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June, 2010, Page 184
Photos by Richard Maack
Tunisian vegetable salad
Finally, a fresh food fix comes to Ahwatukee Foothills and gives other hip foodie ’hoods a run for their money.
When Hillside Spot opened in late 2009 in Ahwatukee Foothills, the general consensus was “hallelujah” and “what took so long?”
Finally, a bright, contemporary space where breakfast, lunch and dinner is served daily, using mostly local meats and produce, prepared in a spacious, open kitchen under the direction of talented chefs, all for reasonable prices. A smart wine and beer list, happy hour and pretty patio complete the package. It’s the kind of place every neighborhood should have.
Right away, locals, including me, embraced it. After its first few months in operation, business is still brisk and plenty of love abounds, though minor frustrations pop up on occasion.
First, the pedigree: There’s Chef/owner Doug Robson, and Executive chef Christopher Newstrom, who has a long history of working with Robson, appears to live in the place – he must have a cot in a back storage room. They also have an in-house pastry chef, Rebecca Reeder, who makes things like cookies, muffins, scones and a signature almond coffee cake.
Hillside Spot had a soft opening in late November, and it slowly added more menu items and dinner service. This has been one of the sticking points – in order to keep me coming back regularly, I need more variety. I understand they wanted to be cautious right out of the gate and see what worked, but after a few months, I was eager for them to ramp it up.
Do not expect gastronomic acrobatics here. Chefs focus on standards and do them extremely well. Starting with breakfast, they immediately caused waves with their fluffy, eggy, from-scratch Mia’s homemade pancakes ($6; named after Robson’s daughter) that don’t sit in your stomach like a rock. El Jefe ($8), a Spanish omelet with Schreiner’s chorizo, Manchego cheese, roasted bell peppers, spinach and potatoes, will fortify you for the entire day. Huevos rancheros verdes ($8) come with a wonderful, tangy sauce made from roasted green chiles and tomatillos, but where was the corn tortilla? (Robson, raised in Mexico City, promised to get on it.)
Mia's Homemade pancakes
The El Gallo torta ($6) with scrambled eggs, chorizo, tomato, avocado and mayo on a luscious grilled telera loaf from La Sonorense could easily lure me in weekly if they didn’t skimp on the chorizo. I’ve had a better Croque Monsieur ($7.50), though whisper-thin slices of ham and aromatic Gruyère give it promise.
Lunch is worth a trip for the cheeseburger and fries ($8.50) alone. They get whole chuck from freshly slaughtered cattle, grind it in-house and serve it simply with lettuce, tomato, onion and mayo on a soft yet sturdy bun from La Sonorense. The hand-cut fries were so good I didn’t want to share even one crispy stick.
Just try to resist the pulled pork and cole slaw sandwich ($7), on the same telera bread as the torta, once you get a whiff of the shoulder from the Meat Shop being smoked and then slow-roasted with Oak Creek beer, onions and spices. The orange soy glaze gives it a kiss of sweetness.
Tunisian vegetable salad ($8) is another wonder, full of garden goodness (Maya’s Farm and Love Grows Farm supply local produce) with spinach, kale, sun-dried tomatoes, green beans, olives, grilled corn, celery, basil, and marinated, grilled sweet peppers and fennel. If you like that, also try the local farm vegetable sandwich ($7) with lightly grilled, smoky (not slimy) zucchini and plump roasted red peppers and tomatoes.
Baked chicken cacciatore
A tuna fish sandwich ($7) was, well, tuna. Fine, but nothing I would crave. Derby salad ($8) with a lettuce mix, egg, avocado, bacon and blue cheese was wildly out of balance, with overcooked bacon and overpowering blue cheese (which is terrific on its own, though).
Dinner is hit-or-miss, with some standouts. “Baked” chicken cacciatore ($14) with feather-light homemade cavatelli uses their juicy, expertly seasoned rotisserie chicken served in a heady, deep red mushroom sauce topped with mozzarella and served in a covered casserole. The 14-ounce, grass-fed, mesquite-grilled rib eye ($18) was one of the best rib eyes I’ve ever had.
The half rotisserie chicken ($11), made from young, tender chickens from Red Bird Farms, can be great, but just OK when the skin isn’t crispy. Seafood hasn’t been a catch, no thanks to a dull salmon dish and a stinky swordfish.
Sides are up and down, too. Vegetables can be crisp and refreshing or soggy and limp. The safe bet is Callejero-style corn on the cob ($4) – a nod to Robson’s upbringing in Mexico. It’s grilled and coated with mayo, cotija cheese and smoked paprika, and it’s positively addictive.
If Hillside Spot served nothing but its grazing plate, I’d still be a regular. Finally, a real cheese and charcuterie menu, with intensely flavored and ever-changing selections ($3.50 for cheese, $4 for meat, or four for $9). They started with only a handful of wines by the glass to enjoy with these, but they’re adding more all the time, to my delight.
For dessert, not-overly-sweet apple pie with house-made caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream ($5) made my eyes light up, but a dry brownie and melted ice cream in the brownie sundae ($5) was a let-down.
The one overriding irksome trait at Hillside Spot is the service. After ordering at the counter, servers wandered around the restaurant yelling names and numbers when plates came out. At times, they missed frantic waving and screams of “Over here!” And forget about trying to get a refill on ice, hot tea or anything else unless you go back to the counter and bug someone.
Dinner features regular table service, but servers generally weren’t polished or knowledgeable (and were even argumentative on one visit).
Mostly, though, employees are a good-natured bunch, and the ambience and food make up for the few annoyances. It beats having to drive to Arcadia or other hipper neighborhoods for a fresh food fix.
Photos - Clock-wise from top left: local farm vegetable sandwich; pulled pork and cole slaw
sandwich; apple pie; cheeseburger with french fries
: 4740 E. Warner Road, Phoenix
: 480-705-7768 •
: Breakfast, 6:30 a.m.-4 p.m. daily; lunch, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. daily; dinner,
4 p.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 4 p.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday
: Mia’s homemade pancakes ($6); El Jefe omelet ($8); Tunisian grilled vegetable salad ($8); pulled pork and cole slaw sandwich ($7); cheeseburger ($8.50); baked chicken cacciatore ($14); rib eye ($18); apple pie ($5)
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