Reporter's picks: Highlights of weekend in Phoenix
Matt's Big Breakfast
Matt's Big Breakfast, 801 N. First St., mattsbigbreakfast.com, is a favored brunch spot among locals and travelers. The small diner is close to Arizona State University's downtown campus and the food is billed as local-when-possible, grass-fed and cage-free. Servers have a quick trigger for coffee refills and portion sizes are at least two stomachfuls. The diner keeps just breakfast and lunch hours, 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
The spot was featured on Food Network favorite "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives."
'Her Secret is Patience'
The city of Phoenix commissioned the 145-foot-tall aerial sculpture "Her Secret is Patience," for Civic Space Park between Central Avenue and East First Avenue. It moves with the wind, casts artistic shadows and at night is lit with blue and pink lights, though it wasn't lit when I stopped by for a second visit on Saturday night.
The piece by Boston-based artist Janet Echelman has won art, environment and engineering awards. There was a $2.5 million budget for it, toward the goal of downtown revitalization.
Mill Avenue District
This downtown district in the eastern suburb of Tempe includes dining, shopping, night life and entertainment -- a mix of chain and charm. It's a few blocks from the Sun Devils' football stadium and includes Tempe Town Lake and Beach Park, a seemingly out-of-place waterway with canoes and paddle boats in this desert region.
Anchoring the district is what is unofficially called "A" Mountain -- or officially Tempe Butte. The hill has a 60-foot tall A built on the hill, which can be seen in the background of televised college football games.
It is about a 30-minute train ride from downtown Phoenix.
Cartel Coffee Lab
This coffee shop feels like an invitation to a super-secret party. It's located at 222 W. University Drive, Tempe, in what looks like an old apartment complex. Its nondescript door and simple neon "Open" sign give little indication of what is inside: Dozens of college students with laptops, the walls covered in art including caricatures of the baristas. The floor is concrete and there is a garage door at the back of the shop. There are tables, couches, an old-school recycling box as a makeshift coffee table and an old beauty shop chair complete with built-in blow dryer.
There is a retro roasting machine, an artistic centerpiece.
The Arrogant Butcher
This modern American clever comfort food restaurant is in the heart of downtown at CityScape, 2 E. Jefferson St. It's close to the home venues for both the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Phoenix Suns, so it probably gets slammed on game nights. My entrée is one of the fan faves: Beef Short Rib Stew -- an admittedly strange pick for this climate. The server pulls the lid off the bowl when he sets it in front of me. It has green chilis and a fried egg on top. The meat is so tender it dissolves and the egg adds a nice accent. The corn bread is sweet, candied on top, and demands skipping dessert.
My waitress and I spend a lot of time smiling at each other and nodding.
This new contemporary American farm-to-table restaurant is the Part II of an established Chicago eatery. It's located at 333 N. Central Ave. at the Westin Hotel and its menu has South American and Spanish influences. There is patio dining next to a fountain and stream of water. You might convince yourself that you just saw one of Chelsea Handler's comedian cronies -- who played a local club the previous night -- in the lobby. The defining feature of the silver-dollar pancakes is that the butter is whipped with vanilla.
Boyce Gulley left his family in Seattle and moved to Arizona after he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He spent 15 years building this castle at 800 E. Mineral Road for his daughter, Mary Lou, using stones and found objects from a city dump in the foothills of South Mountain. Mary Lou and her mother found out about the castle after he had died. They moved to the multilevel house complete with 13 fireplaces and 18 rooms. Gulley had left plenty of surprises for them, including the contents of a trap door that they were told not to open for two years. Life magazine covered the opening, which revealed a letter to Mary Lou, a valentine she had given him, a photograph of Gulley, gold and two $500 bills.
Tours are $10 for adults.
Heard Museum, 2301 N. Central Ave., includes collections of American Indian art and history that includes the ongoing exhibition "Remembering our Indian School days: The Boarding School Experience" and a collection that will be shown through May: Retha Walden Gambaro's sculptures "Attitudes of Prayer." "More Than Child's Play" is an exhibition of American Indian dolls that speaks to traditions.
Admission is $15
Comedor Guadalajara, 1830 S. Central Ave., is a family-owned Mexican restaurant downtown, but off the beaten path. It's a big open room with a barn-style roof and salsa spicy enough to cleanse your tear ducts. I had a cheese enchilada, chicken flauta and bean tostada. Dessert was two churros -- still warm -- and a bowl of vanilla ice cream with a coconut-flavored whipped topping.