Saturday, March 28, 2009

Eating Our Way Through Arizona

It’s March, so of course that means we spent last weekend in Arizona watching spring training baseball. As usual, we stayed at the Sheraton within walking distance of Diablo Stadium (over the I-10 freeway and through a cemetery), home of the Angels. The hotel’s food is adequate to sustain hungry baseball fans. But this year we decided to sample some of the local cuisine and so drove the six hours from L.A. to Phoenix so we wouldn’t have to rent a car.

Our first stop was Joe’s Farm Grill, one of Guy Fieri’s featured spots on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Located in Gilbert, about 25 miles southeast of the hotel, the Grill was built in the shell of what used to be the farmhouse Joe Johnston, the owner, grew-up in during the 1960s. In keeping with the retro theme, Joe runs continuous-loop videos of one of my top childhood TV shows, Fireball XL5, in the bathroom, which is decorated with enshrined Barbies and GI-Joes. If the food wasn’t so good, I could have easily spent the entire day in the bathroom watching TV, but didn’t. Instead I got a salad and Tim a hot dog with real potato French fries, which they serve without salt, if you ask. Heaven on earth!

The next morning, we tried to get into another Guy Fieri favorite, Matt’s Big Breakfast, in downtown Phoenix, but the wait was too long (20 people ahead of us!). So instead we headed over to The Waffle House, a national chain of greasy-spoon restaurants not available in Southern California. Despite the name, the best thing on the menu is the hash browns, which are served in a round patty in three different sizes (single, double and triple), with or without four different types of toppings! Like a fool, I got a plain single, but am already smackin’ my lips in anticipation of next year when I’m going to order a double serving smothered in onions. Talk about your morning wake-up call!

For lunch, we ate both days at the ballpark. Tim couldn’t get beyond his ubiquitous sausage hot dogs (b-o-o-o-ring!), but I ventured forth and discovered the machaca beef tacos. Though I stopped eating beef almost 20 years ago, I’m still a sucker for a good taco and so I was in my glory. Who cares about baseball when there are tasty tacos to eat? I have no idea who won the games.

We went to a movie Saturday night, followed by a quick meal at Johnny Rockets. Quite a comedown from the rest of our dining experiences. But then suddenly, at 8PM, the jukebox started blasting the Village People’s “YMCA” as the entire wait-staff dropped what they were doing and began dancing a choreographed routine! Afterward, I asked our otherwise mild-mannered server what the deal was. He told me they dance every half-hour. So if you’re ever shopping at the Arizona Mills mall in Tempe, run over to Johnny Rockets at the hour or half-hour to see the staff dance. They do a pretty mean boogaloo.

We drove home Sunday morning, but not without first eating breakfast at Matt’s. Even though we arrived before 7:30AM, there was still a bit of a line. Since there were only two of us, we were able to squeeze in ahead of several large parties. The restaurant is tiny, but the food is good. Tim had the salami scramble. The weekend had finally caught-up with me, however, so I just ordered oatmeal.* We were back on the road again by 8:15AM.

Lots more diners, drive-ins and dives to sample in the Phoenix area, so we can barely wait to return next year.

*If you follow this blog, you know I’ve been battling the ear disease Meniere’s for the past few months. This trip was the first big test of my newly regained health, though I’m still very careful about what I eat, especially in restaurants. Luckily, most places are willing to prepare certain foods without salt and there’s always the option of eating a salad without dressing. My ear and I passed the test without any serious side effects. I continue to cautiously edge my way back to normal.

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