The city of Phoenix is one of our country’s most beautiful urban areas. Facing south from the area known as the Biltmore, the furthest southern horizon is the South Mountain and Sierra Estrellas (Correction by David Bickman. For the past three months, since, I’ve lived in Phoenix, I’ve been calling them by the wrong name.) Its wavy silhouette stretching both east and west; in between are flat lands – just widening with low-rise buildings. You can view planes jet off from Sky Harbor International. The sixth largest city in the country has skyscrapers and glass buildings but their presence isn’t too obtrusive against the natural arid beauty and environment. Instead of green lawns, oaks and maples – although, there is that – the majestic saguaros, native to the area, are planted in front of many homes beside other homegrown cacti.
To the north is Piestawa Peak, the topmost — second only to Camelback — in the Phoenix mountain range. Named in honor of Lori Ann Piestawa, Phoenician-born soldier, who has the tragic distinction of being the first female and first Native American to lose their life in the 2003 Iraqi War. It’s a natural border before heading into the bedroom environs. At sunrise and sunset, the Phoenician peaks are colored in a pinkish hues and are often hiked by the area residents and visitors. Matter of fact, right at the bottom of the range lies the world famous Arizona Biltmore, one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpieces. It’s a beguiling resort with 740 rooms, eight swimming pools, tennis courts and an 18-hole golf course.
Unsurprisingly, the area is called The Biltmore. You might find that a car should be at your disposal as the area isn’t very walkable; however, the drives are thankfully short. In the coming year, a new luxury hotel called The Camby, will replace the recently closed Ritz-Carlton, directly across from the area’s luxury shopping mall, Biltmore Fashion Square. There’s even more luxury lodging at the independently owned The Hermosa Inn, which has one of the Phoenix’s best restaurants, Lon’s at the Hermosa.
The Biltmore area is Phoenix’s financial district – it’s Wall Street — but it does have character. For one, the mall houses a small shopping area inside called Union dedicated to independent retailers. The Saks Fifth Avenue, a former I. Magnin, has an astonishing visual merchandiser and artist, Quim Bove. At one time, Bove who resided in a principality called Andorra, wedged between France and Spain, was a window display artist at Hermes in southern France and Christian Dior in Spain before moving to the Valley of the Sun. His installations have fountains and fake hedges or brown felt, twirling like upside down cyclone turning magically into a Chanel tweed suit. He also did all the artwork throughout the store.
Lastly, the food in Phoenix should be receiving more attention than it does. Pizzeria Bianco has been named many times over to have the best pizza in America. Phoenix’s chefs are doing very well in creating a vibrant culinary scene and Arizona has a growing wine culture and craft beer breweries are peppered throughout. Epicures should find this an excellent city to avail themselves of their favorite hobby.
Breakfast: When I first moved to Phoenix, I noticed an amazing amount of restaurants catering to a breakfast and lunch crowd only. I would estimate three dozen restaurants or more with cute names reflecting the day’s first meal. For example, you could eat eggs, waffles and bacon at The First Watch, U.S. Egg, The Good Egg, Snooze, Scramble, The Breakfast Club and Perk one week and then the following, head to Daily Dose, Over Easy, Oink, Butterfield’s Pancake House, Morning Glory Café, Biscuits and The Original Pancake House and many more never repeat to one in a month . They open at the crack of dawn and close right after lunch. Get this…they have a waitlist. Not just during the weekend, but during the weekdays too. Sometimes for an hour! Phoenix has a love affair with breakfast. One of my faves is Matt’s Big Breakfast. The first location is located near downtown Phoenix with corrugated, aluminum siding and bright orange walls which has that urban hipster feel, friendly service, down to earth smiles – nose rings and tattoo sleeves. The newest location is in a strip mall, next to a QuickCuts and a Safeway. Featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Dives and Drive-In’s, it a family-run place with solid meals, liberal use of butter on everything, cage free eggs and humanely raised meats. Owner Matt Pool wanted his restaurant to represent the mid-west diners his father took him to as a boy. I think he elevated the experience by several notches. (Regardless, if Fieri was there or not.)
My suggestion: The Chop & Chick. Iowa-raised pork chop, marinated in pesto. Served up with your choice of egg style and potatoes, plus Wildflower Bread. (This is a Phoenix-based bakery that makes delicious artisan breads.)
- Price: $10.95
- Hours: 6:30 am – 2:30 pm.
- Address: 3132 East Camelback Road, Phoenix, Arizona 85016
- Phone Number: This location hasn’t opened yet at the time of this writing. I cheated – but it’s my site. I will remove this statement when it opens at the end of October 2015.
- Website: www.mattsbigbreakfast.com
Lunch: Andrew Fritz and his partner, Chef Bernie Kantake have helped elevate Phoenix’s dining scene first with Citizen Public House, a take on the gastro pub, and with this restaurant called The Gladly. It’s located within walking distance to the new The Camby, the newest luxury hotel to open in Phoenix. The young owners have an extensive bar menu and New American dishes. It was a tough call on what to feature for lunch in this area but The Gladly won out because it features a salad called The Original Chopped Salad. It has its own Facebook page. Yeah, you can’t beat that.
My suggestion: The Original Chopped Salad
- Price: $12.00
- Hours: Lunch, 11am – 3pm, Monday – Friday. Dinner 3pm – 10am, Monday – Thursday. Dinner 3pm – 11pm, Friday – Saturday. Sunday Brunch, 9am – 3pm.
- Address: 2201 East Camelback Road, #106, Phoenix, Arizona 85016
- Phone Number: (602) 759 – 8132
- Website: www.thegladly.com
Snack Time: Christopher’s Crush is located in the Biltmore Fashion Square. It’s an appropriate spot since it evokes a cosmopolitan and very fashion-oriented atmosphere with glass, crisp tablecloths, and colored with muted oranges, reds and browns. You could place the spot in Manhattan and it would fit perfectly. The same thing can be said of Christopher Gross’ food and sommelier Paola Embrey’s wine list. Sophisticated. Chic. Urbane. James Beard-nominated for Best in Southwest.
My suggestion: They have 70 wines by the glass and a bar menu for their happy hour, named – ahem – Happy Hour.
- Price: All wines, beers and well drinks are half-price from 3:00pm –
- Hours: Seven days a week, Happy Hour is served from 3:00pm – 6:00pm.
- Address: 2502 East Camelback Road, Suite 102. Biltmore Shopping Center.
- Phone Number: (602) 522 — 2344
- Website: www.christophersaz.com
Dinner: Lon’s at The Hermosa is truly an experience showcasing the old West with its adobe style structure. Owned and built by well-known Western artist Lon Mergargee, The Hermosa Inn’s restaurant is old world with white tablecloths, candles, plush seating with big over-sized chairs and booths. During the winter, it’s de riguer to be seen eating at Lon’s once a week amongst the Paradise Valley social set. The kitchen has a one-acre garden – nice to pull daily herbs and some fresh vegetables for the dining guests but it’s the citrus fruit that provides the most bounty and uses. Visitors can have a variety of freshly squeezed juices throughout the day provided by the hotel’s trees. Housemade cocktails get a healthy dose of garden love as well.
My suggestion: Lon’s is known for the steaks and chops. Just indulge and enjoy the Sonoran desert beauty.
- Price: 8 ounce filet is $44, the lamb rack is $56 and the pork chop $36. The chop is the size of a caveman’s club.
- Hours: 6pm – 9pm
- Address: 5532 North Palo Christi Road, Paradise Valley, Arizona 85016
- Phone: (602) 955 – 7878
- Website: www.thehermosainn.com
Stay: It’s a hard choice on where to stay in this area which is comprised of three of The Valley of the Sun’s top hotels including The Hermosa Inn which is celebrating their 80th year as a hotel, The Camby, the newest in the city or The Arizona Biltmore. Each property has a different personality although the Biltmore and Hermosa Inn have long been established.
The Camby, housed in a former Ritz Carlton shell, appeals to the new generation of traveler looking for hi-tech services. On a recent visit, they had an interesting computer concierge service which sort of worked. We still needed to be talked through the process with the temporary desk person and it was fun to play with on this massive touch screen. Ultimately, it didn’t have all the information loaded onto at the time.
The Hermosa Inn, with only thirty five rooms, is the most private of three, tucked away in Paradise Valley, a ritzy residential section. The pool is quiet, the hotel understated and Lon’s at The Hermosa is one of the best dining experiences in Arizona. Try and book one of the newer renovated rooms for a great, adult like experience.
The Arizona Biltmore is one of the city’s largest hotels and one of the most historic. Under Frank Lloyd Wright’s tutelage, Albert Chase McArthur designed the almost century old hotel. It’s full of stunning vistas (Piestewa Peak is it’s backyard), resort amenities and a massive swimming pool. (Actually, several but who’s counting).
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The End. Go Eat.