Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Only Thing Missing . . .

is the chicken wire cage around the stage.

Welcome to the Buffalo Chip Saloon in Cave Creek, AZ!

Carefree, AZ and Cave Creek are two immediately adjacent communities north of Phoenix, but they seem to be worlds apart. Carefree is an upscale town and was one of the country’s first planned communities. Cave Creek, on the other hand, celebrates its cowboy quirkiness. The Buffalo Chip Saloon is just one of the Cave Creek bars/restaurants that uses a western theme, but takes it to new heights. The saloon’s web site proclaims: “One of the last truly western saloons and restaurants…Voted Arizona's best western saloon and restaurant…Horses Welcome!...Free country-western dance lessons.”

“Be sure and check out our new outdoor dining and entertainment area in back. Go down the old boardwalk at the front entrance or out the ‘back door’ near the pool tables. You’ll find a Wagon Camp full of 1800s stuff! It’s served by its own bar with indoor plumbing no less. You can also listen to the live music, play horseshoes, sit next to a fire pit, or just sit and enjoy beautiful Black Mountain with a cold one.”

With live music every night, country line dance lessons and all Green Bay Packer football games shown on every one of the ten big TV’s, what could be missing? Live bull riding, of course. We’re not talking your rhinestone cowboy mechanical bull riding here. We are talking real live bulls ridden by real live cowboys (or wanna be’s). (The bull riding ring is shown behind the tables in the photo above.)

The obligatory "we’ve-posted-this-warning-so-now-we-can’t-be-sued" sign is posted in various locations on the premises. And, yes, we know that "equine" (in the "Warning" sign) refers to horses--not bulls--but we're assuming that this is an all-encompassing rodeo activity warning.

Since we had been tromping around outside that morning, the Urban Cowboy (I do so love a man in chaps) and I decided to forgo the outdoor patio and head inside. The d├ęcor is what you might expect--cowboy boots hanging from the rafters and dusty bison and moose heads hanging on the walls (shown in the photo below).

Half of the room was devoted to a large dance floor.

There was a bar on each of two opposing walls (shown at the right is the smaller unoccupied bar; Chuck thought it best for the "stranger in these parts" not to be photographing patrons at the main bar).

And lest there be a moment of silence between band sets, a juke box stood over in a corner (far left in the photo on the left).

Do you really think people come here for the food? Of course not. Food is a way to soak up the contents of those long necks. The short menu was divided into Tex-Mex and Steak House categories. Under the Tex-Mex was the usual line-up of tacos, enchiladas, and burritos. Steak House included a three-quarter pound burger, a pulled pork sandwich, a grilled or fried chicken sandwich with cheese and green chilis, a beef brisket sandwich, a brat with grilled onions, breaded cod or catfish, two steaks, and – hard to believe – grilled salmon steak.

We decided or order three of the appetizers: the jumbo chicken wings, beer battered onion rings, and the Nachos Mamas – a huge plate of tortilla chips topped with refried beans, cheese, pulled pork, and green chilis with salsa, guacamole, and sour cream. We took one look at this mass of food and immediately determined what portions would return home with us for a later meal.

I suspect that the rings came frozen from a bag (then again, unless I actually see them made, I think all onion rings come frozen from a bag), but weren’t too large nor were they over-battered. The eleven very large wings had been formed into little “drumettes” which I appreciated (less sauce on the hands), but I just can’t see a macho cowboy eating a chicken drumette. The wing sauce was a little too vinegary for my taste but carried plenty of heat. And the addition of the pulled pork to the nachos was a nice touch.

This looks to be a fun place, and were I twenty years younger might enjoy a night of music, dancing, and beer. Alas, those nights are behind me. On the Addie scale, the Buffalo Chip Saloon gets a 3.5 for food, but a 5.0 for atmosphere.

(By the way, the purpose of the chicken wire cage around the stage is to protect the band from projectiles of the glass beer bottle variety. Remember the treatment Jake and Ellwood and their band, pretending to be The Good Ol' Boys, were receiving from the crowd at Bob's Country Bunker before they began playing "Rawhide?" --1980 film The Blues Brothers.)

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