Now open: Carolina’s Mexican Food in Mesa

BY Jess Harter Wednesday, May 24, 2017

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After months of delays, Carolina’s Mexican Food finally has opened its much-anticipated first East Valley location on the northwest corner of Country Club and U.S. 60 (map) in Mesa.

The iconic Mexican restaurant serves inexpensive burros, tacos, enchiladas, tamales, and tostadas (see menu), but is perhaps best-known for its delicious tortillas made fresh daily.

Manuel and Carolina Valenzuela launched the business in the 1950s, selling food out of their car to field workers. They opened their first Phoenix restaurant in 1968. Manual died in 1979, Carolina in 2002.

Carolina’s has grown to four Valley locations, all owned and operated by two groups of grandchildren and great-children.

One group has the south Phoenix location, which opened in 1986, and recently launched another in Peoria.

The other group opened the north Phoenix location in 2005 and the new Mesa one.

An official grand opening party will be held June 1 in Mesa.

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Closed: Cyprus Grill in Chandler

BY Jess Harter Wednesday, May 24, 2017

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Cyprus Grill, a well-regarded Mediterranean restaurant on the southwest corner of Alma School and Queen Creek in Chandler, has closed its doors.

The restaurant, which opened in 2011, offered salads, pitas, falafel, and soulvaki (meat skewer) dinners.

In April 2015, owner Christodoulos ‘‘Christos’’ Komitis opened a sister restaurant, The Ivy, with virtually the same menu in a much larger space just two miles away.

According to a post on The Ivy’s Facebook page:

You can still get the same great food, service, plus cocktails at The Ivy. We will be diverting all of our attention here to introduce fresh ideas and amazing new things!

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Flying Basset Brewing coming to Gilbert this fall

BY Jess Harter Monday, May 22, 2017

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Looks like OHSO won’t be Gilbert’s second craft brewery after all.

Don’t panic – OHSO hasn’t changed its plans to open its fifth location in downtown Gilbert next year. By then, though, another brewery will have jumped ahead of it in line.

That newcomer is Flying Basset Brewing, which is moving into the former Famous Sam’s on the northeast corner of Cooper and Ray.

The 5,000-square-foot brewpub will feature a 10-barrel brewing system, 25 to 30 taps, and a full kitchen.

The owners are Rob Gagnon and Sara Cotton. He’s an airline pilot, she’s an ICU nurse. And, yes, they have a couple of basset hounds –Lieutenant Dan and Angela Basset.


Rob Gagnon began brewing in 2012, winning multiple medals as an amateur before spending a couple of years at BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse in Chandler.

The Gagnons tried to find a spot for their brewery in downtown Chandler, where they live, before settling on the former home of the Valley’s last remaining Famous Sam’s, which closed in early 2015.

The couple signed the lease last week. They are hoping to open in October.

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MXSW Weekend Guide for May 19-21, 2017

BY Jess Harter Friday, May 19, 2017

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Arizona Restaurant Week: The twice-a-year promotion kicks off its 10-day spring edition with participating restaurants throughout the Valley offering prix-fixe dinner menus for either $33 or $44.

Tacos Tequila Whiskey Grand Opening: The Denver-based Mexican concept celebrates the recent opening of its Arcadia location with happy hour prices, including $2 beers and $5 cocktails, all day.

BottleShop 48 Wine & Cider Tasting: Sample four French and three English ciders, plus three wines from California’s superhero-themed Iconic Wines, for free from 5-7 p.m. at the Tempe store.

Peoria Artisan Third Sabbath Tapping: The Peoria brewery celebrates the tapping of the second batch of its Belgian tripel – a gold medal winner at the Arizona Strong Beer Festival – from 5-10 p.m.


Peach Sour Pop-Up Store: Try Iconic Cocktail’s new Pichuberry Peach Sour made with peaches from The Farm at Agritopia in Gilbert. Peach sodas are $5 (free with purchase of mixer) from 10 a.m.-noon.

Queen Creek’s Lemonade Days: The town’s annual family-friendly celebration of summer features food, beer, cocktails, and, or course, lemonade. There also will be live music and lots of kids activities.

Joint Forces Malted Cider Tapping: Downtown Mesa’s Oro Brewing and soon-to-open Cider Corps tap their latest collaboration – a malted cider – from 2-8 p.m. at the brewery.

Helton Brewing One-Year Anniversary: The Phoenix brewery closes out its first year with a party from 6-10 p.m. featuring games, a 6 p.m. tapping of its Double IPA, and music from The Sugar Thieves.


Beer Beets Dinner at Gertrude’s: Grand Canyon and Ballast Point breweries are teaming up for a beet-themed beer dinner at the Desert Botanical Garden restaurant. All four food courses will feature beets.

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Now open: Poké Wave in south Tempe

BY Jess Harter Wednesday, May 17, 2017

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Last year, the East Valley seemed oversaturated with new fast-casual pizza concepts. This year, it’s apparently going to be poke bowl places.

Hawaii’s favorite dish – at its most basic, cubed raw fish with seasoning – has become the mainland’s hottest food trend.

The latest East Valley entrant into the market is Poké Wave, which just opened on the northwest corner of Rural and Ray in south Tempe.

Poké Wave offers eight types of seafood or tofu ($9.50 for two scoops, $11.25 for three) that you can customize in a million ways.

Your customization options include five ‘‘bases’’ (rice or greens), nine ‘‘add-ins’’ (ranging from pineapple to jalapenos), eight toppings, eight sauces, and six ‘‘sprinkles.’’

Poké Wave is open from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily.

Other poke bowl concepts that recently have opened in the East Valley include Ahipoki Bowl in Chandler and Tempe, Pokedon in Tempe, and Pokitrition in Chandler.

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10 best BBQ spots in Phoenix & the East Valley

BY Jess Harter Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Andrew’s BBQ in Tempe

AndrewsBBQ051517xAndrew’s BBQ, referring to chef-owner Andrew Vander Stoep, focuses on catering, but this strip-mall space (map) has a large dining room that’s open for lunch on weekdays. Brisket, pork, and chicken are standards, with daily specials highlighting other meats. The hot sauce is a customer fave, but I also love the Carolina mustard.

Bootleggers in Phoenix & Scottsdale

Bootleggers051617This self-described “modern American smokehouse” may not appeal to BBQ traditionalists, but Bootleggers’ smoked meats – especially the hot links, locally sourced from Schreiner’s – are mostly above average. Be warned: So are the prices, as might be expected with locations in Old Town Scottsdale (map) and northeast Phoenix (map).

Bryan’s Black Mountain in Cave Creek

BryansBlackMtn051617The brisket and ribs at Bryan’s Black Mountain have established owner-chef Bryan Dooley as one the of Valley’s top pitmasters, but the former Scottsdale resort chef pushes the culinary envelope with unusual smoked offerings like frog legs, alligator ribs and even spaghetti squash (vegetarian ‘‘pulled pork’’) at his northeast Valley outpost (map).

Danky’s Bar-B-Q in Phoenix

DankysBBQ051617The pulled pork sandwich is billed as the house favorite at this family-run, strip-mall eatery (map), but the brisket at Danky’s BBQ also is among the best in the Valley. The pork belly pit beans are almost addictive. If you’re adventurous, be sure to sample Danky’s unusual green Javelina Sauce or relish-based Danky Dank sauce.

Joe’s Real BBQ in Gilbert

JoesRealBB051617Joe Johnston and Tim Peelan converted a 70-year-old brick grocery store in historic downtown (map) into a family-friendly homage to the town’s agricultural past. The sliced brisket and turkey breast at Joe’s Real BBQ are standouts, as are the BBQ pit beans. Save room for one of the numerous desserts like Dr Pepper cake or apple crisp ala mode.

Little Miss BBQ in Phoenix

LittleMissBBQ051617Simply put, Scott Holmes’ small, no-frills eatery on the Phoenix-Tempe border (map) serves the best barbecue in Arizona. Expect a long line from when doors open at 11 a.m. until the Texas-inspired brisket, pork, and ribs sell out (usually by 3 p.m.) Tuesday through Saturday. Even on a 115-degree summer day, Little Miss BBQ is totally worth it.

Naked BBQ in Phoenix & Scottsdale

NakedBBQ051617If anyone is going to challenge Holmes for best in the Valley, it might be Oren Hartman, who opened Naked BBQ amongst the Bell Road auto dealerships (map) in 2015 and another in north Scottsdale (map) in early 2017. Meats are served ‘‘naked,’’ allowing diners to customize them with up to five different sauces.

Pork on a Fork in Phoenix

PorkOnFork051617Nebraskans Justin Erickson and Wes Hanson began selling preservative-free pork from Erickson’s family pig farm at Valley farmers markets, opened Pork on a Fork as a storefront takeout spot next to the Deer Valley airport (map), expanded it with a dining room, and then added a second location near the Biltmore (map).

Porkopolis in Chandler & Scottsdale

Porkopolis051617You’d almost never guess this stylish, modern restaurant and lounge (map), which added a Scottsdale location (map) in 2016, is a BBQ joint – until the scent of the smoker gives it away. Radio personality Brady Bogen, co-owner with Matt Hamilton, marketed his own line of sauces even before opening Porkopolis.

Rhema Soul Cuisine in Queen Creek

RhemaSoul051617New York City isn’t exactly known for BBQ, but Ron and Via Childs moved from the Big Apple and used their life savings to open Rhema Soul Cuisine (map). They offer a variety of soul food – chicken and red velvet waffles is the bestseller – but Ron’s pecan-smoked meats make up about half of the menu.

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MXSW Weekend Guide for May 12-14

BY Jess Harter Friday, May 12, 2017

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SunUp glass giveaway: Get a free SunUp pint glass when you buy a can of White Russian or Bearded Blonde from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. at Jimmy Hula’s in Tempe.

Schilling cider tasting: Sample various ciders from Washington state’s Schilling Hard Cider at 4 p.m. at BottleShop 48 in Tempe.

Hess beer promo: Meet Mike and Lynda Hess, owners of San Diego’s Hess Brewing, at 6 p.m. at The Whining Pig in Gilbert.

Buddyz Brew tapping: Buddyz Chicago Pizzeria in Gilbert unveils Buddyz Brew, a collaboration with Scottsdale’s Two Brothers Brewing, at 4 p.m. Brewery reps will be giving out samples and swag.


Yoga & Beer: Cold Beers & Cheeseburgers in Gilbert is the latest East Valley restaurant to offer a weekend yoga class. The one-hour class starts at 10 a.m.

AmeriCAN Canned Craft Beer Fest: Sample from more than 250 craft beers at the seventh annual festival, which runs 1-6 p.m. at Margaret T. Hance Park in Phoenix.

Arizona Sangria Art Festival: Enjoy sangria tastings, arts and crafts, live music, and food from 2-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Rawhide in Chandler.


Mother’s Day specials: Check out the specials and deals for Mom being offered by MXSW sponsors.

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Family-run Brooklyn V’s Pizza opens Queen Creek location today

BY Jess Harter Thursday, May 11, 2017

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Brooklyn V’s Pizza, a favorite of New York natives from all corners of the Valley since opening in Gilbert in 2013, opens a much-anticipated second location today in Queen Creek.

It shares a new building with Dairy Queen on the southeast corner of Rittenhouse and Ellsworth (map).

Owner-chef Vito LoPiccolo’s (pictured) background includes Italian restaurants in Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island before moving to the Valley.

The original Brooklyn V’s on the northeast corner of Lindsay and Warner quickly outgrew its 1,700-square-foot space and eventually enclosed its patio for an additional 2,100 square feet.

The Queen Creek space, nearly 14 miles away, is 2,600 square feet and includes a larger bar/counter. It will seat around 90, nearly as many as the Gilbert location.


The food & drink

The new site will feature the same menu of hand-tossed pizzas, calzones, stromboli, pastas, salads, sandwiches, and entrees.

Like the Gilbert location, the Queen Creek one will offer beer and wine. In fact, it has a couple more beer taps.

Although competitors like Oregano’s Pizza Bistro and Olive Garden are nearby, LoPiccolo feels being a mom-and-pop restaurant is an advantage.

‘‘We make our sauces to order,’’ LoPiccolo says. ‘‘The alfredo, the vodka sauce – when you order it, we make it. People like that. They come back.

‘‘It’s what’s gotten me to where I am today and hopefully the same thing happens here.’’


The early reaction

In fact, it’s already happening.  At the Gilbert location, LoPiccolo has noticed a huge influx of new customers from Queen Creek trying to get a preview of what’s coming.

‘‘It’s almost been overwhelming,’’ LoPiccolo says. ‘‘I must say, it just blows me away.’’

LoPiccolo has plenty of help. Brooklyn V’s staff includes his ex-wife, his 19-year-old son, his 16-year-old daughter, and his brother.

And although he lives close to the new location, LoPiccolo says he still expects to spend a lot of his time at the original location.

‘‘That’s still my baby,’’ he says.


Both Brooklyn V’s locations are open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, and 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday.

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Post image for Brothers are opening Arizona’s 1st cider house & taproom in downtown Mesa

In a round-about way, Cider Corps – Arizona’s first full-fledged cidery and taproom – can trace its origins to a Taliban prison in Afghanistan.

That’s where Jason Duren, a heavy equipment operator in the U.S. Marines Corps, was helping to tear down an abandoned complex when his excavator hit two improvised explosive devices in October 2012.

Duren (pictured above on left) was airlifted to Camp Bastion with traumatic brain injuries and eventually sent home to Mesa, no longer able to serve in the military or return to his previous job as a firefighter.

He and his brother, Josh (right), tried to figure out what he could do with his time, both short-term and long-term. As craft beer drinkers, they considered home-brewing beer, but wanted to find something a little more unique.

“I said, ‘We should try cider,’’’ Jason Duren says. ‘‘So for (Josh’s) birthday I bought him a (cider) home-brewing kit and we made cider. It was absolutely terrible. It was so disgusting.”

About the same time, Jason Duren started working on a degree in sustainable horticulture at ASU. As he learned more about chemistry, and experimented with fermentation techniques, his ciders improved – dramatically.


The production

‘‘Most cideries that exist in the U.S. are families that own apple orchards, so they’ve always kind of been around apples and apple cider,’’ Josh Duren says. ‘‘For us, we’re huge craft beer guys. So we kinda started off on a completely different path.’’

Traditional cider makers ferment cold-pressed apple juice until all the sugars are gone (converted into alcohol), and then have to add juice or other sweeteners afterward for taste.

The Durens, however, taste their fermenting ciders every day and ‘‘crash’’ each batch – stop fermentation by dramatically lowering the temperature – when they taste perfect. No added sugars or other sweeteners are needed.

Additionally, the Durens use a variety of beer-brewing yeasts, instead of standard cider yeast, and even use hops in some flavors.

‘‘Right now, the biggest (cider) sellers in the world are Woodchuck, Angry Orchard, and Crispin, and I think people automatically think of those when they hear ‘ciders,’’’ Jason Duren says. ‘‘They don’t think of craft. They think of mass-produced and really sugary.’’


The market

Soon, the brothers were making ciders in dozens of flavors – from traditional apple to smoked pineapple to mango habanero hopped to Moscow Mule – all in Jason’s Mesa garage.

The small batches were a hit with family and friends, but the Durens wanted some professional opinions. One of the earliest ‘‘pros’’ they met with was Mat Snapp, beverage director for Fox Restaurant Concepts.

‘‘We sat down with Mat and he tried about 10 of our ciders,’’ Josh Duren says. ‘‘We were just looking for an expert opinion. Instead, he said, ‘If you guys can make enough of these, we’ll carry them in all of our restaurants.’’’

Since signing an agreement with Fox, the Durens have a waiting list of about 20 other Valley restaurants and bars that also want to carry their ciders, most of which range from 6.5% to 7% ABV, similar to craft beers.

All they needed was some place to set up a larger operation.


The building

The Durens thought they found the perfect location near Apache and Dorsey in Tempe, but after negotiations dragged on for five months they decided to move on.

The very next day they got a call from the owner of a small building on Robson, just south of Main, in downtown Mesa. An old garage, next to the former Mesa Tribune building, was being expanded and renovated.

The brothers secured 4,500 square feet and construction of Cider Corps – the name a nod to Jason Duren’s military background – now is underway.

While others in Arizona – such as Superstition Meadery in Prescott and Desert Rock Winery in north Scottsdale – have produced an occasional cider, Cider Corps will be the state’s first dedicated cider house.

With Jason overseeing the brewing and Josh, a brand developer and graphics designer, promoting the business, they hope to start cider production in mid-June, distribution in July, and open the tap room by Veterans Day.


The future

In the meantime, they’ve done several collaborations, including two malted ciders with downtown Mesa’s Oro Brewing (the second one will be released next week) and a cold-pressed coffee cider with Peixoto Coffee in downtown Chandler.

They’ve also done several cider dinners at Valley restaurants to help build Cider Corps’ reputation.

“When people ask, ‘What’s the difference between your cider and what’s already on the market?’ the simplest way to explain it is the difference between apple Kool-Aid and apple juice,’’ Josh Duren says.

‘‘Apple Kool-Aid sorta tastes like an apple, but if you taste it next to apple juice you realize, ‘That doesn’t really taste like apples.’’’

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Even Stevens taking over ex-bridal shop in downtown Chandler

BY Jess Harter Tuesday, May 9, 2017

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In the ongoing effort to ensure every business in downtown Chandler is a restaurant or bar, Even Stevens sandwich shop is taking over the former bridal store on the southwest corner of Arizona and Boston.

The Utah-based chain, which bills itself as “a sandwich shop with a cause,’’ donates a sandwich to a non-profit for every sandwich it sells.

The menu features a dozen sandwiches ($6.95-$8.95) with creative twists, such as the Banh Belly (banh mi with pork belly), the Sloppy Joe (beef and chorizo), and the Jackfruit Torta.

Unlike most sandwich shops, Even Stevens serves alcohol, including local craft beers, domestic beers, mimosas, and Bloody Marys.

The chain opened its first Arizona location in downtown Gilbert in October 2016 and another in Tempe in January of this year.

Construction of the downtown Chandler location will start later this month.

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