Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Desert Chicken in Arizona. Not something to take for granted.

Desert Chicken by Don Bobbitt

Preface to a Meal at a Western Restaurant

I was going through some of my notes (talk about a mess! but that' another story in itself.) for future stories and I found this one the other day.

We were traveling in our Motorhome on a winter trip out West last year, and we ended up staying in Apache Junction, Arizona.

Apache Junction is a great town. Its kissed up against Mesa, Arizona on one side, and the desert on the other.
Superstition Mountain

We loved the area, as well as the great people we met while there.

We built many special memories over the month that we stayed there in our Motorhome and it is on our top-ten list of places we would like to return to, eventually.

Now, before you jump down the page and read my silly little story, please understand that we truly loved the area, and we would never intentionally hurt anyone's feelings from the area, but this story just had to be told.

You see, when you are traveling around the country, one of your favorite forms of entertainment is to go out and sample the local ambiance; the flavors of the foods, the scenery, the people, and such.

We have always been generally delighted with these things every where we go, and that is a big part of why we travel so much.

But, you must realize that part of your journey is the fact that; regardless of where you go, sometimes, you end up sitting in a place like this restaurant, racking your brain over how to get out of the place without hurting anyone's feelings.

This has happened often enough to us that we will often just get to a certain point, and for sanity's sake, we flip a switch in our minds and just consider our experience-gone-bad, as a form of entertainment.

When this happened to us, on this night in Apache Junction, we just sit back and enjoyed the evening as if it were a show at some small-town theater.

Well, anyway, this story is about one of those places.

Desert Chicken - a theory on the meal served

My wife and I are at a point in our lives where we avoid Chain Food establishments like the plague, as much as possible.

OK, if you're in a hurry, and just need to "fill the Belly", that's one thing, but if you really want to enjoy a meal, there are too many good local restaurants out there, waiting to be sampled.

And besides, we are both pretty good cooks,

in our opinion, the phrase Chain Food means several things; higher cost, lower quality, muted flavors, and often a disappointing dining experience, overall. Not to mention; screaming children, spilled food everywhere, high Fat and high cholesterol dishes and noise,, noise, noise.

So, one evening, while were were camping in Apache Junction Arizona, we decided to go out, find a local spot and have a western-style home cooked meal.

We were camped only about 4 miles from the famous Superstition Mountain area of Apache Junction which includes the Superstition Mountain itself, the Lost Dutchman mine, and many other historical spots dating back to the Gold Rush era of our great Western history.

And, by the way, to help you get a perspective on this story, you need to understand that the area around Apache Junction contains a lot of retirees who come from all around the country for the weather and the sights, etc.

So, we talked over some options and while talking, I remembered our driving by a very western period-looking "Saloon and Restaurant" on the Superstition Trail itself.

We had been told at the desk of the campground that it was supposedly very popular for it's local food and nightly entertainment.

We hopped into our car and drove over and onto Superstition Trail. It was a short drive and we soon pulled into the parking lot and looked around.
Gold Field near Superstition mountain

The first thing that I noticed was that the ratio of Pickup trucks to cars was just about what you would expect at a small-town western establishment to have. So I was starting to feel pretty good about my choice and I was looking forward to some local ambiance and some really good "stick to the Ribs" food.

The Restaurants exterior image.

As I got out of our car, I just had a great feeling about the place. It was a feeling that we were going to get some really great local food at this place.

The outside of the building, true to the expected "western look" had rough plank siding with faded sections spackled with different colors of old paint still hanging on to the wood in spots.

There was a full-length, shaded porch that had several well-worn rocking chairs sprinkled along its front. And, of course, several of the obligatory Horse bridle rails to tie up your horse, when you stopped by for a cold Beer; if you had a horse, that is.

We walked across the Sand and gravel parking lot, raising small clouds of almost white dust with each step, and finally we stepped up and onto the wooden front porch, stomping our feet to get some of the clinging dust off of our shoes.

I looked at the ancient, over-sized and weathered, wooden door with its large brass fittings, hinges and nail heads with appreciation. I told my wife;

They didn't get this door at no Home Depot, that's for sure.

I kept smiling to myself and the saliva started flowing in buckets before we had even opened the door. As we walked in, we had to stop a moment and let our eyes get used to the low lighting.

Finally, my eyes adjusted and I looked around the inside of the building to see just what we had walked into.

At the front center section of the building was a large open area with a low ceiling, holding up a dozen or more tired-looking old ceiling fans, with their blades barely turning.

On the left side of this room was a long plywood bar lined with worn wooden three-legged stools. Behind the bar itself there were row after row of liquor bottles; mostly whiskey, I noticed. And at the very end of the bar was a collection of Beer Tappers.

I thought to myself, If this bar was like others I had seen, then the long bar would contain bucket after bucket of long-neck beer bottles covered with ice.

Looking back across the room, on the far right side, were numerous tall round tables with stools for seating 4 to 6 people each.

This style of building seems to be typical in this area of the West, once you get out and into the rural areas, so what we saw was not unusual to us at all. And, of course, each table had one of the famous and still popular cardboard Beer Six-Pack Cartons loaded with your standard condiments.

It seems that, to westerners, the combination of: a Salt Shaker, a Pepper Shaker, a bottle of Ketchup, a bottle of Mustard, a bottle of Hot sauce and a bottle of A1 Steak Sauce is considered the perfect selection of condiments necessary to compliment any meal served in one of these restaurants.

And, if you think about it, one great thing about the cardboard Beer Six-Pack carton, condiment holder, is the fact that it is always free. And they are immediately replaceable from the back of the Bar.

Now, that's convenience.

I see these things everywhere, across the country, and I always laugh, thinking every time about the fact that; it's one thing that the Chinese just haven't figured how to make a cheaper one; out of Plastic, or otherwise.

Anyway, continuing on to the back section of the room, there were large wooden booths along the walls and a hodge podge of dining tables.

These tables were separated by a narrow path that went back to a door that led to an outside area of covered seating, for those so inclined.

Inside the Restaurant

We looked around, selected a clean booth, sat down and got settled for our evening meal.

Within a few minutes, a skinny sixty-something lady with "poofed out" long white hair and wearing a sequined denim western outfit of Jeans and a Jacket over a pink plaid shirt, walked over to us.

But, I had noticed that before she walked over to us, she had been talking to another lady that was dressed similarly, but all in black. I had also noticed that our waitress had looked right at us when we sat down, but had just continued talking to her friend, until they were finished.

She stood there a moment, laid two well used menus on our table, and then, looking down at us, with an obviously pasted-on phony smile said;

Yawl look these over and I'll be back in a few minutes to take your drink order.

With that she broadened the smile, slightly, and walked back across the room and jumped right back into her conversation with the woman in black.

My wife and I looked at each other, and as we watched the two obviously bored waitress' talking, we both agreed that we may have made a wrong move being here, today.

Now, don't get me wrong. Nothing had gone wrong, so far, but sometimes, you just get a feeling. A feeling of impending doom.

But, back to the restaurant, the interior was decorated OK, almost interesting, even, with its rustic Western decor.

There were numerous neat little signs with cute sayings on them and there were other "western style things" displayed on the walls. Things like; an enormous buffalo head, numerous "Longhorn Racks", some worn out saddles, worn out spurs, ancient leather chaps, and so forth.

All of these were hanging haphazardly along the walls, to hold your attention while you were waiting for your food, I assume. Bored with the decorations aftr a few minutes, I picked up the Menu, and I noticed that they were pushing their "Homemade Fried Chicken". and their "Famous Filly's Chili".

The Chili was itself priced at $7.95, but didn't mention whether it was for a Cup or a Bowl. I thought that was a little on the pricey side for a Cup of Chili.

But, what the Hell, I could see the Superstition Mountain right out the back windows, so you couldn't beat the view, and I figured that was one of the things that i was paying for.

I sat back and tried to relax, I was in an area of the country where tall tales were made and I was looking forward to a good meal and a great nights entertainment!

I was a little surprised to see that the rest of the food on the menu was a collection of your standard fare; Burgers, Sandwiches, BBQ, etc. and a small selection of Steaks.

I mean, we were in the West, and everyone ate Beef, some several times a day, it seemed to me, but you always want to see something that is local and interesting on a menu, not the same standard fare you can get at a restaurant back home.

Anyway, the menu was pretty generic, and I was starting to realize that we would not get anything special to eat in this place.

Dealing with a Bored Waitress

We had been sitting there for over ten minutes, by this time, while our waitress and her friend, I was noticing, continued their often animated and obviously funny conversation.

So, against my wife's advice, I finally caught her eye with a wave. Well, she immediately threw me one of those "I'm busy but I gotta be nice" smiles and after another minute or so, she reluctantly broke off her conversation and walked over to us.

After giving us a bored, "Whatta Ya want?", I ignored her attitude and I started asking her questions. about the foods on the menu.

My first question was; Do you make your own Burger Patties, or are they frozen?

I mean, it was listed as only a 1/3-pond pattie, and the varieties started at $7.95 and went up from there to $11.95 for the "Willy's Double Burger with "the works".

Her answer was; Well, sometimes we make our own, and sometimes we buy those frozen ones, I don't know which we're doing now, though.

Then she just stood there, waiting.

I thought to myself: OK, Burgers were out.

What are the Works?

I was looking at the Menu again, and there were Hot Dogs with the Works listed.

What exactly are "the works", anyway?

Is there some culinary standard that defines the contents of this mysterious, "the works" that everyone, from the top Chefs of the world down to the lowly Hash House Cooks, from around the world, must comply with?

Does someone from the International Chefs Police, you know INTERCHEF (sic) or whatever, show up one day and take the Chefs big white hat away from him, if he changes or leaves out one of the ingredients in "the works"?

Was I, long ago, sick on the day when someone with a phD in Chefology came around in school and told all of my fellow classmates the secret definition of such things as "the Works"?

I never know what the Hell I'm getting when I order something with the works, and when I ask, I invariably get one of those; This guy is such an Idiot looks. Everyone knows what's in the Works. right?

Anyway, I took a deep breath and my second question to my Western Food Service Queen was: That famous bowl of Chili, you tout as being so great in the menu? You have it listed for $7.95?

I assume that is a bowl and not a small cup, because that's a hefty price for a cup of Chili, don't you think?

Her eyes rolled back in her head momentarily, like one of those old baby dolls, and she looked at me with a; Just who the hell does this boy think he is, look and finally she gathered herself for an answer.

She held up her hands indicating a cup size and not a real bowl size, and drawled at me; The bowl is about this size ....... Sir!

Placing an order for our meal

I then realized, from the tone of her voice, that I had crossed that imaginary line that the customer can sometimes cross when dealing with waiters.

I had finally pissed off my dear sweet waitress. So, accepting this, I plodded forward and I asked her;  Come on you can tell me. Is the Chili really Good? Is it worth the price, if I order it as my main dish?

She just stood there without defending their Chili at all. Then, I knew what I had to do.

I ordered their Homemade Chicken Fingers. Nobody can screw up Chicken Fingers, right?

By this time, my wife was just a little tiffed at me for asking so many questions so she immediately ordered their 2-piece Homemade Fried Chicken plate.

I glanced down and this little delight came with potato wedges, coleslaw and homemade bread.

And, according to the menu the chicken was the best you could get, anywhere, and it was famous with the locals for it's tenderness and flavor.

The Service gets worse

At this point, my dear, sweet, bored, waitress started to walk away when I had to stop her in her tracks and ask her if we could have something to drink while we waited for our food.

With this, I noticed that her ears turned red as she turned back towards us.

And this time, there was no smile, just the blank look of the dead, as she stood over us and wrote down our drink orders and finally escaped us to disappear through a door to what I assumed was the kitchen.

We actually got our drinks in short order, but after another fifteen minutes of waiting, we figured that something was seriously wrong with our food order.

Also, our drink glasses were long empty, and the place was starting to fill up with people,

Other waitress' had come on duty, and I even saw that food was being delivered to people who had come into the restaurant, long after us.

So, once again, I waved down my dear sweet waitress and she begrudgingly took our order for another round of drinks.

Then, after I asked about our food, she acted surprised and said that she would check on it right away.

Near the end of my second Beer, she came by again, and with a smile and a little giggle, she asked me what we had ordered, because;

Lordy, I just can't find your ticket, anywhere. Hee! Hee!

Well, that was it.

My wife and I both, now knew that we had landed in Restaurant Hell. This night was going to be one "of those".

But, being the old pros we were, we just smiled and decided to enjoy the rest of the evenings entertainment.

I didn't even look for my waitress, I just walked up to the end, of the now very busy, bar and ordered two more drinks for us, paid cash for them, and took them back to our booth.

Near the end of my third Beer, our food finally arrived, delivered by a sweat covered person from the kitchen.

My wife sighed and started working on her Chicken, and immediately began giggling.

I, myself, had just taken my first bite of my "Homemade Chicken Fingers"

We looked at each other, and couldn't help but laugh out loud. This was some of the driest and toughest Chicken we had ever put in our mouths.

There was absolutely NO breading on any of the Chicken, pieces or parts, or any noticeable spices other than Salt and Pepper.

Once you took a bite, you had to just sit there and chew for a minute or two, as you would with a hunk of Beef Jerky. And finally, you just had to give up and swallow what was left of the lump in your mouth.

Helen handed me one of her Homemade Buns, and I immediately knew something was really wrong. Helen is a Bread and a Potato person. And she does not like to share her bread. Well, it was one of those square Rolls that you buy in a plastic pack at a Supermarket.

And, I estimated by the hardness and how dry it was, that they only buy their bread once a week, and ours was on somewhere around day 5 or maybe 6.

She then took a bite of one of the Potato wedges and frowned this time. In true form, it was Cold, for one thing, and it was from a frozen package that had been thawed out in a microwave, sometime in the past couple of days, I was guessing.

There's just something about a cold, grease covered dried-up potato wedge that can take your hunger and shut it down like a Moonshiners Still when the Revenuers stop by for a visit.

So, we held to our sense of humor and decided to make the best of a bad situation and get through the evening, regardless of what happened next.

Having had three drinks already, and no food that we could actually eat, we decided to come up with a story about our "famous" Chicken.

We figured what must actually be going on, there in Apache Junction Arizona.

Getting Out while the Getting was Good

We actually ordered another round of drinks (we were pushing over three hours in the restaurant by now) and as we sipped on them, we figured out an acceptable reason for our food:

You see, we figure that with Apache Junction being on the edge of the desert, there was a different species of animals here that had adapted to the harsh desert climate.

We figured that out here, they have some kind of Free Range Wild Desert Chickens running around in the Desert.

And, the locals can sometimes catch this special breed of Chickens and, because of their rarity, locally, they are considered a delicacy.

I figure that these Desert Chickens, in order to survive in the harsh environment, like the famous RoadRunner, are tough and hardy little creatures that live on very little sustenance in the Desert.

That would explain why they are so Dry and Chewy, because no one, and I mean no one, would intentionally serve regular chicken to people that was as horrible as what we had just been served.

So, we felt that it would not be polite of us if we made fun of such a local delicacy, even if the Chicken was tougher than shoe leather. We decided not to say anything about the food at all.

I mean, really, there has to be some logical reason for serving such food to the public, and this is the only one we could come up with that made any kind of sense to us.

Well, we laughed for a while at our little story and as we finished our drinks and chewed our dinner, we looked around the Saloon.

It was, by now, much later, and the clientele had changed dramatically. By now, almost everyone in the restaurant had on Cowboy attire. And a scraggly band, all "Cowboyed Up" in the appropriate western attire was drinking Longnecks and setting up their gear next to the entrance.

The people had evolved into what you would definitely call  a Senior crowd, so those that I had, at first, assumed were blonds, were actually Silver haired people like me. and most were much older.

I laughed and told Helen that: There's going to be some Line Dancing in here tonight, Darling, and you aint got no Boots on!

Sure enough, while we captured our waitress and paid our check, the band opened up with "Achey-Breaky Heart". What did Yogi Berra once say? It was Deja Vu, all over again!

Less than five notes into the song and the floor was filled with more desert-dried, line dancers than I ever thought I would see in one place, all trying to perform their synchronized dancing together.

The crowd got thicker, and seeing as everyone was dressed up in their best western wear while we were in Shorts and t-shirts, we decided that we really didn't fit in and we should get out while we could.

Actually it was; Get out before we had another drink, and ended up hurting ourselves trying to keep up with these folks on the dance floor, if you want to know the truth.

We pushed our way through the crowd and walked out the door into the Arizona night air and we were halfway to our car when someone yelled.

I thought I recognized the voice and as I turned, there was our waitress, carrying one of those styrofoam boxes in one hand while holding her Cowgirl hat on her head with the other.

Yep, there's something special about an old Cowgirl, running precariously across the loose gravel of a rutted parking lot, in her high-heeled Cowgirl boots, with your leftovers in her hand.

It just does something to you.

I started laughing, thinking about how bad that chicken could hurt her if it slipped out of that styrofoam box and hit her up beside the head.

So, we smiled, she smiled and then she handed us our Chicken leftovers and said; You folks almost forgot your Chicken, so I threw it in a box and skedaddled out her to give it to you. That there chicken will make a great little snack for a big man like you later tonight.

Me? I was lost for words.
My wife? Damned if she didn't take the chicken and thank the waitress for being so kind and thoughtful. We quickly got into our car and as we rode away, I started to laugh.

But, surprisingly, my wife turned on me and in one of those moments that men never understand, she told me how cruel I was, making fun of such a nice lady, and adding; After all, she didn't cook the chicken!

I bit my tongue for a minute or two as we pulled out of the dusty parking lot. And then, to make my point, I opened my window and dumped that horrible chicken out the car window, as we rode home in silence.

Me? I snickered at one point, thinking about the poor dog that was going to choke to death when he found that chicken and tried to eat it.

But my wife? I don't have a clue, but it was a very quiet night back at our camper.

Anyway, if you are ever in Apache Junction, be wary of the "Desert Chicken", the small servings of Chili, and late night Geriatric line dancing.

I Love RVing!


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