Phoenix Finds - Okra / The Henry

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

While that may very well be true, getting stronger sometimes really sucks. Big time.

Two weeks ago I'd come through about six months of getting stronger - at least I felt I was on the tail end of it. The shady darkness was retreating and I could see glimmering patches of sunlight. What had been most recently "killing me" was easing up a bit, loosening its choke hold somewhat. I felt cautiously optimistic.

And then my baby girl broke her foot. Her right front paw, all four bones. I don't know how she did it. I was just getting out of the shower when I heard her yelp from the back porch. I held my breath and grasped desperately for a towel. When she limped into the bathroom, three-legged, still yelping, I knew we were screwed. I could see we were screwed - her paw bent at an odd angle.

I'd made it seven years without a break. Marcello, my first Iggie (also known as Mr. Cheese, Mr. Pants, Cello, Mr. Pickle ...), is a pretty sturdy little dude, but front leg breaks are common with Italian Greyhounds. They love to jump up on things and down off of things and while they're pure muscle, their bones can be quite fragile. Seven years with Mr. Cheese and not a break. Six years with baby girl Gigi and I knew six years was probably unheard of.

We were overdue for catastrophe ... but I was mentally and emotionally spent. My heart and head have taken a bit of a beating lately, and now this. Not to mention poor baby girl is not immune to surgery. Born with a cleft palate that left the roof of her mouth and back of her throat wide open, it took us two tries to get her closed up enough so she could eat and drink without inhaling things into her lungs. 

My local vet is fantastic and we love him, but he didn't have plates, screws and pins small enough for tiny Gigi bones, so he sent us limping 4.5 hours down south to a great orthopedic surgeon in Scottsdale, AZ. They took fantastic care of her, settling her in for the evening and making her comfortable for surgery the following day, while her mother COMPLETELY FREAKED OUT in the car after dropping her off.

Ouch!

Ouch!

The clinic kept me up-to-speed on how baby girl was doing and I felt it best to distract my one-track worrying mind with, what else? Food.

Unless you're a bone-head, you know they don't call Phoenix "The Valley of the Sun" for grins and giggles. Iz hooooooooooot down there, ya'll, even in spring. That means I don't head that direction too often. I don't mind maxing out at 98- to 102-degrees (as long as it's a dry heat) up north. Needless to say, I'm none too familiar with the dining scene in the Valley - but I do have some places on a bucket-list I was willing to finally check out.

All in the sake of sanity. While my poor little girl waited for the knife (and pins), I gallivanted around town, seemingly without a care in the world ...

I broke bread Friday morning at The Henry Coffee Bar and spent the dinner hour at Okra, both located in North Phoenix. Here are some snaps and takeaways from the experience:

THE HENRY COFFEE BAR: XV

One of the many Fox Restaurant Concepts (other notables include but are not limited to Olive & Ivy, Culinary Dropout, The Arrogant Butcher, and as of late, Doughbird), The Henry and The Henry Coffee Bar (located next to each other) had long been on my list of places to visit. Who wouldn't want to enjoy a leisurely late breakfast at "the greatest neighborhood restaurant" in Phoenix? The menu (the coffee bar is open for breakfast and lunch daily, and the main restaurant is open for lunch and dinner with brunch served on the weekend) was interesting and inviting, and the location turned out to be exactly what they proposed; a cozy yet chic hangout for locals.

The darkly warm interior reminded me, in a comforting and luxurious way, of both a private library or a gentlemen's club. Roomy enough to hold a lot of people, while providing intimate settings that kept individual parties private. The food is simple but hearty and done well. Put simply, it is the perfect place for a kick-ass cup o' Joe and languid people-watching.

The Henry Coffee Bar is well-known for their Quinoa Breakfast Burrito and I was waffling between that and the Smashed Avocado Toast (I'm unapologetically still not over my avocado toast phase, so deal with it). When my order taker tipped me to the fact that the burrito was quite a bit of food, I settled on the toast (crushed egg, farmhouse cheddar, buckwheat and everything spice) and The Dropout (chocolate, caramel, espresso, Columbian drip, au lait). Don't judge me - I was worried about the upcoming surgery.

The Henry is the type of place I could easily hang out at all morning without batting an eye - delicious food, beautiful surroundings, and engaging conversations abounded. But I had meds to pick up for Gigi at a clinic across town, so I sipped on the last dregs of my Dropout as I walked to the car.

Future Must-Try Menu Items: Quinoa Breakfast Burrito, Short Rib Potstickers, Roast Chicken, Korean-Style Skirt Steak

OKRA

Traveling as much as I do for work in the deep south, I have a soft spot in my heart (and my bottom, too, unfortunately) for southern comfort food. My mama was an Okie and I grew up on meat and potatoes (and bread - there was always bread) but it wasn't until I traveled further south that I truly understood what true comfort food was.

As traditional southern cooking has become the current trend country-wide (thanks to the rise in farm-to-table and seasonal enlightenment), I couldn't be more pleased to see it taking root in Phoenix with Okra. Farm-to-table and seasonal cooking isn't necessarily new in Phoenix, but traditional southern cooking (with the addition of Okra's modern slant) is. Or at least in my experience it is. Authentic Southern-style eats with an Italian twist, they have a serious cocktail program highlighting fine, small-batch bourbons. 

While I had no intention of eating everything I ordered in one sitting, I ordered three dishes, dear reader, just for you. But honestly, there is not one thing on their menu I would not try at least once. It was difficult narrowing it down to what I hoped would be the three most memorable for my first experience:

Hoe Cakes - apple butter, quark, country ham

Fried Chicken (their signature dish) - chow chow and honey, fried okra

Canned Biscuit Doughnut - salted caramel, chicken skin

The hoe cakes with apple butter, quark and country ham, comprises my favorite flavor combination: sweet and salty. A hoecake (also known as a Johnnycake) is similar to a pancake or flapjack but includes cornmeal in addition to regular flour which makes them a bit sturdier. The cakes are slathered with a dollop of the best apple butter I've tasted in a long time (and my granddad was a master), drizzled with quark (a fresh, creamy-style cheese), sprinkled with chives, and draped with razor-thin slabs of glorious, salty country ham. I can still taste these ...

The chicken was a no-brainer. I'm a sucker for fried chicken and while Nashville Hot is still on my radar, I went slightly more outside that trendy box and chose the chow chow and honey chicken. I was not disappointed. The chow chow (pickled relish) provided that sweet/sour tang as it snuggled up to the crispy fried chicken (moist and flavorful due, no doubt, to a good brining beforehand). I chose the fried okra as my side, because, fried okra ... and it came with a mini-mason jar full of what I would consider a tasty fry-sauce.

I ordered the canned biscuit doughnut to go because there was no way it was fitting in any orifice politely, but you need to eat that thang as immediately as you can, especially if you're crowning it with crispy fried chicken skin. Which you should.

If there has ever been a time I needed a bit of indulgence and comfort, it's now. Luckily The Henry and Okra were around exactly when I needed them.

Now if I can just keep baby girl off her mending paw!