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Taste Bud Trip: Eating Europe

In The Phoenix Metro

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In A Desert Metropolis Rife With Chain Restaurants And Kitschy Distractions, There Are A Few Jewels That Resonate One’s Palate With The Flavors Of The Old World


By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine

May 6, 2015 — I enjoy a good cheeseburger and french fries as much as the next guy, but occasionally I like to take my Captain America outfit off and stretch my palate a bit. And, though it might surprise you, the Phoenix metro is a good place to do that.

While much of Phoenix and its neighboring cities is a cultural wasteland where Chili's, Macaroni Grill and The Cheesecake Factory count as exotic cuisine, there are actually pockets throughout our metropolis that house vibrant and authentic homages to other culinary cultures.

Let’s start slow. I’m not going to ask you to try some Ethiopian asa wat right off the bat, because you’re not ready for that. We’re going to start with some very familiar cuisines that are too often dumbed down and stripped of all flavor by chain restaurants that hate you.

Here are a few places you can visit in town to experience an authentic cuisines from western Europe.

Tapas Papas Fritas - Scottsdale
Barcelona is like a theme park for adults. It seems like everyone there is a part time super model looking to have a good time in a city full of breathtaking architecture, art and natural beauty.

Unfortunately, there’s not a spot in the Phoenix metro that can replicate the beautiful people and frenetic atmosphere of Barcelona. But at least you can try the food.

Tapas are my favorite food group because you get to try a little bit of everything and get drunk on wine or Sangria while you’re doing it. But, I’m always skeptical of tapas restaurants in the states because, too often, they fail to really capture authentic Spanish flavor, instead serving up watered down versions of a few classic dishes.

I was delightfully surprised to find out that Tapas Papas Fritas is not one of these poseurs. The dishes are simple, yet flavorful and the folks in the kitchen know the right way to prepare them.

The restaurant has a huge tapas with many popular options like patatas bravas, chanquetes and Jamon Iberico. But, there are also more specific regional fare such as conejo romescu (rabbit stew) and Txistorra (Basque sausage). And, you really can’t go wrong. Even the complimentary bread with aioli gave me a bit of a food boner.

Just give yourself some time. The restaurant is usually pretty packed, especially on Fridays due to the live Flamenco shows, so you’re going to wait a bit. That’s okay, though. It just gives you more time to guzzle sangria or wine from the restaurant’s extensive list.

I suggest trying something new every time you go, with one exception. Always get the patatas bravas without fail. Because who doesn’t love fried potatoes covered in hot sauce and aioli?

Haus Murphy - Glendale
Unbutton your pants and download Uber, because you’re not going to be in a drunken food coma after this.

This historic downtown Glendale staple has been around for nearly 20 years, and I expect it will be around for another 20 despite the uncertainty most businesses in the area face. That’s because, quite simply, the restaurant delivers an authentic German experience that’s unmatched in the Valley.

I suggest trying one of the many sausage plates or specialty schnitzels to really absorb the German experience.  Bring an appetite, because just like in Germany, the portions are quite large.

And don’t forget to try one of the many German beers on tap. They come in 0.5 liter glass (basically a child’s portion) or 1 liter mug.

With it’s beer banners and German decor, you’ll almost feel like you’re sitting in a restaurant in the lobby of small inn in central Germany. The only thing that betrays the conceit is dry-walled air ducts in the ceiling (they smack of late-80s Americana more than 18th century Bavaria).

But, you’ll forgive the small faux pas once you taste the food, because its authenticity cannot be questioned. Owner and chef Brett Hoffmann really knows his craft and that’s evident in everything from his  perfectly cooked sausages to his tangy sauerkraut.

Too often, restaurants overcook the sausage, leaving you with a glorified Jimmy Dean breakfast food. Not here. It is, quite simply, the best place to get a bratwurst, or any wurst for that matter, in the Valley.

Aiello’s East Coast Italian - Phoenix
This wonderful little Italian spot is nestled in an unassuming strip mall in North Phoenix, tucked right behind a gas station/McDonalds hybrid. But, don’t let the location fool you. This is the best Italian you’re going to get in Phoenix.

The restaurant used to be housed in the building that’s now home to Joyride Taco House on Central Avenue. The new digs are a bit more cozy, but the food is delicious all the same.

The great thing about most Italian food is it’s not intimidating. You don’t have to be a foodie to appreciate it. Aiello’s reflects that sentiment. It has a simple menu outfitted with classics like spaghetti and meatballs, sausage and peppers and linguini and clams.

It’s the kinds of food, that when made well, just leaves you satisfied.

The meatballs, specifically, are delicious. Even my Nonni, who makes a mean meatball herself, orders one as a side when we’re in for dinner.

In fact, go to Aiello’s right now and order a meatball. Do it even if you’re not hungry. You might seem like a slob ordering just meatballs, but I hope you do it anyway. Just sit down, order two meatballs and devour them with your bare hands.

Wayne Schutsky is a freelance writer living in Phoenix. Follow him @TheManofLetters.
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