Restaurant


Not Always Rosy

 

Lest the reader believes I find every travel experience wonderful, magnificent, enjoyable (generally true), today I share a dinner that did not live up to expectations. The last time we were in Tucson we had dinner at the original El Charro Cafe, the original downtown location, and were pleased with the experience. El Charro claims the title of the oldest continuously family owned Mexican restaurant in the US. I was determined to return during this trip.

 

I’ll take responsibility for some of tonights negativity. We arrived a little after 5pm on a Saturday evening. We’d had a pretty intense day with plenty of sun, exercise and no lunch; plus we were probably slightly dehydrated. The sidewalk outside the restaurant was already crowded with would-be diners waiting for a table. After placing our name on the list we headed to the bar only to find it much too hectic for our comfort level, so claimed a sidewalk waiting location.

 

El Charro - Bob

When our name was called we were given a table just inside the door on the porch. A support pillar stood less than 16 inches away, a pillar that requires waiters, the rare bus person and new customers squeeze between it and our table. Service was sloooooow, probably 15 minutes to get a drink, napkins and silverware didn’t appear until we begged and 10 minus after the appetizer arrived. Of all evening when we needed a calm, relaxing dinner we were in the middle of chaos, witness to unhappy staff and diners. And, the view out the window was the constant stream of arriving customers jockeying for position.

 

The guacamole was tasty but I bit into two different stems, couldn’t help but wonder what else was “accidentally” included. Bob order El Charro’s signature dish, Carne Seca – lean Angus beef dried in the Sonoran desert sun, marinated, shredded and grilled with green chile, tomato and onions.    The serving was generous but Bob felt it was under spiced and over dried.

El Charro - Nancy

I ordered Enchiladas Banderas, a trio with three different fillings each with a different sauce. This sounded like a good sampler but turned out to be two many flavors all run together with little distinction. By the time we finished our entrees we had no patience to wait for a dessert, waiting for the bill was painful enough. Disappointment all around, a Tucson experience we will bypass in the future.

Charlie’s Spic ‘n Span Bakery & Cafe

When traveling I-25 through New Mexico and we near Las Vegas – New Mexico not Nevada – we know it’s time for a stop at Charlie’s Spic ‘n S;an Bakery & Cafe. Hunger pangs will be more than satisfied. The local eatery is just a few blocks off the  Interstate at exit 345 in the richly historic town.

The menu  which features Northern New Mexican flavors is heavy on breakfast items – available all day.  As someone who loves breakfast – but not before 10am – Charlie’s is a perfect fit. The “Stuffy” lives up to its name. A fluffy house-made sopapilla is stuffed with scrabbled eggs and meat of one’s choice, smothered with red or green chile, topped with melted cheese and accompanied by crisp hash browns. Even after  sharing ⅓ with hubby I’m stuffed and can’t finish the last bites of potatoes and chile. But, I’m happily stuffed.

As tourists we’re out numbered by the steady stream of locals. Obviously Charlie’s is a pillar for the community whether they’re stopping for a Starbucks latte, breakfast, lunch or a package of the fresh tortillas. I saw one family load up! The husband balanced his arm  load of eight packages with his chin as the wife paid the bill.


Charlie's BunsPayment is at the bakery counter and it’s hard to imagine not being tempted by the plate sized old fashioned cinnamon buns, glazed donuts, cream puffs or long  johns. I swear one of today’s offerings was at least 10 inches in length giving new meaning to “long john”. On my last visit we left with two iced sugar cookies – absolutely the best I’ve ever had. Bob was lucky to get his before I wolfed down both of them. This time we order a half dozen for a sweet treat down the road.

Charlie's Eclairs

When You Go: Charlie’s Spic ‘n Span Bakery & Cafe, 715 Douglas Ave,  is open for breakfast and lunch. If you want dinner arrive early they close at 6:oopm nightly. Phone 505-426-1021

Old Martina’s Hall

Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico

Old Martina's Hall - Door & WindowFor seven years visitors to the famed San Francisco de Asis church south of Taos saw a massive, achingly-slow renovation in progress across the street and wondered about its future. The multi-million dollar project finally came to an end last September with the opening of Old Martina’s Hall, a restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and a facility for special events, live music, dance hall, meeting and workshop rooms.

Thick adobe walls and the massive vigas above the great hall are original to the Ranchos fortress dating back to 1769. All settlers were required by the Spanish Governor to live within the two acre Ranchos Plaza to protect against attacks by raiding Comanches. The neighboring much photographed and painted church was built in 1812.

Old Martina's Hall - InteriorWe stopped for dinner last night and were awed by the historic property. Although the great hall was not in use last night we looked up to the soaring ceiling and marveled at how the enormous logs were raised into place and their continued strength today.

The spacious dining room reflects traditional New Mexico design, such as a corner kiva fireplace ,combined with simple contemporary detail. Banco seating along one long wall was surprisingly comfortable with the multitude of turquoise-colored pillows adding a dash of color to the surrounding earth tones.

We were greeted by our cheery and attentive waitress, Pamela. She later told us, “I love working here,” which was evident in everything she did. While many of the menu items have a Southwestern overtone this is not a Mexican restaurant. I selected chicken schnitzel with a lemon butter caper sauce, accompanied with fresh asparagus. Generally served with frites I could substitute either the mashed or fingerling potatoes. Bob chose the grilled Atlantic salmon served atop a gazpacho sauce with roasted fingerling potatoes and topped with spears of tempura asparagus. He didn’t leave a single bite.

Old Marina's Hall - Salmon Old Martina's Hall - Chicken

 

When it came time to see the dessert tray we were once again awed by the selection and presentation. An European pastry chef begins each day at 3:00 am to create the assorted, decadent treats. This was not a night to share one dessert. Bob opted for a fresh apricot tart. My piece de resistance was chocolate ganache in a phyllo pastry cup topped with creamy sea-salt caramel sauce. OMG! Heaven, but extremely rich. I actually had to box some for a bedtime snack with a tall glass of cold milk.

Old Martina's Hall - Dessert Tray

During our current stay in Taos I will definitely return to try the breakfast menu and Old Martina’s Hall’s pastry case will be a temptation every time I pass the historic landmark serving modern day tastes.

Old Martina's Hall - Dessert

Ah, New Mexico!

IMG_2850 - Version 2

When an attitude adjustment is needed we find it easy to change scenes with a trip to New Mexico. Bob said he needed to get away, relax, enjoy good food and take pictures. After an easy Sunday drive we’ve settled into a Staybridge Suite in Albuquerque where we’ve spotted green willows and blooming fruit trees. How refreshing after a series of snow storms in Denver.

Picture taking today focused on an old adobe church east of Santa Fe. Bob’s successfully completed watercolors of Nuestra Senora De La Luz at Canoncito. We’ve never before been here in early spring before the trees have leaved. Perhaps a new painting will soon be in the works.

We stopped in Las Vegas, NM for lunch. Trip Advisor list’s Charlie’s Bakery and Cafe as the #1 restaurant in Las Vegas. We’d been here years ago and it was time for a revisit, we weren’t disappointed. Old timers remember Charlie’s as the “Spic & Span” az the sign on the building  still attests.

Charlie’s is open until 3pm, both the breakfast and lunch menu were available. We both chose the “Fluffy” – a handmade sopapilla stuffed with fluffy eggs and your choice of meats (bacon, ham, chorizo or sausage, steak for $1 more), smothered with either red or green chile and served with either hash browns or pipits. While we waited we watched a very busy lady making the fresh tortillas served and sold at Charlie’s. Our plates were delivered hot and so enticing I failed to think of taking a picture. The serving was too large for travelers needing to spend a few more hours in the car so we both have boxes in the hotel frig.

Charlie's Las Vegas

At the cash register I ordered two of their iced sugar cookies shaped as shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day. Bob had his immediately and I wolfed mine down while Bob was filling the car with gas. The best sugar cookie I’ve had in a very long time! We were temped to go back for a dozen but we resisted. But, I will remember the next time we’re anywhere near Las Vegas, NM.

On the Road to Crested Butte

 

A real mix of weather as we drove from Denver to Crested Butte, Colorado today. Sunshine as we left Denver, the clouds and rain in the city’s forecast had already reached the foothills with periodic sun breaks. While the groves of aspen on Kenosa Pass are past their prime there’s still some nice color when we catch one of those sun breaks. As we turn south at Fairplay we’re thankful we’re not headed north across Hoosier Pass to Breckenridge – clouds are thick and black. Mountain peaks and ridges dusted with snow warn of the coming winter.

 

Enjoyed a beefy lunch at Quincy’s in Buena Vista. Although the menu is limited the quality is very good. They were slammed with noon hour business but our waitress couldn’t have tried harder. We’ll definitely stop here in the future.

Aspen, willows and cottonwoods in autumn glory graced the slopes as we headed up Cottonwood Pass, west of Buena Vista. A short side road ramble to Cottonwood Lake rewarded with great color, smooth dirt road and little traffic. Temperature atop the pass was a nippy 43 degrees with a stiff breeze and threatening skies along the mountain ranges to the northwest.

 

By the time we reached Taylor Reservoir the sun had won the battle. Road construction through the Taylor Canyon seems to always be a given. This year’s project stretches for eight miles, today requiring slowly following a pilot car. At least we lucked out and only had to wait a few minutes for our turn through.

 

The final ten miles into Crested Butte offer a sunny promise of the outstanding scenery and color we’ll enjoy in the coming days.

 

Son, Eric, joined us for fried chicken dinner at Slogar’s, a long time Crested Butte favorite. (See a full review at The Slogar…) The family-style service includes relish tray including spiced pear slices, cottage cheese, slaw, homemade tomato chutney, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn in cream, warm biscuits, honey butter, strawberry jam and, of course, skillet fried chicken. We waddle away from the table nearly in a food coma but oh, so satisfied.

 

Trading Post Cafe

Ranchos de Taos

 

We joined friends Dolores and Orell for dinner at the Trading Post Cafe tonight. Unbeknownst to any of us the Italian restaurant offers Mangia Festa, 3 course meals between 4- 6pm, Tuesday – Thursday for only $12. Such a deal!

 

The Mangia Festa features a cup of soup of the day, salad and the choice from six pasta entrees or pizza of the day. Pasta offerings include farfallel primavera, pasta bolognese, fettuccine alla carbonara, angel hair pasta with chicken and mushrooms in gorgonzola cream, portabello mushroom raviolis and penne arrabbiata.

 

Tonight’s soup was a chilled cream of avocado which Bob (surprisingly) really liked. Next was a fresh green salad with creamy Italian dressing. Bob and I both ordered the carbonara, on the advice of local friends, and were not disappointed. Dolores and Orell had the angel hair pasta dish. The servings were not large but the three courses were a very nice balance.

 

When Bob and I had dinner here on Saturday night we indulged in the marvelous flan. Because I baked a peach and cherry crostada today we bypassed the Trading Post desserts – with regrets.

 

They have an excellent pastry chef and there are many selections each day. If I’d known we were going to the Trading Post Cafe I would have put off my baking until tomorrow. Although that might not have worked because Bob says he’s going back tomorrow night for round two of Mangia Festa!

 

Art & Photos

Bob started the Stephen Kilborn week-long painting workshop today. Visit Art by Robert Yackel to follow the week’s workshop activities.

My favorite Taos restaurant was tonight’s destination, hard to believe we’d been in town and hadn’t had our first Orlando’s fix. We studied the menu over salsa, chips and guacamole even though I knew before I left Denver what I would order – the shredded beef burrito smothered with green chile with sides of beans and posole.

 

Bob selected the shredded beef chimichanga. Orlando’s shredded beef is not for the weak of heart or tastebuds – it packs a real punch. So delicious. Smooth flan soothes any lasting zing.

 

 

Evening photos were on the agenda after dinner. Stopped by Ed Sandoval’s studio of pictures of his antique trucks.

 

As the sun set we strolled the historic mabel Dodge Luhan complex, lots of ideas for future paintings. Just as the pigeons flock in to roost for the night we head to the casita. Day is done, gone the sun.

Day of Surprises

While traveling from Moab to Torrey, Utah we encountered several pleasant surprises.

 

Somewhere I’d seen a brief reference to a river museum in Green River. We stopped at the John Wesley Powell River History Museum expecting to have a quick look/see. We left 1 1/2 hours later. Our introduction came via a 20 minute film, Journey into the Great Unknown, which chronicles Powell’s first voyage from Green River, Wyoming through the Grand Canyon. The extremely well done film with surround sound and presented in a comfortable theater was worth the price of admission. In addition to river related exhibits there’s an art gallery featuring the work of Utah artists, dinoaurs including one that was found just miles from the museum, the River Runners hall of Fame and museum store. Appropriately, the museum sits on the banks of Green River.

 

While exploring the Fruita Historic District in Capital Reef National Park we found that in the heritage homestead Gifford House they sold fresh-baked pies and scones. An unusual feature in a National Park. At a shaded picnic table we eagerly dug into a mixed berry crumb-top pie for two. Excellent!

 

Without knowing anything about the restaurant we chose Cafe Diablo for dinner. The imaginative menu was a surprise but the real surprises came with the extraordinary artistic presentations and inspired culinary creations. Attentive and friendly service added to the enjoyment. We learned that Cafe Diablo has an international reputation and following. Who would have guessed you could  find something like this in a town with a population of 182 in the middle of Utah? Surprise!

 

 

A day of pleasant surprises!

Vance Johnson’s Outlaw Ribbs

Parachute, Colorado

If you cheered for the Denver Broncos twenty years ago you remember the most flamboyant of the Three Amigos – Vance Johnson.  Wide receiver Johnson played from 1985-1995. A few years ago a friend told us about a good barbecue restaurant on Colorado’s Western Slope in the small town of Parachute. Since the friend was a Kansas City native we figured he had a credible recommendation. Since then we’ve stopped several times for lunch at VJ’s Outlaw Ribbs.

 

I don’t think we would have ever paid attention to the unassuming building right along Interstate 70 but now we know to turn off at Exit 75. VJ’s opens for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Today’s breakfast special was a jumbo smoked sausage, 2 eggs, home fries and toast. Besides the typical breakfast fare selections include Toby’s Burrito, a Denver Omelet, grits and bone-in ham slice.

 

The lunch special was pure southern – catfish platter with blackened peas, rice, collard greens and cornbread. I note most of the locals were indulging in the special. I bypass the catfish for a shredded smoked pork sandwich with their basic barbecue sauce and a side of beans. Bob opted for the pulled pork on bun – Southern style (hot and spicy) topped with coleslaw. There is also a tangy barbecue sauce.

 

If you’re with a group order “The Trough” which VJ’s promises to feed four or more. There’s baby back ribs, St. Louis ribs, smoked sausage, pork, brisket, whole chicken, 6 sides and garlic toast. Pull up a chair and dig in.

 

Fresh cut prime rib is on this weekend’s special board plus live 70s music on the patio. Every time we’ve stopped at VJ’s locals greatly outnumber the tourists. There seems to be a loyal following of gas and oil field workers, ranchers with their brand on their license plate and those just shooting’ the breeze. I’m happy we didn’t just breeze on by.

Family-Style Fried Chicken & All the Fixin’s

Grandma’s Sunday fried chicken dinner is a treasured memory from my youth. When visiting Crested Butte, Colorado we’ve established the tradition of Sunday night dinner at The Slogar for family-style platters of fried chicken and all the fixin’s.

Slogar Exterior - Large

The weathered building was built in 1882 when it was one of 18 taverns in the mining town of Crested Butte. The Slogar was the first one the miners came to each evening as they came down from the Big Mine on the Bench. Stepping into he 21st-century Slogar feels like stepping into a 19th-century movie set. The antique bar, back bar and red upholstered Victorian furniture set the stage.

As soon as we’re seated our cheerful waitress, Kelli, brings bowls of cottage cheese, tomato chutney and a relish tray with celery and carrot sticks, butter pickles and cinnamon pear slices. My favorite is the sweet/sour coleslaw made from an early 1800s Pennsylvania Dutch recipe. Is this like Grandma’s, or not?

Kelli soon returns with our drink order and a basket filled with homemade baking powder biscuits accompanied by crocks of honey butter and homemade strawberry preserves. After tasting the preserves you’ll want to purchase a couple of jars to take home. Wish I could make biscuits as good as Slogar’s to go with the strawberries!

Slogar Chicken Dinner Our waitress offers to refill any of the dishes; but, knowing what’s ahead we decline. After clearing the debris from the first round Kelli brings out a platter piled high with crispy skillet fried chicken – four pieces per person. The flavorful recipe dates back to 1915. Since I prefer dark meat I negotiate my breast for Eric’s thigh – chicken pieces, of course. We pass around the dishes of mashed potatoes, gravy and creamed whole kernel corn. Once around and the mashed potato bowl is empty. Kelli quickly brings a refill as well as more biscuits.

Our table falls silent as we dig in; after all, we’ve eaten lightly all day saving up for The Slogar. We note that the same thing happens at other tables. As soon as the main course is served conversation ceases, eating is paramount.

My only complaint is the thin gravy. Our family has always made a thick cream gravy with the chicken pan drippings; it’s hard to change expectations. Also, if they provided a bread plate one wouldn’t have to work so hard keeping the biscuit from getting soaked with thin gravy and corn cream.

As we sit back with satisfied sighs Kelli brings individual dishes of rich vanilla ice cream. We like to top the ice cream with any leftover preserves. Yum! Eric gets the doggie bag of four chicken pieces and biscuits for tomorrow’s lunch.

Slogar Sign When You Go: The Slogar Bar and Restaurant is open nightly 5-9pm. Steaks ($26.95) and a vegetarian entree are offered in addition to the fried chicken dinner. Specialty beers, wine list and full bar are available. The chicken dinner is $15.95/adult, $8.95/children 2-12, and includes ice cream, tea coffee and milk. The restaurant is located at 517 2nd St., at the corner of 2nd and Whiterock. Reservations strongly advised, 970-349-5765.

The Slogar changed ownership a couple of years ago. All the positives including traditional recipes remain. The reception, attitude and cleanliness are much improved.

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