It’s not uncommon for restaurants to begin as food trucks, operating with a mobile model before settling into a permanent location. Sometimes, the transition can be as simple as parking the food truck and continuing to use its kitchen to prepare food to be served inside the new restaurant building. Nanny’s, which specializes in fried chicken, French fries, and fish and chips, has followed just that approach with its move from a Laveen-based food truck to a small restaurant on Washington Street, about two blocks from the 12th Street light rail platforms.
Nanny’s modest building at the corner of Ninth Street and Washington was once a bail bonds office. The front door still slams hard suggesting that ethos, but once inside, a friendly greeting usually comes immediately from one half of the couple who own this establishment. Customers order at a window and then take a seat in the small dining room. Exposed ducts and wooden planks give the interior a sort of DIY feel, but in the warmest, homiest way imaginable. There are just two tables, along with a two-seat counter, inside. A little more seating is found outside.
The menu is displayed on a video screen at the counter, and it’s all about fried food, whether chicken, fish, potatoes, or even dessert. Chicken wings are an effective way to sample the gamut of available sauces or dry rubs available. A five-wing combo with fries is a filling introduction to Nanny’s approach. The mango habanero sauce has a slow, sneaky burn with just a bit of tropical fruit flavor. Teriyaki and sweet chili are milder, while citrus chipotle returns to spicier notes. The only disappointment was the lemon pepper dry rub, which was far too salty.
The food is prepared in the trailer out back and then is delivered to the small dining room about 15 minutes later. Meanwhile, a steady stream of customers picking up food to-go, a large part of Nanny’s business, rotate through the space. Beyond wings, Nanny’s also prepares crisp boneless bites of chicken; big slabs of breaded swai, a white fish with origins in Vietnam; and fried shrimp. All of these can be served in combination meals with fries, usually with one or two sauces on the side for dipping. Ketchup and hot sauce are also available at each table.
The fish and chips meal features big pieces in a thick coating that protects the flesh inside from becoming rubbery or dry. A tartar sauce is provided, along with any of the other sauces on the menu by request. Mixing tartar with Buffalo can yield an impressive blend of spicy and soothing tastes. The breading is well seasoned, as are the fries that come with the fish. The fish and chicken sandwiches are mostly served in hamburger buns, but one other option is a chicken or shrimp wrap in which pieces of poultry or fried crustaceans are rolled in a tortilla with lettuce.
Nanny’s fries are probably the restaurant’s most consistent draw, and it’s easy to understand why. They’re thick, but still manage to retain their exterior crispness. The wide slices also mean plenty of skin on the fries for additional flavor. If fries are the main attraction, one option is the loaded fries with chicken or shrimp and choice of sauce right on top of the potatoes. Otherwise, they do fine as a side. For those who wish to skip the fries, there is also the choice of a chicken or shrimp salad with greens, cucumbers, croutons, shredded cheese, and ranch dressing.
Nanny’s offers one dessert: a small apple pie. Like the entrees, it’s fried. If that sounds like State Fair overindulgence, it sort of is, but with a bit of restraint in terms of both the size and sweetness of the individual-sized pie. The result is an unexpected delight. The act of frying of the whole pie transforms the crust in a way that accentuates its already flaky texture. Caramel sauce and powdered sugar top the finished pie adding a bit of extra sweetness and moisture. At the same time, the fruit inside remains tender and yielding despite the intense heat of frying.
To drink, Nanny’s offers just iced tea, lemonade, and fruit punch. Without a soda fountain or a bar, there is not a big beverage element to the experience. Instead, as with every other aspect of the restaurant, Nanny’s sticks to a simple approach of focusing on a few things it can do really well. The natural constraints of a trailer kitchen make that somewhat inevitable, but it’s also a refreshing case of not trying to be all things to all people. Nanny’s current strategy is about tethering its mobile frying operation to a fixed location, and so far it seems to be working.
830 E. Washington St., Phoenix AZ 85034
12th St. / Washington or 3rd St. / Washington stations (westbound)
12th St. / Jefferson or 3rd St. / Jefferson stations (eastbound)