occasionally, catering recommendations are requested on here (myself included) and I had such an exceptional experience, I thought perhaps this would be helpful in the future.
This weekend we had a 500 person private party- originally, the boss simply wanted to go with Michael's, based on having heard that Michaels was the top of the heap in Phoenix.
We asked for a menu that included passed apps, buffet service dinner and dessert, with a theme of "upscale comfort food". Food that would appeal to foodies and non-foodies alike, so skip the fois gras and lobster.
Michaels gave us what I thought was a very uninspired menu that still demanded a seemingly outrageous amount of chefs and cooks onsite, and not a lot of food for a highly generous budget. We went back to them three times to try and massage the menu, somewhat unsuccessfully.
At that point, we decided to open ourselves to other options, and we contacted Vincents, LGO Hospitality (le grande, postino, chelseas, etc) and Jennifer's Catering.
Jennifer's, setting a trend that would continue after we hired them, responded within hours with a menu that made me, (definitely on the foodie side) water at the mouth. It was thought out, giving us a Southwest station, an Italian station and a carving station, in addition to passed apps and a dessert station. None of the options were very plain though:the italian station had mulitiple variations on pasta and sauces with homemade meatballs and arugula salad and garlic bread. They offered us their supplemental menus, and I literally could not choose since absolutely every single item was just exceptional.
LGO, which offers off their restaurant menus for the most part, was exactly as expected, and financially, fairly reasonable. They got back to us within a few days, and although their first menu felt underprepared, they were fairly responsive to suggestions and requests, but we ended up essentially with a menu that featured our faves from the various restaurants.
Vincents took the longest to respond, despite the fact that the client and myself both have personal relationships there, and I was most disappointed in their proposal. They proposed a Saturday market feel, which at first I was excited about, but they were almost as expensive as Michaels, and kept pushing the new pizza oven (which is apparently that mobile) on us. We barely bothered to try and massage the menu because they were almost impossible to get to respond to us.
With all the menus in front of us, it came down to LGO and Jennifers. We all love LGO, but that was also the problem: we eat there all the time and wanted something else. Jennifers was a go from all sides: customer service, offerings, responsiveness, and price.
We attended a tasting a week or two later at their office, at 12th St. and Northern. The four of us tasted almost everything on the menu, and everything was divinely inspired. JC had taken each dish, which started simple, and popped it up a notch. Cider Marinated Roast Pork Loin served with a summer apples and caramelized onions for our carving station, wild mushrooms in a veal demi glaze that was ridiculous.
For apps, we went with Roasted Fig & Brie Crostini, Rosemary Infused Lamb Lollipop Chops w Balsamic Mustard Mint Sauce , Petite Dungeness Crab Cakes, Pancetta Wrapped Shrimp, some stuffed mushrooms that were not pedestrian at all, and some more crostini offerings. The shrimp were the size of my head, I swear.
In addition to the three stations, we also had food specifically for kids. It sounded simple- chicken fingers, three cheese and pepperoni pizza bites.... the night of the party I was shocked to taste these items: freshly breaded chicken breasts that in no way resembled any chicken finger I'd ever seen. I'd actually eat these! The pizza bites were actually individual baked pizzas that the staff and I all battled eachother to take home.
One of the reasons I find myself writing this recommendation is that Jennifer's was so incredibly responsive. As this was a huge event, our needs changed often, we asked Jennifers to make adjustments on a weekly basis. They did so without any complaint, usually within an hour and returned phone calls promptly. That said a lot. At the tasting, we found both the managing partner Rebecca as well as Jennifer herself to be warm, incredibly sweet people.
The night of the event, the staff was excellent. The tables looked perfect, the equipment was flawless,and the kitchen itself was a factory of deliciousness. Moreover, even in the craziness of the event, Jennifer staff was amazingly sweet, and adjusted to the tone of the party in terms of when food came on and went off the buffet.
Among the highlights: Jennifers offers what I seriously believe to be the best macaroni and cheese anyone has ever had. People raved about it. People ransacked the southwestern station, with its "fajitas" you won't find at any restaurant and spanish style basmati rice, and a salsa bar featuring a number of fresh, chunky and unusual salsas. Not a single appetizer made it back, even though we'd overplanned on them. People were grabbing them with both hands. The meatballs, Jennifers recipe, went like gangbusters.
Jennifer's staff not only cleaned up and packed up without any great impact on the event, but they repurposed their staff to help break down the event without me even noticing- they collected the vases (over 100 of them) and broke them down, and packed them up.
The service was so good, that not only would Jennifers be my first call for pretty much any event in the future, but I'm not even sure I'd bother getting other proposals.