Scott Conant knew he wanted to be a chef at an early age. The Connecticut native went to a culinary arts high school program and then the Culinary Institute of America.
After graduation, Conant worked his way through several of the top kitchens in New York before opening his own place, LImpero, in 2002. It garnered a James Beard Award for best new restaurant and a nod for Conant as a Food & Wine Best New Chef, and launched his career into the celebrity-chef stratosphere. (He now even has a recurring guest judge role on hit Food Network cooking competition show Chopped.)
Conants signature is elegant Italian cuisine and his menus feature house-made pastas, wood-fired pizzas and fresh, seasonal ingredients. His restaurants also offer sophisticated cocktail lists and employ talented bartenders.
The chef has recently been expanding his empire: In the last 12 months, hes added a new spot in New York, as well as two more out west, in Los Angeles and Arizona. I had been to Phoenix a few times and was immediately drawn to its bustling food and drink scene, Conant says. That sense of warm, welcoming hospitality was present everywhere I went, so it became clear to me quite quickly that Phoenix was the ideal city to open the lively, approachable osteria I had envisioned.
In the 18 months Conants worked on Mora Italian before it opened earlier this year, he had plenty of time to explore Phoenixs bar and restaurant scene. Here are the three best drinks he found.
Bathtub Gin Punch at Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlor
The drink is kitschy, but its one of those cocktails that you need to try at least once, Conant says of this clever creation, which is served in a miniature porcelain bathtub complete with tiny rubber duckies and cucumber-juice bubbles. The mix of gin, citrus and amaro serves a small group, so bring some friends. But no matter what you order, you wont be disappointed: Bitter & Twisted is frequently called one of the best bars in the nation.
Old Fashioned at The Womack
Its been open less than a year, but this cocktail den feels like a perfectly restored vintage lounge, complete with live soul and R&B music most nights. The Womack is a dark, beautifully designed bar offering classic spirits and cocktails. Between the live music and 70s-inspired dcor, its a true gem in Phoenix, Conant says. His preferred order here is appropriately classic: The Womacks Old Fashioned is made with traditional rye whiskey and an Angostura Bitters-soaked sugar cube.
Aguacate Margarita at The Mission
Theres no shortage of great Mexican food in Phoenix, but The Mission stands out with its gourmet twists on tacos and grilled meats, like lamb with sesame-seed salsa and yuzu-honey yogurt on hand-made tortillas. The drinks are equally sophisticated, with a long list of cocktails on offer. Theres a whole menu dedicated to Margaritas at this hot spot in Old Town Scottsdale, but the avocado Margarita is something special, Conant says. The drink combines tequila and mezcal with citrus, agave nectar and fresh avocado. The unusual addition of avocado creates a creamy texture, but Conant calls the final drink well-balanced and super easy-drinking.