Blasted Barley Experience

He Said

 

Sometimes you aren’t looking for a culinary exploration or introduction to new fare. Instead, what you really want is comfort food or more simple things done right. I found that place and was honestly surprised at my experience. Tucked away in a corner on Mill and between 3rd and 4th ST is Blasted Barley. I initially thought it was just going to be a college dive bar with mediocre food but instead I found a really enjoyable and varied menu.
I haven’t even tried their beer yet so I may have found a cool hang out but let’s focus on the food for now. I have to start with the “House-made Mozzarella Sticks” that comes with marinara and ranch for dipping. These things are fantastic. No frozen sticks with some empty shells here, instead you will get fresh thick mozzarella breaded with herbs that really give it a special something. I’ve become a cheese curd snob lately but these are hands down my favorite when I want the original. Even better is that they are on the happy hour menu so I know where my next happy hour is going to be. The dipping sauces aren’t actually needed and honestly they are nothing to write home about but they work and you’ll want to use them sparingly because there is just no need for them, these sticks are just that good.
Moving on to entrees, my first visit I had the “Good Life Burger” and indeed it lives up to its name. On a pretzel bun comes blue &brie cheeses, truffle aioli, bacon jam, lettuce, & tomato. It was big and it was tasty and I took ½ of it home because among the options for a side you can get tater tots. Anyone who has read any of my articles knows I have a weakness for the tots and really they just go well with a burger. I would recommend telling them to cook it medium though as they default to medium well and that is just too well for my tastes. There are many different burger combos all worth tasting in my book, my partner got the “Blasted Veggie Burger” and had only positive things to say about it. So much so, that even this meat eater is going to give it a try.
On my second visit I opted for the healthier “Blasted Chop” which comes with the normal chop salad items like raisins, corn, tomatoes, avocado, turkey, pepitas, and arugula. Now I can’t remember exactly but I believe quinoa isn’t normally in a chop and they included it in theirs. It’s a great protein add and with the popularity of Quinoa it didn’t surprise me. The real differentiator though is the Goat Cheese Vinaigrette. Admittedly you have to like goat cheese to like this but it was unique and it really stood out but not too much. The sweet raisins mellowed the tartness of the cheese and it really came together in each and every bite.
There are many more things I would like to try on their menu and they seem to have really great brunch and happy hour deals. Now that the weather is getting nice you can go outside and enjoy their patio while drinking mimosas or bloody marys. It’s a friendly and relaxed restaurant that is clearly used to dealing with the college crowd but if you live in Tempe or along the light rail and are looking for a place to chill out and enjoy good classic food and maybe a craft cocktail or freshly brewed beer this may just be the place you are looking for.

She Said

 

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Cuban Foods Bakery & Restaurant

He Said

 

Since moving to the valley there has always been one genre of food I couldn’t find much of. Cuban food was difficult to find and having spent my youth in Miami I was constantly seeking it out. I did finally find Havana Café and really enjoyed my meals there but of course they ended up closing. This left me yet again without any source to satisfy my cravings. Finally after some exhaustive research I came upon Cuban Foods Bakery & Restaurant in the west valley.
I judge a good Cuban restaurant by their Cubano sandwich, Ropa Vieja, and their café con Leche. So that is exactly what I ordered and I walked away very satisfied. Let’s start with the classic Cuban sandwich which is made with Cuban bread, roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard and then pressed. I have had many Cubano type sandwiches before but the bread and the pressing are what make the true Cubano sandwich. Cuban bread may look like Italian or French bread but it is very distinct in its flavor makes the difference. This sandwich was in fact very authentic and every bite was enjoyable and worth the journey. Next up was the Ropa Vieja or basically shredded beef simmered in a tomato sauce with onions and peppers along with sides of black beans and rice. This again hit all the flavor notes from my childhood and even though I was attempting to avoid rice these days, it was worth it as the rice and black beans were perfect with the tomato flavors in the beef. Last but not least, the café con Leche was perfect. These days are usually full of skinny macchiatos and sugar free syrups but when trying out Cuban coffee you have to go back to basics. For a real jolt you can always try your hand at the real stuff, straight Café Cubano. This stuff is thicker than normal espresso because it is extremely concentrated. As a kid in high school my friends would stop by the local Cuban coffee stop before class and bring it for our friends in the parking lot before we went in to take finals. If you were up late studying this would keep you going all morning long.
It is clear to me that when it comes to Cuban food in the valley, there is nothing more authentic than this restaurant. If you haven’t tried Cuban food before this is definitely a great place to try it out. It will make you start thinking about taking a trip to Miami and trying practically any place in Little Havana.

She Said

 

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Tom’s Tavern

img_5491Tom’s Tavern, the historic downtown Phoenix treasure known for its power lunches, has introduced a dinner menu that is sprinkled with sophistication but also keeps true to Tom’s urban roots.

WhereShouldWeEat.com got an exclusive taste of the delightful new items, but first, let’s recap the history of Tom’s Tavern.

In 1929, Tom Higley converted the old city morgue and pipe shop into a burger joint and gin mill. Tom’s was visited by governors, mayors, city council members and celebrities to dine, drink and discuss.

Nowadays, owner Jim Gallen strives to keep that spirit alive but also shines some new light into the restaurant.

Don’t worry, that cherished vintage feel and Higley’s original brisket chili recipe are still around but some well-deserved changes, like dinner, have transpired.

Now on to the food! We started with a few appetizers.

img_1472Buttermilk fried oysters with bacon jam: The light batter was fried to perfection giving just a slight crisp exterior with a warm cushiony interior. The bacon jam had a sweet and spicy element and cut through the rich buttermilk breading splendidly.

Asparagus & Potato Tart. The flaky crust, which had a quiche consistency, was filled with savory potato puree and strips of asparagus topped with bacon for a nice salty element. img_1467

For an entrée we had the Slow Cooked Pork Belly with white cheddar polenta, bacon roasted asparagus and cherry gastrique.

The pork belly had wonderful flavor and was extremely tender — it fell apart as I forked through the dish. The rich polenta was a great starch to pair with the fatty pork belly. The earthy asparagus completed the dish. img_1478

Other items to consider:

•Locally Grown Campari Tomatoes and Mozzarella with olive oil, micro arugula

•BBQ Grilled Salmon with organic local greens with watermelon 3 ways, sweet corn hoe cakes

•Veal Meatloaf with mashed potatoes, honey roasted carrots and sweet & spicy ketchup

Tom’s also offers unique craft cocktails and local beers, and a well-selected wine list that complements its seasonal menu.

This is the perfect place to stop for dinner before a sporting event or concert downtown.

Tom’s even has a nice outdoor seating area where you can sit and soak up the city vibes.

Next time you are downtown go to Tom’s. As you are enjoying your meal take a look around and appreciate the fact you are dinning at one of Phoenix’s oldest restaurants.

More Info: Tom’s Tavern

Okra Experience

He Said

 

7th St in Phoenix is full of new food venues which is turning the area of town into the go to place to eat. This includes Okra located just south of Bethany Home. It was my first visit to this complex and I drove around a bit trying to figure out how to get to their parking lot. So let me save you the confusion and recommend turning down E. Palo Verde off of 7th, there is a large parking lot waiting for you. Now that we got you there let’s talk about the amazing food.

Cullen Campbell has created another wonderful menu, this time focused on southern food. From his roots in Tennessee he began to miss the comforting southern style food and after some visits back south, Okra was born. This isn’t just your typical heavy fried menu, although there is plenty of it, it is wide and varied with subtle changes to your typical southern recipes. It was difficult to decide what to choose from the menu. Do we do a table of shared plates, our own entrees or maybe share an entrée? We got a little help from the Chef and the staff, all happy to tell us their favorites. Our shared plates included; fried mac & cheese balls, hush puppies, braised greens & pork bites, fried dilly beans & comeback sauce, fried chicken skins & honey hot sauce, and smoked chicken wings. Menu items like these are hard to resist which is why I recommend bringing a few friends along so that you can try a large variety like we did. The mac & cheese balls were nice and crispy on the outside while being soft and cheesy in the center and plated on a marinara sauce that was the perfect accompaniment. The hush puppies don’t come with the usual tartar sauce but instead goat cheese and small cucumber salad turning these fried corn breads into a more elegant lighter fare. Braised greens & pork bites were delicious in their vinegar based sauce. The pork bellies were so moist and flavorful while being crispy on the outside and the greens almost melted in your mouth. I had never heard of fried dilly beans but they are a staple in the Carolinas. Essentially, they are crispy green beans fried in tempura, very different from the fried green beans you might get at a certain chain restaurant. These are so crisp on the inside and out but the nice light breading doesn’t make you feel heavy afterwards. Speaking of crispy, the fried chicken skins were so crispy and delicious I could have ate an entire plate while watching some college football game, it just felt like a perfect game day treat. The slightly spicy honey was just sweet enough to counter balance the salty skins. Now, if the skins aren’t something you want to try, maybe the smoky chicken wings will curb your chicken craving. They have a wonderful deep smoky flavor on them and with the homeboy’s hot sauce and white bbq sauce to add even more flavor it just can’t be beat.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, we also tried out the pot pie. This delicious pie sitting in a plate of mash was addicting. Instead of the usual chicken, this was filled with veggies and pork cheek. The pie crust itself was beautiful and appealing, with an almost sweet or vanilla flavor to it. As the weather starts to cool off and the evenings get chilly, this is the prefect dish to look forward to. In the end, I unfortunately didn’t answer the question of what to order. I would do each and every one of these dishes again. Each trip to Okra is going to be another hard choice and factor in that there is even more I didn’t get to try and I’m in for a lot of hard choices in the future.

She Said

 

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Worth Takeaway Experience

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She Said

 

In the heart of Mesa, right smack in the middle of Main Street, sits a quaint sandwich shop called Worth Takeaway.

Worth caught my attention on Instagram with their mouthwatering posts of artisan sandwiches and I knew I had to pop in for a visit.

The restaurant has an urban feel as soon as you enter with its contemporary décor and walk-up counter service. One large table sits in the center of the establishment and high-top counter seating borders the sides.

As I was scanning the menu, I struck up a conversation with the owner and got a bit of Worth’s backstory. Worth’s husband and wife team duo dreamed up this tasty idea after traveling throughout the East Coast and Europe. They encountered many small sandwich shops with a quick and quality concept and wanted to incorporate that feel back in Arizona.

Pairing their ideas with a wonderful chef resulted in the birth of Worth Takeaway.

Their love for Arizona and passion to promote other local businesses shined throughout the conversation. Using Proof bread, Danzeisen Dairy products, Provision Coffee and soon partnering with a local brewery opening down the street are just some of the examples of their local pride.

This is the type of Arizona camaraderie I love and I could have chatted with them for hours!

But, back to what we came in for — the food! Worth’s menu is fairly small with the focus on sandwiches with a few sides, soups, rotisserie chicken and one option for dessert: banana pudding.

I opted for the Crispy Chicken Sandwich — fried chicken, house made sweet and spicy pickles, lettuce, Sriracha honey spread and a hint of mayo served on a Proof bun.

Absolutely. Delectable.

The crispy chicken’s breading soaks up the spicy-sweet combo of the Sriracha honey as the tangy pickles add a bit of crunch. Fresh Proof ciabatta perfectly hugs together these southern-influenced ingredients resulting in a stellar sandwich.

Next was the banana pudding. I figured if they offered only one desert it was probably was going be good.

This banana pudding was better than good. It was phenomenal.

My mouth is watering just thinking about it — rich and creamy but not too sweet with the perfect banana-custard-cookie ratio. The surprise was a subtle salty element that balanced all the flavors giving this desert an addictive quality.

I found myself making “mmm” sounds in between bites!

Clearly my visit to Worth Takeaway was a tasty success and I now sigh with envy when I see their Instagram feed because I know the deliciousness on which I am missing out.

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Modern Round Experience

He Said

 

Pure Fun. That’s the easiest way to describe Modern Round in Peoria. I didn’t know what to expect upon arrival to this new entertainment and dining option. I am not a gun aficionado and did not think it would be as exciting as my experience ended up being, not to mention with great fun food. Walking inside you are instantly aware of the huge chandelier above the bar along with multiple TV screens all playing different sports games. I’d be happy coming here to watch a game and not even get to the shooting part. However, I pause to call it a sports bar as the ambiance is more New York circa 1930 than a typical upscale sports bar. I couldn’t help myself from constantly looking up and around and just taking it all in. You are constantly approached by friendly staff eager to help you navigate around or get you to your lounge area for some food and shooting fun. There are many private lounge areas for you to sit and enjoy your food and in front of you is a huge screen with realistic sound effects awaiting you.

As a newbie we watched a safety video and then were taught how to use the realistic but not real guns. Then you are off to either have fun shooting zombies or my favorite, running real life scenarios. These are police and military training scenarios where you have to decide how to react and then get scored on if you chose the right reaction or not. These scenarios are definitely not kid friendly but so much fun for the adults. After some fun and at times stressful shooting we sat down and enjoyed a sampling of food. I recommend bringing a group of 6 if you can so you can order a bunch of items to share.

We started off with a really great Ultimate cheese & Charcuterie Board, Meatballs and Crostini, and the Buffalo Chicken Spring Roll. The board was fully inclusive with multiple meats & cheeses, nuts, pickles, olives, fig jam, and whole grain mustard. It has a little for everyone and provided a good base for our culinary adventure. The spring rolls and meatballs were very well made and extremely tasty but be prepared for a little heat from both. Not a huge hot & spicy fan myself, I still seemed to keep going back for more, they were that good. Next up we sampled a few of the flatbreads; Three Little Pigs and the BBQ Chicken. When I visualize a flatbread I am thinking square & very thin crispy crust; however, these were round and somewhat doughy pizzas. They were full of flavor, I especially enjoyed the BBQ Chicken, but again be warned the chorizo on the 3 little pigs is pretty spicy. There are plenty of sandwiches and burgers all described in ways that wanted me to try them. The Quinoa, Arugula & Goat Cheese Salad sounded especially wonderful, along with the different skewer options, would make a great meal. Just like there are so many games to play, there are so many food options as well.

Lastly we sampled two desserts I had to mention. The first being a Croissant Bread Pudding. This moist slightly sweet wonderful contraption was gobbled up in minutes. It is croissant bread pudding with bourbon crème sauce and salted caramel. If you have any love for bread pudding at all this will knock your socks off. The second and last item on our food trail were Bacon Wrapped Oreos. I should just end it there as the title is descriptive enough. It comes with a vanilla bean cream cheese dipping sauce but honestly, it doesn’t need it. It’s perfect just as it is, softened cookie and crispy bacon, the sweet and salt mix perfectly together. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this popping up elsewhere in the valley or at least in my home kitchen.

She Said

 

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