TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) — Walking into the stylish Canopy Hotel in downtown Tempe off University Drive, one of the first things to note are the high-vaulted ceilings and modern Arizona aesthetic of the lobby leading toward the ground-level restaurant, Alter Ego. Our journey will channel some Creed vibes and take us higher; however, to the 14th floor, where you’ll find Alibi, the hotel’s rooftop lounge. While the allure will be to quickly grab a drink and jump in the pool, consider biting into one of the tasty snacks or shareables that pack a plethora of flavors!
Executive Chef Ken Arneson says the focus is to provide a unique dining experience different from anywhere else in the Phoenix metro. Arneson and his kitchen embrace what he calls a “fusion cuisine” and serve up world-inspired street foods influenced by various cultures worldwide.
“A lot of it is being able to taste, touch, feel it, and smell it, and we’ve done a lot of research into it. The great thing about Arizona is that we have an eclectic food scene out here, even just from a food truck food scene,” Arneson explained.
Arneson said when he’s looking for inspiration on how to take cuisines and meld them together; he’ll frequent a food truck fare or go to an ethnic restaurant to investigate the nuances in the food. Arneson was born and raised in Hawaii, so he takes his background with exploring Pan-Asian cuisines to combining nuanced influences from Indian, Middle Eastern, and Mexican dishes, to name a few.
The rooftop has a centralized bar and dining area, with a pool/cabana area on one side and another area of tables and spots to hang out on the other. The sliding doors to access either area keep in line with the modern architecture vibe because who doesn’t love the occasional breeze through a rooftop lounge! The pool has a nice stretch to it, flanked by comfortable lounge chairs and an entire cabana-length wall. The pool is positioned well for ambient rays from the sun, with great views of downtown Tempe, Mill Avenue, A Mountain, and Tempe Town Lake. The modest menu compliments the ambiance of the Alibi experience and provides a pleasant surprise surely to quell those stomach rumblings.
Chef Arneson’s menu truly does combine some unique flavors and ingredients, utilizing various sugars, soy sauce, Polynesian influence, and aims to hit all sides of the palate: sweet, salty, sour, bitter. Pulling from his youth, Arneson finds ways to mix and match flavor profiles that evoke memories and feelings for every palate Alibi’s dishes reach. There is thought and precision behind every ingredient in Alibi’s dishes, which are perfect poolside or to enjoy with a drink at the bar or with a group of friends.
Alibi is about three months away from expanding its six-item menu as well. Arneson and his team are researching some of the current trending foods, including a ramen dish with a pozole (traditional soup or stew from Mexican cuisine) spin and a variation of Takoyaki (deep-fried dumpling Japanese snack typically filled with minced or diced octopus, tempura, pickled ginger, and green onion). The passion being put into the Alibi menu comes from Arneson’s unintentional commitment to his family’s legacy in kitchens.
“I wanted nothing to do with being a chef. My dad was a chef; my grandfather was a chef. I grew up in kitchens and was raised by stainless steel. I wanted to build houses, work with wood and do something creative with my life,” Arneson joked.
But when it came time to find a job, Arneson’s life blossomed, he says when he found employment in a kitchen. “I still went into carpentry, but my love for my heritage and the food that was part of my heritage, what I already knew, and the world that was out there all became very expanded for me. And fortunately for me, I never got into building homes and things like that because I fell in love with food and everything that it represents. The feelings, the memories, what it can evoke in a person, the idea that you can actually brighten somebody’s day and make it better without even actually being in the room just through what you represent on a plate… I love that,” Arneson said.
In a culinary world with no cap, the sky really is the limit to what can be created, modified, combined, or discovered. With the distinctive tastes and combinations being crafted in Arneson’s kitchen, rest assured you’ll experience what it’s like to step outside the traditional culinary box. Now that you’re ready for anything let’s dish out the deets on the foods!
These scrumdiddlyumptious snacks are light but filling and definitely hit the spot for any rooftop occasion. The modest six-item menu has a surprisingly global range of flavor and ingenuity from Arneson’s kitchen science.
The Poke Sampler is an interesting take that stands out from your standard Poke bowl. Arneson and his staff specifically use fresh daily salmon belly, spice it up, and serve it alongside marinated ahi. It’s hearty and well portioned between the two, combined with freshly pickled veggies, sushi rice, and avocado. The Furikake seasoning is an excellent touch, giving a boost to the flavor range. One of my favorites, the Steamed Pork Buns, are a must-try. The fresh and daily-made buns are overflowing with char sui pork, a Chinese-style BBQ pork covering its salty, sweet, and spicy bases! It has a richness and almost hint of cherry that gets a nice bite added by the pickled red onion. With a considerable covering of cotija cheese and chili mayo, you’ll likely end up placing several orders for these buns!
The Ohana-Style Beef Tacos pay homage to Arneson’s Hawaiian heritage, really emphasizing the use of soy sauce and grilled pineapple salsa. I personally love any use of grilled pineapple, and this salsa blended great with the spiked mayo (making it a stickier than the chili mayo) and engulfed the slow-roasted sweet and sour beef. The fresh and vibrant taste of the pineapple and savory beef makes this another menu item worth placing a couple of orders for. Another dish that pays homage, this time to neighborhood college ASU, the Sun Devil Short Rib Sliders! These are great for barbecue sandwich enthusiasts, with thick portions of braised short rib slathered in a sauce comprised of soy, hoisin sauce, brown sugar, some Middle Eastern influences, equating to a delicious sweet and spicy finish. The sliders include a cabbage slaw, but what really helps it stand out aside from the short rib and sauce is the Hawaiian-style sweet bread. The sweet rolls really ramp up the sweet element with the spicier-leaning sauce (don’t worry, it’s not really that spicy), rounding out these hit-the-spot sliders.
The Filipino-Style Empanadas should immediately intrigue any foodie. A cultural culmination of adobo-style pork stuffed into an empanada with pickled veggies and rice. These particular empanadas are actually a long-standing Arneson family recipe and emphasize using daily freshly ground pork. These empanadas evoke those childhood memories and feelings, providing good vibes of foods from one’s youth. The ginger plum sauce served on the side is also standout, with a blend of additions and seasonings knocking this sauce into overdrive. A standout dish! The House-Fried BBQ Potato Chips are about what you’d expect but are made in-house as a kettle-style chip with a sea salt finish. Very tasty and an easy go-to shareable. The exceptional lemongrass-infused jalapeno ranch is what makes this side a snacker’s selection. The jalapenos are ground up daily with ranch and cream cheese, resulting in a lovely side sauce with the occasional but wonderful small chunks of jalapeno, perfect for kettle-chip-sized dipping!
Alibi leaves no culinary stone unturned in their exploration of new ways to combine various cultural cuisines, bringing something new and exciting to their guests’ tables. It’s become the understanding that if there’s a fun and relaxing rooftop lounge, there’s a delectable food menu to accompany. The fun vibe at Alibi, the great views, and the energetic and friendly staff will lead to a good time to be had. The nuanced foods just add to an already epic experience. Whether you’re a hotel guest, stopping in for some views, drinks, or food, or roll up with your squad, you’re going to enjoy the vibes at Alibi!
This is the fourth segment in a series on rooftop lounges in the Phoenix metro. Arizona’s Family Foodie is breaking out the sunscreen to check out eateries that serve up snacks and modest entrees for those seeking rest and relaxation from atop scenic rooftops. Rooftops often keep their menus small and simple, allowing kitchens to get creative and serve up unique foods to make experiences memorable. So, kick back and come hungry, and let’s enjoy some food with a view!