Sunday, March 22, 2009

Eating in Wickenburg

When you are visiting smaller Southwest towns, you are not likely to find reviews of local restaurants on the web. So we were on our own during our two trips to Wickenburg, AZ.

On the first day, after photographing some street scenes, I peeked in the window of a nearby restaurant. Given that the place was totally empty at 12:30 p.m., I took this as a very bad sign. But I noticed that there were customers at the Horseshoe Café across the street and suggested that we give it a try.

A poster on the front window proclaimed that the Horseshoe Café served the best biscuits and gravy in Wickenburg, and the menu indicated that this dish had been noted in Arizona Traveler magazine. So even though we were well past breakfast, my carb-loving traveling companion had to try them. When he placed his order for the Full Order (two biscuits and gravy) with a side of home fries, our waitress asked if he was REALLY hungry. When he said yes, she asked if he was REALLY REALLY hungry. When he hesitated, she suggested that she first bring the Half Order (one biscuit), and if he still wanted more, she would serve him more.

Was he glad he listened! What arrived was a plate covered with the split halves of a huge biscuit covered with a lake of wonderful white gravy with large and small pieces of sausage. His home fries included just the right proportion of caramelized red onion pieces. Sometimes, an excess of onion overwhelms the taste of the potato.

I finally decided to have the grilled Reuben with a side of slaw. When I asked the waitress if the slaw was creamy or vinegar-based, she wasn’t able to describe it since she doesn’t eat cole slaw. The woman in the booth behind Chuck looked back and said that she didn’t know how to describe it other than delicious. The sandwich came on a very good grilled rye, but the corned beef was sliced thicker than I prefer and so was a bit chewy. Still, it was a small hint of deli in the middle of cowboy Arizona. And the slaw was tossed with a light creamy dressing. Yes, the woman in the other booth was right. It was delicious slaw.

When our waitress came to ask if we wanted dessert, Chuck profusely thanked her for suggesting the smaller portion. She said, “I’m a big girl, and when a big girl says it’s a lot of food, listen to her.”

“I’m glad I didn’t go all macho and say, ‘Give me the double anyway,’” was Chuck’s response.

“A lot of guys don’t listen,” smiling as she answered, "and they regret it. We even have people asking for the Quarter Order--a half biscuit with gravy.”

Gourmet food this wasn’t, but satisfying it was and deserves a rating of 3.5 Addies.

Back in Wickensburg the next day to tour the local theater, we decided on an early lunch. This was a perfect Arizona spring day with temperatures in the high 60’s, no humidity, and a clear blue sky. (Have I missed winter? What do you think?) Given the day, eating on the patio of the Mecca Café was perfect.

Now, given the name Mecca, you would think this was a Middle Eastern restaurant. No, the menu was mostly Southwest specialties.

The lunch special that day was a cup of tortilla soup with a fish taco. Fish tacos are not prominent on Mexican restaurant menus in the east but are very popular in California--especially around the Baja. I decided that the special was for me. Chuck ordered the two beef taco plate with beans and rice. And our meal came with the customary basket of tortilla chips and salsa.

My soup was filled with shreds of chicken and vegetables in a chicken stock. At first, I thought it was bland. After spoon three, the heat began to build in the back of my mouth, and I found it was anything but bland. The fish taco was a good flour tortilla topped by a large piece of grilled and moist Alaskan Pollack and pico de gallo. The taco was so good I wished I had another one.

Chuck’s tacos were stuffed with seasoned shredded beef. We have learned that shredded beef in tacos is common in Arizona--more common than in New Mexico. And the beans and rice combination may have been one of the best of our two and a half months in the southwest. Usually, one or the other is good while the other is so-so.

Again, not a destination restaurant, but a pretty good one--for that lunch at least--and again gains a 3.5 Addie rating.

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