Part 1. Downtown Phoenix: Dining and Murals – a Delicious and Delightful Art Lover’s Walk
You'd be hard-pressed to find a hotel more unique than the Found:RE Phoenix. As we walked into the lobby, we were amazed (gob-smacked, actually) by the giant, life-sized painting of Burt Reynolds in his iconic Cosmopolitan Magazine 1972 nude pose, with the quirky addition of Dolly Parton hair. We knew right away that we were in for some amazement and fun. There are good reasons that the Found:RE is the recipient of many awards, including being named the 11th top hotel in the Southwest and West by Conde Nest Traveler Magazine. Not surprising, as owner Tim Sprague is an award-winner in his own right – being named the 2014 Businessperson of The Year by the Phoenix Business Journal.
The hotel is dedicated to local Arizona art, which you will see throughout the establishment. From the rotating exhibits in the rooms and common areas to the original door number plaques outside every room, it is more like staying in a museum than a hotel. Most of the art is available for sale (but sadly, not Burt). The art is curated by Michael Oleskow, who has found more than 25 local artists to fill the establishment with delight. The name “Found:RE” also evokes the architectural design of an industrial building. And – good neighbors that they are – there is a rotating six-story high projected image on one of the exterior walls. Fits right in with the neighborhood – as they are located in the Phoenix Art District.
The Art District is worth a visit all by itself. And the best way to do it is with an Arizona Pedal Cab tour. We were lucky to draw company founder, Billy Oxford, as our guide. Billy is a foodie-art interpreter-bike mechanic-historian and all-round renaissance man. And very funny! Our ride took us through the Art District and of course, Roosevelt Row, home of many murals, historical sights and excellent restaurants. The tour also includes lots of remarkable street art.
And of course, a very entertaining running commentary. After the ride, we realized that we would need at least a couple of weeks to visit all of the places that Billy recommended!
Five minutes from our hotel, we discovered the 8th annual Phoenix Festival of the Arts located in Margaret Hance Park. The park was filled with a lively mix of 170 art vendors, three different sound stages, art demonstrations, lots of food, beer, and wine vendors and even circus performances.
After such a busy day of sight-seeing, we were ready for some libations. So we made our way to the From the Rooftop Bar at the Cambria Hotel. Along with an excellent Manhattan, wine and some delicious appetizers we were thrilled with the view of the city. Sadly, we did not have time for a swim in the gorgeous roof-top pool. The tag line on their website is “You Can’t Top This!” and we agree.
After drinks, views, and nibbles, we left for dinner at the Breadfruit & Rum Bar. Owner and chef, Danielle Leoni is dedicated to promoting local food and a sustainable planet, along with a stellar culinary experience. The long list of awards she has shows that her efforts are more than successful. The Breadfruit has been honored as Best Seafood, Best Date Spot, and Best Cocktails by Arizona Foothills Magazine. They’ve also been awarded 6 Gold Medals by Devoured Phoenix. In 2018 Danielle was chosen for a James Beard fellowship for the Women’s entrepreneurial Leadership Program. Together with her partner, Jamaican native Dwayne Allen, they started The Breadfruit in 2008 and have going strong since.
For drinks, I enjoyed a taste of Jamaica with the Pina Colada Redux, with Matusalem Platino rum, coconut liqueur, coconut cream, and hand-squeezed pineapple juice. Michael splurged on the rotating Punch Bowl, which that day was cherry, guava, kumquat, and two types of rum. Neither of us usually goes for the fruity cocktails, but in this case, we are glad we did. Refreshing, tasty, and very easy going down. (That last part is the reason we usually don’t indulge!)
Our dinner was a great adventure. We started with Pepper Shrimp, which is sautéed in cayenne habanero sauce – very spicy and delicious. We also enjoyed the Squid & Cactus Paddle Frittatas – longfin squid, local vegetables and a spicy pepper sauce. For our main courses, Michael loved the Pimento Wood Jerk Chicken, a game hen spiced with the traditional Jamaican Jerk spices of chiles, thyme, cinnamon, garlic and nutmeg. The chicken was so tender it just about fell apart, and the spice level was HOT! (Are you detecting a theme here?)
I decided to move from chili spices to curry spices with the Curried Goat. The curry was just the right balance – you could taste the individual spices in the traditional Jamaican curry gravy. In addition to the very tender Arizona-raised goat, the curry included potato, carrot, and white basmati rice. The entire meal included several things I have never before tasted. As for dessert – forget it – absolutely no room for dessert, sadly.
We sure packed a lot into our 24-hour visit to Phoenix and we know we will return – the sooner the better! Our “next time” list includes the best (according to Billy) breakfast place, a great Italian restaurant located in a former department store, more rooftop happy hours, lots of art, music and the Phoenix International Art Festival. Also on the list is a bar that is located in the former Arizona Prohibition Headquarters, offering over 100 different cocktails.
Great food, great drinks, and great art – what more could you possibly want?
Editorial disclosure: lodging, beverages, and food generously provided.