Devoured Phoenix Culinary Classic is a two-day festival for the fairly well-to-do food-obsessed. Tickets for the four-hour event were $69 per day in advance and $79 at the door. Rumor had it Saturday’s 2,500 allotted tickets darn near sold out.
It was crowded, almost claustrophobically so at times, but at least the crowd got their money’s worth with unlimited food, wine and beer. Still, this upscale crowd didn’t seem the type to gorge until their eyeballs bulged, or drink until they stumbled around the grounds of the Phoenix Art Museum. Devoured is a classy event, and this year, at least based on the first day, seemed to run smoother than previous years. No one ran out of food, the water troughs stayed full of bottled water, the trash cans were plentiful and emptied before overflowing, and Mother Nature was kind with mild temperatures and plenty of sunshine.
If Saturday’s round-up of (mostly) locally-owned restaurants is any indication of what Sunday will be like, ticket holders are in for a treat. If you don’t have a ticket, well, you best get their when the doors open at 11 a.m. Saturday was the best first-day showing I can recall in 8 years of the festival. My advice to Sunday’s restaurants? Shine your chaffing dishes. The bar has been set high.
Not all restaurants made the grade (although I did spot the health department making the rounds, clipboard and thermometer in hand, I’m not talking public safety). But there were far more highs than lows.
I can’t stop thinking about a few, including little ol’ Maizie’s Cafe, who brought a killer Ruben (above). A spot-on balance of buttered, toasted marble rye, gooey cheese, tangy mustard, pickled cabbage and flavorful corned beef.
I am kicking myself for not capturing a picture of The Parlor Pizzeria’s juicy, spiced lamb meatball topped with mint pesto and served with Sicilian lentils, because it was one of my favorites. Chef Jared Porter knows how to inosculate flavors until they sing in harmony, but still remain soloists. It was outstanding.
Speaking of lamb, Taggia brought a saffron-scented lamb with fennel salad (above) that had a symphony all its own. Lovely.
If there was a central theme, it had to be pork — and pork belly.
If I had to pick one favorite dish of the day, it would be (above) Roka Akor’s robata grilled pork belly with a sweet and spicy kimchi. One small bite of utter bliss.
That’s not to say I didn’t coo when I took a bite of the House at Secret Garden’s rendition using local Meat Shop pork belly, with macerated fig, pistachio, and maple mascarpone — because I did.
I wish I would have eaten Dustin Christofolo’s very tasty steel head trout (above) with apple, beet and Crow’s Dairy chevre first because while it was remarkable, it was upstaged by his figgy pork belly.
Lon’s smoky pulled pork “slider” with BBQ sauce made with 7 Wives Saison, Chef Jeremy Pacheco’s collaborative brew with Sonoran Brewing, was my second favorite. I use the term “slider” loosely, as this was more “Jr.” size than slider size (side note: many restaurants forgot this was a “tasting” festival and gave near super-size portions.)
Speaking of Lon’s, I spotted the amazing bartender Travis Nass (he eschews the term mixologist), who was pouring tastes of a tongue-tickling beer cocktail with pineapple and tequila. I hear he’ll be developing the cocktail program at Lon’s Last Drop saloon.
Gallo Blanco’s pork belly tacos could just as easily be my top choice, and if the line hadn’t been so long, I would have returned for seconds and thirds.
The white dude (slang for Gallo Blanco, Doug Robson, above left) knows how to sling a taco. His street corn, served off the cob was off the hook, too.
Timo Wood Oven & Wine Bar wasn’t on my radar before, but it is now, and not because of the respectable braised beef straddling a cheesy corn cake (above). No, it was their other offering, the one that made me go back to the booth to make sure I heard the description correctly.
Timo’s Brie soup with drops of truffle oil and slivers of scallion was good enough to bath in (best that I stuck to sipping, lest I wake up in the middle of the night and gnaw on my arm).
Cartwright’s seared quail with Jack grits and blackberry sauce reminded me how lucky Cave Creek residents are.
Not to be outdone, sister restaurant, Tonto Bar & Grill wowed with red chile shrimp on a griddled corn cake. Delicious, with a sneaky heat punch.
Sens chilled sesame-ginger shrimp with papaya slaw nestled in a crisp prawn cracker was zingy and refreshing, but I’m not surprised. Sens is still a downtown favorite.
As beautiful as Sierra Bonita Grill’s Oaxacan chocolate espresso rubbed pork tenderloin with diced potatoes, carrots and chayote squash was, I couldn’t get past the butter vanilla sauce that overpowered the dish.
District American Kitchen, another downtown restaurant, gets props for cool containers, both for their salad and for their boxes of pork n’ beans. I just wish the beans would have been cooked through. District will be back on Sunday, and surely the beans will be done by then.
Windsor’s brown bag chicken slider was a mouthful — and flavorful with grilled bread, roasted tomatoes and avocado. The chicken, however, was chewy and dry.
I’m not sure what Chelsea’s Kitchen was thinking. This hot mess of a taco (above) was piled high with mushy short ribs.
Fortunately the day ended on a high note with the gorgeous, fresh salad of quinoa, local lettuces (including the sparkling glacier lettuce from Two Wash Ranch), radishes, carrots and asparagus from St. Francis.
It was stunning to look at and the perfect palate cleanser after a day of porking out.
Other Devoured Phoenix Day One Wrap-ups:
Howard Seftel: AZ Central
Jess Harter: Mouth By Southwest
Jennifer Woods: Chow Bella Phoenix