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Editor’s Pick: The Best
Of Devoured Phoenix

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Aerial view of the 2015 Devoured Culinary Classic.
Images by Jennifer Lind Schutsky.
Our Intrepid Editor, Wayne Schutsky, Once Again Fell In Love With The Phoenix Metro’s Food Scene And Especially Helio Basin Brewing Co.’s Smoke Bison Taquito

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By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine

March 7, 2017 — The Devour Phoenix Culinary Classic brings together some of the best, and often well known, restaurants in Arizona. But, sometimes, the best bites come from the places you have not heard of.

Helio Basin Brewing Co. falls into that category for many of the event goers. The brewery is nestled in an unassuming strip mall at 40th Street and Thomas Road in Phoenix that is easy to miss if you’re not looking for it. And that is shame, because the brewery is producing some of the most unique, flavorful food in the Phoenix metro (i.e. Phoetro) right now.

See archived live coverage from the event.

Despite this relative anonymity, Helio Basin took home the Excellence in Taste Award this past Saturday and the Culinary Classic’s overall Excellence in Distinction Award for Head Chef Tamara Stanger’s smoked bison taquito with squash, corn and bean, corn tortilla with epazote cream.

I can personally attest that Helio Basin’s entry was bursting with flavor, from the crunchy corn tortilla to the smoky, sweet bison.

“I love the taste of bison,” said Stanger. “It’s just so beefy and it’s big; it has a big, bold flavor.”

Multiple satisfied eaters visited to the booth near the end of the first day to express surprise that they even had any left over. The reason for the surplus was Stanger and Sous Chef Erwin Hernandez churned out over 2,000 of the taquitos for the first day of the Culinary Classic alone.

Despite being a brewery in name (and one that serves top-notch beer at that), Helio Basin is very much also a chef-driven concept that is producing some of the most unique food in the Phoenix metro; I can honestly say that my first visit—at the behest of my friends in Bitches Food Club—gave me a glimpse into a cuisine that I had never fully experienced before.
Bitches Food Club
How To Pick A New Restaurant, How They Can Keep You Coming Back: Jennifer and Stephanie from the Bitches Flood Club once again visit with Wayne about the restaurant scene in the Phoenix metro. This time, it’s all about appeal, well, mostly. — Jan. 31, 2017

That cuisine focuses on utilizing ingredients indigenous to Arizona in an effort to develop a cuisine specific to the state, said Stanger. That bold direction results in dishes like tortilla plates covered in local vegetables and feature everything from smoked rainbow trout to Yucatecan banana leaf roasted pork.

See archived live coverage from the event.

The dishes are reminiscent of a taco but are loaded with various fresh and pickled fare from around the region like black radish, celery greens, tepary bean, fresno peppers, micro epazote and more. Not only do these additions set the dishes apart, but they provide excellent contrast to the often rich proteins in the dishes.


           

“We’re trying to establish Arizona cuisine, because I feel like every other region has their own cuisine,” said Stanger. “When people hear Arizona, they don’t know what our cuisine is. They mistake it maybe with Mexican or something else. It’s not, and we have our own flavors here, so I am trying to show that and teach people and educate myself at the same time.”

I cannot over-emphasize how unique these dishes are in the Phoenix culinary scene. The menu is full of appetizers, chef specials and main courses that are unlike anything you will find at other restaurants. Even seemingly run of the mill items like guacamole are given a special twist as evidenced by the restaurant's green olive guacamole with spent grain chips.

And don’t forget, you can wash it all down with one of Helio Basin’s many beers that range from a Blackberry Wheat to Robust Porter.

If this is Arizona cuisine, then I am never leaving.

Wayne Schutsky is associate managing editor of Modern Times Magazine.
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