger with an order of the onion rings; and they were crispy, crunchy and delicious. We both agreed that they were under seasoned (and lacked that wow factor), but they were cooked perfectly and sported that rare perfect balance between onion and breading.
The grand finale of the day was the BBQ Chicken Flatbread Pizza. Wow. This pizza features a blend of cheeses, smoked chicken, bacon, onions, BBQ sauce and finished with fresh basil. It was a tasty treat that puts your taste buds in a tease between the sweet and savory, and between the crunchy and gooey. Yum. It was so big we couldn’t finish it and had to take the rest with us. I would love to try the other flatbread pizzas. It was a great first day in Phoenix and the next morning would begin with a visit to Matt’s Big Breakfast. (Note: The leftover pizza was great the next morning).
If you love a good breakfast, you’re going to be a very happy camper with the food and the great service at Matt’s Big Breakfast. They had recently moved to a much bigger location, but we still had to wait for a table. I just couldn’t wait to get our order figured out, so I started asking questions to the lovely young woman at the cash register. Her name is Kim and she answered all my questions, including the lunch menu.
By the time we got our table we were ready to order, and another lovely young woman, Trina, took our order for us. Matt’s has a lot of staff for such a small place and you can see everyone working at the same time. Besides Kim, there must have been six or seven other servers and four of five people in the kitchen, plus the owner, Erenia. Although they do a team service at Matt’s, we were tended to quite nicely.
I ordered the Chick & Pig which is the pork chop breakfast that they made on the show, and Anna ordered the Belgian waffle that comes with real maple syrup and bacon. They offer a choice of hash browns or country fried potatoes (with onions and rosemary). We shared everything, and every bite was scrumptious. I don’t ordinarily order pork chops, but Guy liked it and I didn’t want to miss out. The hash browns were a big hit. They start with Yukon Gold potatoes and fry them in butter. Nuff said. Right after our food was served, Erenia brought us out an order of the country fried potatoes, on the house, and said that she wanted us to try them because it is her favorite. How nice (and how tasty). The bacon had a great flavor to it and the real maple syrup hit the spot on top of that golden waffle. It was so much food, we almost couldn’t finish it all (which is a great problem to have when the food is that good). We polished it off and licked the plates.
Between the three women, we just had the best time, and so I begged them to stop working long enough to let me take their picture together. None of them wanted to, but I figured they might go along with it for a group shot. It was a happy time for me, and I will always have the memory of the great food and service at Matt’s Big Breakfast.
We knocked around a bit and headed over to old town Glendale. Our first destination was lunch at Haus Murphy’s. Anna was still full from the big breakfast and so we just shared a Reuben sandwich with German potato salad. I added on the cup of chef’s soup, and boy was it good. It was so good, I added on another cup (for Anna). I later talked to the chef and he insisted that it was a simple beef and vegetable soup. It’s the end of summer and I can’t even remember the last time I made soup, but I was totally in love with this simple concoction. Anna let me eat most of hers too since I liked it so much.
As good as the soup was however, the Reuben stole the show. The corned beef was succulent, juicy, sliced thin and piled high. It was accompanied with house made sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, 1,000 Island dressing on the side, and perfectly grilled between two slices of locally baked Rye bread. The meat was so juicy, it was literally dripping onto the plate just from holding the sandwich. The bread was grilled with a generous amount of butter to give it that deep, soul-stirring crunch and flavor. On balance it was a work of art, and it was big enough to where we were both full.
The sauerkraut was mild, which is the way I like it. I love cabbage, but I don’t love sour/tart. When I was a boy, my parents would put that canned sauerkraut on top of hot dogs and call it good. They made me try it, and of course I hated it. I thought, why would you ruin a perfectly good hot dog with that? I spent a good portion of my life, in therapy, believing that I hated sauerkraut, when in fact sauerkraut is a great accompaniment to rich brats, dogs and corned beef. I love its cousin, Cole Slaw, which is also great in the same capacity and a regular feature in our kitchen. Cabbage is so good for you, the Cole Slaw is a guilt free pleasure.
Haus Murphy’s is a gigantic restaurant with lots of charm, and one of the biggest outdoor patios I’ve ever seen. The service was good. I wish we could have eaten more food. They offer a big sampler platter for two, which would have been a much better reflection of the kinds of foods that makes Haus Murphy’s special; but I hated the idea of missing out on a killer Reuben sandwich, and I was glad I got it. By the way, I can’t wait to get home and make some beef and vegetable soup.
Our dinner destination, La Piazza Al Forno, is just a rock throw away, and so we decided to stay right in the neighborhood and check out all the stores. It was a fun way to spend the rest of the afternoon. It was still brutally hot outside and the air conditioning in the stores was always a welcome relief. They have a bunch of antique stores, and I found an old cook book for two bucks that I just couldn’t live without. Anna found a French themed clothing boutique and I was going to wait on the porch out front (where men belong). As I was looking around for a proper man’s chair, I noticed a see-through lace dress (ooh-la-la) that I thought Anna needed to try on (and took it in to her). We made an afternoon out of the shopping and went in to dinner.
La Piazza Al Forno is a charming restaurant and tastefully decorated. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to sit in it. They put us out on the front patio. Ordinarily we like to sit outside, but because of the heat, they had the patio screened off with some heavy plastic and it struck me as being in a construction site. I didn’t like it one bit, and in hindsight, we should have waited for an indoor table. No sooner did we get seated when they brought in a large extended family and pushed some tables together for them. Our waitress was so busy taking care of them that our service was neglected. So, we weren’t happy about that turn of events either. I went inside to wash my hands, and walking through the dimly lit, air conditioned restaurant, seeing all the other diners at their intimate little tables enjoying a quiet old-world Italian dinner, it was like the feeling of being crammed in coach and walking through the first class-section. Come to think of it, it was more like being crammed into the baggage compartment. I came back out to the patio and told Anna to go in and check it out; see what it’s like for people to have a pleasant dining experience.
Despite the unfortunate bad timing and poor seating, we were there for the food and the authentic pizza experience. We ordered the Italian Stallion which boasts a proud display of oven-fired sausage, prosciutto, pepperoni and soprasetta. They were generous with their toppings and the pizza was just as good as I was hoping it would be. I loved every bite and the crust was super thin; part chewy part crunchy. We also sampled the spaghetti pie, which was featured on the show. The sauce was good, but I didn’t really care for the spaghetti. I’m sure I would have been much happier with something more traditional, but I try to get the unique things that are featured on the show when I can.
Our waitress, Sandra, is the owner’s daughter, and she was very warm and friendly to us. We liked her a lot, and would be happy to have her wait on us again. She apologized that she wasn’t able to give us better service and she was sincere. We also got to meet her brother, Justin, who graciously came out from the kitchen and wished us a hearty bon appetito for our dinner. The star attraction of the whole restaurant is the pizza oven and I wanted to watch the action. Unfortunately, it’s too conspicuous to stand there in the middle of the restaurant. I love the kitchen action and watched for a few minutes anyway. How often do you get the chance to watch old world style pizza getting made? It’s a great pizza at a great price. I’d like to try them all. The pizza really hit the spot and made a nice ending to a great day in Flavortown USA.
We had a short wait for a table the next morning at Over Easy. We got our deuce and drew a real friendly waitress named Cooper. The place was hopping, just like Matt’s the previous morning. The decor was light and bright, and the air was filled with the aromas of breakfast and the unmistakable din of chatter and knives/forks clinking on dishes. They have a great menu selection, so you may have a tough time figuring out which of the great dishes is going to give you your fix.
I wanted something light, so I went with the chicken fried steak, with country gravy and hash browns with a side of sourdough toast. That is topped with a single egg (but two would have been better). Anna ordered the Caramelized Banana and Pecan French Toast, which is served with butter and real maple syrup. She had been looking forward to it for years, and there was no doubt she was going to be loving life soon.
We struck up a conversation with the couple at the next table who were visiting from Houston. They are fans of the show and so the conversation turned to favorite places to eat. We told them we were going to Houston ourselves in about a week and that we couldn’t wait to go to T-Bone Tom’s. They said to be sure to try the Armadillo Eggs (which I already had on my radar). I also told them that I couldn’t wait to make it over to Lankford Grocery, have a great burger, and meet Eydie. The time flew by and our food was served. Conversation would have been impossible.
The chicken fried steak was piping hot and cooked perfectly. Not too heavy, good flavor, and retaining a good amount of crunch under the gravy. The hash browns were equally cooked well and tasty. I was put off by the single egg, which I glossed over on the menu. It’s just not right to serve a grown man a breakfast and not have at least two eggs. I’m sure it’s more a matter of artistic license/culinary interpretation than it is of cutting costs, but it didn’t fly too well with me. As far as I know, just about every restaurant in the country who serves a full breakfast, serves at least two eggs. It’s called bacon and eggs, not egg. Now, I’m going to have to be on my guard and parse every word on the menu like a lawyer (which I hate to have to do).
Cooper rolled back around and I asked for some extra butter for my toast. She insisted that I would like to have more gravy as well, and I didn’t see the point in arguing with her. I was pretty sure there was enough gravy as it was, but I was raised on gravy and just couldn’t say no. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like Cooper at first, but we really ended up hitting it off and I like her a lot. She won me over. She’d been working there for years, and she also works at another popular restaurant for nearly twenty years. I asked her point blank if she worked so hard because she needed the money, or if it’s because she loves it. I’m happy to report it was the latter, and it shows in her service. I asked her if she likes rock and roll (she does) and so I told her to check out Alice Cooperstown.
Meanwhile, Anna was chipping away at her French Toast, as happy as a dog at a belly rubbing party. I got a couple of bites in late, and was very impressed with the balance of flavors, not too sweet; and more importantly, it had the satisfying mouth feel of custard. I don’t know if was the French Toast itself, or the caramelized banana; but either way it was delicious and satisfying.
Other than the missing second egg (which was irksome but not critical) our breakfast at Over Easy was a grand slam home run. The prices are good, the food is excellent, the service and staff were great, and the menu selection is inviting. The owner was even there (although we didn’t get a chance to meet him). Speaking of the menu, I have to confess; they have a fried chicken and waffle on the menu… and I gave it some thought. It probably would have been a great time to give it a whirl (now that I know how good the food is), but I chickened out. If we had time to go back, I would try it for sure. We really enjoyed chatting with the couple at the next table, and will carry warm and fuzzy thoughts about Cooper rocking out the great food service. I’ll bet she’s a kick in the pants.
My heart goes out to Guy Fieri for not liking eggs. I positively love eggs and have them every morning. That’s probably one of the biggest differences between us, if you overlook the fact that he is rich and famous, has a supportive and loving family, tons of friends (many of which are famous too), and gets treated like a rock star everywhere he goes. Other than those few things, we’re very much alike. We totally dig food and cooking, we love to entertain people, we both have a goofy sense of humor and we’re not afraid to put it out there (or laugh at our own jokes). If I ever get to meet him, among other things, I’d like to ask him how cool it was to be at Billy Joel’s The Last Play at Shea. That was a concert for the ages, and it looked like Guy was right there in the front row with none other than Billy Joel’s wife, the lovely and talented Katie Lee Joel. It must have been a blast.
We headed over to downtown Scottsdale to see the river/canal and a particular pet boutique for Anna (the dog nut). Anna loved the boutique, the friendly owner, and the clever name (Oh My Dog). Even the little bag to hold the dog treats was a work of art. As it turns out, there is a whole area of shops, fountains, galleries and restaurants; and so it ended up being a great place to get in some walking before it got too hot. I wanted to go hike on Camelback Mountain, but it was too hot and Anna wasn’t dressed for it.
We sauntered up to Los Taquitos for some tacos. We ordered four tacos: one fish, one carne asada, and two al pastor. If you’re hearing about Los Taquitos for the first time, I’m happy to report that these tacos are killer good. The al pastor tacos were cooked perfectly, and the real kicker was the carne asada. The flavor on the meat was like steak. Good steak. It was so good, I was sorry we only ordered one; since I had to share it with Anna. I could have very easily ordered more tacos and scarfed them down, but I’ve learned that I have to pace myself when we’re hitting three or four places in a day.
The restaurant was nice and inviting. You order and pay at the counter and they call out your number when you’re food is ready. They put out their salsas in squeeze bottles, and of course I immediately went for the hot (the solid red bottle). This location also has a bar. These tacos will easily make my Top Ten list and I will try to make it back before we leave town. I would have liked to make it back to Roberto’s as well, but they are closed on Sundays.
About the time we finished our tacos, a woman came out from the back who appeared to be one of the five sisters (and indeed she was). We went up to talk to her and she was very friendly. Her name is Rosie and she had stopped by with her daughter, Shyla.
We really hit it off with Rosie and pumped her for all kinds of information about the food, their growing family business, and what it was like working with Guy Fieri. The whole conversation started out simply enough because I wanted to rave about how great the tacos were. Although Rosie was very gracious, she wasn’t the least bit surprised; so I’m sure she hears that a lot. The tacos speak for themselves and they really are amazing.
In the process of talking with her, I came up with an idea for their growing family empire. The people at the next table at Over Easy were there to investigate a franchising opportunity and so I had franchising on the brain. I suggested to Rosie that they take their taco recipe and create a franchise called Five Sisters Tacos. So if you’d like to enjoy these great tacos in your part of the country, start pouring in the cards and letters for Five Sisters Tacos. You heard it here first and I get five percent. Unbeknownst to Rosie, I’d already written in my book Millionaire Wealth about building a taco empire. We hated to tear ourselves away from the visit, but we knew we were keeping her from the rest of her day. Rosie graciously posed with Anna for a picture to commemorate the great time we all had. I hope we get to see her again someday. Did I mention that Rosie is gorgeous? We already knew that her sister Vickie is gorgeous, so I suspect it runs in the family. Maybe I should amend the title of the new franchise… Five Knock-Out Gorgeous Sisters Tacos. It’s a bit wordy, but it would probably sell more tacos. We’ll use the allure to bring them in, and the tacos to keep them coming back. That’s the ticket. Or as Guy says, “That’s money.”
We later stopped in at Giuseppe’s on 28th (as seen on the Food Network) for some Italian fare. Located in a strip mall, the place is tight, with a small dining room all commanded by one server who did everything. He was quite a character, and he took good care of us. We ordered the bolognese tagliatelle and a meatball submarine sandwich.
The bolognese was a total delight. The flavors of the meats were developed so deeply that I wondered if it was ever going to find a bottom. It was an amazing experience, especially with the perfectly cooked fresh pasta. The dish satisfied just as I was hoping it would, so I was a happy camper. The meatballs were excellent as well, although we weren’t impressed with their interpretation of a sandwich. The waiter suggested that we order it with cheese and peppers, but I just wanted to enjoy the flavors of the meatballs. By contrast, the fresh bread they served with the pasta was high on flavor and light as air. The owner was not there and so we didn’t get a chance to meet him. I was hoping to chat with him about his world travels.
Our last stop for the day was Chino Bandido. I had the menu and ordering process figured out before we got there (so I wouldn’t have to look like a rube). We split a combo plate with Jade Red Chicken, pork fried rice, machaca as a quesadilla and refried beans. Although the dining room had seen better days, the staff was super friendly and very helpful. We got situated and the food was piping hot when they brought it out to us. Anna and I both agreed that everything was delicious and done right.
It’s no wonder they have been so successful for so long (almost 23 years). We enjoyed looking at the wall full of accolades, and we even got a picture of the rare species— Chino Bandido, which is hardly ever spotted north of the Rio Grande or even outside of the Orient. We’re hoping to submit our picture to National Geographic and see if they will pay us a big fat chunk of change.
Phoenix was a great outing for us. I’d been looking forward to it for years and it did not disappoint. We got great food everywhere we went, and got to meet lots of great people. If I ever make it back to Phoenix, I won’t have to worry about finding a good place to eat. I can’t wait to get home and order that habanero salsa from Roger at Roberto’s. On our way out of town, we stopped at Chompie’s Deli to try the Jewish Slider that was featured on Man Versus Food (loved it). We also stopped at the original location of Los Taquitos and ordered five more of their incredible tacos. They’re so good, they’re haunting. Getting good al pastor has been a slam dunk for me from my favorite burrito truck over the last 20 years. But, the carne asada tacos at Los Taquitos just blew me away. Crazy good.
Next DDD Destination: San Antonio (DDD Count: 211)
Update: January 2014
DDD has returned to Phoenix and I am looking forward to going back again soon. I’ve got some new friends to visit, new dishes to sample and of course some old favorites. I’m also planning to go there for the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving. And for all my golfing friends, be sure to check out my favorite golf instructor, Martin Chuck, at the Tour Striker Golf Academy at the Raven. With so much to offer, it looks like I’ll be making several repeat visits to Phoenix. Hope to see you there.