And the search for the world’s best calamari continues … now in Phoenix.

Catch 22 Sports Grill, Union Hills & 32nd Street, Phoenix, AZ

Rating: 3 out of 4 squids (Squidilicious)

Posted by Kimberly Hundley, Squid Gal

This may be a local sports pub, but don’t hesitate to catch the calamari at Catch 22. The squid is prepared on-site and served old-school: a simple light batter, nice mix of rings and tentacles, and a fresh marinara sauce on the side. At $7.95, this preparation earns its 3-squid rating.

Catch 22 Calamari rings in as tops.

Catch 22 Calamari rings in as tops.

Most newbies to calamari—let’s call them cala-starties—get downright squiggly about eating squid feet. They cling to the rings, and for good reason. Nothing exposes a middlin’-to-poor calamari like its feet. Catch 22’s version is a terrific transition plate for cala-starties as well as seasoned fans. The rings are tender yet toothsome—and so are the feet, though they look like a heap of spiders to the uninitiated.

Look closer at those spidery bunches, and you’ll notice each tiny tentacle is lightly coated with batter. The clusters span 1 to 1 ½ inches and satisfy with a potato chip-like crunch. Sure, you get a nice squid texture, beautifully free of fishiness, but oooh that crunch.

Hitting the Sauce

The classic marinara, bursting with garlic, comes close to matching the quality of the squid. I’d like more of a red-peppery kick, but the dip is fresh and flavorful. Since the kitchen uses the same stew to dress its pasta dishes, I understand the need to equivocate. I wasn’t even tempted to use the lemon on my squid, though finally I gave it a squeeze and opened up a new dimension in the marinara.

The Down Low

Naturally, I’d been damn skeptical about getting squiddy at the corner pub. But now I was plain giddy. I snagged owner-type Matt Freedman to get the full story.

Just eat it before it eats you.

Just eat it before it eats you.

The recipe? Matt wouldn’t give too much away. The squid is delivered fresh by the bar’s food supplier. The cooks slice up the pieces (squiddles), give them a garlic-butter bath and toss them in flour with a hint of spice (maybe white pepper). Apparently the creator of the formula, now dearly departed from Catch 22, was a hotshot chef at one of the Valley’s high-profile chain restaurants.

Matt gave me a quick tour of the kitchen so I could see the giant vat of bubbling marinara. “Fast Eddie,” wielding the enormous wooden spoon, told me he leaves 1/3 of the tomatoes unpeeled for a pithy texture.

“Do you use a blender or puree them by hand?” I demanded.

“I mostly beat it by hand,” Fast Eddie responded, with an unsettling expression. Then he bade me leave his kitchen. I obeyed.

WVU Connection

Did you know WVU was scary?

Did you know WVU was scary?

A quick aside about Catch 22: As I chatted to Matt, I learned that West Virginia University alumni now living in Phoenix have adopted the pub. For the 2008-09 season, the alums will be meeting there for Mountaineer games. Hot Rod earning his nickname

For, me this is synchronicity to the max. Catch 22 is three blocks from my home. My dad earned a reputation as a basketball legend at WVU (Hot Rod Hundley, in the photo allegedly humiliating various opponents with his mad skills), and it turns out Matt attended high school with my sister. How about them tentacles?

Go Mountaineers! Be sure to order the calamari.

Next up, Eddie V’s (dad’s favorite squid), Flo’s Asian Kitchen, and a quick mention about elements at Sanctuary—all in the metro Phoenix area. I’m now looking for the best calamari in Phoenix. Sister Squidster Jaq is now in San Diego on vacay, and we’ll see if she heeds her mission to find some of the best calamari in San Diego.