Search: Tonto Bar & Grill

Storyline of the day: Rain Cold Elbow room

On a day when temperatures hovered in the 50s – the coldest day ever for Devoured – and gray skies threatened more rain, it was the sold-out event’s new layout that was the talk/complaint of the day. Construction at the Phoenix Art Museum’s neighbor, Phoenix Theater, has shrunk the festival grounds, cramming tents closer together. Try maneuvering down the sidewalk above with a paper plate of food in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. The day’s most frequent phrase: “Oops, pardon me.” Not fun.

Most filling dish: The Vig

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. This Phoenix restaurant’s Monte Cristo is likely to be your only meal of the day. Start with a slice of French toast. Top with ham and Swiss. Top that with a poached egg. Top that with housemade preserves. Smother it all in créme fraiche. And, yes, it’s on their weekend brunch menu.

Most creative dish: Green

There are three things you can count on: death, taxes, and this vegetarian eatery bringing its famous mock chicken wings to every food fest. So I was very surprised when Green showed up this year with what it called Magic Dragon Rice, puffed rice in a spicy Korean sauce. Nice.

Biggest disappointment (in a roundabout way): Federal Pizza

Let me be clear: This new Phoenix eatery’s ravioli stuffed with braised beef were tasty. Its beet salad was nice, too. But I wish I had a nickel for every festival-goer I heard say, “Oh, look, there’s that new Federal Pizza I’ve heard about,” followed a moment later by, “What do you mean they’re not doing pizza?”

Best dessert: Churn

Sweets were well-represented, but the dessert that stood out the most was the ice cream sandwich – made with two soft chocolate crackle cookies and housemade mint ice cream – from Federal’s across-the-street sibling. A close second goes to Cibo’s decadent Nutella crepes.

Pairing that didn’t quite work: The Parlor

On paper, it sounded pretty good – rabbit sausage with carrot-ginger ketchup, complemented by a chilled pea soup. In reality, the sausage was lost in the too-big bun, the ketchup had little flavor, and the soup was forgettable. Trust me, The Parlor is much better than this.

Oldie But Goodie: El Chorro

It would be an exaggeration to say El Chorro’s famous Sticky Buns are the reason the Paradise Valley landmark has been around for more than 75 years, but not much of one. You get a basket of these babies at the start of every meal – even dinner.

Longest line: Tonto Bar & Grill

Almost every restaurant tent had lines, but none were longer (or slower) than the one at Cartwright’s, where at least a dozen people always were waiting patiently while the chef seared scallops a half-dozen at a time. Was it worth it? See below.

Most likely to make a foodie swoon: Taggia

For the most part, Day 1 restaurants stuck to the comfort foods that have been de rigueur in recent years. Not so for the oft-overlooked restaurant at Scottsdale’s FireSky resort, which ambitiously offered cold, sliced veal with a smoked “tonnato” emulsion, pickled eggs, and gherkin pesto.

Coulda Been a Contender: North

There’s not much more enjoyable than a delicious braised beef meatball in a flavorful tomato sauce. Sam Fox’s Italian farmhouse concept had it nailed except for one small thing – the meatball and sauce were stone cold.

Best of show (fourth runner-up): Los Sombreros

This Mexican restaurant in Scottsdale delivered one of the most substantial plates of the day – fall-off-the-bone ribs soaked in a green tomatillo sauce. It wasn’t as spicy as it looked, but small glasses of agua fresca were available, just in case.

Best of show (third runner-up): The Farm at South Mountain

When I think of going out for a great meal, south Phoenix rarely comes to mind. I always forget about The Farm and its sister restaurant, Quiessence. This housemade asiago cheese and parsley sausage with onions and peppers on herbed crostini will remind me.

Best of show (second runner-up): T. Cook’s

The Royal Palms Resort’s marquee restaurant recently lost chef Lee Hillson (to The Phoenician) but evidently hasn’t lost a beat. Its nicely charred lamb duet featured an olive oil-pressed rack and Moroccan-spiced shank with pearl pasta and pine nuts. A saffron lover’s dream.

Best of show (first runner-up): Tonto Bar & Grill

I mentioned the long line at Tonto’s tent above. Here’s what people were waiting for: a seared scallop topped with a crispy piece bacon. It was placed atop a sweet corn sauce and beneath an avocado puree. Totally worth the wait.

Best of show: Davanti Enoteca

If I learned nothing else from Saturday’s Devoured, it’s that I must get up to this newcomer that took over the former Quilted Bear space in Scottsdale. Chef Peter DeRuvi (shown below), who previously has dazzled at Sassi, Prado, and Cuoco Pazzo, was personally building and handing out sandwiches of porchetta (boneless pork roast), broccoli rabe pesto, giardiniera, and housemade bread, all soaked in au jus. It was like a flavor bomb exploded in your mouth.

Now to get ready for Day 2…

Related story: The hits (and misses) of the 2013 Devoured Culinary Classic – Day 2

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Quick bites

BY Jess Harter Thursday, January 27, 2011

Take an early look at the menu for chef James Porter’s Big Earl’s BBQ in Scottsdale. [page 1page 2]

Perk Eatery, a family-owned breakfast and lunch spot, has opened in north Scottsdale . [New Times]

Bill Johnson’s Big Apple Restaurant in Goodyear will host carnival-themed 55th anniversary party Saturday. [AZ Central]

Cookie decorators are being sought for a Drop In and Decorate Party at Olive & Ivy. [Phoenix Bites]

Sous-chef Ryan Peters has been promoted to head chef at Cave Creek’s Tonto Bar & Grill. [AZ Central]

Keep up to date on local food & drink news: Click here to receive a daily email roundup of new MXSW posts