Foodie Field Trip: Eating (in) Arizona

One thing I like to do when we’re traveling is check out the local food scene. Yes, this is a big NO DUH, but go with it, yes?

We spent a week in Arizona (mostly the Phoenix/Scottsdale area) over Christmas, and Matt and I made it a point to check out some new places and old favorites while we were there. I didn’t really have much of a bead on Arizona’s food culture, apart from the research I did for an entry on Native American foods for this encyclopedia, before heading out, and I didn’t have time to conduct research via the area’s scant food blogs, so I was pleasantly surprised to find an article in the local paper spotlighting the best new dishes in Phoenix in 2011.

One of the dishes on the list was a salmon rillette at the Arrogant Butcher, but after some research which included a Yelp review that said that two salads and two iced teas at lunch had cost $50, we scratched that place off our list. So, we decided to check out Big Earl’s BBQ instead, whose hot link hoagie had also made the cut on the list in question.

Located in old town Scottsdale, Big Earl’s has only been around for a little less than a year, and I suspect that the good press had led to an unexpected uptick in business, as the two waitstaff were slammed. They were out of hot links, so Matt and I split some brisket sliders and an order of mac and cheese, which was good, but not as good as what I make at home. The brisket in the sliders was tasty, and highly recommended (with the caveat that no brisket touches what you can get at Franklin. The end.).

Of course, no trip to the Phoenix area is complete without a trip to Fry Bread House and Chompie’s. While you can get all kinds of Indian tacos at Frybread House, from ground beef to a green chile pork, because I am picky about meat, I went with the vegetarian Indian taco, which is basically beans, cheese, and your typical veg on a large piece of fry bread. It is really, really tasty but simple food (and we always share an order of fry bread with honey for dessert), and there’s something deeply satisfying about supporting a local- and Native-owned business that has turned a food of suffering into a profitable business.

We first learned about Chompie’s when we saw Adam undertake the Jewish sliders challenge on Man v. Food. I will say that on the whole, the food at Chompie’s is fairly average, although the Jewish sliders and the fries are terrific (if a bit on the heavy side).

I also really like their rugelach, although I couldn’t get my hands on any this time around because the line at the bakery was so long. We actually ate there twice on this trip and while I was underwhelmed by our first visit, I was deeply happy with the chicken soup with matzoh balls on our last lunch in town.

It wasn’t all dining out, though. There was a lot of cooking, including the meal I made for the family on Christmas Eve. I got the Brussels sprouts for that meal at the Mesa Community Farmers Market, which, while small (it was Christmas Eve, after all!), was a sweet little market with a lot of handmade goodies like bakalva, pierogi, and lots and lots of preserves. I am particularly excited about the large jar of blackberry rhubarb butter that I got from Made by Bees.

One purchase I regret skipping over was the pickled Brussels sprouts from Urban Survival, which sprung up in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. My rationale was that I never would have been able to transport them back to Texas intact, but who am I kidding? I would have eaten them all before how to get them home was even a question. And seriously, there were DOZENS of pickled veggies and salsas on that table. It was such a complete collection that I was happily reminded of it (and also kicking myself all over again) when I saw this sketch on Portlandia Friday night:

I’m not sure what my next Foodie Field Trip will be. Maybe Boston? Seattle? Providence? Raleigh? We’ll see where the year takes me!

Austin to Boston Food Blogger Swap

Back in December, I had the enormous privilege to participate in the Austin to Boston (ATXBOS) Food Swap. I was matched with Jo at Hungry Crafter, which was a brilliant match, given our shared interests in food, cooking, and crafting.

After a few hastily exchanged emails (we were matched right before my defense) and following each other on Pinterest for a number of weeks, I felt ready to curate a package for Jo that spoke to both our overlapping tastes (hello, salted caramel!) and represented Austin’s local food culture.

In the package that went to Boston, I included the latest issue of Edible Austin, a copy of the Austin Chronicle (the one with my review of Bacon in it), a Bearded Brothers energy bar, some homemade matzoh crack, a small jar of salted caramel pear butter, some peanut brittle popcorn from Cornucopia, small pouches of vanilla bean sugar and Native Texan bbq rub from Savory Spice Shop, a bottle of Goodflow honey, some peppermint marshmallows from Coco Paloma (a last-minute addition that ended up making me miss the December 15 deadline, which was not a huge deal), a salted caramel brownie from Mary Louise Butter, and a couple of dishcloths I knitted. I am pretty proud of this goodie box!

I mailed the box out on December 16 (or 17, can’t recall) and held my breath. Jo was running late on her box, too. As it turns out, our packages probably crossed in the mail, as hers arrived here on Monday the 19th (the day before we were leaving for Phoenix for a week!), the same day that mine arrived in Boston! We really are truly kindred — and tardy — spirits.

Here are goods of Boston provenance that arrived that day: a bag of Effie’s oatcakes, of which I gobbled down two before reading the nutritional information; marshmallow Fluff (BK and LK had their first-ever Fluffernutters yesterday as a result); a bag of Fastachi nut mix; a bottle of maple syrup; some local dried cranberries, which are so delicious that I am rationing them for Very Special Salads and the occasional small fistful for snacking; a couple of pellets of Taza chocolate; and a couple of snack bags Jo made after observing my craft-related pins on Pinterest. She also included a lovely card with an image done by a local artist and tons of recipes and articles about the included products.

I am so pleased with this swap and to have made a new “penpal”! In fact, I may be presenting a paper (on food in The Hunger Games) at a conference in Boston in April and I hope to meet Jo in person (as well as get my hands on more of those cranberries!). Thanks to the organizers for making such a fun exchange happen!