Taryn Jeffries is the Chief Eating Officer of PhoenixBites, LLC, where she makes a habit of sacrificing her waistline to ensure that she can relay all of the best bites to her readers!
To start, how did PhoenixBites get started? What inspired you to start writing about the Phoenix foodie scene, to begin with?
PhoenixBites was established as a hobby and a means for my former partner and I to spend time together while trying out all the new eateries in town. From those early days the site has developed into a true passion project where I strive to learn all I can about the restaurants and the personalities behind them. Phoenix is a remarkably great food town and we just aspire to support the local food scene and let the Valley know all about our food superstars.
You’ve mentioned that your not food critics, but rather food appreciators. Can you talk a bit about the difference, and why you feel it makes for better food writing?
I hear the word “critic” and I instantly think “critical.” I make every effort to feature the positives of our local restaurants and chefs. Through getting to know the individuals behind my beloved spots I have come to know that in order to start a restaurant it takes all of your money, time, heart and energy. Dining out is also so subjective and there are a number of factors that can impact any one person’s experience; somebody cut you off in traffic on the way there, you got some bad news or are just having an off day. I share my individual experiences, recapping my adventures as if I were chatting with a friend, sharing all the highlights if it was an excellent experience.
One of the most recent posts on PhoenixBites is how Juice It Up!, one of the leading raw juice bars and smoothie chains has declared Arizona as one of the most up-and-coming markets for raw juice. Does Phoenix have a healthy health food scene, traditionally? What are some reasons why juicing is on the rise in Arizona?
Phoenix is a magnificent city for eating clean, with a host of possibilities from the current poke trend to salad and juice spots. I believe the weather plays an immense role in that, with temperatures climbing above 100 degrees for at least three months out of the year and sunny weather pretty much year round. No one wants to eat an especially heavy meal when it’s hot out and with so many months of warm weather, people want to look their best in summer clothes. Our climate makes juicing an excellent option for getting all the nourishment you need quickly and without weighing you down, literally and figuratively.
You also wrote a post recently about celebrating March Madness with Modern Market in downtown Scottsdale, with some killer deals on delicious gourmet eats. What are a few of your favorite items that you’ve found at Modern Market? What makes it exceptional enough to write about?
The opening of Modern Market was highly anticipated and I think a significant draw was that the menu was curated with constantly evolving dietary restrictions and social consciousness in mind. All of their salads are absolute winners, with scratch made dressings and carefully thought out flavor combinations. I am currently crushing on their Thai coconut salad. It’s an excellent combination of tastes and textures and the peanut mango dressing is so remarkable I wish I could buy a jug of it! I am also a Midwestern-steak-and-potatoes gal at heart so their Ranch steak entrée makes my farm-bred heart happy. You get all the appeal of comfort food with a little flair of the Southwest with the inclusion of salsa verde; it’s the best of both sides of the Mississippi! I think any restaurant that is sensitive to its patrons needs before the doors even open, a place that can be aware of those limitations and think outside of the box and develop an appealing menu really needs to be lifted up and recommended.
What are some other sources of high-quality ingredients in the Phoenix area that you’d recommend?
We have some truly remarkable products here in the Valley, from bitters to artisan salt to hot sauce. Homeboys Hot Sauce is selling some serious flavor. They have three primary heats, with habanero being a household staple, and they are regularly working on fresh flavors. Go lb. Salt is another regional favorite. They create artisan salts and seasonings, from sriracha to black truffle salt, sriracha bacon to specialty rubs. If you’re into specialty cocktails, AZ Bitters Lab produces one of a kind bitters and their small batch, hand-crafted flavors are outstanding. A classic Manhattan is impressive but add in a dash of their Figgy Pudding bitters and you’ve got a whole new flavor profile and a new favorite drink! One of the best ways to stay on top of all the new products popping up is by visiting our local farmers markets.
You’ve also written recently about The Great American Barbecue And Beer Festival, which happened the last weekend of March. What are some other food festivals in and around Phoenix that capture the local flavor that you could recommend? What makes them so special and reflective of the local cuisine, in your opinion?
We have some truly great festivals here in the Valley with my personal favorite being the Arizona Taco Festival which takes place every October. Tacos and Arizonans go, literally, hand in hand, and I can’t conceive of a more suitable representation of our food culture and the creativity of our local chefs. We also have two major culinary festivals, Devoured and the Scottsdale Culinary Festival, both of which take place in the Spring before our weather gets out of hand. Devoured showcases the best of the best when it comes to restaurants in the Valley and if you pace yourself, you can try out a variety of bites from all the spots. The Scottsdale Culinary Festival is a full-on foodie affair, from special one-of-a-kind dining experiences to the true festival atmosphere. We have a recent addition to the festival scene with Nirvana, which will pair local celebrity Chef Beau MacMillan with other notable talents in the Valley and beyond. There will be cooking competitions, special dinners and even a golf tournament the last weekend in April. These types of events really lend themselves to giving potential guests access to not only the restaurants star dishes but also the chefs behind the dishes. You get to have an opportunity to sample their talent and ask the creators questions on their inspirations and motivations, which is unique and I think a theme of our dining scene.
On that note, are there any local microbrews that you could recommend, for the beer lovers out there?
Arizona is home to some especially remarkable breweries all throughout the state, but if you’re in Phoenix, you won’t want to miss The Phoenix Ale Brewery Central Kitchen. They’ve taken your fundamental styles of beer and elevated them with their specialty hops and brewing methods. Their gastropub menu wasn’t an afterthought, the items featured were carefully planned out when it comes to pairing. If you’re on the hunt for lots of options, Angels Trumpet Ale House is the perfect option. It’s situated in Downtown Phoenix which is constantly buzzing with activity. The brewery has 31 rotating direct draw taps, a huge dog friendly patio space and a stellar pub menu.
You’ve written recently about a Pico De Gallo recipe from Chef Adrianna Calvo. What separates Chef Calvo’s Pico De Gallo from the rest?
So, in Arizona, pico de gallo is the condiment of choice and you can find so many wonderful variations. I love Chef Adrianne’s pico de gallo for a few reasons. I believe that roasting the tomatoes is a strong beginning. The roasting method imparts a much richer character and the crispy cilantro certainly adds a lot of interest too. When pico de gallo is everywhere you turn, mixing elements up a little bit keeps things interesting, and delicious!
What are a few local eateries or brands that you would recommend, that are best reflective of Phoenix’s culinary identity? Do you know of any that ship out of state, or offer subscription services?
There are so many restaurants in Phoenix with some serious history. The Hermosa Inn started out as the personal residence of Lon Megargee, a well known western artist. While the property has undergone on different owners throughout the years, his art has consistently been a tremendous part of the property. The resort’s signature restaurant, LON’s, features dishes that are representative of Arizona amongst a perfectly appointed patio furnished with adobe fireplaces and lush desert landscaping. Barrio Gran Reserva is housed in a historic pie factory and the kitchen is led by Arizona superstar chef Silvana Salcido Esparza. Her dishes are immersed in history, from long honored family recipes to her own take on traditional Mexican fare. Her commitment to her culture and traditions make her the favorite of foodies and chefs alike. If you long for a little piece of Arizona sent directly to your door, Arizona’s premiere food magazine, Bite, offers up a quarterly Bite Box. The packages are curated in partnership with local chefs and include only items made in Arizona. A recent Bite Box contained Hayden Flour Mills stoneground oats, house-made granola from Phoenix Public Market Café, sea salt bourbon vanilla caramels from Simple Farm and so much more. It’s a pretty incredible collection and you’re able to purchase single boxes or a yearly subscription.
To close, can you talk about how great food, lovingly prepared and sourced, can make for memorable moments and enjoying loved ones? What effect can that have on someone’s life, and why?
If you think back to some of your best memories, more than likely there was food there; a first date, a wedding or family reunion. I like to believe that food is representative of love. Think of the farmers that labored over the soil, planting seeds, watering and checking in to make sure that everything was progressing as intended. Then there are the chefs who after years of instruction, apprenticeship and experience take the farmers ingredients and produce artistic dishes with complex flavor profiles and position that art on a plate and its then brought to your table. Then there are the parents creating wholesome meals for their children that they will eat up, or patiently helping them to mix ingredients all the while forming lifelong memories for their little ones. An exquisitely constructed dish can change someones opinions about an ingredient. When someone cooks for you or teaches you how to create a dish, they are telling you they care for you and that can be so incredibly powerful.
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