I’m happy to have Tio Wally (long-time Me So Hungry reader) aboard to send in his eating adventures from across America. Here he is in Tempe, Arizona.
Greetings from Tempe, Arizona
N 33° 25.384’ W 111° 55.198’ Elev. 1132 ft.
There I was, chomping at the bit, just wanting to get there. It was Sunday so traffic in greater Phoenix was light. I was sailing along with no impediments. I was just a few miles away, stomach growling, and there they were: Orange traffic cones as far as the eye could see, rerouting me, in circles.
Had I known there was going to be a triathlon in Tempe that day I would’ve entered … providing, of course, I could be motor-boated, rickshawed, and then electric wheel-chaired to the finish line.
Thankfully, I was bobtailing (land yachting without a trailer/sail) otherwise it could’ve gotten very ugly, very quickly. But after getting alternate directions from one of Tempe’s finest, I eventually made it. To Chompie’s.
New Yorkers, especially New York City-zens, are spoiled. With little effort they can find this kind of food. But in the rest of the country, even much of Florida — Go figure! — it’s hard. That’s why Chompie’s is such a treat.
Founded in Phoenix in 1979 by the Borenstein family, formerly of Queens, Chompie’s is a taste of New York and then some. Originally a bagel factory, it’s grown to become a full-blown deli and bakery with four locations that’s truly a tasty slice of New York Jewish soul food. And they have an incredibly extensive menu, from breakfast to dinner and everything in between.
I first asked for the garnish plate. If you ask, they’ll serve you a heaping dish of delicious home-cured pickles. Judging by the color, there are two kinds. I’ve never figured out the difference other than the light green ones are perhaps “younger” and taste more cucumbery; the darker ones more of a mild kosher dill.
I started my meal with the Sweet and Sour Stuffed Cabbage Rolls ($12.95), which came with two sides. These cabbage rolls are indescribably delicious. Overly stuffed with ground beef filling, the cabbage is as tender as can be and smothered in a sweet tomato sauce. I’m not sure why they call it Sweet and Sour. I think it’s mostly sweet. In fact, I could see it being too sweet for many people.
For the sides I first ordered a spinach latke but they didn’t have them that day. So I settled for the next best thing: a potato pancake and sautéed spinach, served with applesauce and sour cream, respectively. While they were both good, they didn’t measure up to a spinach latke. Still, they were awfully good.
Knowing I was going to get a sandwich to go I only ate one of the two cabbage rolls. Plus I also wanted to get some of their great soup.
I noticed on the menu they had The Rueben Combo ($9.99) which included a cup of soup (your choice) and a “cole slaw gnosh.” Supposedly it’s a dine-in only thing, but I told my most excellent server, Shula, that I was going to eat the soup there and run away with the rest, providing she’d give me a to-go box. I also told her that, if she were going to chase me, I wanted to take a nap first.
For the soup I got the Chicken with Kreplach. It’s a great soup, with nice pieces of tender celery and carrot and a single kreplach — a minced chicken-filled dumpling — in a savory chicken broth. However, there was no chicken.
One time I ordered the Mish Mosh, a big bowl of chicken soup with noodles, matzos and kreplachs. If I remember correctly it had chunks of chicken in it. But the Chicken with Kreplach that I had that day had no discernible chunks of chicken. That can only mean one thing: The Borensteins owe me a Chompie’s hat.
As I was packing up my booty Shula asked if I wanted anything else. “Maybe dessert?” she suggested. It sounds dangerous, I replied. “Yeah. Dangerously good,” she said. She was right.
Chompie’s has a dessert case that would kill a diabetic on sight. So I ordered both a Mini German Chocolate Cake and a Mini Chocolate Mousse Cake ($2.25 each) to go.
The German Chocolate cake was pretty good. But the Chocolate Mousse Cake was really spectacular, really creamy.
But I learned an important lesson afterward. While the Rueben, with its half-mile-high stack of delicious pastrami served between slices of really great double-baked Jewish rye bread was awesome cold, and the cole slaw equally so, the Sweet and Sour Cabbage Rolls aren’t very good cold. Not at all.
It’s just more proof, land yachters, it’s always something.
And so we roll.
Chompies, locations in Phoenix, Scottsdale, Chandler and Tempe, Arizona
Tio Wally pilots the 75-foot, 40-ton(max) land yacht SS Me So Hungry. He reports on road food from around the country whenever parking and InterTube connections permit.