One of my favorite things to do when I visit a new place is check out the local supermarkets. Your guidebook to Paris probably won't say, "And on the way to the Eiffel Tower, be sure to check out a Monoprix, for everyday low prices!" but hey, it's as Parisian as strolling through those outdoor markets bursting with fresh produce and disembodied frog legs and walking along the Seine and whatnot. Kind of. Maybe.
Or I might just be overly fascinated by the everyday destinations of regular people in other places. Until I'm sick of it, it's still new to me.
Since Arizona is in the same country as New Jersey (I know it sounds like a foreign country, but I checked a map and everything), the supermarkets were pretty much the same as what I can get back home. Or so I thought.
This supermarket was no ordinary market of superiority. It was a MERCADO of superiority. Which is a whole 'nother thing. If I were intoxicated enough and for some reason woke up in an aisle of the Super Mercado after a rough night of having my memory reconstructed, I would totally believe that I were in Mexico. And if my memory really had been reconstructed, I might even known Spanish. And kung-fu.
What treasures did the Super Mercado hold? Oh, many things. Edible things, fatty things, yellow things, pink things, fizzy things, liquidy things, butter replacement.
Those are baked things. You can tell because they're baked.
Those are corny things. If you stick your nose into one of those warm stacks of corn tortillas and take a giant whiff, your inner cavities will fill with the sweet scent of...corn tortillas.
Those are different corny things. They crunch with the sound of a bucket of glass being thrown out a window. The force of the crunching sends waves of corny essence around your mouth. It's a beautiful thing.
Those are cookie things. If you eat two different ones, they'll taste the same. Or that's what Lee Anne told me.
Those are porky skin things. They glow yellow.
Those are cakey things. With questionable decorations.
Those are food coloring things. To questionably decorate the cakes with.
Those are bueno things. You can tell because it says "Bueno."
Those are fizzy things. Under the right circumstances, they will explode.
These are butter replacement things. This is all we will have in the future when all the cows die.
And that kind of concludes our tour of the Super Mercado.
At one point while standing in the corner of the store full of baked goods and tortillas we (Lee Anne, Kimberly and I, that is) longingly stared at the conveyor belt on which fresh, flat rounds of flour tortillas rolled by, all fresh, flat and tortilla-like. The woman in charge of collecting the tortillas and making sure the machine didn't try to wring free of its human enslavement by gaining consciousness and terrorizing the store felt must've sensed our burning desire for some tortilla lovin' for, like a messenger of the heavens, she unexpectedly handed us two tortillas to sample.
Tortillas will never taste the same. They will never be as warm, fluffy, soft, delicately layered or fragrant with wheaty goodness as the one that ended up in my stomach acids that day. Nom nom nom. Oh, how I nomed. And looked rather squirrel-ish while doing so. A squirrel in the form of a chubby, little boy. No wonder no one loves me.
Back to the subject of questionably decorated cakes—what's up with that one? HMR TYM. This is all kinds of weird, folks. HMR TYM is not complete without amorphous green projections that I initially confused with dinosaurs, which upon closer inspection proved to be amorphous green projections of no reptilian quality. Despite that the eras of the dinosaur and the Hummer/HMR never coincided (according to popular history, that is), I think dinosaurs would've made more sense than amorphous green projections (because, like dinosaurs, Hummers evolved to have the ability to slash you limb from limb, and they lay eggs). If we are to make any sense of this cake.
This totally bitchin' cake. I'd want one of those on my birthday.
But wait...it gets better.
Now this...this is something that needs to be displayed in a gallery and be the subject of a dissertation. It's the cake that will please everyone and no one, for it is decorated with Spongebob (for the young ones), Winnie the Pooh (for the young ones who still have their minds intact), Spider Man (for the spidey fan), zoo animals (for animal lovers), The Thing (for whoever likes him), Wolverine (for the X-Men fans), vines (for the botanists), Shrek (for people who like green creatures) and probably more. There might be things hidden inside the cake itself. If only I could plunge a knife into its sugary core and possibly impale some other pop culture figurine lurking underneath the frosting.
Lee Anne and Kimberly said I couldn't leave without trying horchata, a beverage borne from the combination of rice, almonds, sugar, and cinnamon. Of course, they were right. I took one sip of the surprisingly light drink (surprising because I find most Mexican food to be too heavy, a trait that Mexican beverages may not have) and had a strong desire to smuggle the giant horchata-filled bee hive-shaped bucket out of the store so that I could feed on the delicious nectar within for as long as I could until finding another horchata bucket in another Super Mercado or after making my way across the US/Mexico border. But they'd probably notice that something was awry upon seeing me struggle to lift it and then probably spilling it everywhere because I'm a weakling.
And that concludes our tour of the Super Mercado.
Before we went to the supermarket of awesomeness, the Shaffers and I ate at La Pinata, their favorite Mexican restaurant since Kimberly was a wee lil' baby.
I think I prefer tortilla chips over bread as far as "free stuff before the meal" goes. I hope that's not sacrilegious.
The Shaffers had one thing on their minds: chicken fajitas. Apparently this is something that La Pinata does very well. Not having ever eaten a chicken fajita before (I think), I had nothing to compare it to, but it's definitely something I'd want to order again.
If you're as clueless as I am about Mexican food, you didn't even know what a a fajita was until you saw those photos...and even then, they don't say a whole lot. A fajita is grilled meat smothered in chopped onions and peppers + tortilla + other condiments, in this case rice, cheesed beans, pico de gallo, guacamole and cream.
You smoosh it together, roll it up and VOILA, delicious. The chicken was moist and tender, the way chicken should be but isn't always because someone cooks it too long or doesn't season it in any tasty way or just effs it up. This was some awesome chicken. It was loved.
The only downside to the combination of beans and rice and chicken and mashed 'cado and cream and cheese is that your stomach feels a bit brick-like afterwards. It's worth the minimal pain, of course. This stuff was so filling that for the five of us we only got two orders of the fajitas and after we were done we had a quantity of leftovers that was worth taking home. One order feeds three people. And it's not like the amount of food is actually great, but that Mexican cuisine packs a heavy caloric punch into a small volume. Mm, delicious volume.
After all that Mexican food joy, Briana drove Lee Anne, Kimberly and I to Frances Vintage for some...omg...non-food shopping. It happens sometimes on the rare occasion that I'm not eating.
Although it has the word "vintage" in the name, it's really only 25% of the store that's vintage. Or 33%. It's something less than 50%, yes. I do math. But it's a nice little vintage section from which I pulled an odd plaid yellow 3/4-sleeve shirt, possibly made of polyester, but it had no tag so I couldn't really tell. Even though it had some holes in it (at the armpit seam), I liked it enough to buy it and sew up later. It's veryveryrare that I like something that much...and rare I ever mend clothing. If I ever get a photo of myself wearing the shirt, I'll point it out to you.
The rest of the store mostly sells clothing that hadn't been previously worn. Lots of Free People stuff, if you know that kind of style. (Although I tend to like very few things in their store, the things I like I really like...which is more than I can say about most other stores and means I like the store overall. By the way, I suck at shopping for clothing or shoes or bags or anything in that category of commerce.)
I was drawn to the giant cupcake on the chalkboard behind the cash register. Unsurprisingly. Giant floating cupcake...ooh...
The store also sells some little toys, cute magnets, journals, home furnishing things, kid's stuff and...beverages. So if you want to buy some new clothes or if you're thirsty for Jones Soda, you know where to go.
After spending too much time in the store we piled back into the car and headed to Urban Cookies, which was recommended to us by a woman at Frances Vintage.
But it wasn't meat to be. CLOSED. Damn it. The cookies look pretty awesome on the website. Yup. [stares at cookie innards]
We did the "pile into the car" thing again and headed to Mary Coyle, "A Phoenix Tradition for Over 50 Years!"
It did feel rather old inside, but they probably don't need to update their image to sell their ice cream.
Because they have lots of ice cream and it's quite tasty.
Since we really weren't in the mood to eat anything that remotely resembled The Suicide, the four of us shared two small sundaes, called "coward" sized on the menu, one with butter pecan and the other with honey banana. The brown stuff on the side that looks like gravy is caramel sauce. Which is like gravy for ice cream, if that makes it sound appetizing in any way. Sweet, sweet gravy...
The honey banana was the winner of the two for being so...freshly banana-y. Not that there was anything wrong with the butter pecan; it just wasn't as a unique/interesting flavor as the banana. The butter pecan was also sweeter than the banana, although not sickeningly so. Butter pecan is ALWAYS sweet. That's just how it is. Deal. By this point (more than a week later after eating the ice cream), I don't recall much about the texture. I figure it was smooth and not too dense and.....um...
WHATEVER, I LOVE ICE CREAM, YOU LOVE ICE CREAM, JUST EAT ITTTTT.
I want to go back to Mary Coyle just to battle the Suicide, a feat that would probably require a day of fasting beforehand. I'm considering it. Nothing says "healthy" like breaking your fast with an ice cream attack.
And on the next day, there were sandwiches
Pass through this shimmering door and you shall enter...
A BEAUTIFUL WORLD OF SANDWICH MAGIC BEYOND YOUR WILDEST DREAMS! EVEN THE REALLY DISTURBING ONES!!! LIKE THE ONES WHERE YOU'RE RIDING A GIANT SLUG WITH AN AFRO AND FANGS WHO EATS BABIES AND SHIT!
(It's past 2 AM. Please help me.)
I already wrote about Pane Bianco on Serious Eats, although whether anyone read the post is a mystery to me. I don't think I'll be able to come up with better descriptions than what I wrote there, but I can ...write more stuff...yeah...here I go, writing more stuff...
Like Pizzeria Bianco, Pane Bianco is another cruel reminder for anyone who's not from Phoenix that they'll never get stuff this good back at home. The sandwiches—mozzarella, basil and tomato; tuna mixed with red onion, Gaeta olives, and lemon juice and topped arugula; Brown's Orchard roasted lamb and escarole—looked innocent, all round with slightly charred crusts and innards shyly poking out, but they are not innocent. Not that they're evil either. But...but nothing so tasty could be innocent, NOTHING.
90% of the sounds uttered while Lee Anne, Briana and I gnawed on our sandwiches were variations of, "Mm, this is so good," and, "Mraararh, yummy," and, "Mrahrahsgghf *drool* mmm nom nom." Thankfully Lee Anne has summed up those moans in prose form:
This sandwich deserves its own USPS commemorative stamp, deserves its lovely visage etched onto the Arizona quarter, its fragrance distilled by the finest old-world parfumiers, its contents hallowed in the halls of the grandest cathedral, its seductive promise battled over by the mightest of legendary warriors, its utter magnificence projected onto the face of the moon.
...Yes, yes it does. I want me some Eau de Sandwich. L'Artisan Parfumeur, get your shit together and make me a sandwich.
The lamb sandwich was the most omg-inducing of the bunch. The lamb tasted as though it were injected with juices blessed by newborn angels. Or squeezed from them. I know that tells you nothing about the flavor, but man...it was good. It was amazing. Deceptively simple, just a thick layer of ground lamb topped with escarole. Do not skip the lamb. DO NOT. Oh, it's seasonal so it may not even be there when you visit Pane Bianco. But if it's there, you have to get it. Imagine that I'm pointing a gun at your head, telling you to get the lamb sandwich. Yeah. Get it.
My heart belongs to mozzarella, tomato and basil though. It's my favorite combination. So...get that too.
While tuna placed last in tastiness (not that it was far behind), it may have been the best tuna sandwich I had ever eaten. Creamy without mayonnaise, a hint of tartness from the lemon, other good stuff, blah blah. So get that too.
Besides that all the fillings were amazing (Chris Bianco has some seriously potent basil), the bread...oh, the bread. I should've asked if I could've bought a roll. Or five. The bread tasted perfect. I'm saying that instead of describing it because I don't remember much about its physical properties, but trust me...it was all kinds of awesome. I think I've said something like that already. Well. Whatever.
Best sandwiches ever. Awesome filling, awesome bread, awesome filling-to-bread ratio. I recommend gathering a few friends so you can order every sandwich and split them.
And the more sandwiches you buy, the more free caramels you get! Aw.
Since it was right next door, we took a peek at Lux. I didn't get anything to drink (I no like the coffees), but it seems like a nice place to hang out and if you like coffee, that is what they specialize in.
And then I went home. Some stuff happened in between visiting Lux and arriving in Newark, but...ah, ye know. [waves hand]
Sorry to rush this entry, or rather subject you to this weird entry about stuff I did more than a week ago. Arizona was the bomb. A bomb filled with happiness and fun and awesome people and at least one plush manatee. Phoenix would still be pretty cool without all my friends, but ...no, that's a lie, it would've sucked so hard.
Actually, that's a lie; there's still the Bianco empire among other things. But friends make everything a million times better. Roughly a million. I must thank them (and their families) about a million times or more, along with many manatee hugs for making my vacation so comfortable and packed with fun. THANK YOU FOR DRIVING ME AROUND AND CATERING TO MY EVERY WHIM! I will return the favor someday. Like when you all visit NJ...heh...right. [snickers] Or NYC, I guess. [unsnickers]
I'm also rushing this entry because I have to leave my house in less than three hours to go to Toronto. Oh, I'm spending the next week in Toronto. Actually, I'm spending it in Oakville with an old friend from high school, but that's close enough. Sorry for not giving much warning—I have no idea how many readers I have in...um, T Dot (T Dot?), but as I have no sense of Toronto geography or what I'm really doing, I don't want to feel like there are 20 food places I have to visit before my week is over. I kind of want to take it...easy. [slinks away into a corner]
I do have some bakery and gelato hunting in mind, so don't worry. Haven't at all figured out what normal food I'll be eating, but my friend and I may just cook stuff. IT'S CHEAPER! YAY WE LIKE THAT!!! That's also why I'm taking a train to Toronto. Cheaper than a plane! By a smidge! YAY! 12 HOURS OF TRAIN RIDING, HERE I COME!!!
Across the street from La Pinata (below)