How I spent my 15 minutes…on Check Please Arizona
Andy Warhol was quoted as saying, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” I may need to borrow some time from a few people.
Quite a while ago we became aware of a local show, Check Please Arizona and immediately ran an article about it. We loved the premise, which brings together three local residents who name and share their favorite local eateries, then all participants check out the spots and get together to talk about their experiences. The show is hosted by James Beard award winning chef Robert McGrath. At the time that I found out about the show coming to Phoenix (the show currently features the Chicago, South Florida, Kansas City, Northwest and Bay Area in addition to Phoenix), I got all the information I could and signed up to be a participant immediately. I waited with bated breath and well, heard nothing during the first season. That is until October of last year. I was so excited at the prospect of getting to be a part of the show and it would appear that I aced my phone interview since a few days later, I received my assignments!
I was really excited to check out Gallo Blanco as I had never been before but had heard amazing things. The restaurant is housed in the Clarendon Hotel, a gorgeous boutique hotel in the heart of Midtown. Doug Robson (*who just so happens to have been La Grande Orange’s original chef) is the helm of the restaurant as the chef and owner. All the food is cooked from scratch daily and with a major focus on utilizing local ingredients. We arrived during a busy time of day and had to wait a bit in the very comfortable lobby and had some time to take in the pool views.
I may not have planned this appropriately since the day before my visit I had spent the day eating an untold amount of tacos at the Arizona Taco Fest held in Scottsdale. While they are known for their tacos, I opted instead for the Chilaquiles Verdes, served with your choice of chicken or vegetable w/ sunny side up eggs, Queso Oaxaca, and Green Chile Sauce. I opted for the chicken version and was absolutely thrilled. There was a tiny bit of spice, just enough to make you sit up a little taller and breathe a little easier, but not demand two extra glasses of water. Perfection on my plate! I had a few dining partners, my (at the time) 6 year old son, and two very good friends. My son chose the Granola & Yogurt featuring Brown Cow Yogurt with housemade Granola and he was very pleased, but not as much as he was with his Horchata, a Light Rice Drink w/Cinnamon & Piloncillo. He had three of these and has asked numerous times for me to make it for him at home. We rounded out our brunch with the Postre de chocolate a chocolate pudding w/homemade marshmallow fluff & graham cracker crumbles and the Ice Cream Sundae from the Kids Menu. I shared the Postre de chocolate with my son, begrudgingly, and I must note that he did not share with me. We’re working on manners these days! My friends, son and I had a great time at Gallo Blanco and I have recommended it to many people since my initial visit in October.
Next up was Greekfest. When I first moved to Arizona from Illinois in 1986, I had occasion to dine with my father at their previous location at 12th Street and Glendale Avenue. It was a sweet treat when we would go. While I admit that I may not remember everything about the food that I sampled back then, I do remember that I always felt like a grown up there. I was never treated like a child or talked down to – and that resonated when I took my son to dinner with me, many years later at their current location at 20th street and Camelback. My son and I both got dressed to the nines (not required) and ventured out for our very grown up date! Susan and Tony Makridis have put so much of their passion and love into this restaurant that you feel as if you are being welcomed into a dear friend’s dining room. Tony Makridis started his food career in America, after moving here from Canada in 1966, as a potato peeler while attending school. I recently found out that Susan Makridis was previously an Adoption Consultant, which made so much sense to me after witnessing her interactions with my son.
We arrived at a bit after 6 on a weeknight, ready to have some great food and some serious mother/son time. We were immediately greeted and given our choice of seating. My son opted to sit in the bar area, I think that he thought that was more grown up. Our server was very personable and was incredibly sweet and accomodating to my son, which immediately reminded me of my experiences at the restaurant as a young girl. My son ordered a Roy Rogers and I opted for an Iced Tea. We started with some Houmous Revithosalata (Garbanzo beans, sesame paste, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, spices and garlic served alongside warm pita.) We frequently nosh on this at home so I knew it would be a safe choice. By the time our entrees came there was nothing left on the plate! I had initially ordered the Tryopites, Phyllo pastry triangles filled with a unique blend of Greek cheeses and herbs for my son and the Shrimp Souvlaki, tender jumbo shrimp bathed in a subtle marinade and then broiled on a skewer, served with latholemono sauce. Once Susan had realized that the Tryopites were for my son, she came out to our table and spoke with us. She noted that the cheeses may be a little too strong and overpowering for my son if he had not had them before and suggested that he might like the Chicken Souvlaki, tender, boneless, skinless chicken breast marinated in extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and herbs, grilled on a skewer, instead. More than likely a genius decision as he just so happens to be my super picky eater! Mrs. Makridis was so sweet all throughout our dinner. She came out to our table a number of times to check in with us, as well as the other tables in the restaurant. At one point she gave my son a super important task. She told him that she was expecting a very large party to come in and that she needed to make sure that she had enough chairs in a particular area. She asked him to count the chairs on the dining level above the bar area to make sure that she would have enough. He did so – with purpose! She even came out once our entrees were presented and made a bet with him that he wouldn’t be able to eat all the chicken on his plate. Oh, if only that worked for me! We finished up our dinner with a piece of Baklava, (layers of phyllo pastry, liberally brushed with clarified butter, topped with a mixture of chopped pistachios, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts and sweet spices, and more layers of phyllo, then baked in an aromatic honey syrup) which is almost obligatory at a Mediterranean restaurant, no? At the end of the evening, my son and I had a flavorful and authentic meal, a fabulous experience and some really nice bonding time. I have a soft spot in my heart for this restaurant and family that is decades long and I was so thrilled to be able to share this with one of my sons and can’t wait to share with the youngest one…as soon as we exit the terrible two’s!
The Vig Uptown
The final restaurant on my agenda was my personal pick, The Vig Uptown. First, it still tickles me that this restaurant is in the same location that I opened up my very first checking account right across from the location of my second apartment. Ah, memories!
The Vig Uptown is full of kitsch and cleverness that I absolutely adore. From the menu names to the overall hip vibe of the spot, it makes me want to just pick a table in the corner and wait for all the cool people to arrive. There’s just something about the place that makes me fall a little more in love each time I walk through the door. My dining partner and I arrived around 7 on a Thursday night. We were quickly seated, despite the bustling dining room. The music was lively, but not too loud to have a clear conversation. Since this was the first meal that I had on this journey without my son, I opted for a cocktail and when at The Vig Uptown you would be remiss to not partake in the Take Bethany Home (crop organic cucumber vodka, watermelon puree and agave nectar). Clever for so many reasons, the first being that the restaurant is situated just North of Bethany Home Road, but more so because I have a dear friend named Bethany and when I look her up in my cell phone and see ‘Bethany Home” it always makes me giggle. Back to business… after we ordered our initial drinks, we opted for the Seoul Sliders (grilled Korean barbecued rib-eye, thinly sliced with Asian coleslaw, marinated cucumbers, cilantro and sriracha mayo on brioche buns). The meat was so tender and flavorful, it was almost ridiculous. The buns were perfectly toasted and balanced with the expected buttery flavor. I then opted for The Frenchy (warm prime rib of beef, sliced thin and stacked on a french roll with fontina cheese and au jus) which is a long time favorite of mine. There is something magical about this combination. Sure there are many, many places that do a classic French Dip and do it well – but this is, just, well, it really sets a new standard for me. It’s a Goldilocks thing. The bread is the perfect texture, not too hard and not too soft. The cheese has this ridiculously perfect melt-factor that is not impeded by the au jus or the bread. It’s really, just, magical. I also got the sweet potato fries, which were delicious, but let’s be serious…the sandwich is what matters most and it was divine!
The dining experience was overwhelmingly positive. Each restaurant provided a wonderful experience that I am thankful to share with friends as well as with one of my sons. I had a multitude of great meals and have been able to share some invaluable memories. It was now time for me to document my experiences and turn them in prior to taping. I completed my forms and submitted them so that the producers could review and discuss with Robert McGrath.
The Taping of Check Please Arizona
Now it came time to head downtown for taping. I was terribly nervous and excited. I had fallen ill with a serious cold a day or so before our scheduled taping and was terrified that that would show on screen. You know the feeling, the nasally voice, sweating from fever and just overall ‘ick’ that comes along with one of ‘those’ colds. I knew I had to suck it up and make the best of it. I headed downtown prepped with a few outfits as suggested. I was the first person to arrive at the studio and quickly met with the make-up artist, Mary, as well as Suzanne Guery, Assistant Production Manager for KAET. Mary was so sweet and very friendly. She was interested in my experiences as well as how I had come to become involved in the production. Suzanne was the woman who had given me the phone interview and at one point was concerned about me, noticing that I had not spoken much in the green room and remembering that I had been far more vibrant over the phone. I shared with her that I wasn’t feeling well but I was doing my best to ‘save it up’ for when we were recording.
I would soon meet with my ‘castmates’, a very colorful woman from New York and Stacey Delikat, a news anchor for 3TV. Both women were very friendly and vibrant and we had a great time getting to know each other prior to making it to the set. Host, Robert McGrath came in to introduce himself and let us know what we were in for. It was to be an easy-breezy tableside conversation about our experiences. That was precisely what it would equate to. Now, to be completely honest, there is a bit of intimidation that comes when you know that every single word and movement that you partake in will be filmed. After we were escorted to the set, I was sat to the left of Robert, which filled me with an additional amount of unfounded fear. I could tell each time that the camera was on Robert and I could feel myself stiffen up each time he spoke. It sounds silly, but I really couldn’t help it.
I am sure that had I been feeling 100% healthy I would have had a different experience, not to say that the one I had was bad, just not that which I know I was capable of. Everyone that I encountered on the day of filming was very sweet and professional. It was a great experience and I am thankful for the opportunity. I realize that I was lucky to be chosen for the show and am very appreciative of that. I think that it has opened my eyes to the differences amongst us all and the vast amount of untapped hot spots right in our backyard.
When you are presented with your opportunity to engage your ‘15 minutes of fame’, embrace it and make the best of it. Who knows, you may use it to help someone have a better dinner…and that can be life changing, right?
Be sure to set your DVRs for Taryn’s episode on Check Please Arizona on Thursday, March 29th at 7pm on PBS Eight.