Daily Archives: March 27, 2016

Culinary Dropout’s Operation Domino


When we left home in September, I said farewell to my bar, and figured that while this year would be rich in many experiences, elaborate cocktails would not be a particular focus.  (As I said to Linda, if you’ve just spent the day hiking in Yellowstone and you need a drink, there’s something wrong.)  That has largely been true (except for Mardi Gras).  I thought I could get by with the occasional drink in a restaurant, but after having the worst Manhattan ever made in a Chinese restaurant in Framingham, I decided that that approach was just too risky, and I’ve been keeping the necessary ingredients for an excellent Manhattan in the back of the truck ever since.  ( I think that walking into a friend’s house with a portable Manhattan bar has been a major reason we’ve been welcomed everywhere, along with Greta’s sterling personality.)

There have been some memorable drinks along the way (Boston, Charlottesville, New Orleans, Dallas, Austin come to mind), but in all those cases, it’s really been the quality of the company I remember more than the drinks.   However, in Tempe Arizona, I came across the first cocktail that made me sit up and pay attention.


We were having Easter dinner at Culinary Dropout, a gigantic, relatively new gastropub located  in some big old shed buildings.  Greta had found it on Yelp, where the reviews were uniformly good (she’ll be blogging about the food at some point).  When I looked at the menu and saw Carpano Antica being used, I realized that the bartender knew a thing or two.

DSCF6801After trying to gauge my comfort level (did I like sweety drinks, or did I like mescal?), our knowledgeable waitress recommended the Operation Domino.  I am a big believer in drinking the local stuff, so mescal sounded right for Tempe (and their Manhattan sounded too much like my own.)  The ingredients are:  Montelobos mescal, Campari, Jaime Torres Valencia Orange (a Spanish orange brandy liqueur) Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, and a lemon twist.

It was superb.  The smokiness and depth of the mescal was apparent, but beyond that, nothing dominated.  The bitterness of the Campari balanced the sweetness of the vermouth and orange liqueur perfectly.  If I had to compare it to another drink, I’d say it was like a Boulevardier, with overtones of the orange.

Greta is such a better writer about flavors than I am, that I got her to smell it, but she was too absorbed with the soft pretzel / provolone fondue to care.  So I’ll just stop here with the description.  I can only hope that Minott has the proportions on this one worked out by the time I get back to Oregon.

Culinary Dropout

A little surprisingly, we did not come to regret our dining decision that was based more off the name than anything else. That isn’t to say that Culinary Dropout didn’t have favorable yelp reviews, which were extremely helpful in choosing from their remarkably diverse menu. A casual atmosphere of shuffleboard and couches in a covered terrace was well complemented by the wide variety of comfort foods served. It is not a place for vegans or diets.

For a not-barbeque joint, their ribs were good. I don’t think they had been smoked, and they had fallen into the normal trap of relying too much on the sauce, which was a little too sweet. That being said, they had a nice crispiness to them without being dry, and the sauce was spiced as well as sugary.

The pork belly ramen was great. The broth was second only to Bao and Noodle, which is a great honor to be compared to, even negatively. Chewy generally isn’t a term of endearment for meat, but for pork belly, it’s fantastic. It was better then some ramen shops I’ve been to.P1080295

However, the first dish we had was by far the best. Provolone fondue with pretzel rolls. There may not be anything better in this world than melted cheese, and I didn’t even really like provolone before this dish. Pretzel rolls, soft and chewy, are so much better than bread. Unlike many chips and dips or fondues, they had the exact right proportions of liquid to solid.P1080293

For Phoenix’s size, no one has ever said that it has great cuisine. Culinary Dropout is actually in Tempe, along with most of the highly rated inexpensive restaurants. But don’t worry about the drive, the food is well worth it.