The leaves on the trees may not be changing color, but the vibes of autumn are all around in the Valley of the Sun – the cooler temperatures, the Halloween decorations, the Thanksgiving recipes, the pumpkin spice-flavored everything, and best of all – the flavorful fall craft cocktails at local lounges. Here are five favorites, with nary a pumpkin spice-anything among them.
El Segundo (The Parlor): mezcal, watermelon, Apertivo Capalletti, lime, black pepper. $11
With a subtle spice pinch and smoky tones from mezcal ebbing and flowing into a soothing, mellow melon finish, El Segundo’s like an Autumn equinox of cocktails. Served with mint leaves and a thick watermelon slice garnish over lots of ice. (pictured, left)
Many nights when I’m running late, I’ll stop at the grocery store and buy a roasted chicken. When I get home, I make a quick salad and voilà, dinner is done. But really, with a little advanced planning, roasting my own chicken isn't that much extra work for a simple, delicious dinner at home.
According to Chef Sal Zappone, owner of Zappone’s Italian Bistro, “Everybody loves a great roasted chicken.” His recipe is a take on his mother’s version. “It’s all about using the rosemary and the garlic and letting it marinate so the flavors really develop,” he says.
The 3rd Annual Garlic Fest takes place at Queen Creek Olive Mill this weekend, September 24 and 25, and in anticipation of this fragrant and flavorful festival – and in celebration of this diverse bulb used widely in both cooking and natural medicine – we present five fun facts about garlic. It doesn’t just keep vampires away.
#1: You can make glue with garlic. Crush the cloves, and it’s sticky city. The adhesive agent works especially well for small projects involving fragile material.
Valley native Peter McQuaid developed an interest in cooking at a young age. He read cookbooks and experimented with dishes at home, but it wasn’t until he got a job working for Silvana Salcido Esparza at Barrio Urbano that his culinary talents emerged. Now 18-years-old, McQuaid is attending culinary school at the International Culinary Center in New York City. He won a scholarship with Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP) and was a recipient of the prestigious 2015 James Beard Foundation’s Taste America scholarship. He’s back home in the Valley this week to participate in the James Beard Foundation’s Taste America tour Sept. 22-24. We caught up with him by phone last week.
Why do you participate in Arizona Restaurant Week?
It helps drive business in and, most importantly, it gives us an opportunity to showcase the restaurant to new diners.
What will be on your Arizona Restaurant Week menu?
What works best for us is to put things on the menu that are representative of the Stockyards. We’ve been here 70 years next year and we are very beef-centric, obviously, and we stay true to that with our core menu. We do a three-course meal. [You get a] choice of house salad and we always offer three soups: a tenderloin chili, steak soup and a soup of the day. For entrées, we do an 8 oz. filet and a 16 oz. cut of prime rib and then we also do seafood gratin with lobster, shrimp and scallops baked in a garlic cream sauce with garlic toast. We offer three of our most popular desserts: pecan pie that we make in house, sour cream cheesecake and a chocolate layer cake.
How do you compete against the big steak chains?
You just have to be good every day – there’s an old adage in the restaurant business – “You’re only as good as your last meal served.” It’s really true and I honor that. It doesn’t matter how good you were yesterday, you have to do it again today and you have to do it with every plate. Our dinners include a relish tray and a bread basket with biscuits and cornbread with honey butter (also included on the Restaurant Week menu). Dinner always comes with a choice of soup or salad and a potato. When you add $10 for a salad and $10 for a potato (at a steak chain), you’re $20 more than I am for the same dinner, and we’re going to stick with that.
Chef Michael Rusconi developed his love for the flavor and fragrance of white truffles while working at Mary Elaine’s at The Phoenician many years ago. When white truffles were delivered via the freight elevator into the kitchen, the scent infiltrated all corners of the restaurant. “The smell is so unique. You never forget that,” he says. “And nothing else tastes quite like it.”
To spread his love of white truffles, Rusconi whips up truffled macaroni and cheese to go along with beef tenderloin at Rusconi’s American Kitchen.
Dust off your dirndls and don your lederhosen – Oktoberfest events are here, and they’re bringing Bavarian beer, bratwursts and polka music with them. Of all the very many “Volkfests” in the Valley, here are the five most “fantastiche,” listed in order of occurrence:
Brat Haus Oktoberfest, September 17
Drunken competition fuels the fun at this fete – lederhosen and dirndl contests, a brat-eating contest, beer garden games and even a “Badass Beard Contest” will keep people whooping and hollering as they dance to a DJ and get their giant steins laser-etched and filled with fresh-tapped Oktoberfest beer. The food feast includes knockwurst, pork knuckle, giant turkey legs and specialty pretzels. $8 presale, $10 at the door. Free admission for wearing a dirndl or lederhosen. brathausaz.com
It’s Taco Tuesday! Chances are, your Facebook feed is filled with memes celebrating this unofficial but extremely well-observed holiday. Few culinary cultural appropriations are more beloved than tacos (except maybe pizza – maybe). Not only do tacos get their own day of the week, but they get feted in festivals perhaps more than any other food. There are three taco fests in the Valley in the next month alone. In the East Valley this Saturday, September 17, the Rockin’ Taco Street Fest hits Dr. A.J. Chandler Park; the Tequila, Taco and Cerveza Festival rides into Rawhide Western Town on October 1; and the biggest taco party, the Arizona Taco Festival , takes over Salt River Fields on October 15 and 16.
Why do we love tacos so much? What is it about these tortillas rolled around fillings that makes them so irresistible? We’ll leave the real pondering to the food psychologists (yes, that’s a thing), but here’s a handful of hypotheses:
#1: Tacos are completely customizable.
Want fries with that? Seriously, you could put your fries in that. Or you could go with ingredients llike crumbled beef, carne asada steak, fish, shrimp, pork or veggies. You can choose from hard- or soft-shell tacos, flour or corn tortillas, and tons of topping options – lettuce, cheese, sour cream, tomatoes, onions, a plethora of peppers, etc. There’s pretty much nothing you can’t do to a taco. It’s the most accommodating and friendliest of foods.
Arizona Restaurant Week is back! Its fall iteration takes place Sept. 16-25, with more than 100 restaurants participating across the state. Restaurants will offer three-course menus at $33 and $44 per person (excluding tax, gratuity and beverages, unless otherwise indicated).
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