Salut Kitchen Bar in Tempe rolls out tasty new fall menu items

I’ve been a fan of Salut Kitchen Bar in Tempe since it opened two and a half years ago. The restaurant has a great central location in the Valley, it serves up delicious food and cocktails, it has an expansive wine selection and great deals on bottles, it has a huge dog-friendly patio with sports televisions, the servers always seem like they actually care about you, and the bar and indoor service is friendly and relaxed. I headed there to check out some of their new fall menu items, and like always, I left with a fully, happy stomach.

My friend and I started with their Salut Sampler ($19), which gave us a taste of some of the restaurant’s most popular appetizers – and they’re all vegetarian! The hummus nachos were tasty, as always, with crispy pita chips topped with homemade hummus, red onion, feta, pomegranate seeds and a balsamic reduction. They’re innovative bites that have remained a restaurant favorite.

Salut Tempe sampler

The caprese salad in the sampler came with thick chunks of mozzarella and tomato slices, while the salut fries are coated with a seasoned herb blend and topped with a feta parmesan mix – an elevated fry option.

My favorite part of the sampler was a new menu item, the quinoa fritters. These balls of heaven are filled with quinoa, dill Havarti and red onion, fried to perfection and topped with crimini mushrooms. Our server told us he wasn’t a fan of quinoa until he tried this dish, and I’m sure it could make anyone a quiona super-fan.

The sampler also comes with mac and cheese bites, another new menu item that I got for my meal as a full portion ($9). The cheddar mac and cheese is fried and served with chipotle aioli dipping sauce. After digging into the sampler, it was hard to finish the full appetizer as my meal, and every bit was delicious.

Salut Tempe mac and cheese bites

My pal got the Malbec burger ($13), made with melted provolone, carmelized onion, wild mushroom, malbec caramel sauce, lettuce and tomato on a brioche bun with red wine aioli. The burgers here are serious, and she said her meal was delicious.

Salut Tempe Malbec burger

Besides the tasty food, I loved that on the night we went, a paint-and-wine night was taking place, similar to ones I’ve participated in at studios and galleries. Salut’s manager David said they’ll be hosting more, and with all the top-notch menu items and vast array of wines and cocktails, I think hosting them at Salut is a stellar idea.

Learn more about Salut here, and learn more about Salut co-owner Taso Tirkas here on Phoenix People.

The Counter in Phoenix lets you build your own burger in style

Walk into The Counter in downtown Phoenix, and you’ll immediately feel welcomed. The restaurant has an upscale diner feel, with a sports television-filled bar, comfy booths and lots of tables for both one-on-one encounters and family outings. I loved the lighting, which was just right at not-too-bright, not-too-dim, and despite the construction currently surrounding the restaurant’s streets, it’s nice to have a downtown Phoenix view while you nosh.

My pal and I recently dined there and tried a ton of menu items, a great variety for both fans of the build-your-own-burger concept, as well as vegans and vegetarians. We started with fried dill pickle chips ($5), which came with a sweet apricot sauce. I liked the sweet and salty combination, and the pickles were fried to a great consistency, light and not greasy.

The Counter Phoenix fried pickles

We also split a big caprese salad ($7.50), which came with marinated red and green tomatoes, red onion and thick slices of mozzarella. These two items alone would have filled us both up. I loved the green tomatoes, which is a unique touch to the tomatoes you usually get in a caprese salad.

The Counter Phoenix caprese salad

The build your own burger process is the really fun part. Grab a sheet of paper outlining all your burger options, and fill it out, sushi-style. There’s a housemade vegan option, as well as bison, turkey, chicken and tuna burgers. Get it with a bun (options include a vegan ciabatta and pretzel bun), or go bowl-style and forgo carbs. There are a dozen cheeses to choose from, 26 sauces to add, and nearly 50 toppings to pile on, including dried cranberries, quinoa and marinated artichokes. Premium toppings include an egg, bacon and chili. Add a side for $3, from shoestring or sweet potato fries, to seasonal grilled corn, and you’ve got a very filling meal – I couldn’t finish a quarter of my burger and crispy onion strings combo after the appetizers.

My pal got a regular beef patty with guacamole and shoestring fries. She said the burger was tasty, and the guacamole was fantastic.

The Counter Phoenix hamburger

The Counter Phoenix shoestring fries

For my burger, I ordered the vegan patty on a vegan ciabatta bun, with herbed goat cheese spread, house mustard, a lettuce blend, alfalfa sprouts, tomatoes, red onion and dill pickles. Although I added a ton to my burger, everything was portioned well-enough so I could hold it without a problem and cut it in half cleanly. The vegan patty was delicious, and I’d highly recommend my flavor combination if you’re looking for a great veggie option. If you’re vegan, there is also a vegan cheddar, which really made me appreciate how well The Counter is mindful of all its customers.

The Counter Phoenix vegan burger

You can also build your own salad, or order a burger on their menu in a combination the restaurant has concocted. Besides a full bar, one of the other cool aspects to The Counter is that you can order an adult shake, a sweet treat with your choice of spirit or liqueur.

Besides the tasty food and welcoming ambiance, my pal and I thought our service was stellar, especially considering all the things we ordered. We received everything promptly and were checked on diligently, which we were really thankful for.

Find more information on The Counter here.

Cibo e Vino in North Scottsdale serves homemade Italian dishes

I’m pretty new to the Carefree dining scene, but I enjoyed my recent visit to Cibo e Vino for a delicious dinner. All the pasta in the family-friendly Italian restaurant is made in house, which made me more happily gobble up each bite of my homemade meal.

My pal and I started with a fruity red sangria, which was sweet and refreshing enough for even non-wine lovers to enjoy. We began with my favorite part of the meal, baked brie, which came topped with homemade strawberry marmalade and pecans and was served with crostini ($12). This would have made a fantastic dessert, and the marmalade was a tasty touch to the bite of the cheese. It was the perfect size for two, and I would have happily eaten a second portion for my meal.

Cibo e Vino baked brie

My pal got the Black Mountain Shrimp, sautéed in butter and served with portobello mushrooms, sundried tomatoes and garlic bread ($13). She said the appetizer was flavorful and the shrimp were fresh, making it a great choice for shrimp lovers.

Cibo e Vino shrimp

For dinner, my pal had the pistachio crusted sea bass ($22), which came with a white wine beurre blanc, garlic mashed potato and sautéed spinach. She said the fish was cooked perfectly, and again, the portion was generous, but her only suggestion for improvement was to make the pistachio flavor more evident. While the nut did coat the fish, she was inspired to order it because the flavor combination seemed so interesting, but it wasn’t as evident as she would have preferred.

Cibo e Vino sea bass

I had a vegetable ravioli featuring an alfredo sauce, with mushrooms, spinach and pine nuts ($14). The dish had a ton of sauce to scoop up, and the generosity of the veggies made for a very filling meal. I loved the sauce – it was a thick, creamy consistency, and the pasta was cooked perfectly.

Cibo e Vino ravioli

Both our meals came with salads – my pal got a Caesar salad

Cibo e Vino caesar salad

while I got a house salad that was topped with sliced onion and tomato, olives and cheese.

Cibo e Vino house salad

The salads were a nice addition to the meal, though I’d definitely recommend starting with the baked brie, for sure. The menu includes a huge variety of meat and pasta dishes, plus pizzas. Recipes come from chef/owner John Collura’s Italian grandmother.

The restaurant recently reopened this spring after a remodel that doubled its size from 2,200 to 4,500 square feet. It includes an expansive patio that has classic Frank Sinatra-style tunes playing, while the inside features several sports televisions at the bar, which is adjacent to the main dining room. There were big groups at the restaurant the night we went, and the atmosphere is relaxed.

Cibo e Vino interior

Everyone who served us, from our host to our bartender to our server, definitely strove to provide great service, checking on how our food and drinks were throughout the night and making great recommendations on what to order. If you want to support a locally owned restaurant next time you’re in the north Scottsdale area, I’d recommend it. Learn more here.

Thirsty Lion Gastropub & Grill Seasonal Summer Menu Full of Flavor

To whet palates this summer, the Thirsty Lion Garstropub & Grill in Tempe and Scottsdale has introduced a limited-time menu featuring fresh seasonal ingredients, and the food is just as vibrant to look at as it is to taste. I headed to the restaurant to try their summer menu and left feeling full and satisfied, with happy taste buds.

My pal and I noshed on tempura fried green beans to start ($6.95) which came with a sambal chili lime dipping sauce I absolutely loved. I gobbled up every last green bean, which was thickly battered but not overly greasy. I appreciated that the appetizer did have a healthy component to it in the green beans, and they were absolutely addictive – I could have kept eating them!

Thirsty Lion tempura green beans
I got the fresh heirloom tomato caprese salad ($9.95) for my meal, which came with a side of spring greens topped with a white balsamic vinaigrette. The tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil were covered in sea salt and a maple balsamic glaze, and I loved this caprese for the thickness of the tomatoes. Everything tasted so fresh, and the glaze to veggie/cheese ratio was appropriate.

Thirsty Lion caprese salad

My friend got the smoked chicken and pesto pizza ($14.95), a huge portion that is perfect for two people, especially if you’re getting an appetizer first. She loved the addition of Kalamata olives on the pie, which also included spinach basil pesto, house smoked chicken, chili flakes, roasted garlic, sundried tomatoes, a four-cheese blend and arugula. She liked the thick crust on the edge, which made it easy to hold, while the thin crust throughout the rest let the toppings shine.

Thirsty Lion smoked chicken pizza

Other entrees on the summer menu include mesquite smoked St. Louis ribs ($20.95), seared Atlantic sea scallops ($19.95), grilled wild Northwest salmon ($24.95) and grilled romaine and steak salad ($14.95).

Thirsty Lion steak salad

The seasonal cocktails looked mighty tasty and include fresh fruit sangria made with brandy and triple sec, and a raspberry mint mule-jito, made with fresh raspberries muddled with mint, lemon and lime, Bacardi Rum, Malibu rum, simple syrup and Reed’s Ginger Beer. I didn’t try a cocktail on my lunch break this time, but the drink looked beautiful and seems to be strong, judging by the ingredients.

Thirsty Lion raspberry mint Mule-jito

For dessert, satiate your fresh fruit fix with a strawberry rhubarb and white chocolate cheesecake slice ($6.95), made with fresh whipped cream, strawberry rhubarb puree and fresh sliced strawberries in a chocolate-hazelnut crust. Our meals left us stuffed, so save room for this decadent dessert if you’re into those flavors.

Thirsty Lion strawberry rhubarb cheesecake

The summer menu is available through mid-September, and you can find more information here.

Du Jour restaurant at the Arizona Culinary Institute delivers delicious three-course meals

I always love supporting students who offer business services, since usually the services offered are just as top-notch as professionals and are often way less expensive. (For example, I love getting massages at Cortiva Institute and have had many happy hair experiences at Toni and Guy Academy, both in Scottsdale.) My recent lunch at the Arizona Culinary Institute’s du Jour restaurant in north Scottsdale, the only student-run restaurant in the Valley, blew me away in terms of presentation, professionalism and taste. And considering my three-course meal—which also included an amuse bouche, plenty of bread, a chocolate and a soft drink—only ran $15, the classy experience was a steal. Head there now for the best lunch value I’ve found in a long time.

du Jour at the Arizona Culinary Institute three course meal

Du Jour is open weekdays from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., and students run every aspect of the meal, from greeting visitors at the front of the house, to serving every course. I started with a trio of three chilled vegetarian soups: vichyssoise, gazpacho and sweet pea. I’ve never had vichyssoise or sweet pea before, and even though I’m not a pea fan, I loved ever bite of the soup. The vichyssoise with pureed potato and leek was so creamy and rich, and I absolutely adored the gazpacho. I’m a bit of a snob because it’s a favorite of mine whenever I visit Spain, and this was just as good as the kind my family makes in Europe.

My entrée was a vegetarian rigatoni, with kalamata olives, capers, carrots, cherry tomatoes, shaved parmesan cheese and a tomato sauce. It was bursting with beautiful colors and tasty flavors and was such a generous portion, I took half of it home.

Dessert was such a fun experience at du Jour. A tray of four delectable items was wheeled out to my table, including carrot cake, chocolate cake and tiramisu.

du Jour carrot cake du Jour chocolate cake 2 du Jour chocolate cakeI went for my favorite dessert, tiramisu, and really enjoyed this version. The cream was generous, and the ladyfingers were perfectly textured.

Other appetizers included an apple gorgonzola salad and a poached scallop,

du Jour poached scallop

and entrees included roasted pork loin, grilled chicken and baked cod.

du Jour baked codMeals range between $13-$19, a great deal for such a filling three-course meal with all the extras. The ambiance is romantically lit, and the atmosphere was peaceful and perfect for unwinding.

Besides lunch on weekdays, the Arizona Culinary Institute also features special events such as dinners and wine flight schools. August dinners at du Jour are Tuesday, August 25, through Thursday, August 27, and reservations are taken from 6:30-7:45 p.m. – find information here.

Paul Martin’s American Grill in Scottsdale serves delicious food in class, relaxing atmosphere

Paul Martin’s American Grill at The Borgata in Scottsdale is a relaxed, peaceful place perfectly conducive to business meetings or romantic rendezvous. I always love when an upscale joint also offers a killer happy hour, and this restaurant’s deals are a steal. During daily happy hour from 3-8 p.m., patrons can score $5 beer, wine and cocktails, as well as appetizers and shared plates for only $5 each.

Paul Martin's American Grill

The restaurant has been open for the past year and features a seasonal menu – the current menu lasts through September. The classy restaurant has beautiful ambiance, with large, cushy booths, cozy lighting from both large and small fixtures, an expansive patio, and a laid-back bar area. The staff, from the host to the servers to the manager, are all attentive and seem to genuinely care about their guests’ needs, as was evident when I went there recently for lunch.

Besides the pleasant atmosphere, the food was delicious. I started my meal with a House Champagne Lemonade ($11). The cocktail features house-infused Meyer lemon vodka, lemon juice, fresh basil and Piper Sonoma champagne, and the drink is very strong alcohol-wise and strikingly flavored. It was the perfect size for the meal and really refreshing for the warm weather. The cocktail menu features many more drinks made with fresh, seasonal ingredients, as well as a wide selection of beer and wine.

Paul Martin's American Grill

As for food, some of the popular menu items on the restaurant’s summer menu include the Blackened Pacific Redfish with Bloomsdale spinach and and lemon ($18) and Chimichurri Chicken, with wild mushroom farro, cipolline onion and Bloomsdale spinach ($17). My pal and I started with the Spinach Dip, made with Tillamook two-year aged white cheddar, Bloomsdale spinach, sun-dried tomatoes and fresh bread ($15). We gobbled up every bite of the rich dip, which was chunky with vegetables and paired wonderfully with the crispy bread. It was so delicious, I would have eaten it plain by the spoonful.

Paul Martin's American Grill_Spinach Dip

For my entree, I tried the Three Mushroom Burger ($14), a vegetarian burger made with arugula and pesto aioli. I’d never had a veggie burger whose base was mushrooms, and this was so good. The mushroom flavor made my taste buds happy, and the consistency was perfect. I enjoyed the perfectly seasoned fries, and half of the meal made me more than full.

Paul Martin's American Grill_Mushroom Burger

My pal got the Steak Frites ($21), which was cooked to her specifications of little char. It was another greatly portioned meal, which she said she enjoyed.

Paul Martin's American Grill_Steak Frites

We split the Banana Cream Pie ($10) for dessert, which was richly topped with fresh whipped cream. It’s impressive all the restaurant’s desserts, including Lemon Crème Brûlée ($10) and Devil’s Food Cake ($10) are made in house, and this pie was my pal’s most memorable part of her meal.

Paul Martin's American Grill_Banana Cream Pie

For wine lovers, the restaurant hosts complimentary weekly wine tastings through August on Wednesday and Thursday evenings from 6-8 p.m. Head there July 16, 22, 23 and 30 and August 5, 6, 13, 19 and 20 to take advantage. For more information on Paul Martin’s American Grill, head here.

Scorpius Dance Theatre’s ‘Rock’ at Phoenix Theatre is drama in dance

The Valley is so lucky to have something as innovative as Scorpius Dance Theatre to bring unique theater-based dance to the stage. In their new production Rock, at Phoenix Theatre tonight, Friday, June 26, and tomorrow, Saturday, June 27, founder and choreographer Lisa Starry (whom you can learn all about here on Phoenix People) focuses on emotional narratives to drive the production, featuring vignettes on everything from lust and love to mental health.

Scorpius Dance Theatre ROCK Phoenix Theatre1

The nearly 20-person cast powered through more than a dozen dance numbers, set to ʾ60s, ʾ70s, and ʾ80s hits such as The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black”, “Across the Universe” by The Beatles, and “Jack and Diane” by John Mellencamp. Solo electric guitarist Chadwick Steinmetz played shredding solo sets, opening the show with Jim Hendrix’s rocking version of the “Star Spangled Banner” and coming back on stage throughout the show to play.

The varieties of dances on display were vast, ranging from the flamenco during The Doors’ “Spanish Caravan” (you can learn about dancer Carlos Montufar here on Phoenix People), to the sexy and sultry moves in the comedic odd-person-out story during Van Halen’s “Pretty Woman”. There were some big company numbers where myriad dancers moved at once, but I love that Starry and her fellow choreographers created dances based on stories, giving audiences plots to follow even though there was no dialogue.

I really appreciated the inclusion of a dance featuring a pair of male dancers, as well as an all-male dance to Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher,” which featured a hot teacher in drag. During Joan Jett’s “Do You Wanna Touch,” all the male dancers deftly moved wearing high heels I would never even be able to walk in. Every dancer throughout the show seemed like they were having an absolute blast on stage, and that enthusiasm was contagious as it reached the audience.

Scorpius Dance Theatre ROCK Phoenix Theatre2

Besides the dancing, the aerial stunts in the show were amazing, including hanging from the ceiling by robe and fabric, and swinging through a hoop. The show also included a couple of really fun and beautifully produced videos, one featuring a dancer and her daughter, and another featuring the whole cast in hair metal garb at a roller rink. There were also some eye-catching costumes in the live show, making for a production that was constantly stimulating.

Every show I’ve seen by Scorpius Dance Theatre has been top-notch, and this one has to be my favorite so far. Tickets are $30 for shows tonight and tomorrow – get them here.

Phoenix Ballet’s ‘Rising’ at Mesa Arts Center awes

Last night, the Phoenix Ballet put on an emotional, innovative, entertaining performance melding traditional and contemporary ballet dance styles in its Rising show at Mesa Arts Center. The performance included five segments by five different choreographers, with music ranging from Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” to a very cute and humorous take on Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee.”

Phoenix Ballet at Mesa Arts CenterPhoenix Ballet at Mesa Arts CenterPhoenix Ballet at Mesa Arts CenterPhoenix Ballet at Mesa Arts CenterThe hour-and-a-half show touched on themes including love and death, with a cast of about a dozen graceful dancers whose technical movements never ceased to amaze. Their second show, today at 2 p.m. at Mesa Arts Center, is inexpensive to attend for the level of talent you’ll see — tickets start at only $20.

Phoenix Ballet at Mesa Arts Center Phoenix Ballet at Mesa Arts Center Phoenix Ballet at Mesa Arts Center Phoenix Ballet at Mesa Arts Center

The nonprofit takes its act on the road next to the Sedona Performing Arts Center on Thursday, May 21, then to Poland for the Lodz International Ballet Festival May 26 and May 27. The troupe has more in store for the Valley, too, and I can’t wait to see what’s next by this group whose talent is reaching worldwide destinations.

Learn more about Phoenix Ballet here, and get tickets to today’s show here.

Fired Pie in Scottsdale a fast, casual, custom pizza destination

The idea of a fast casual pizza joint is definitely intriguing, and I was grateful to be invited to dinner at Fired Pie in Scottsdale last week to check out the concept myself. There are 10 Fired Pie locations in the Valley, and I visited the Northsight Boulevard location.

Fired Pie in Scottsdale

Walk in, and you’ll see a list of ingredients, including sauce type, cheese, toppings and seasonings. I’ve never had alfredo or pesto sauce pizzas, but you can get those here, as well as buffalo and barbecue sauces, which I thought was unique.

Fired Pie in Scottsdale

Cheese include everything from feta to gorgonzola, and a variety of meats, veggies and fresh herbs are available for toppings on the gluten-free dough. The 11-inch pizza ($7.95) is ready in about five minutes, and it’s nice beer and wine are available as drink choices.

Fired Pie in Scottsdale

Fired Pie in Scottsdale

If you’re not into carbs, load up on a salad instead. One of my favorite parts of the meal was the $3 “pookie,” a baked cookie pie topped with vanilla ice cream. It was absolutely perfect to share and mighty tasty.

Fired Pie in Scottsdale

I liked my fresh mozzarella, kalamata olive, artichoke and tomato sauce pizza (my friend got sausage, spinach and artichoke with alfredo — she loved it), and it was really filling for one person – I ate all of mine because I was starving but would normally take a couple slices home. The only thing I’d try next time is asking for it a little less crispy — I’m a doughy pizza lover.

I loved the patio seating options, and the atmosphere was relaxed, friendly and fun.

Learn more about Fired Pie here.

Strawberry Hedgehog Beauty Detox 101 workshop teaches why loving your skin is important

Your skin is your largest organ, and accordingly, what you put on your body is just as important as what you put inside it. That was one of the biggest lessons I learned at Tracy Perkins‘ Beauty Detox 101 workshop at Strawberry Hedgehog natural body care shop in Phoenix this past weekend. The workshop provided lots of valuable advice when it came to being aware of the toxins your body ingests through products, with informative sessions covering ingredients to avoid and beauty myths to squash.

Tracy Perkins of Strawberry HedgehogAs founder of Strawberry Hedgehog, which includes soaps, body butter and deodorant, Perkins is highly knowledgeable about the value of vegan beauty products — learn more about Perkins here on Phoenix People. Perkins used to work at a major beauty brand before getting sick from their products. Now she creates her own adorable goodies, using natural ingredients with no harsh chemicals or toxins. I’m a huge fan of her line, which you can learn more about here.

Besides getting to know ingredients to avoid on labels (fragrance is a HUGE one), workshop participants were also treated to delicious vegan eats and tea, and we even made our own facial and body scrubs using essential oils. The two-hour workshop was so much fun, and we left with a ton of recipes to continue healthy beauty rituals at home.

Strawberry Hedgehog Strawberry HedgehogPerkins regularly hosts workshops on a variety of topics, and you can learn all about them here. Her next one, Saturday, April 18, is Essential Oil First Aid and costs $40 — get tickets here.