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Monday, January 30, 2017

SPRING TRAINING: Arizona



Ed - In conjunction with Tim's Spring Training Primer report at Tim's Sports World, we're running this article from our Spring Training trip...

In the midst of Tim’s junior year of college, we finally caught a break…spring break, that is.  This year, it coincided with Spring Training, something we’ve never done but always wanted to try.
Tim had just turned 21, so we told him we’d take him to the casinos of Nevada to celebrate.  After a couple of days there (Tim actually had some luck on the Roulette wheel), we headed across Hoover Dam and into Arizona.
Looking at the Cactus League schedule for that time, we saw that our team…the Angels…were to be playing the Texas Rangers at the Ranger’s facility, Surprise Stadium.  The stadium was on the way, so we stopped by and picked up tickets for the next day’s game.


It was an easy and quick transaction at the box office and had no problems at all securing a wheelchair seat plus two companion seats about 2/3 of the way from home plate to first base at the top of the field level seating bowl.
It’s a bit of a drive from Surprise to Phoenix.  Everything is a bit of a drive in Phoenix.
Our hotel would be the Phoenix Inn and Suites, a decent place with large rooms and roll-in showers.  Now, it’s called Hampton Inn Biltmore.
For dinner, we went to Coyote Grill on Bell Road in Scottsdale, a very good place…at least it was.  It’s now been replaced by a Scottish-themed Hooter’s knockoff.
The next day was spent lounging around the pool, waiting for game time.  Tim likes to get to games right when the gates open, so we left the hotel around 5:00 for the 7:30 game.  Good thing we did because the freeways stopped a ways before Surprise.  Traffic was a nightmare on those surface streets that were just not designed for the amount of cars the ever-expanding Phoenix area was dumping on them. 
We arrived about 6:30, put on our red Angels shirts and hats, found our seats and settled in for the game. 
It’s a relaxed atmosphere at a spring training game.  The managers of the teams actually sit on the field behind home plate instead of the dugout to better see how their players’ forms are. After all, these are training sessions for them.
While a number of big stars take the field at the beginning, they are rotated off after a couple of innings so that new players, rookies, and minor leaguers can take the field and be assessed.

Still, it’s a baseball game.  Beer, hot dogs, 7th inning stretch…that’s all still there.  The night we went the crowd set a new attendance record at the stadium…over 12,000 in attendance with the majority wearing red and rooting for the Angels.
The Angels we on to win and we left happy.  As for the prices, it can get a bit spendy. I was expecting minor league prices but in actuality, it’s somewhere between what you’d spend at a minor league game and a regular season game.
The next morning, we drove over to Tempe to see the Angels’ facility at Tempe Diablo Stadium.  There was no game but the team was working out.  Watching the workout was free and the access into the seating bowl presents no barriers to those in wheelchairs.  In this pre-2008 season workout, it was easy to get up close and personal with such players as Vladimir Guerrero, Garret Anderson, and Chone Figgins who have all gone on to other teams or retirement.
It’s a loose and friendly atmosphere and you can actually chat with the players and coaches.  Many will come to the sidelines to autograph balls or other mementos.  First base coach Alfredo Griffin took a bucket of balls and a Sharpie which he used to sign balls and toss to fans in the stands one at a time.


It was a fun way to welcome baseball back for the year and to get excited for another season of our favorite sport.  The Angels would go on to win their division but get knocked out by the Red Sox in the first round of playoffs.
For more information, see our Field of Dreams report on Surprise Stadium and visit cactusleague.com for Arizona Spring Training information.
-Darryl
Copyright 2011 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved




Sunday, January 29, 2017

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Scottsdale Cocktails


We're on location for another Cocktail Hour here at The World on Wheels. This time, we're coming to you from the Valley of the Sun...it's beautiful and warm Scottsdale, Arizona.

Not quite a pub crawl, we filmed this over several days when we visited the Scottsdale and Phoenix areas.


Watch the Video!


We start off with some easy to get to sips, no driving required...



It's the cocktail lounge of our hotel, the Marriott McDowell Mountains Resort.  Beer and wine are on tap as we relax by the firepit.

Next, it's a set of tasters at Harrold's Corral, a cowboy steakhouse and bar in nearby Cave Creek.  



Although the place is down-to-earth and not fancy, they do serve some mighty good microbrews.



Then it's a trip on Phoenix's light rail system so we can try the powerful tropical cocktails at Hula in downtown Phoenix.



The mai tais are sweet and powerful but we find a few others to like too.



Lastly, it's the night before a big bowl game in Tempe.  Can you believe this oldster got carded at the bar?



It's at Dos Gringos where we try some average Cadillac margaritas and the waitress gets our order wrong not once, not twice, maybe even more than three times...but we just gave up at that point.

It's all in the video above, click on "Play" and let's get this party started!

Cheers!

Darryl

Friday, January 27, 2017

Road Food - Scottsdale

I just found out that one of my favorite Scottsdale restaurants, The Coyote Grill, is no more.  For you snowbirds or anyone else who finds themselves in Scottsdale, here are some of our remaining favorite dining options:

Scottsdale, Phoenix's tonier next door neighbor, continues to be a big draw for us. It's a wonderful, accessible city with some truly world-class hotels. In the off season (the hot summertime), those hotels can be had for a song.

It's also a place where dozens of outstanding restaurants call home. Here are some favorites we've found along the way...

THE GOOD EGG is a local chain of coffee shops. Although open all day, the specialty here is breakfast. We've had some delicious omelettes along with more traditional fare such as pancakes and bacon & eggs. All were very delicious and the service was top notch with reasonable prices.

REATA PASS used to be located way out in the middle of nowhere. It's an old 1882 stagecoach stop from the old west days that is now a steakhouse and bar. The middle of nowhere has now turned into just another neighborhood of huge, sprawling Scottsdale but this short stretch of Alma School Road will take you back to the days gone by. In the warm months, big juicy steaks are grilled under the stars while you're serenaded by country and western singers. The food's delicious and the view of the mountains and stars can't be beat. Prices here are very reasonable but you need to check with the bartender for the accessible route to the dining area. It's also a very long drive from downtown Scottsdale. Don't come here in the off season before April, though. The outdoor section is closed in the cooler weather. (Reata Pass has closed, unfortunately, for cowboy steaks, we now head north to the town of Cave Creek and Harold's Corral - Ed)

OLD TOWN TORTILLA FACTORY has an unfortunate name. It's kind of corny like the Old Spaghetti Factory and makes me think it will be kitschy...and maybe fun...but the food might not be so good. Nothing could be farther from the truth at this dinner only restaurant in downtown Scottsdale. The restaurant is housed in an old adobe residence with outdoor dining available on a cool tiled patio. There's a really neat fountain out there that spews fire along with the water. The bar (the tequilaria as it's called here) is located in another building across the patio from the restaurant proper. We had some delicious chorizo laced nachos for an appetizer followed by saucy chicken enchiladas and a Mexican style chicken croquette dish laced with Mexican crema. Very delicious and reasonably price at around ten dollars.

THE VILLAGE TAVERN located at the Gainey Village shopping center is like one of those classic national park lodges inside. The high ceiling is held aloft with huge, wooden beams with a big fireplace at one end of the dining room and the open kitchen at the other. Portions are huge here and prices are a little north of the mid-teens but the staff does not frown upon splitting entrees. My wife and I split the rib eye steak dinner here, which was very succulent, and had a double decker cheesecake for desert (cheesecake on one layer, chocolate mouse on the other...mmmmm!) and left with a bill under $35 dollars.

For truth in advertising, go no further than Cold Beers & Cheeseburgers in the heart of old Scottsdale for, well, great beer and cheeseburgers. The brunch is also outstanding and you'll never miss any sporting event at this well TV'd sports bar.



Darryl
Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Bernard Gagnon under CC-BY-SA license

Monday, January 23, 2017

Scottsdale and Phoenix: The Season of the Wolf




The weather is perfect, clear and heading to a high of 68. Great day for a walk. A quick Internet search reveals that there's a nice, long, wheelchair accessible trail in Papago Park by the zoo.


Either via hard packed dirt or paved with asphault, you can tackle this approximately 3 mile trail that winds in a loop up to the base of those giant rocks in Papago Park. A ramada at the top of the trail...maybe a 500 foot elevation gain, if that...provides a shady rest stop complete with water fountain.


Watch the Video


As we pack up Tim's backpack...one of the useful features of a power chair is that it's handy as a "pack mule"...with water and other necessities, Tim points out a nearby group of people with several dogs, one of which is much larger than the others.

"Is that a wolf," he asks.


No, I assure him, you wouldn't see anybody walking a wolf on a leash here. Probably a huskie or mamalmute.

Setting off, it's a leisurely pace as Letty works her magic on the camera and Tim and I wait for her to catch up now and again.


At the ramada, we relax and recharge our batteries.




It's easy to think we're out in the wilderness here but a glance to the west, with the skyscrapers of Phoenix on the horizon, reminds us we're still in town.


Going over the top of the loop, it's another quarter mile before the trail then goes through a golf course. We thing the scenery is better the other way, so we double back to return the way we came.

As we're waiting at the top, Tim sees the group of people with the dogs coming up upon us.

"I wonder what kind of dog that is," he says.

"I'll ask...excuse me, what kind of dog is that?" I ask the biker-looking dude with the large dog.


"It's a wolf," he replies.

I guess I was mistaken...

Turns out this is Willow the wolf, who is a movie animal and is being walked by her trainer. He tells us that she is scheduled to be in a couple of movies and TV shows coming up such as a sequel to "Dances with Wolves" and a new "Teen Wolf" series.

It's a beautiful, mellow animal and is huge...almost Great Dane size.


We walk down with the group, the wolf, and the other dogs while Letty snaps away.

Afterward, we go to a nearby light rail station and try out Phoenix's first light rail system to go have drinks in downtown Phoenix (see it in our Cocktail Hour - Scottsdale Cocktails).


The one line is long, going all the way from Gilbert in the southeast to the northern part of Phoenix's downtown area.  It's smooth, easily wheelchair accessible, cheap, and comfortable. What we do notice lacking, however, is parking lots at the stations. There are very few.  It seems like it might get more riders if commuters had a place to park when using it.

Afternoon time is break time back at the hotel while we rest up, nap, and shower for dinner.

We have reservations at what is supposed to be one of the area's best Mexican restaurants in Old Town Scottsdale but when we show up, we find that they did not hold a wheelchair accessible table for us.


Walking out on that, we go a couple of blocks away to Dos Gringos, more of an outdoor bar than a restaurant, and get carded as we walk in.

It's a bowl game night...the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl is being contested nearby in Tempe...and the bouncer says everybody, no matter how old, is carded today.


Dos Gringos has a fun atmosphere, average drinks, and ok food that our server never quite got right. Still, it was fun and being at an outdoor party on our final night was fun.

In the morning, it's another stop at The Good Egg for breakfast, gassing up on cheap gas at Costco, then a six hour drive home.



Darryl
Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved


Friday, January 20, 2017

Sultry Scottsdale


In a way, it's sad that the Valley of the Sun can't learn from the mistakes of the giant to the west. Every time we come here, vast tracts that used to be empty desert are now covered with houses and shopping centers. I'd love to say the area has stopped expanding but that's not happening anytime soon.



Still, it's nice to come to Scottsdale for a getaway now and then.

The first time we came here a quarter century ago, the spot we're at now was a saguaro covered desert with the occasional millionaire's mansion or ranch. A dirt road would have been the rule rather than the exception. Now, the 101 Loop Freeway features daily traffic jams leading to thousands of homes and dozens of shopping centers.


Watch the Video!

A ways beyond the north end of the Scottsdale airport runway is our hotel for this trip, Marriott's McDowell Mountains Resort, located on the TPC Champions Golf Course. The room is a 2-room suite with a roll-in shower, dual flat screen TVs, a fridge, wet bar, and one robe...Letty will get to use that.


Outside is a pool and spa, both with lifts, and the previously mentioned golf course. It's pretty much all wheelchair accessible but, unless you use the valet, the parking is a bit of a walk. A restaurant, bar, and mini-store complete the lobby. There are complementary PCs and free wifi in the lobby but you'll pay $12.95 a day in your room to use it...we got around this by using my iPhone as a hot spot.


After unpacking, we retreat to the large balcony by a fireplace and enjoy a drink overlooking the golf course and pools before retiring to our room for the night.

The Good Egg is a local chain of restaurants in the Phoenix area. I think you can guess what their specialty is.

We had a delicious breakfast, saw a beautiful Rolls Royce parked outside the window by our table, and found out from the owner that this was the second car built at the factory in 1961.

"I can't even get the Rolls Royce dealer here in town to maintain it," he lamented.

Seems like he might be good with a wrench, though.


A few miles away, though still in the same town, we take a stroll through Old Scottsdale...the center of town and maintained like it was when the city was more of a village.


A volunteer asks if he can show me where I might find something but I know where we're headed, so instead he shows us his perfectly restored 1951 Dodge truck. It is a beauty.

Carrying on, we come to the destination...very popular here in the extreme summer temperatures...the Sugar Bowl.


Scottsdale's classic ice cream parlor, painted up in pink and white, makes a great place to cool off with an icy dessert.

You can also peruse the custom "Family Circle" cartoons that loyal customer Bil Keane drew for them. This was where he'd take his family for a treat.

After some cookies 'n cream covered with caramel, we hit the road to rest and relax at the hotel until dinnertime.

The temperature, at around 70 degrees, tempts us to go into the pool and try those lifts, but we decide to wait a day for that. Tonight, instead, we're heading north thirty minutes past Carefree to Cave Creek where the residents truly seem to live a care free life.



We want to have a cowboy steak. It's an increasingly rare thing to find. You can pay an arm and a leg to go to Rawhide, a western themed amusement park which does make a darn good steak; go to Pinnacle Peak, which we have back home; or find someplace else. We look hard and some places that are called "cowboy steakhouses" must figure burgers are steaks because that's the only thing they sell.

Cave Creek, still a dusty cowboy town (a recent tied election was settled with a flip of a coin), fits the bill tonight. We're going to Harold's Corral, a very large dining room with the steaks we came for.



While Letty goes for the prime rib special, I have the ribeye with a selection of beer tasters. It is very good, very savory, and satisfies our need for this special "out west" style of dinner for us.

Tummies sated, it's time to hit the hay and we'll continue this tomorrow as we head out for a hike.



Darryl
Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, January 16, 2017

HUNGRY? The Great Bakersfield Food Tour.



“Try to stay hungry.”

“I just need a piece of bread or something…”

“I know, but just don’t go overboard…you’ll need your appetite.”


Watch the Video!


So goes the back and forth between my wife and I as we head on across the Tejon Pass, just north of Los Angeles. It’s been a long Lent and now we’re ready to break it. It’s time for a food-centered trip to one of the great, undiscovered food destinations in California…Bakersfield.

It’s mid April as we have an easy drive over the Grapevine. Sunny and warm, it’s the perfect weather for the wildflowers that paint the hillsides above Gorman. Still early for them, they’re just starting the show. Come here at the beginning of May and it should be spectacular.


First up, a snack to hold my wife and son over until dinner. Dewar’s has been in business here over a century making premium ice cream and candy. It’s great, delicious fun but the original location, with it’s tight spaces, is hard on a wheelchair. Fortunately, their new location is just about perfect.


West of the 99 on Rosedale Highway, just past the giant shopping center where WalMart is, you’ll find the new Dewar’s outpost just off of the corner with Callaway Drive. Not only a great, spacious ice cream parlor, you’ll find a museum of Dewar’s…and Bakersfield…history featuring ice cream making implements going back a century and a guitar given to them by local legend Buck Owens that Letty is standing in front of in that picture up above.

Apart from the giant tour buses blocking the handicapped spaces in the parking lot, check-in goes smooth at the Springhill Suites. Apparently, dozens of college swimmers here for a meet will be surrounding us tonight. Pray for us…

Unpacked and very hungry, we head out for our first meal of the weekend.

Bakersfield has a reputation for being gritty. It’s not a completely undeserved one. Walking the streets of downtown, you’ll have no problem spotting the homeless and others who are down on their luck. The blocks just east of downtown are dotted with halfway houses and rehab centers.

The city also is home to some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet and there’s a renaissance just over the next hump. New restaurants, art galleries, nightclubs are edging into spaces next to the old guard, Bakersfield classics. Come downtown on a Friday or Saturday night and the place is alive.


This is where we come for our Friday night dinner to Uricchio’s Trattoria one block west of Chester Avenue on 17th Street.

We spend a lot of time in this city…a lot. Once we found out the charms and hidden beauty of Bakersfield, we fell in love with it and refer to our frequent stays at the Marriott here as our “timeshare.” Each visit, we try to find at least one new thing to try. This weekend it’s Uricchio’s.

Opened in 1995 by Nick Uricchio, his son Steve, and chef Raphael Hernandez, Uricchio’s serves high-end Italian cuisine in an updated space at very reasonable prices.

At the beginning of dinner service…5:00…we’re able to squeak in without a reservation. The server is very friendly and extremely knowledgeable about the food and the building itself. We notice that some of the windows, most etched with fine detail, have been replaced by plain glass.

Our server tells us that due the historic nature of the building, no one can create windows like that anymore so when one breaks, it can only be replaced by plain glass.

The wine is poured and warm, soft bread is served. Not too long afterward, our entrées appear.


Letty has the linguini pescadora which has seemingly every critter in the ocean swimming in its light marinara sauce. It is pronounced heavenly.


Tim has the manicotti, delicious crepe tubes filled with ricotta and topped with melted mozzarella. He opts to have his covered in meat sauce.  Again, a perfect dish with a nice bold taste to go with our bottle of Syrah.


I have a sublime veal saltimbocca with parmesan potatoes and a delicious vegetable medley on the side. I appreciate the restaurant that tries this dish and love the ones that get it right. Uricchio’s is one of the best I’ve had.

Each entrée is also nicely south of $20.

One meal down, we head back to the hotel to let the food digest and to watch our Angels beat up on the Orioles.

Did I mention we were sharing the hotel with hordes of college swimmers? Luckily, it only took one request to get them to stop screaming in the halls and after bedtime, they were quiet as mice. In the morning, however, these ravenous athletes decimated the hotel’s breakfast bar leaving us with just a cup of yogurt and a bagel.

Oh well, they’ll be checking out today and it’ll be nice, quiet, and empty at the Springhill Suites tonight.


Armed with whatever calories we could find this morning and with quite a few still hanging around from last night, we head south of town to check out another new site for this trip…the Wind Wolves Preserve, nestled up against the backside of the San Gabriel Mountains south of town.


Run by The Wildlands Conservancy, this preserve was purchased from the Tejon Ranch and contains some prime California Condor territory as well as ancient grasslands and canyons.

We don’t have time to go on a long hike and Tim is feeling some ill effects from the heat today so we keep near to the visitor’s center and hang out with a couple of volunteers there looking for birds and any other critters we can find.


About a hundred cliff swallows are flitting about, packing mud under the eaves of the building for nests.

A Bullock’s oriole sips water from a nearby pond before buzzing us up on the balcony.


Tim and I find a bee hive in the roof…hey, where’d Tim go?…as I see the wheelchair flying as far away from the bees as possible.


Some light hiking around the area reveals an algae filled pond with thousands of tadpoles waiting to become frogs. Out on the grasslands, larks sing relentlessly.

It’s back to Bakersfield where the hunger is starting to reassert itself. 5:30 and time for the next stop on our food adventure.  This time, it’s an old friend…Benji’s.

Benji’s is one of Bakersfield’s famed Basque restaurants.  On the edge of one of the city’s oil field no man’s lands, it occupies a corner on Rosedale Highway between an oil rig business and an auction.


Long home to shepherds, the area is known for this unique style of dining. The most famous of the city’s Basque restaurants is Noriega’s, an old boardinghouse in the old downtown area east of the current city center. Most people know it as the place where everybody sits at long tables, passing dishes back and forth family style.


At Benji’s, you sit at your own table but you still share the dishes among you, and what dishes they are! Seating is prompt. The dining room opens at 5:30 and not a minute before, however the bar is open and you’re welcome to enjoy a soothing glass of wine or a strongly mixed picon punch before your meal.

Once seated, your server will take your drink order then give you a basket of crusty French bread, accompanied by their spicy, warm salsa and butter.

A big tureen of thin, vegetable soup is next, served with a plate of beans used to thicken it up. It’s all made from scratch and is incredibly delicious…much more than the thin broth would indicate.

The salad…another large bowl to be shared by all…arrives. In all of my life, I have never had a salad and house dressing better than they make here at Benji’s. Fresh produce, along with a plate of ripe tomatoes and onions, and their creamy house dressing make this a dish I could make a meal of.


Along with the salad course comes the pickled cow’s tongue. If you’ve never had it, what a treat you’re missing. Beefy and covered in a slightly tart sauce, this delicacy will have you asking for more.


Next comes the main course, with green beans and fries, your entrée is served. That is a ton of food so we do what most people do now and order one entrée with the rest of us getting the “set up.” The set up is the entire meal as described above, less the entrée. Our one entrée tonight is a big, medium rare rib eye steak that we cut into thirds and share.

We are completely, satisfyingly stuffed. Dinners here are also reasonable, most entrées between $14 and $20 with a set up going for $13.95.


Dinner over, we head to the other side of the freeway to Sam Lynn Ballpark and spend the evening watching the local minor league team, the Bakersfield Blaze, win over the San Jose Giants.


The Blaze is now affiliated with the Cincinatti Reds and we get to see a true superstar, Ken Griffey, Sr., take the field as he is now managing this team.

Game over, it’s back to a very quiet and empty hotel to sleep off the day.

Sunday morning dawns and we pack up to get ready for the trip home. After checking out, we head across the street to Costco to gas up, down the street to Cruz Thru Car Wash to get the dust and bugs off of the van, and then to the food highlight of any trip to Bakersfield for us.

Back across town, on a quiet side street off of busy Union Avenue, sits the little neon green building that makes the best food in the world. No longer visible to customers since it’s been moved back in the kitchen, marinated pieces of pork slowly spin on a vertical spit known as a trompo. A large onion sits on top of the stack as the heat makes the juice trickle down the side as it all slowly cooks.

The cook takes a tortilla, quickly fries it on the lard coated flat top. A sharp knife is used to carve the cooked pieces of meat off of the trompo and placed into the tortilla. This shepherd’s style of Mexican pork is known as al pastor and no one does it better than Los Tacos de Huicho, the little taco stand that could, sitting here in this bright green building in the rundown neighborhood east of downtown.

We have been known to drive out of our way to make it a meal at this place and wouldn’t think twice about the two hour drive from L.A. just to have some.


The taco comes plain, meat only, on the tortilla and you finish it off at the condiment bar next to the counter. Here, you’ll find chopped onions, cilantro, pickled and fresh radishes, deep fried jalapeño peppers, green salsa, red salsa, and…the star of the bar…their absolutely breathtaking creamy, spicy, guacamole. For me and the al pastor, it’s onions, cilantro, their fiery hot red salsa, and the guacamole.

That’s one heck of a taco for only 99 cents.

In addition, their burritos, sopes, and other dishes called gringas and mulas, are very good. There is not a bad thing on the menu here. One item I get that grosses a lot of my friends out are the tripas tacos…intestines fried to a cruncy bite wrapped in a tortilla. It is another taste I’d drive two hours for.

For some reason, this little Mexican restaurant in Bakersfield also makes some of the best seasoned French fries you’ll ever find.

This will pretty much be all the food we need today…two burritos (one chile verde, the other bean and cheese), two tripas tacos, two tacos al pastor, two carne asada sopes, and an order of fries.

Filled to the brim, it’s back on the 99, heading for home already making plans for the next time.

Darryl
Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved