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.

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Modern Round Experience

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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.

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Morning Squeeze Experience

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Old town Scottsdale has never been lacking restaurants for breakfast and lunch but if you haven’t tried Morning Squeeze you are missing out. With a completely chill attitude and ambiance it is the perfect way to start a slow morning or what you know will become a stressful day. A little bit retro and a little bit of a resort pool bar feel you can’t help but just not care about a thing at all. Lots of outdoor seating and big open windows give every seat a good view. You’ll find girls in their Lulu Lemon attire coming back from a workout, about to work off their breakfast, or just wearing it for comfort while the guys are in tank tops and shorts and sandals or a few golf shirts and shorts about to head out to their tee time. No matter what you’re wearing you’ll fit right in. With beautiful weather coming soon there are lots of options for seating but if you plan to sit inside while the heat is still lingering around there could be a small wait. On our Sunday outing it was just 15 minutes and we ended up with a huge booth in the back with a full view of everyone. It was perfect for a morning of people watching and eggs.
It is possible that all those athletic wearing customers are there because the menu offers so many healthy meals. Some dishes called “Cross Fit” or “Farm Out Omelet” just scream healthy! However you can have whatever you want at the Morning Squeeze; including the traditional Eggs Benedict or go sugar crazy with a Crème Brulee Pancake. I dined on a more tex-mex favorite of breakfast tacos. This three taco plate comes with your choice of meat along with scrambled eggs, jack cheese, and salsa fresco. No need for a side with this plate because these are big tacos filled completely with the tasty scramble. It does come with a tasty chipotle salsa and some sour cream to top your taco off. I left fully satiated and a desire to come back and try one of the healthy options on the menu. My brunch partner did just that by trying the “Farm Out Omelet”. Egg whites and veggies make for one great start to the morning and when they include shaved kale, roasted tomato, feta, and pine nuts you know you’re nicely fueled to start the day. For me I was less into the healthy and more into the tasty tacos and bacon bloody mary this Sunday morning but either way you win!
One word of caution, go with a desire to take a leisurely brunch. I was catching up with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while so I barely noticed but when our food did arrive it dawned on me how long it took. It may have been due to it being a busy Sunday morning or because they were just backed up because I have not heard this as an issue from others who have visited. Either way, the food was worth it and good company never hurts to make a dining experience a memorable one.

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Oink Cafe Experience

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We have all heard of flights of fancy or maybe flights of wine? Oink Café took this idea to a new level with Flights of Bacon. Instead of maybe sampling a few different bottles of wine, you get to try 8 different flavors of bacon. Presented on a pink pig shaped plate, the strips of bacon come with a legend, allowing you to decide which one you liked best. I don’t know how one gets bored with bacon but none the less, they do change the types of bacon from time to time so you can be assured you will never get bored. This menu item is what brought Oink Café to my attention since I fully support the old saying, “Everything is better with bacon”. However, we were pleasantly surprised with all of our menu selections. The service was very friendly and even though they were slammed the entire time we were there we were frequently checked on and even had a visit or two from the manager. It is a good size too so the constant flow of people on and off the wait list is pretty quick. Be forewarned it does get extremely busy during the weekends, so expect a wait. There is a small bar area that is first come first served seating in case you feel like trying out your stalking skills on who is leaving.
They serve a nicely proportioned mimosa along with a few beers and a couple of bloody’s. If we hadn’t ordered the flight of bacon I would have tried their bacon bloody Mary but I’ll save that for the next visit. On to the food and what a treat you are in for with any selection you make. Suffice to say I was starving by the time we started our brunch and I may have gone a little overboard as I took home a doggy bag. After our flight of bacon I ordered the “Three Little Pigs in a Blanket” with hash browns and an extra side of biscuits & gravy. Little is inaccurate and total misrepresentation of this plate. Three full sized pancakes wrapped around 3 sausage links the size of a roll of quarters. I mean this was more than enough food in itself but it also came with a side. I had the hash browns and they were cooked super crispy and shredded just the right amount. I can’t stand getting hash browns that are still super mushy on the inside. These were crispy throughout with just a small thin layer of soft in the middle. The pancakes were just the right amount of sweet and doughy. The sausage looked homemade but I may have been wrong, but in either case they were quality sausage links. No frozen small links here. My side of one biscuit and gravy was also a large biscuit and absolutely covered completely in sausage gravy. It had a nice hint of rosemary and a few large chunks of sausage. They have a full meal of this but I warn you that the side might be plenty for one person.
Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, mostly because I think you can have whatever you want for breakfast and it’s ok. Oink Café’s lunch menu looks just as appetizing but it might take me awhile to give it a try as I already have my own waiting list of items on their breakfast menu. Others at my table had waffles and omelets and they were all just as delicious as my plate. So never fear, even if you aren’t a big pig eater there is something for everyone on this menu. One last thing to mention is that they also make bacon maple donuts and donut holes. They are the most delicious looking versions of this donut that I have ever seen. I didn’t have room to taste but by the looks of it and the amount I saw coming out of the kitchen they won’t disappoint.

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Feeney’s Restaurant & Bar Experience

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Every now and then we stumble upon a restaurant which has been hidden away down a street we have never driven on. 12th street just north of Bethany Home Rd in Phoenix is one of those streets and is home to Feeney’s Restaurant & Bar. Feeney’s looks very small on the outside but surprisingly has a good amount of tables and a very old-world ambiance. Walking in we found ourselves surrounded with lots of rooms with multiple tables, this allows a good size of guests to still feel they are in a private small environment. While big grand rooms are beautiful to see, it is this small quaintness that instantly makes you feel comfortable. If that wasn’t enough we were greeted immediately and treated like we had been coming there for years. Friendly is an understatement at Feeney’s and we never waited for anything. The other patrons I swore were repeat visitors but given the way we were treated I might have been wrong, because from the outside I’m sure we looked like regulars given all the discussion going on between the staff and our table. The menu is full of your favorite meats and seafood items and there is a Greek theme to show off the owner’s home country but if you aren’t a fan of Greek food don’t worry, the menu is clearly built for a steak house. I however did try out a Greek spiced lamb chops dish and I don’t regret it for a minute. Once we got to ordering that comfortable level of service came back as we were given suggestions on how we should have our different meats cooked. Once we got ordered she let us know that she wouldn’t put in the main course orders until we finished with our salad bar and appetizer. Nothing annoys me more than when a restaurant puts it all in at once and you haven’t even finished one course before the next one comes to the table. Feeney’s clearly wants you to enjoy your meal and not feel rushed.
We made our way to the all too classic salad bar, it even came with the old style cold metal salad plates. I was immediately reminded of going to dinner with my parents to steak houses and running over to the salad bar for all the pasta macaroni. I made my salad and added all my simple salad toppings and covered it with that ranch dressing that you just can’t buy anywhere or make yourself. I’ve tried to find the answer to my ranch quest but each time I’m told it’s a simple Hidden Valley ranch mix with buttermilk. I’ve tried that and it just doesn’t taste the same. At least I know now where to go when I must have my fix. We enjoyed our salads and then the fried zucchini appetizer came to our table nicely displayed in a wax paper cone and stand with 2 sides of that amazing ranch dressing for dipping. Freshly cut zucchini with just the right amount of breading it was a hit at the table. Our main courses arrived and the beautiful display of lamb chops and prime rib were a sight to behold. My lamb was perfectly cooked and those Greek seasonings were prominently on display on my taste buds. I have had some amazing lamb in countries known for lamb such as New Zealand but this may have been one of my favorite examples of it. Three chops were included and each contained quite a bit of meat with just the right amount of fat for flavor. The prime rib was thick and juicy, the type that melts in your mouth with each bite better than the last. With both plates we chose the twice baked potato as the side item. It has been a long time since I saw a twice baked potato on the menu and again it brought back memories of childhood dinners. It’s important to note that this potato is a big potato! My memories are always of a smaller maybe 4 inch potato when I think of a twice baked potato but this was a two fist full size and had fully scooped insides. The browning on the top of the potato was probably the best browning I’ve ever seen on a potato. It was not overburdened with toppings but just the right amount of bacon swirled in the soft center. Suffice to say I will definitely be getting it again.
Given the size of our main entrees and the appetizer we didn’t get a chance to try out any dessert options. However this restaurant created such a great memory with the entire table that we immediately agreed it gets our seal of approval. If you are thinking about visiting for lunch keep in mind that their menu is different for lunch and focuses more on salads, burgers and sandwiches. So if you want to try the meat and seafood options I’d stick with dinner. The lunch menu looks amazing and I can’t wait to return and try that out as well.

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Scooptacular Experience

He Said

 

My love affair began randomly at Lou Malnati’s, upon tasting their cookie dessert topped with the best vanilla ice cream I’ve ever had in my life. I asked them where this treasure came from and that was the first time I heard the name, Scooptacular. It was necessary to learn more and to taste more of course. A little investigation and we discovered Scooptacular is located in Laveen and not only do they make their own ice cream there but they have a great little shop. One very hot day in July my business partner in crime and I set out to get our hands on some ice cream and we were pleasantly surprised to find a great local success story along the way, and of course a new favorite flavor.
Nindi Wadhwa started his shop 6 years ago when he realized that there really wasn’t much selection in Laveen for family outings. He and his wife couldn’t find many options to take the whole family out. South Phoenix is full of your typical strip malls and restaurant chains for the most part. One day they drove by an empty shop in one of those malls, which was once inhabited by a Cold Stone, and they thought it would be pretty cool (pun intended) to open up their own local ice cream shop. If you can’t find what you are looking for, why not make it yourself. One thing led to another and now they not only have 2 stores (the second is in the SanTan Village in Gilbert) but you can also find their ice cream in multiple restaurants throughout the valley. Some Fox Concepts restaurants, Beckett’s Table, among other local restaurants use Scooptacular ice cream for some of their desserts. It is truly a great example of working within your local economy and utilizing word of mouth to find success. Keeping it local has also allowed them to become deeply ingrained in the community; hosting events and fundraisers all in an effort to bring the community closer together.
As for the actual ice cream, we embarked on a tasting extravaganza and oddly both my business partner and I ended up agreeing on the same favorite flavor. Nindi is willing to try anything when it comes to flavors and some work out and some just become great stories. During baseball season they developed a hot dog flavor (it had actual hot dog pieces in it) that didn’t go over so well except, the neighborhood kids started daring others to try it so it became infamous in its own way. But you probably won’t be seeing it again anytime soon. On the opposite side of the spectrum is the Laveen Concrete Mix, which is named because of a concrete factory located down the street. It has caramel ice cream with graham cracker crumbs and chocolate “rocks”. It’s only available in the Laveen store and it is worth the drive. These flavor experiments have also helped to create some social buzz. For example, during Thanksgiving 2012, the local CBS affiliate did a story on the Turkey flavor ice cream they had created and the story went national. Trending the day before Thanksgiving as the #3 story nationwide is not a bad way to start off a business.
For us at WhereShouldWeEat.com, our new favorite is Taro. Yes that’s right, the root vegetable! Surprisingly, it is very addicting and trust us when we say it is worth trying for yourself. It is a lavender purple color and has a distinct taste like nothing else you have ever had. The smell and flavor both reminded me of the Jelly Belly buttered popcorn flavor, which may sound unpleasant for an ice cream but it was amazing. There is a lot in store for the future of this local ice cream hidden gem. We can’t wait to see what new flavors are up next and where we see them expand!

She Said

 

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