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Arizona issues Arizona sites

Be an Arizona Tourist Even if You Live Here!

I’ve always lived in places where I can be a tourist: the New York area; Washington, DC; Cambridge, England, and now here in Arizona. And as I’ve said before, this is one of the nation’s most beautiful and strange states. It’s a great place with tons of finds for any Arizona tourist, whether he or she is visiting or already lives here.

Arizona Tourists, Prospectors Flock to the Superstition Mountains

The BF and I are both Arizona tourists. I’ve lived here a dozen years; he is a Phoenix native.

We decided to spend our gold (well, really, his) one Sunday a few months ago and check out the scene around the Superstition Mountains.

First, we visited Lost Dutchman State Park, named for an 1880s gold prospector who claimed to have discovered a hidden gold mine in the Superstition Mountains. The Dutchman, Jacob Walz (later Waltz), was actually a German immigrant who came here for the gold prospecting and mining.

Why Walz/Waltz known as a Lost Anything is a little strange because it’s not like he got lost and died out there. But he kept his mine’s location a secret, probably waiting to reveal it to the highest bidder. Unfortunately, he died from pneumonia before he could find a suitable investor.  He supposedly gave it to Julia Thomas, a woman who looked after him during his illness. She and her business partners never did find the mine although Julia uncovered 24 pounds of gold under Walz’s bed, according to PBS’ Arizona Stories.

It’s possible that the Goldfield mine recreated at the nearby ghost town is Walz’s mine. Still, people continue to look for another mine, including at least five who died in their quest, probably from the heat.

Former state Attorney General Bob Corbin became as famous for searching around the mountain as for defending Arizona interests. He didn’t get lost but has pretty much concluded that the Dutchman lied. There ain’t no gold out there, says Bob.

We didn’t look for gold but we did walk around a nice little trail just in front of the park entrance that featured lots of Arizona plant life and incredible views of the mountains. Here are a few photos:

 

 

Then we headed to Tortilla Flat, which was packed, at least for Tortilla Flat. I wanted to continue on the unpaved road but BF said he’d put highway tires on his truck so that idea was nixed. But since then, I’ve seen that particular road described as one the best scenic drive in Arizona by Frommer’s.

Looks like I’ll be renting an off-road truck, perhaps for a day trip with Junior Yankee before it gets too hot to think.

Grand Canyon beer
You don’t have to be a tourist to enjoy a Grand Canyon.

We headed back to the Apache Trail for lunch at The Mining Camp Restaurant, which yes, is very touristy. BF was curious about the family-style room but they dole out a lot more food than we could eat, so we went The Dutchman’s Hideout for a lighter meal. He had the Bison Burger while I went for the Prospector’s Stew. I also tried a Grand Canyon beer.

For those who worry about carbs, you can eat your burger on a gluten-free bun. They have to satisfy all kinds, don’t they?

Superstition Museum Features Elvis, Bones, and Early Metal Detectors

We returned to the Superstitions a couple of months later with BF’s mom to visit the Superstition Mountain Museum we passed up the first time but kept in mind for another visit.

The museum includes quite of variety of displays that range from historic to artsy to weird. Right now, there’s a small collection of Ted DeGrazia portraits on loan from their foundation home  in Tucson. Permanent exhibits include an entertaining display of Arizona memorabilia, Native American artwork, Civil War-era rifles, including early Sharps repeat-shot rifles, and a section on the Buffalo Soldiers. These guys were Negro Union troops sent out these ways to deal with Native Americans who gave them their famous nickname.

I got a kick out out of an early metal detector and Burro Derby flyers from the 196os.

 

DeForest Kelley, also known as Dr. "Bones" McCoy from the original Star Trek.
‘They misspelled my damn name!’

 

And yes, we did see plenty of out of state tourists. We know they were tourists because they signed the gift shop’s guest book. The gift shop, which is tax-free, has Western-style jewelry, books, and a great kids’ section.

The museum also features the Apacheland Movie Ranch, site of countless film and TV Westerns. The Rifleman was filmed here. So was Gunfight at the OK Corral with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. Elvis Presley filmed something called Charro! here and liked the place so much, he paid to restore the chapel used in the film. And my inner geek squealed when I spotted “Deforrest” Kelley’s Stetson-topped headshot among a larger display of actors who worked here: Bones’ life before the Enterprise.

Check out the general store inside the ranch. Prices are very reasonable and  tax-free as well. Plus, the proprietor knows a ton of history about the place.

Before heading to the Goldfield Ghost Town—another goofy, fun place that shouldn’t be limited to tourists if you don’t take yourself too seriously—we went to the Lost Dutchman park for lunch. The BF’s mother had packed a picnic lunch.

I was a little bummed that we weren’t going back to the Mining Camp or perhaps having lunch at the Goldfield saloon, but I quickly got over it. We ate wonderful, home-made Greek food: pastitsio, fasolakia, dolmades, and baklava–definitely worth getting lost for!

Categories
Arizona issues Arizona sites Food

I’m Not Related to Those Montis

Montis Steakhouse
RIP Montis of Tempe

UPDATE: Monti’s Steakhouse closed in November 2014. The announcement came barely two weeks earlier. Blame it on the price of beef, says owner Michael Monti, whose father opened the restaurant in 1954.

I never did go back, nor did almost-Mayor Monti ever contact me about the odd experience my boyfriend and I had there. No wonder–Mr. Monti was busy negotiating the property’s sale for $200 million. You can buy a lot of beef for $200 million, or foot another mayoral campaign. Monti says he’s now out of the restaurant business and will focus on his family.

Hayden House’s “historical significance” will be preserved, he told The Arizona Republic, and the new owners will do “something worthy” with the land that the old casa and restaurant have occupied since the 1880s. The new owners plan to build a hotel and office complex.

Here’s the original post of my Adventure at Monti’s.

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When I first moved here, I got more than a few inquiries about if I was related to the Montis of Monti’s Steakhouse fame.

I’m a terrible liar so I told the truth: I’m not. In fact, I only visited Monti’s La Casa Vieja in Tempe for the first time last month. Nico, my BF, asked where I’d like to go for Valentine’s Day and I said Monti’s. Nico grew up in Phoenix and hadn’t been to Monti’s since he was a kid so he was happy to oblige.

I specifically asked to go to Monti’s since I had read and heard more good reports about it in recent months than I’ve had in past years. Plus I wanted to check out this restaurant that I could plausibly claim as a family member, assuming that Almost-Mayor Michael Monti would be willing to play along. Or adopt me. I hear he’s a nice man.

For those who aren’t familiar with Arizona eats, Monti’s is famous ’round these parts. It’s housed in a building that dates to 1874, La Casa Vieja, or The Old House. Carl Hayden, who was the first U.S. Representative from the state of Arizona and served in the Senate as well for many years, was born in the casa. The building’s interior is filled with memorabilia of Olde Arizona History. Personally, I could have spent hours just touring the place.

If you check out the Yelp reviews of Monti’s, you’ll see mostly good notes, and an average rating of 3.5  out of 5 stars. Some people found the service to be slow (we didn’t) and many praised the Roman Bread, which was really tasty. I’m on a low-carb diet to avoid diabetes but I fell off the wagon that night, so to speak.

One of the top complaints I read about Monti’s is their inability to hold a reservation. Nico made one for 7:30 in a specific dining room—there are 14 of them at Monti’s—where it would be quieter, more private; you know, it was Valentine’s Day weekend and all that. When we arrived, the maître d’ breezily announced that our table would be ready for us in 45 minutes.

Nico is not the sort to wait to eat until 8:15. His response was that a delay that long is unacceptable. Monti’s staff countered that it was a busy night —”that’s why I made a reservation!”—but not an apology, much less an acknowledgement that the reservation system wasn’t working, at least not for us.

The experience reminded me of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry’s reservation for a mid-size car isn’t there when he arrives at the car rental counter.

“You know how to take the reservation, you just don’t know how to hold the reservation,” Jerry tells the agent. “And that’s really the most important part of the reservation.”

And like the car rental agent, the Monti’s maître d’ wouldn’t admit that a reservation is meant to hold a service. A 7:30 reservation is supposed to be at 7:30 or thereabouts, not 8:15.

But rather than lose our business altogether, he took us on a tour of a few dining rooms and showed us tables that were available. We eventually settled on a huge semicircular booth where we could be partially hidden from a group of out-of-town businessmen who looked like they’d just left Christie’s. You know what I mean.

We both ordered steaks. Nico requested his to be medium and got something that was a little more done than steak tartare. Mine was fine, medium rare like I prefer but definitely more cooked than his. Nico asked for his steak to get more time on the grill and a medium steak miraculously appeared within just a few minutes.

I think it was someone else’s medium steak, who then had to wait for their meal and later complain about it on Yelp.

Mama Monti and son
My kind of Montis

Still, I do wish I was related to those Montis. For one thing, I’d emphasize the sanctity of reservations—especially on Valentine’s Day weekend!  Almost-Mayor Monti, or Cousin Mike if I may, if you’re reading this, I do plan to go back to your restaurant and give it one more chance.

This time, the reservation will be in my (our) name.

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Categories
Arizona issues Arizona sites

Prescott, A Little Bit of New England in AZ

I sometimes (ok, often) wish I lived in Prescott. The first time I visited, I kept thinking it looked like someone had dropped a New England village in Yavapai County. I’m sure it’s the Court House that makes me think about running muskets and bayonets to Lexington and Bunker Hill.

Not that Scottsdale isn’t a “most livable city,” but let’s face it, living in a sauna for half the year can be a challenge. Even if it’s a dry sauna, which it isn’t during the summer monsoon season. It’s a fair trade for a short winter.

My BF Nico and I spent last weekend up at Prescott, just to get away for a short time. We’ve been there before, together and alone, but it was the first time we did an overnight there. I think I can say that we enjoyed every moment.

I’m pleased to report that almost all the businesses damaged by last May’s fire are up and running. The Bird Cage Saloon is getting ready to reopen in a new location, still on Whiskey Row. The old sign is back up.

Prescott’s Whiskey Row, Twinkie Dolls, and Fried Olives

I promised myself that on this visit, I’d try more whiskey on Whiskey Row. Our first stop was The Palace, where I asked the bartender for a smooth whiskey good for a lightweight. She suggested Maker’s Mark. Nice recommendation, in fact very nice. Incredibly, it soothed the high-altitude headache I usually get at over 5,000 feet. Then I split a beer on tap with Nico–a local brew and I wish I could remember the name. I like trying local brews.

We didn’t eat there, as everyone knows The Palace is kind of overpriced and the food is ok; not bad, but nothing to get excited over. Instead, we stopped in at Devil’s Pantry, where the menu includes stuff you find at the State Fair that would send Dr. Oz into a convulsion: fried twinkies and Oreos, caramel apple fries, deep fried turkey legs, and chocolate bacon.

Doll_made_from_Twinkie
Devil’s Pantry Twinkie Doll

They even had fried olives, which I hoped Nico would try since he’s Greek, but no luck there. I was tempted to try Lord of the Fries but went for steak and tater fries. No disappointment. Devil’s Pantry also features local brews on tap and yes, we imbibed. We also met their  Twinkie Doll, for which the owner says someone offered 50 bucks.

Outside, there was an antique car show to check out. It turns out that there was a rally that started earlier that day from Phoenix to Flagstaff. Prescott was the lunch stopover. Quite a number of cars were from England, including the car I would have had when I lived there in the 90s, had I been born Lady Yankee.

Next, we visited the Jersey Lilly Saloon, which I immediately realized could be the title of my next blog. Jersey Lilly is a second-floor saloon, the type where someone could figuratively be thrown down its very long flight of stairs but the place is pretty mellow. It was there that I did a real sampling of whiskey, and sipped some Glenfiddich, Macallen 12, and another Maker’s Mark, just to be sure. Maker’s Mark won again, although that 12-year Macallen was pretty nice, too.

whiskey_samples
Sampling whiskey at the Jersey Lilly Saloon

I should mention that I wasn’t doing shots of each of these—I would have no doubt passed out—but was given a small sample of each.

I was in the mood for steak, so we had dinner at the Firehouse Kitchen in the Old Firehouse Plaza and ate on the deck off the upstairs dining room. We shared a New York Roulade, which was very tasty although not really cooked medium as Nico requested. For some reason, Nico can’t get steak cooked to his request. It was, to be honest, pretty rare on the inside. We also shared a terrific dish of calamari tacos.

We both liked the solo guitarist who I’m guessing is a regular performer there. He took requests, so I asked for “anything Bruce” and got a sweet acoustic of Fire.

Prescott’s New England Connection

We were both a bit surprised to run into more New Englanders than you’d expect in Prescott. Maybe it’s the New England look and feel. Anyway, given that this was the weekend following the Boston Marathon bombing, it seems significant to mention. All of them told us that they had friends and family who’d been in Boston—the marathon is held on Patriots’ Day, an official holiday in the New England states—and one had a relative who crossed the finish about two minutes before the explosions.

One of these New Englandahs owns Van Gogh’s Ear, a large, fun gallery on Whiskey Row we visited on our second morning. (Only a New Englander would have the guts to keep fine art near a bunch of saloons.) It sells everything from traditional fine arts—paintings, sculpture, mixed-media—to jewelry, including several pieces made from recycled items, to elaborately painted handmade shoes.

We headed for a quick brunch at Prescott Lobster & Seafood Company, a very new and small cafe, also in the Old Firehouse Plaza. We learned about this place from a guy who was walking around the car show in a lobster suit the day before. Turns out he was from New Jersey and yes, a Yankees fan. He swore on Derek Jeter’s ankle that Prescott Lobster has the best lobster rolls around. Well, probably the only ones to be fair. According to the Van Gogh gallery owners, the cafe had only opened a couple of months ago and quickly became quite a hit. I’ve never had a lobster roll before so I can’t judge but the one Nico and I shared was beyond delicious.

It’s Elementary: Watson Lake’s Volcanic History

We then headed out for Watson Lake, part of Prescott’s park system. Watson Lake is about five miles north of Whiskey Row, recommended to Nico by the owner of Van Gogh’s Ear. What a gorgeous lake, er, reservoir! One side is dotted with volcanic rock and features granite cliffs popular with rock climbers. You can fish there, rent kayaks, and launch your own non-motorized boat. They charge $2 to park there, and campsites are available for $15 per night.

People sometimes complain that there isn’t a lot to do in Prescott. With the bars and bands at night, weekend festivals at the Court House, reasonably priced restaurants, and gorgeous parks, I need more time to get enough of it.

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