Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Off the Map: Well, It's Not Sbarro, But It Will Do

Rosa Pizza -- Pizzeria Bianco, Phoenix, AZ
Pizzeria Bianco

"I'm already annoyed.  It's never good when I start out annoyed."

And so begins our inexplicable drama with the staff of Pizzeria Bianco. 

After a hearty and heartening meal at Matt's Big Breakfast, we wander through the streets of downtown Phoenix in search of John T. Edge's Best Thing I Ever Ate Rosa PIZZA at Pizzeria Bianco.
There's New York Pizza, There's Chicago Pizza, and There's... Phoenix Pizza?
When we arrive, we find an assortment of both picnic and high-top tables in front of the establishment, and a packed house inside.  Vodka makes her way in, and finding no hostess but a pad of paper and a pen on the pizza counter, she decides to sign us in herself, Matt's Big Breakfast-style.

Apparently, such sign-in practices are NOT, as Vodka had assumed, a Phoenix policy.  At least, that's what the waiter who scolded her said.

Obediently dropping the pen, Vodka waits for the actual hostess to appear and then learns that it will be thirty to forty minutes for a table. 

"Can we eat outside?" Vodka asks, pointing at the vacant tables just outside the front door.

"We don't serve out there," the hostess states.  Accepting our fate, Vodka retreats outside and explains the situation to Ginger and our friend, who suggest that we ask for a pizza to-go and consume it on this lovely, shady picnic table.

This plan, too, is not allowed by the school marm-ish hostess.

And now, Vodka is annoyed.
So Then What, Exactly, Are All of These Tables For?!
We sit on our picnic bench somewhat patiently for a half hour, Ginger popping up randomly to photograph Southwest scenery ("Excuse me, I need to go take a picture of some lemons").
Looking at Citrus Trees Like People Who Have Never Seen the Ocean
Meanwhile, a plethora of stray cats roam the premises, making us question whether or not they're the reason for Pizzeria Bianco's seemingly ludicrous policy of not allowing customers to consume THEIR PIZZA directly outside of THEIR RESTAURANT.
Minus 10 Stars for Making No Sense, Pizzeria Bianco
After seating not one but two parties who had arrived after us, our sworn frenemy, the hostess, deigns to allow us to sit at the bar.  And this is where the real trouble begins.
See How Many People Are Waiting For Us? Yeah - Exactly
Ginger scampers off to the excessively large bathroom, one in which we're convinced, based on our New York-centric ideas about space, you could fit a table for ten, leaving Vodka and our friend to commandeer the drinks.
Arizona is the Place to Live If You Want to Fit Full Wardrobes in Your Bathroom
We order wine and the bartender cards Vodka.  Now, Vodka loves to be carded, as it makes her feel like a college co-ed, so this is not the issue.  The issue is that the bartender is about as focused as a hyperactive Pomeranian.  Instead of checking our friend's ID at the same time as Vodka's, he disappears, so our friend puts her ID away.  Minutes later, when we are still without our drinks, he asks to see hers.

And now our friend is annoyed, too.
So This Pizza Better Be the Best Thing We Ever Ate to Make Up For All of This Nonsense
At this point, the attention-deprived bartender and his scolding waiter friend start talking about us -- or to us, but in a passive-aggressive way that we do not comprehend.

And this is the moment at which Ginger returns from the bathroom, thoroughly confused by the scowls on both of our faces.

Eventually, we receive both our wine and our glasses of water (which Vodka only had to ask for, oh, three times).  But you know what we do not receive?  Bread.  You know what everyone else seated at the bar has received?  A basket of bread.

"I don't even want the bread," Vodka says, referring to our Matt's Big Breakfast-induced fullness.  "But it's the principle of the thing."

And now, everyone is annoyed: Vodka and our friend are irritated by the bartender, waiter, and hostess, and Ginger is perturbed by the fact that she still doesn't quite understand what is going on.

For the record, this is not the best mentality with which to consume a pizza.
But It Is Great Motivation for Tossing Certain Waitstaff Towards the Pizza Oven
Trying to lighten the mood, Ginger prattles on about how she does not fear she will die by murder or mugging in Arizona because there are so many other hazards with which to contend, such as snakes and cacti.

"And scorpions," our friend offers helpfully, causing both of us to lift our toes up slightly higher on our barstools.
Death by Desert
Just before Ginger can confess by what other means she fears she will kick the bucket, our pizza arrives (well, actually, the bartender tries to give it to another party and has to be corrected, cementing his cold place in Vodka's heart).
You're Currently Batting in the Negative Zone, Buddy
Six slices, with slightly charred crusts from the giant pizza oven, are covered with slices of red onion, a coating of parmigiano reggiano, and pistachios, and the whole thing is seeped with rosemary flavoring.
Nuts and Onions Everywhere and Not a Drop of Cheese
Biting in, we find the crust thin, slightly crispy, and pleasant enough.  It is the toppings which we feel are lacking.
And PS Why Are All of the Toppings Hovering at the Tips of the Slices?
In its defense, this rosa pizza is interesting, mostly because we have never seen nuts sprinkled onto a pie before, and they bring a solid earthy texture to the slices.
But All the Texture in the World Can't Bring "Taste"
However, we think something else needs to be added in order to make the flavors pop -- more cheese, or salt, or garlic, or truffle, or some form of sauce.  The pizza, for all its unusual ingredients, is more than tolerable, but just not as interesting as it should be.
Why, in a "Nutshell," Phoenix is Not Known for Its Pizza
Diving into her second slice, Ginger proclaims, "I just feel like it's missing something."

"Bread," the still-bitter Vodka retorts, once again eying the neighboring bread basket.

By the end of our "lunch" (let's be real -- we don't really let "meal times" hinder our eating schedule), we're fairly certain that the staff of Pizzeria Bianco finds us just as aggravating as we find them (and not just because we keep speaking loudly about how dusty their overhead beams are).
Ever Hear of Some Endust?!
Considering that we had hopped off the plane from New York and headed straight to the airport Sbarro, we may not have the most discerning taste in pizza.
Sad That We Preferred This Duo of Slices, Huh?
But we do know, without a doubt, when we are irrevocably annoyed.

Pizzeria Bianco's Rosa Pizza: 3 stars

Monday, January 30, 2012

Off the Map: Into the Desert in Muumuus We Go

The Chop & Chick -- Matt's Big Breakfast, Phoenix, AZ
Matt's Big Breakfast

When the thermometer hits the freezing mark, many New Yorkers flee for the Florida beach or the Arizona desert.  This kind of logic is how we find ourselves on a plane to Phoenix in the middle of the January chill.  The only difference lies in the fact that rather than for some relaxation and Vitamin D, we are heading to Arizona to eat. 

We are essentially the vulture version of snowbirds.
The First of Our 90,000 Cactus Pictures
In truth, we probably would not have ever made it to Arizona had it not been for our mutual college friend's choice to live near Phoenix, thus providing us with a tour guide, a hotel, and most importantly for our automobile-inept ways, a driver.
Being Chauffeured Around Gives Us the Chance to Take Some Scenic Highway Shots
It is due to both her graciousness as a host and her ability to navigate that we find ourselves in the middle of downtown Phoenix on our way to taste our first Best Thing I Ever Ate Southwest delicacy.
Toto, I Don't Think We're in Manhattan Anymore
As we make our way down the cacti-surrounded sidewalks, we find ourselves on our very own exotic species nature walk, which we insist on photographing at every corner.
"Winter" in Arizona
When our friend announces that we could probably find a lot of prickly pear cacti in the area, we have only one logical follow-up question:
"Do They Come With Tequila?"
With nary a margarita in sight, we instead find Matt's Big Breakfast and are greeted by a throng of people waiting outside its doors.
Looks Kind of Like a Car Wash from a Distance, Don't You Think?
As our friend signs us in with the provided pad and pencil, we take a seat on one of the surrounding benches, Ginger stationed in the sun and Vodka hiding from any shred of its rays.

"Is my face blue?" Ginger asks.

"No... why?!"

"My sunscreen is supposed to turn blue when UV rays hit it," Ginger explains, whipping out the sunscreen bottle to confirm this fact.  What she finds is a berry-blue bottle cap, which had been white just this morning.  It seems that the TOP of the sunscreen container turns blue in sun; not Ginger's face.

Crisis averted.
Idiocy Lives on in the Desert
After approximately forty minutes, our name is called and we shuffle into the ironically named Matt's Big Breakfast, ironic because the place is almost smaller than our apartments.  Although this wait time is long by our standards, we are not perturbed for two reasons:
1) we were able to check our own progress on the sign-in pad, and
2) the staff at Matt's Big Breakfast does not dilly-dally -- the service is so quick that it leads to rapid table turnover, despite the scarcity of the tables themselves.

Well played, Matt's Big Breakfast.
Sun-Drenched Special Board
Settling into our cozy diner-like table, we order Guy Fieri's Best Thing I Ever Ate WAKE UP CALL choice: the chop and chick (two eggs and a skillet-seared Iowa pork rib chop).
And Meanwhile, Watching Over the Proceedings....
As we discuss whether or not we would allow Guy to brand our establishment with a graffiti tattoo, our beverages arrive: apple cider for us and chocolate milk for our friend.
Gotta Love a Water Jar
Said friend, not being used to the rules of this eating tour (don't dare touch your food until Vodka takes a boatload of photographs of it) reaches for her milk as Vodka reaches for her camera.  This action results in a literal slap on the wrist from Vodka.

"Sorry, it's my first time," our friend states, retracting her hand until the proper number of pictures have been snapped.
Five Hours Later, the First Sip Was Taken
We barely have time to wax poetic about the deliciousness of our drinks (tangy/tart and creamy/smooth, respectively) before our breakfasts arrive.  When a plate of sourdough toast is placed in front of her, Ginger says with ample enthusiasm, "Ooh, we get toast!  I love toast."
Never Before Has Toast Received Such a Warm Welcome to a Table
"THAT'S the part you're excited about?!" our friend asks, gesturing at the enormous waffle and pork chop which have also appeared.

"But look at that butter," Ginger defends her toast-centric tastebuds.  Indeed, the toast proves to be almost unbearably perfect, both because of the smothered-on butter and the side of berry jam.
One-to-One Toast-to-Butter Ratio
However, it is not the focus of our Best Thing I Ever Ate eating today; for that, we have our chop and chick.
A Bi-Polar Breakfast Plate
First of all, the chop and chick is not something any of us would ever order for breakfast if left to our own devices because, after all, who eats a pork chop as their first meal of the day?  And perhaps if the chop and chick consisted only of the chop, we would still feel this way.
Pork Chop in the Morning, Pork Chop in the Evening, Pork Chop at Supper Time
However, the combination of the pork chop, scrambled eggs, and crunchy hash browns ends up being almost too astounding for us to fathom.
Three Unexpected Peas in a Pod
As Vodka commandeers the steak knife and cuts the chop into pint-size pieces, Mother Hen-style, Ginger and our friend stab together trifecta bites of delectability.
Vodka Showing Her Maternal Side
While the scrambled eggs are fairly standard, both the pork chop and the hash browns are superior to any we have ever had.  The chop is moist and succulent, which astonishes those of us who equate pork chops with being dry and flavorless.
Perfect Pig
The hash browns are cooked to a crisp and rival even our gold standard in this food group, McDonald's.  And the combination of the three elements is nothing less than tantalizing.
The Better to Bite You With, My Dear
"I'm just going to add a little salt," Vodka, who has made it her business to keep salt miners employed, says while sprinkling a bit on top of the plate.

"No!  It's SO salty," Ginger tries to stop her.

"Is it?!" Vodka asks, clearly having upped her salt tolerance by a few teaspoon degrees over the past year.

Moving onto the waffle, it is quite simply to-die-for.
In a Word, Wafflicious
The sweet cream butter and fresh maple syrup take the already-amazing plate to heavenly proportions, and we are once again certain that we have never before tasted a waffle so melt-in-your-mouth delightful.
We Like Anything Sprinkled with Sugar AND Bacon
The side of bacon, while also tasty on its own, is even better when paired with bites of waffle, bringing a salty char to the proceedings, and it is all we can do not to collectively lick the plates.
"Quick, Someone Create a Diversion So We Can Lap This Up"
"I now understand the muumuus," our friend states as we wrap up our meal, referring to our billowing, waist-forgiving attire.  We pay our check, which is remarkably low for the level of food we have consumed, and we begin to make our way outside as the ever-efficient waitstaff clears our table for the next party.  When a fork tumbles off of the chop and chick plate onto Vodka's muumuu, our friend gets a look of panic in her eyes.

"Did that just demote them to four stars?" she asks.

But lucky for Matt's Big Breakfast, a bird in the mouth is worth two on the dress.

Matt's Big Breakfast's The Chop & Chick and Waffles: 5 stars*

*Certifiable Best Thing We Ever Ate

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The 100th Post Medal Podium: The Very Best Things We Have Eaten (So Far)

In honor of our 100th post, we have each decided to compile a list of our favorite dishes consumed so far -- our Best Of the Best Thing I Ever Ate, so to speak.  These are the places that we tend to recommend the most and would be especially likely to return to on our own accord.  And so, in a burst of Olympic fanfare, we present the It's Not Even Noon Somewhere 100th Post Gold Medal Champions:

Best Things Vodka Ever Ate:
1. Pasta Tasting Menu -- Vetri
Toto, I Don't Think We're in Olive Garden Anymore
One word: pasta.  Vetri is all about the pasta, which just so happens to be Vodka's favorite food on the planet.  And no one -- NO ONE -- does pasta better than the staff at Vetri.  So save up your pennies, make your way to Philadelphia, and drown yourself in Vetri's delectability.

2. Spaghetti -- Scarpetta

Don't Let Your Cat Mistake This For Yarn
Since there is not yet a Vetri outpost in New York, Vodka heads to Scarpetta whenever she needs an upscale pasta fix.  While the Best Thing I Ever Ate dish is the spaghetti, all other pasta dishes which Vodka has tasted here (particularly any of the truffle specials) have been mouth-watering feats of culinary glory.  And if all of that persuasion is not enough, Scarpetta's bread basket is the best in the city (it has stromboli in it, for goodness sake!).

3. Mama Els' Recipe Fried Chicken -- Hill Country Chicken

Everyone Knows the Best Fried Chicken Comes From... Manhattan?
When Vodka decides to eat something other than carbs, she heads to Hill Country Chicken for some of Mama Els' Recipe fried chicken (though let's be real - Hill Country's carbs are pretty great, too, particularly their mac and cheese).  Go for the chicken, stay for the pie.  PS Vodka loves any place that serves boxed wine.

4. Cookies -- Levain
The Only Hiking Vodka Wants to Do Is Up This Cookie Mountain
When the Best Thing I Ever Ate tour was still a mere figment of our overeating imaginations, Vodka fell in love with Levain Bakery and their one-pound cookies.  While the dark chocolate variety was the one featured on Best Thing I Ever Ate, Vodka prefers the chocolate chip walnut or the peanut butter chocolate versions, though, in truth, you cannot go wrong with any flavor.  In fact, you cannot go wrong with a single baked good served at Levain (and rest assured that Vodka has made it her mission to try them all).

5. Toasted Ricotta Gnocchi -- Jane

Paula Deen Said It Best: Add Butter to Everything
Clearly, Vodka has a soft-spot for pasta, and Jane's ricotta gnocchi is second to none.  Starchy and smothered in cream, they are a guilty pleasure waiting to happen.  If they were served at a time other than lunch, Vodka might even be found in one of Jane's booths every week.

Best Things Ginger Ever Ate:

1. Cyprus Breakfast -- Kanella
Smorgasbord of Salt
Kanella's cyprus breakfast eliminated Ginger's eternal debate between sweet or salty morning meals.  While consuming Kanella's sodium-laden platter, nary a vision of sugary baked goods danced in her head.  The cyprus breakfast accomplishes perfection without a drop of chocolate or maple syrup, which is fantastic news... if you live in Philadelphia.

2. Spaghetti -- Scarpetta
It Bears Repeating: STROMBOLI in the BREAD BASKET
Truth be told, Ginger's love affair with Scarpetta is not even about the Best Thing I Ever Ate spaghetti; it is about the bread basket that precedes the spaghetti.  The pasta dishes are only a delicious method by which to obtain the most fantastic bread selection in the whole city.

3. Spaghetti and Meatballs -- Extra Virgin
Spaghetti with a Side of Bowling Ball
Unfortunately for Scarpetta, if Ginger were looking to eat spaghetti on a brisk fall afternoon, she would bundle up and request a prime people-watching seat on the patio of Extra Virgin in the West Village.  This spaghetti is tasty on its own, but the meatballs elevate it beyond the plain and simple.  And luckily, there is plenty left over to bring home for a crave-worthy snack later in the night.  Fortunately for Scarpetta, Extra Virgin only serves this dish on Sunday, so Ginger's loyalties are not too divided.

4. Popovers -- BLT Steak
Snap, Crackle, Popover
It has come to Ginger's attention that sometimes, the "free" bread is the best thing about a place. Case-in-point: BLT Steak's popovers.  If it weren't for our detailed blog, Ginger wouldn't even be able to remember what else we ate at BLT Steak (though she would imagine it involved steak).  These warm, airy popovers could only be improved by one thing: a fresh ginger cocktail.

5. Toasted Marshmallow Milkshake -- Stand

Ginger Likes Her Campfires in a Glass
One time after our initial excursion, Ginger went back to Stand and ordered a different milkshake; it was a terrible mistake.  After drinking the toasted marshmallow milkshake, no other kind ever compares.  And after consuming one shake, all you want is another.  In all fairness, Micheal Symon did warn us.

Best Cocktail:

Grapefruit Margarita -- Barrio Chino
Part of a Balanced Breakfast
Suffice it to say that this margarita made Vodka a fan of grapefruit itself, not to mention able to bear the burden of cardboard menus and rowdy brunch-time hipsters.

Grapefruit Margarita -- Barrio Chino
The Grapefruit Margarita is Worth the Shoddiness of This Menu
Barrio Chino has elevated the margarita far beyond the realm of Jimmy Buffet's imagination into a delicious, tangy concoction perfect for brunch.  It is just a matter of time (and stomach space) before we return to the place, and this time, Ginger will forgo the ginger mojito in favor of this perfect pink drink.

(Clearly, the sole reason we're friends is our identical preference for this cocktail).

Best Dessert:

Rice Pudding -- Rice to Riches
The Alien-Invasion Photography Does Not Do Justice to This Pudding's Perfection
Based on her physique, one would not assume that Kelly Ripa knows good food, but she advocated Rice to Riches's plethora of rice pudding flavors long before Lisa Lillien did, and Vodka has been a loyal fan of the place ever since.  Tip: skip the toppings and stick to the pure perfection of the rice pudding itself.

Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies – Levain Bakery
Brownie Flavor in Cookie Form
These cookies would feed several small children for weeks.  The outside is crisp, but the inside is rich and creamy, like raw cookie dough.  Ginger once tried to find the recipe online and to bake these sinfully good cookies herself, but somehow, the vast gooey interior remains a home baker's pipe dream.

Best Appetizer:

Pickles -- McClure's Pickles
Life Is Just a Bowl of Pickles
Not only are pickles an ideal prelude to any meal, but Vodka enjoys any food that is a Bring Your Own Atmosphere choice.  While the first half of McClure's salty, briny pickle jar was consumed in the middle of E.A.T. restaurant, the second half was demolished on Vodka's couch, which is, frankly, her very favorite culinary ambiance of all.

Deviled Eggs-- The Spotted Pig
Heavenly Eggs of the Devil's Creation
Deviled eggs may be one of the easiest things to whip up in one's own kitchen, but why bother when you can sit at the Spotted Pig bar with a festive cocktail to accompany their more scrumptious variety?

Best Bar:

Grilled Mushroom Stack -- o ya
The Mushrooms Must Be Awfully Good to Counteract the Lack of Cocktails
One might wonder why Vodka would choose a bar where she didn't actually consume a cocktail.  Well, o ya's accommodating staff allowed Vodka to sit at the chef's tasting bar by herself when the restaurant was barely open so that she could consume the Best Thing I Ever Ate dish, and any bar that she can take over on her own is one that holds a special place in her heart.  Solid work, Boston.

French Onion Soup Dumplings -- Stanton Social Club

It's Hard to Dislike Something Smothered in Cheese
Sure, the French onion soup dumplings were delicious, but what makes Stanton Social Club the best bar is that we were the only ones there.  Full bartender attention, broad daylight, and silence: that's our kind of place.  (Plus, this is the location where we came up with the title of our blog -- creativity flourishes when we are left to our own mid-day drinking devices).

Best (Biggest) Surprise:

Toro Tartare -- Morimoto
Sushi on the Rocks
Normally, a thin slab of raw fish, sans rice, would not be considered Vodka's go-to meal, but Morimoto's toro tartare is so ridiculously interesting that it makes a believer out of even the most reluctant sashimi eater.  Fresh fish, a smattering of dip choices, and a full-service Japanese toilet -- what else could someone want from a restaurant?

Deep Fried Candy Bar – A Salt and Battery
The Real English Royalty
Ginger loves both fatty foods and state fairs, so her apathy towards deep-frying is somewhat baffling.  The truth is that she is not wild about fried Oreos or even classic funnel cake, but the deep-fried candy bars at A Salt and Battery are true to their Best Thing I Ever Ate episode: TOTALLY UNEXPECTED.

And there you have it: 100 posts down, innumerable Best Thing I Ever Ate dishes to go.  Perhaps by post 500, our tastes will change.  But somehow, we think that no matter where our tastebuds and Food Network stars lead us, we will always be loyal to one reliable constant: our dear friend, the cocktail.

And with that, we raise a toast to the next 100 dishes: May they all be the best things we ever ate.  Or at the very least, may they all be accompanied by some combination of vodka and ginger.