Saturday, February 28, 2009

". . . Nothing Will Be Left"

A recent phone conversation with the folks at the Pork Shop in Queen Creek (AZ) went something like this:

“We had breakfast at Matt’s—,” began my greeting.

“Big Breakfast,” came the quick reply.

“Yes, we had the--,“ I continued.

“The pepper bacon or the ham steak,” was the sentence-finisher.

“Both, and they were terrific. Do I...,“ my third comment began.

I paused, then continued, “…need to place an order for the pepper cured bacon or the center cut ham slices I plan to pick up this weekend?” I got the whole question in!

“If you’re here Friday or Saturday—no problem; if you come here Sunday, nothing will be left,” was the response.

We arrived early Saturday morning at this modest little shop whose exterior hides the high energy and high volume of activity that is present inside.

Walking into this shop reminded us of Moyers pork store in Blooming Glen (PA). The smells were as enticing and the display cases were filled with a similar array of rib chops, pan fry chops, and loin chops that would look good on a grill or in a pan.

But the variety of sausages at the Pork Shop easily surpassed Moyer's. Linguisa, green chili summer sausage, andoulle, maple syrup sausage, bratwurst, chorizo are among the 22 kinds of gourmet and fresh sausages.

Eleven selections were listed among the "Smoked Meats," including the mouth-watering pepper cured bacon, smoked pork chops, capicola, and dried beef. "Ham" items covered 8 choices from whole hams to center sliced boneless ham, and 20 selections under "Smoked Sausage" and 11 kinds of "Lunch Meats" (including some magnificent tasting, but humble, ring bologna) rounded out the creations of the Pork Shop.

In 1979, Greg Combs began selling pork products from his family farm directly to the consumer. But it is Combs' mustachioed son-in-law, Jason Corman, who is often the main presence in the Shop. Such was the case today.

It was a beautiful day for a drive from just north of Phoenix to Queen Creek, just southeast of the city. But the 150-mile round trip (with wrong turns and road closures) was a tad too long for a weekly shopping excursion--even though the sausage makers are exceptional.

Among our purchases this morning, were two pounds of pepper cured bacon--the last pepper cured bacon available.

Sometimes, it seems, even if you arrive on Saturday "nothing will be left."

Friday, February 27, 2009

A Taste of Chicago at the Borgata

"In a setting straight from the Tuscan Village of San Gimignano, complete with cobblestone walkways, fountains and an open-air setting and offering visitors a bit of Renaissance Italy in the sunny Southwest," the Borgata is a shopping experience.

So reads the informational brochure that we found to accompany our introductiion to the Borgata.

The detail of the roof tiles helps create the feeling of sitting in a piazza watching people. Today was a little different from the typical shopping excursion.

Today was Farmers' Market Day. Each week, Fridays at the Borgata presents a wide array of local vendors featuring fresh produce, unique gift items, artisan breads and much more!

Today we met James. But before we even saw James, we saw the beautiful red, yellow, and blue umbrella. And two words--Vienna Beef. With those two words, we knew we were in for a special treat. Vienna Beef means hot dogs. Oh, I know there is Polish sausage, knockwurst, bratwurst, and deli meats among other products, but it is the hot dog that is the star of the cast.

But did James have the mustard, the neon green relish, the sport peppers, the pickles wedges, the tomatoes chunks, the onions, the celery salt, and, finally, the poppy seed bun? Never fear. This was the real thing--the Chicago dog. Anyone asking for catsup would be encouraged to avoid using it. He would reluctantly show them the container--and would even provide mayonnaise for anyone asking for that, but he could not watch anyone put either of these condiments on the beautiful jumbo hot dogs. Only mustard on the Chicago dog.

Among the many people enjoying the taste of the Windy City were Jesse and my (Chuck's) cousin Raina,

Beverly (right, my grandmother's sister's daughter-in-law) and her friend Jean,

and my aunt Evelyn, all from Phoenix or Scottsdale.

Kate purchased some Fugi apples, tomatoes, and large, beautiful sweet peppers from the variety of fruits and vegetables on the long tables.

The afternoon was topped off with live music from 4pm - 7pm, but before Doc and Gal arrived, the kettle korn man arrived. This was a new food selection for me. With a propane-generated flame, the maker put oil, popcorn, salt, and sugar into the large "popper" shown in the photo. As the popcorn began to pop, the fellow used a small paddle to stir it.

With popping completed, the fellow turned the popper to drop the popcorn into a large bowl. Within moments, the popcorn was in a large bag, and within even fewer moments the bag was on our table and open.

The combination of sweetness and saltiness resulted in a soon-emptied bag.

Doc and Gal arrived with speakers, amplifiers, and computerized rhythm sections to top off the afternoon.

Doc played the guitar and Gal did the vocals--or did Gal play the guitar and Doc do the vocals? I don't know, but I know I enjoyed three Chicago hot dogs on a gorgeous afternoon with friends.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Matt's Big Breakfast

Have I mentioned that I want to be Guy Fieri (host of the Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives)? What would it be like to gain fame and fortune by traveling around the country eating at small, local, and frequently funky restaurants, where in many cases the owner is also the head chef? Well, we have the chance to travel and eat, but where is the fame and fortune?

We made arrangements to have breakfast with Chuck’s cousin Raina, who lives in one of the historic neighborhoods of Phoenix. She listed a couple of possibilities, but when she described Matt’s Big Breakfast, we knew this was the place to go.

While Matt’s serves a big breakfast, the restaurant is anything but big. Seating about thirty (I forgot to do an accurate count) with seven of the seats being stools at the counter, it is no wonder that we arrived to find seven parties in front of us in line.

There is a legal pad on a table outside the door, and you sign yourself in with the number in your party. When a table opens, one of the waiters comes out, reviews the list, and announces to the multitude assembled on the sidewalk the name of the lucky party to be seated.

Matt’s is open for breakfast and lunch. Lunch service begins at 11:00 a.m., but breakfast is served all day. The menu is short – seven breakfast selections, plus oatmeal and frosted flakes and six sandwiches for lunch, plus a cobb salad and chili.

Matt and Erenia (the owners) are selective in the products they serve. The Iowa pork products come from the Pork Shop in Queen Valley; the eggs of cage-free chickens come from Chino Valley Ranchers; the Angus beef is from Harris Ranch Beef Co.; and, where possible, the produce is organic and/or locally grown.

While it was after 11:00, all three of us ordered breakfast. Raina went with two sides – the home fries and a slice of off the bone ham. Chuck ordered the griddle cakes with two sides: black pepper thick bacon and home fries. I had the daily special – three eggs scrambled with Campari tomatoes, white cheddar cheese, and Canadian bacon served with a choice of home fries or hash browns (I chose the hash browns) and sourdough toast.

We’ll start with Chuck’s griddle cakes. Out of the kitchen came three six-inch diameter cakes about a quarter to a third of an inch thick, light and fluffy, with a crisp exterior (especially the edges) that was reminiscent of what we love about sopapillas. They were served with a large scoop of real butter and a pitcher of syrup.

All three pork products were extraordinary. Raina’s ham was not too salty or smoky but was juicy and tender and had enough griddle char to add flavor. Chuck’s bacon was lean and not too smoky and the black pepper added a flavor edge. The Canadian bacon in my omelet also was light on the salt and complemented the eggs and cheese. The Pork Shop is an hour and a half drive from where we are staying, but a field trip is in our immediate future.

I usually prefer hash browns to home fries, but should we return to Matt’s, I’m going for the home fries. These were good-sized chunks of skin-on potatoes, skillet fried with red onion to an exterior crispness, and liberally seasoned with pepper, these were home fries raised to a new level. My hash browns were cooked crisp as I ordered, but this may have been their undoing. The potatoes were grated so fine that the long cooking time turned the interior to a soft, almost mashed potato texture.

My egg scramble was an enormous portion - moist eggs with sweet tomatoes (I’m not familiar with the Campari variety but would love to find some for pasta, BLT’s, and salads) and a generous amount of Canadian bacon. If I had a complaint (and I do) there was too much sharp cheese for my taste and after a while the cheese overwhelmed the other tastes.

Now toast is usually a throw-away--a side that frequently goes uneaten. However, the sourdough toast was heaven. It came as a semi-thick slice that was lightly toasted. The crust was crisp but not tough. Chuck asked for a taste and proceeded to appropriate half of my portion.

I would rate Raina’s and Chuck’s breakfast as 5.0 Addies. Chuck talked about the food all day. Because of too much cheese in the eggs and the mushy interior of the hash browns, I would rate mine as 4.5 Addies.

Later, Raina mentioned that Matt's had been featured on Guy Fieri’s program.

Guy knows really good food.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Of Ravens and Hummingbirds

"And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting . . . ."

This was about the only similarity between Poe's Raven and the striking bird that visited us as we left Winslow and traveled to Phoenix. Although appearing to be completely uninterested in our presence, it was, in reality, very aware of our every move.

A brief stop at Walnut Canyon near Flagstaff led us to try to imagine living in the cliff dwellings along the canyon wall--when "living" included having to make daily trips to the bottom of the Canyon for water and to the rim of the Canyon to tend crops and livestock.
Even with concrete steps and a railing, the descent to the bottom of the canyon was exciting. Without these modern resources, the multiple trips to survive must have been challenging indeed.

As we entered I-17 to begin the Flagstaff-to-Phoenix leg of the day's trip, we saw a much different landscape compared to the desert of the Colorado Plateau.

The 125-mile, southbound trip between the two cities was virtually all downhill. The drop of more than a mile in altitude between Flagstaff (7,000 ft) and Phoenix (1,117 ft) made for some interesting maneuvering on curves and downgrades.

An interesting aspect of Interstate 17 is that it does not run between states. But I found it difficult to ponder the significance of this fact while reading signs such as "Runaway Truck Lane Ahead."

Thankfully, we arrived safely and spent the next day visiting with my (Chuck's) aunt Evelyn. We brought our laptop along so the she could read some of the entries on our blog. She was able to read about our travels while simultaneously carrying on two conversations with us. I found that pretty amazing.

Evelyn arranged a conference call with two of my other aunts (Margaret and Martha). We talked briefly about scheduling visits with them and the cousins in California later this summer. My three aunts are in good health and stay active with a daily schedule of people to see and places to go.

Evelyn prepared a light lunch for us and topped it off with a tasty and beautiful dessert of dried cranberries, Fuji apples, sugar-coated walnuts, and a ginger cookie crust with whipped cream and strawberries.

I could have spent hours watching hummingbirds drink at the containers on Evie's proch.

In the poem "Hummingbird," Laerynfra talks about the effects of watching a hummingbird for an extended period of time:

Beware the sultry
"seeps" of the
His persistance
will sway you
into dining on
Shrimp Plant and
Scarlet Runner Bean,
sipping Mimosa cocktails,
and enjoying Little Cigars;
but later you'll
find yourself dancing
at local hangouts,
for handouts
of sugar-spiked
water, wondering
how he ever got
your heart
to beat
so fast.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Of Lumberjacks and Ghosts

As the story goes, lumberjacks celebrating the 4th of July, 1876, nailed a U.S. flag to the top of a tall Ponderosa Pine, thus giving the settlement its name -- Flagstaff. In 1882, the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad (now the Santa Fe) arrived and assured the community's growth.

So, we began our walking tour of Flagstaff with a stop in the Visitor Center, housed in the Tudor-style Santa Fe Railroad station. In the short time we were in the historic downtown, four l-o-n-g freight trains lumbered through the district.

Three hotels played major roles in the emergence of Flagstaff. In 1892, the McMillan Building housed a bank and a hotel and was called the Bank Hotel. This hotel became the terminus for the Flagstaff-Grand Canyon Stagecoach. The McMillan Opera House, located on the ground floor, became the premiere place in town to host plays, dances, and other events.

On the very first day of the new century, the Weatherford opened its doors. This grand hotel would welcome presidents and gunslingers and would house Flagstaff’s first telephone exchange company, various restaurants, a theater, radio station, and a billiard hall.

Opening on New Year’s Day, 1927, the Hotel Monte Vista has a history that could be described as "colorful" and "interesting," but both terms would not do the hotel justice. Opening during the prohibition era didn’t stop the Hotel's lounge from ignoring the law and running a profitable bootlegging operation out of Flagstaff’s most popular speakeasy. However, in 1931, the place was raided by local officials and shut down, only to resume business two years later when prohibition finally came to an end.

For five years between 1935 and 1940, the hotel lounge and lobby also offered its many guests a wide range of slot machines to choose from, the only ones ever in Flagstaff.

Then there are the stories of the ghosts. John Wayne reported seeing one of the hotel’s first ghosts in the late 1950’s. The ghost of a 1970s wounded bank robber is said to re-visit the bar in which he died. Both employees and guests have heard band music coming from the second-floor lobby, when there is no band playing. A phantom bellboy knocks on the door of Room 210 with the statement that room service has arrived. Other stories involve ghosts in Room 220, 305, and the Gary Cooper room.

Flagstaff seems to be having success combining its history and the character of the past with the energy and creativity of a younger generation. During the winter months, Flagstaff is host to countless skiers and snowboarders.

Many of the old route 66 hotels and auto shops, constructed of native rock and brick, still stand in downtown Flagstaff.

At 7,000 feet, Flagstaff is also one of the highest elevation cities in the United States.

And having a diner downtown makes it a fine city to visit.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Two Return Visits

When I say we camped near Winslow, "near" is a relative term.

Winslow was about 20 miles away, but the nearest presence we felt was that of the San Francisco Peaks (nearly 60 miles away), since even in the spacious, comfortable Meteor Crater RV Park, there were few guests given the winter climate. Looking to the west, we could see the magenta greeting to the morning fading away.

To the east were the ruins of the former museum which housed meteorite fragments and information. This view of the museum seemed to capture the glory of the past.

At sunrise on a second visit to photograph the ruins, the sun seemed to cast a glow of green and blue in addition to the yellows and oranges.


When we left Albuquerque, I warned that food blogging would be light until we reached Phoenix. Other than one sustenance stop at a Flying J Travel Stop (no comment forthcoming), we only ate at New Jersey Pizza Company (NJPC) in Flagstaff and the Turquoise Room at the La Posada Hotel in Winslow.

The weekend before our departure from Winslow, we decided to revisit both spots. No photos of our second stop at NJPC, since we duplicated our previous meal (see February 18 entry). But we left agreeing that we may have had the two best pizzas ever. Better even than those we’ve had at De Lorenzo’s on Hamilton Avenue in Trenton, NJ. And De Lorenzo puts out a mean pizza.

But at NJPC, it’s all about the thin crust, the fresh sauce, and the hand pulled mozzarella.

And the trip would not have been complete without a second meal at the Turquoise Room. Again, we started with the restaurant-made corn bread and the Signature Black Bean and Corn Soup. Both were as good, if not better, than the previous lunch.

Chuck went with the Box Car Burger, a half pound of fire-grilled Black Angus beef that came with lettuce, tomato, red onion, and “John’s Special Sauce.” The burger came medium as ordered, was juicy with the flavor of good beef, and had an intense but not overwhelming grilled flavor. With his burger, Chuck had his choice of pasta salad, cole slaw, seasoned homemade chips, potato salad, or fries. Mr. Potato asked for both the potato salad and the fries (Anyone surprised he didn’t ask for a three-fer and try to get the chips, too?) The fries were good but the potato salad was extraordinary with large chunks of red skinned potatoes mixed with chopped egg, diced scallion, and a creamy dressing.

I had to try the Churro Lamb Posole. Posole is a soup/stew (no Rachel Ray “stoup” jokes allowed) and is the name for corn that has been processed with slaked lime (or cal) and then dried. When rehydrated, the corn has a taste and texture that is similar to hominy – only better. What arrived was a giant bowl of posole, corn, carrots, celery, onions, tomatoes, and peppers with chunks of ultra tender lamb in a bowl of broth seasoned with red chili. Small corn tortillas were served on the side. When I saw the size of the serving, I began to hope that the Turquoise Room had doggie bags (cups). Twenty minutes later, not a speck of posole remained in the bowl. I discretely used the tortillas to clean the bottom of the bowl.

Of course, dessert was in order and again we selected the three gelato sampler, this time selecting the raspberry instead of the prickly pear cactus sorbet. I can’t begin to describe the intensity of flavor – you’ll have to come to Winslow and taste for yourself.

As we drove back to our campground, we agreed that Mary Colter would be pleased that Chef John Sharpe was operating the restaurant in her beloved hotel.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Beauty in the Desert

The Painted Desert Inn, also called the Stone Tree House because petrified wood and other native stone were used in its construction, was built by Herbert David Lore on a high point overlooking the Painted Desert in 1924. Lore operated the inn as a tourist attraction, a lunch room, a bar, and a shop for Native American crafts for nearly twelve years.

In 1935, the Petrified Forest National Monument purchased the Stone Tree House and four sections of land from Lore. The Civilian Conservation Core, as part of its public works program, remodeled and stabilized the house. Guest rooms, a new entryway, a dining room and a shaded porch were added to the original structure, as well as stained glass ceiling panels (shown in photo), hammered tin chandeliers, and hand-carved furniture.

However, their efforts covered the buildings original petrified-wood walls (an exposed portion is shown in the photo) with stucco. Upon completion in 1940, the 28-room Inn became a hit with travelers. However, because of World War II, it closed in 1942, but reopened in 1947.

In the same year, it was transferred to the Fred Harvey Company. The company's architect, Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, completed renovations and repairs, including a new color scheme. The "Colter Blue" is shown in the lower level entryway.

She had Fred Kabotie, a famous Hopi artist paint murals depicting his culture on the walls of the dining room and lunchroom.

One mural depicted the coming of age journey of the Hopi to the sacred Zuni salt lake.

Kabotie’s murals may have helped save the Inn, which had severe structural problems caused by the expansion and contraction of the clay underneath. When it was threatened with demolition in the 1960s, preservationists cited the value of Kabotie’s art as they called for protecting the building.

Eventually structural damage began to occur. After its closure in 1963, a debate on its future took place. A concerned public prevented its demolition in 1975. In 1976, it was reopened as the Petrified Forest National Park Bicentennial Travel Center. In 1987, it was declared a National Historic Landmark. After 18 months of reconstruction, it was reopened as a museum and souvenir store in May 2006.

Even though Route 66 does not bring guests to the Inn, there may be plans to open some guest rooms. We certainly hope so.