Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Southwest Road Trip Report

After our brief stay in Park City, we hit the road on a tour of some of the great Southwestern national parks on our way to Santa Fe. This is a brief summary of some of the memorable (and not so memorable) meals we had along the way.

We spent two nights in Springdale, Utah just outside the entrance to Zion National Park (where we had a fantastic time, by the way). We had 2 dinners and 2 breakfasts there (lunch on the trail). Both of the breakfasts were at Cafe Soleil, a very short walk from our hotel, where we enjoyed the burritos and excellent coffee (a rarity in Utah, we found). There was a very large and tempting assortment of baked goods for people who did not want the full breakfast, but we were fueling up for a day of hiking so we went for the maximum calories. Dinners, unfortunately, were not as successful although both were acceptable. The first night, our hotel clerk recommended the Bit & Spur where we had acceptable, but forgettable Mexican food. The highly touted (by them) margaritas were weak. I suppose you have to expect that in Utah, where alcohol is carefully measured. The beer was good, though. The second night we switched to the Spotted Dog which was somewhat more upscale. I had the pork loin which was good but not great...rather dry, but saved by a tasty sauce. Michael had pasta which seemed to be the choice of most of the patrons. A large portion of decent, again not memorable food. We did have a very nice Chateau St Jean chardonnay and I remarked that the wine prices were particularly friendly. Not fine dining in either case, but we were in Springdale, Utah, and our expectations were not high. Good thing, too.

After leaving Zion we headed to Bryce Canyon. Again lunch was an on-the trail affair. Dinner was at the time-warped (in a good way, kind of) Pines Restaurant just west of Bryce Canyon City. Imagine going to a roadside place in the 1950s and you will get the ambiance, with all of the pleasure (and dining peril) that implies. I stuck to the hamburger rule, only I made it an elkburger, and came up snake eyes. The burger was small...a little bigger than a McDonalds burger, although much tastier, and dry. Michael had the patty melt recommended by the informant which was indeed delicious. The restaurant is famous for pie so we could not pass up a piece...well, two pieces. Michael had banana strawberry cream and I had chocolate cream, both of which came with absolutely massive piles of whipped cream (real whipped cream, I think) on top. And the crust was good. Unfortunately the chocolate filling tasted canned. I shoulda known. The banana strawberry was better. We overhead the boysenberry being recommended and I am still kicking myself for not ordering it, but I did have a chocolate craving. Which excuses everything, always.

The next morning we hit the road, skipping the overly elaborate breakfast at the National Park lodge, and by 9 we were hungry, so we stopped in the little town of Escalante for breakfast at the Golden Loop restaurant. A little scary looking from the outside (and from the inside...the waitress was in need of some serious dental work) but there a few patrons there not driving pickup trucks and we sat (and parked) close to the door in case we needed to make a quick escape. Which was not, as it happened, necessary. Except from the food, maybe. Michael had a burrito approximately the size of a throw pillow which he said was pretty good. The juice choice was orange, in a bottle from the cooler. Coffee was bad diner coffee. I ordered pancakes and sausage. One of the three pancakes was burned so badly it was inedible. Fortunately the sausage was good and I certainly got enough nutrition from the other two. We can't recommend the Golden Loop, but there aren't too many other choices on Highway 12 (which is a spectacular drive in other respects).

After a brief stop at Capitol Reef National Park, where we just got a brief overview of some of the very interesting rock formations, we pulled in to the small town of Hanksville, Utah (a gas stop, really) and dined at Stan's Burger Shak [sic] advertising famous burgers. Leaving aside the delightful ambiance overlooking the fuel pumps of the Hanksville Shell station, we found Stan's burgers to be no better than OK. The fries would have been good...nice and crisp...but they were cold, alas. I thought about asking for fresh ones but decided not to. The shakes, however, were outstanding...enormous cups of very thick shake bordering on soft ice cream, in all sorts of flavors. If you should happen to be passing through Hanksville, I'd recommend you pack a lunch but stop in to Stan's for a shake.

This portion of our trip ended in Monument Valley on the Utah/Arizona border where we stayed in the View Hotel on the Navajo reservation, run by terribly well meaning and friendly tribal people who are still learning the hospitality trade (the hotel is only a couple of years old). After a long day in the car, we were ready for a drink and some dinner. Well, no drink unless it's iced tea...the reservation is dry, which we can certainly understand given the long and difficult relationship between Native Americans and alcohol.

Anyhow we took a brief hike up to a viewpoint near the hotel with a magnificent panorama over Monument Valley, then, there being little else to do, went down to the hotel restaurant for dinner. The service was not terribly polished but was awfully friendly and solicitous, especially after the initial very taciturn female waiter was replaced by a most chatty young man. We ordered "Navajo tacos" which are like regular Tex-Mex tacos except they come on (surprisingly delicious) fry bread, which is kind of like naan. Fortunately we'd ordered a portion to share because it arrived on a large platter, four tacos around the size of salad plates (each) and piled high with goodies. After this we could have just stopped eating, but I ordered the pozole, which was tasty although the pozole itself was kind of crunchy, which I don't think it should have been. Michael had the green chile stew which was remarkably improved with handfuls of salt and a good bit of ground pepper. Indeed, all of the food at the View Restaurant was characterized by a fundamental blandness, as though the chef had been instructed not to spice things up too much lest he disappoint the busloads of tourists that pass through the place. (And indeed, there was such a busload staying in the hotel...a group of elderly Japanese. The Japanese and Germans seem to be colonizing the West, from what we could tell).

Anyhow, while the food was neither exciting nor memorable, it certainly wasn't awful, and the view was sublime. It was also more food than the two of us could eat for $33, which is about the cheapest dinner check I have ever gotten in a place that had tables and waiters.

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