Red Raven Restaurant – Williams, Arizona Restaurant Review

Most of our photo outings are day trips, but when we go too far away, we spend the night with the Patels. That means eating on the road. Usually, dinner out, and If the motel doesn’t provide waffles, then breakfast too. That was the case on our recent Williams trip.

My default reference is Trip Advisor to find a decent place to eat. I’ve even contributed a couple of reviews. When I looked up a place for dinner in Williams, their top-rated restaurant was the Red Raven. With a bit of effort and a couple of mouse clicks, I pulled up their dinner menu on my screen. Right off the top, I found two dishes that I enjoy listed under house specialties; Filet Oscar and Grilled Duck Breast (I’d order duck more often, but when I do, Anne—in her best Daffy Duck voice—says, “Thatssh Dishspickable.”). With items like that on the menu, we had dinner sorted before we jumped into Archie.

Ambiance

The first unusual thing was at Red Raven’s front door. It was locked with a note above a doorbell that read, “Please Ring for Service.” After you ring—sometimes twice—a hostess greets you outside. I don’t know if this is their standard modus operandi or a Covid 19 thing, but it works well. After your greeter politely asks a couple of questions—party number, reservations—they find a table and usher you inside. Right away, you see that although the ceiling is above the two-story arched windows, it’s a small room with a limited number of tables. Managing the door this way reduces unnecessary tourist traffic—like people wanting to use the bathroom.

The dining room takes up the entire width of the brick building, and the tables are spaced apart in three rows. The wall bottoms are wainscoted with a pleasant green beadboard. The plastered walls above the chair-rail are painted a soft yellow—buttercup or custard if you’re into that sort of thing. High and well out of reach is a plate rail with china and other trinkets tastefully displayed. The hanging artwork resembles a Pairs bistro. Missing from the décor are novelty signs with folksy sayings, and there isn’t a single TV anywhere. Once you’re seated at your table, you’ll notice that the staff is all women. The waitresses wear classic French bistro aprons, and the hostess is the manager doing double duty.

Menu

The menu provides several choices for appetizers, salads, specialties, grilled entrees, and plates of pasta. Their wine list is impressive for a small place. It includes several choices for each grape varietal, so it covers several pages. They have a good selection of beer on tap, including some from the local Williams craft brewery.

I was first attracted to the Filet Oscar. Traditionally it’s a veal dish topped with crab meat, asparagus, and béarnaise sauce. Veal has become persona-non-grata these days, so the chef substituted beef filet in its place. It’s been years since I’ve had any version of Oscar, but then I saw the price. Knowing that we needed gas money to get home, I ordered a New York strip with a side of béarnaise instead. I like to compare with my own. From the list of sides, I chose a couple of things I’ve never had; Southwest Pilaf and Tempura battered Broccolini. Anne also went with a New York strip but smothered hers with mushrooms in a Worcestershire and white wine sauce accompanied with mashed potatoes and vegetables.

Our Meals

Anne started with a house salad and vinaigrette dressing. It looked green and fresh. I had the daily soup, which they called Hot Italian Sausage and Vegetable puree. I’m familiar with the Italian Wedding version with a clear broth, but this looked like a lumpy split pea. It didn’t taste like that. The sausage was spicy, and the creamy puree was delicious. I soon annoyed the rest of the guests with my slurping and spoon, trying to scrape every drop out of the bowl.

Next, the mains came out looking appetizing on the plate. Our 8oz steaks were cut in European style—sliced thin with all of the fat trimmed off—more like a cutlet than a chop. I prefer my steaks twice as thick because thinner cuts are often overcooked. Not a problem here. The chef grilled both our steaks a perfect medium-rare. They had good flavor but sadly was a bit on the tough side. I enjoyed the sauce, which was very tangy, just like I make mine. If I had a gripe, it would be with the pilaf. Calling a dish Southwest means that it ran into a jalapeno at least once. My serving was simple pilaf. Anne said that her steak was as she ordered it, but she thought the potatoes were loose.

I usually skip dessert, but Anne insisted on a menu. The Queen picks her deserts by how many times the word chocolate appears in the description. She found one. Chocolate, on top of chocolate, wrapped in chocolate, then run over with a chocolate truck. There was enough cocoa to satiate her because she let me have a bite and took leftovers home in a box.

Conclusion

I can’t entirely agree with rating a restaurant with stars or forks. It’s an obscure concept and doesn’t translate into real-world experiences (especially if it’s an unknown review, like me), so I will do something different. There are no Michelin Star restaurants in Arizona, but we’ve been lucky enough to dine at a few in San Francisco. Nominating a place for a Michelin Star will be my high bar. At the scales other ends, I’m want to use a well-known but mediocre restaurant. I’m using Applebee’s for this review because we’ve all eaten there, and I’ll go to Applebee’s again if there’s nothing better. To me, Applebee’s is … meh!

So, I think that the Red Raven is a few notches above our standard because of its atmosphere, imaginative menus, preparation (the food is cooked in-house), taste, and service. It is not at the Michelin level (yet?), and I agree with the Trip Advisor reviewers. With some improvements, we could stop qualifying our recommendations by saying: “It’s a great restaurant—for Williams.”

Until next time — jw

Red Raven – lunch till 2:00 dinner starts a 5:00.

Grand Canyon Hotel Picture of the Week

Almost two centuries ago, a peculiar group of men earned a living by hunting and trapping wild game in the mountain west. That’s right; they were the Mountain Men. Although they were legendary, there were only about a thousand of them, and their heyday only lasted 20 years. They preferred pack mules to people, so they traveled alone. One of these men was exceptional and was admired even among his peers. They called him Ol’ Bill Williams.

The Arizona historian—Marshall Tremble—describes Bill as a 6 foot, skinny redhead with a high-pitched voice and a peculiar walk—more of a stagger. His Osage wife must have had olfactory problems because even his cronies complained that he should take a bath once in a while. I didn’t find any references about Bill’s Arizona travels, but he must have impressed many Arizonans because our state has a trail, an annual gathering, a river, a mountain, and a town named in his honor. That town is the anchor for our October project—Williams, Arizona.

Williams is another railroad town along Arizona’s northern east/west corridor. First Nation people, trappers, railroads, and dust bowl migrants stopped here because there’s water. It’s located on the Colorado Plateau about an hour west of the Flagstaff volcanoes. A few miles west of Williams, you quickly descend into the transition zone and the grasslands around Ash Fork.

Sultana Bar - Williams has a couple of proper dive-bars right out of a Micky Spillane novel.
Sultana Bar – Williams has a couple of proper dive bars right out of a Micky Spillane novel.

The current attraction of Williams today is Route 66 memorabilia. Shops line the historic downtown area selling posters, t-shirts, car signs, and other useless trinkets of that ilk. But that’s not what we’ll be concentrating on this month. I’ve already covered that in our Seligman series. Besides, I’ve already said that Route 66 may have already jumped the shark. Car stuff was important for my generation, and maybe the one following us. Millennials don’t seem interested in cars or property. Owning a car was our independence. To them, it’s a ball and chain.

Williams began as a railroad town on one of the busiest routes in the country. It also has a couple of exciting spurs. One that goes past my house into Phoenix and another that runs to the Grand Canyon. Santa Fe built that line to lure eastern tourists into seeing the park. That ride is still famous today, and passengers get dumped at the El Tovar Hotel. If you had deep pockets, you could hop a train at Grand Central Station and stay in two of Arizona’s historic hotels—the Railroad Hotel in Williams and El Tovar at the canyon.

Grand Canyon Hotel - The historic Grand Canyon Hotel's neon sign lights up a couple of blocks in downtown Williams.
Grand Canyon Hotel – The historic Grand Canyon Hotel’s neon sign lights up a couple of blocks in downtown Williams.

As I said already, I’m not going to focus (get it?) on the Route 66 stuff this month, but I couldn’t help myself when I saw the historic and bright neon lights—ooh, shiny. I love them, especially when they’re not working completely. So that explains this week’s featured image that I call Grand Canyon Hotel (or should it be H tel). I’m not sure that I’d stay there. It would be like staying at Miss Kitty’s Long Branch Saloon—dancing girls, cards, drunks, and gunfights all night long. The sign is the brightest on the street, and it casts its red glow for blocks.

Also, in the lower-left corner of the photo, you can see the Red Raven’s awning. Trip Advisor rates it the top restaurant in Williams. Queen Anne and I had a wonderful meal there. It’s a bit pricy but better than the rest of the burger-and-fries joints in town. I’ll write a complete review if you’re interested—that means begging me in the comments.

You can see a larger version of Grand Canyon Hotel on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week, we’ll start our tour of the Williams area, and you can see what we found. Come back then.

Until next time — jw

Skull Valley Depot Picture of the Week

I’m not considered a sociable person, so you may be surprised that I joined a car club back when I was a younger man—more than half my life ago (oh jeez, where has it all gone). This club’s existence was based on owning a particular brand—which one isn’t important for my story—but the club member’s general attitude was that no one should drive one of these cars because the mileage brought down their value. Insane, I know. Despite that, the club put on well-attended events like parties, tours, meetings, and track days.

The club event that drew the most participation was their annual progressive dinner. If you’ve never heard of that, it’s a three to seven-course dinner served at the volunteers’ houses who prepared each course. So we’d meet at the appetizer house, have a glass of wine, and when the food was all gone, we’d jump in our cars and drive to the next course. The club paid for the food and a couple of jugs of Carlo Rossi wines, and members paid a flat per-head attendance fee. The club made a lot of money. Things were different then. Phoenix had few roads north of Northern Avenue, and traffic was nil on Saturday nights, so by the end of the evening, the drive between houses turned into a Targa Florio race. Half the club would wind up in the slammer on DUI charges these days, and the insurance companies would cancel their policy.

Now hold that thought in the back of your head while I talk about the other part of another one of my grandiose ideas. I’ve written before about the trains that pass our house. They run less than a half-dozen times each day (and night), so the tracks are empty most of the time. The route runs from Phoenix to the northern town of Ash Fork, and it has so many twists and turns that it was dubbed The Peavine Line when it opened a century ago. The tracks run through the heart of Arizona’s historic gold mining country.

Historically our little train used to carry passengers with depots in Phoenix, Wickenburg, Congress, Kirkland, Skull Valley, Prescott (now bypassed), and Ash Fork. Most of the town’s stations are still there in one form or another. And—unlike the routes between Phoenix to Tucson and Phoenix to Yuma—there is some interesting backcountry scenery and at least two climate zones along the journey.

Skull Valley Depot - The townspeople of Skull Valley have put their abandoned depot to good use as a local museum.
Skull Valley Depot – The townspeople of Skull Valley have put their abandoned depot to good use as a local museum.

So, after my photo outing where I shot this week’s featured image in Skull Valley, I began to fantasize about having a progressive dinner—on a train. The trip would start in Wickenburg (or maybe Sun City West), then make scheduled stops where the old stations are. At each stop, you could peruse the local museum, enjoy the designated course, spend money on useless trinkets in the gift shop, pee, and get back on the train. Between stations, the guests could taste wine samples (from Arizona vineyards?) and purchase bottles that they would pick up at the evening’s end. At the end of the line, the train would make a leisurely two-hour trip back to the station. The night will have fallen by that time, and guests would enjoy non-alcoholic beverages to sober them up.

I only know of two train excursions in Arizona; the Verde River Line and the trip from Williams to the Grand Canyon. There once was the White Mountain steam train, but that closed a long time ago, and Durango bought the engine (which fell off the trailer along US 89—however that’s another story). I think there’s plenty of market for another train ride in our state, and the dinner would make it a unique experience. Think of it as a dinner cruise on rails.

If this lame-brain idea sounds good to you, then it’s yours. On the other hand, if you feel it’s a stupid idea, I never said anything. My brain hurts too much to work on stuff right now. I’m too old and penniless. Besides, it’s time for my nap.

You can see a larger version of Skull Valley Depot—the picture that set my brain on fire this week—on its Web Page by clicking here. Be sure to come back next week when we continue with another Skull Valley artifact.

Until next time — jw

Morro Bay Harbor Picture of the Week

The grass is always greener. People who live by the beach travel to the mountains for skiing. Others living in snowy climates come to the deserts to dry out and get warm. What do we desert dwellers do for a change of pace? We go to the beach of course.

After being cooped up in Arizona for the last year, when Queen Anne and I finally got our vaccine shots, we headed off to the left coast for a couple of days. It’s the anti-desert if you will. We drove an extra distance to our favorite part of California because we don’t care much for the giant megalopolis of San Die-Angeles-Barbara. There are too many people there, and they’re all out driving on the freeways.

We drove to what we call—the central coast—the Morro Bay area, and the little hamlet of Cambria. I love the place so much that two out of my three wives spent their first honeymoon there—and the third would’ve preferred it over Utah.

We spent three nights sleeping to the sound of crashing waves on the beach while a fireplace warmed the room. During the days, we put our masks on and enjoyed meals at our favorite diners and discovered new cafes (did you know that there are only four restaurants in the US with a Michelin star?). We strolled along the beach until my calves hurt, drove up to the Big Sur landslide, and peered into the windows of boutiques and galleries. Most importantly—we tasted wines at open vineyards—something we haven’t done since our 2016 Alaska trip. Let me tell you, our local Safeway gets really testy when we set up tables and start uncorking wine bottles for sampling.

But I also needed to photograph something fresh. Last month, I looked at the thumbnails on my New Work index page and realized that everything was brown. No matter how green the saguaros are, the Desert Mountains are brown. Aargh, I’m drowning in the dust. I need water. While Anne was snoring, I snuck out of the room to capture the sunrise, or after dinner, I’d plant her on a bench (she can’t walk when she’s full, so there isn’t much chance that she’d run off) while I walked around the harbor and snapped pictures as I did for this week’s featured image.

I consider Morro Bay’s town to be the southern edge of the famous drive through Big Sur. The Pacific Coast Highway (California 1) returns to the sea here and then continues up through the world’s best coastal scenery section. Here the Santa Lucia Range plunges 2,000 feet into the Pacific Ocean. The highway is temporary here because rock-slides frequently rip the road away from its precarious perch, like this year.

Morro Rock is the stump of a grand old Santa Lucia mountain that time and the sea have worn away. The rock and four neighboring smokestacks are a landmark that you can see from the mountain passes miles away. Morro Bay’s town used to be renowned for the abalone, but that delicacy has been fished out and is now protected. The commercial fishermen have moved on, so mostly private yachts are moored in the town’s harbor.

Morro Bay Harbor - private sail boats and cruisers during a calm spring sunset in Morro Bay, California.
Morro Bay Harbor – private sailboats and cruisers during a calm spring sunset in Morro Bay, California.

In this week’s featured image—Morro Bay Harbor—I tried to capture part of the local fleet using the big rock as an anchor. The setting sun made the cool, moist air glow gold. There’s an unexpected extra between the two boat groupings. In the water near the far shore is a sea otter floating on its back. Only his feet and head sticking above the water. You’ll never see it in these photos or on the Web Site. He’s there, at least I think he’s there . . . well I’m saying he’s there, and you’ll have to take my word for it.

I hope you enjoy April’s change of scenery. You can see a larger version of this week’s picture on its Web Page by clicking here, but if you want to find Waldo—the sea otter—you’ll have to buy an enlargement. Be sure to come back next week for another shot from the Big Sur coast and more fish tales.

Until next time — jw

Out Buildings Picture of the Week

Any discussion about Black Canyon City wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Rock Springs, so I saved that for last this month. It’s hard for me to know where to begin. If you say that name, most Phoenicians will think about the pie restaurant. It’s understandable, it’s been open for a century now, and every time we drive by and think about stopping, we don’t because it’s packed. Like Yogi Berra said,” Nobody goes there anymore, because it’s too crowded.” As for lasting 100 years, I’d like to extend my congratulations, but I don’t want to talk about pies, I want to discuss its history.

Out Buildings
Out Buildings – A pair of tin roofs on storage sheds behind the Rock Springs Cafe.

Before cars, trains or airplanes—when I was a child—travelers stopped at Rock Springs because it was a reliable source of good water. People came here for centuries before Caucasians lived in Arizona. On your next visit, take the time to stroll around the grounds and look for the Waterfall signs. Outback, you’ll see water drizzling over polished and worn boulders—that’s Rock Springs. The restaurant has a couple of tables out there so you can enjoy a waterside cocktail. I imagine that the flow over the falls is pretty good at times, but when it’s dry, it’s more like forgetting to turn off your garden hose.

The water is the reason that Ben Warner opened a tent-like store, and—in 1918—built a hotel on this site. In case you didn’t notice,  I love these historical buildings. Fortunately, the café has a Web Page that speaks of its history and shows an old photo of the block building—with an A-1 Beer sign hanging from the portico. I really wanted to capture an image of that hotel and talk about some of its famous guests; like Jean Harlow, Tom Mix, and Wyatt Earp. I couldn’t. Decades of hastily planned expansions have camouflaged the original building. Only hints of the original hotel sick out here and there. After circling the restaurant as the sun rose, I gave up and shot other subjects.

On one of my laps, I saw this interesting pattern of weathered tin roofs on a couple of storage sheds behind the Rock Creek Café. It’s as if they knew that I would be shooting this because they built a simple plank fence that masks the clutter and adds a perspective line to the scene. When I took this shot, I honestly didn’t pay attention to the clouds, but let’s not tell anyone. I’ll claim that I planned it. I call this week’s image: Out Buildings.

You can see a larger version of Out Buildings on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy viewing this week’s post and come back next week when we begin a new monthly series from a different place in Yavapai County.

Until next time — jw

Embarrassment Pie 2018 Utah Photo Shoot

On the road, you’re forced to try new restaurants. Some of them are good, a few are poor, but most of them are blah. Most restaurant owners don’t have an interest in food and they have little imagination. They are just trying to make a buck and so the profit and loss statement dictates the menu. I mean, my mom used to put more lunch meat on our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches when she packed our school lunches than they serve at roadside dives. That’s why, when I find a place that has great food, I like to tell you about it.

Happy Couple
Happy Couple – On the grounds of the Burr Trail Grill are a pair of gas pumps as yard-art. They’re of little use for anything else now because the largest price is 99 cents.

There are eight little communities along Utah’s State Route 12. Most of them barely have a post office much less a coffee shop. Boulder is one of those small towns. It’s wedged between the—terrifying to drive over—petrified sand dunes and Boulder Mountain. If you’re not going to see the ruins at the Anasazi State Park or to drive the Burr Trail, there’s no good reason to visit Boulder … other than they—inexplicably—have two outstanding restaurants, the Hell’s Backbone Grill and—our favorite—the Burr Trail Grill. Truthfully, we don’t know about Hell’s Backbone because we stopped at Burr Trail first and keep returning each time we pass this way.

Burr Trail Grill
Burr Trail Grill – Located at the intersection of SR 12 and Burr Trail the grill is only open during the season but the food is good.

The grill is on SR 12, right at the Burr Trail—an interesting side trip that we’ll talk about another time. It’s a small wooden shack-like building that has more seating outside than in, which is good because the parking lot is usually full at lunch. It is only open during the summer—May to October—after which, the staff return to their day jobs at the ski resorts near Salt Lake City. The menu features burgers and sandwiches which doesn’t sound exotic, but I’ve had the Thai Burger and their Ruben. Each of my choices favorably impressed me. The food at the Burr Grill is good, but we dream of their pies.

Mixed-Berry-Ginger Pie
Mixed-Berry-Ginger Pie – Warm from the oven with a scoop of home-made ice cream and fresh whipped cream is guaranteed to make you forget about decorum.

This pie will embarrass you. It has the kind of crust that explodes all over the table when you put a fork to it, just like Aunt Clara made. After your first taste, you scoop up the table-crumbs and eat them. Pies are baked fresh each day and served with home-made vanilla ice cream and fresh whipped cream. There’s a changing variety each day. Anne loved the chocolate-bourbon and she had to settle for peach on our second visit.  When you order a slice, it takes a minute because they warm it in the oven. I ordered a slice of cherry-cayenne, which sounds weird, but was tangy and not hot—like a sour cherry. On our second visit, I went for the mixed-berry-ginger and that made my taste buds explode. It was the taste of berry tartness at the beginning followed by a bright splash of ginger. As you dig in, the warm pie melts the ice cream resulting in a pool of fruit-cream on the saucer. As I devoured mine, I looked across the table and saw Anne’s eyes peering over her plate while she licked it. “What!” was all she had to say for herself—queen indeed. I told you it was embarrassing pie.

When you come to explore SR 12, be sure to plan a stop in Boulder for at least a slice of pie. You may come away embarrassed, but you’ll be better off for it—recommended.

Until next time — jw

Bobby D’s BBQ at the English Kitchen Jerome Restaurant Review

English Kitchen
English Kitchen – Originally built using adobe blocks by Charley Hong to replace his Connor Hotel kitchen that went up in flames in 1899, was open until 2007. Until then, it was the longest-running restaurant in Arizona. Despite its name, they served Chinese food when Charley ran the place.

To coerce Queen Anne to join me on a photo outing, I have to bribe her with something precious—like food or ice cream. If I schedule everything carefully, I can get away with having to pay for only one meal while we’re on the road. I wanted to shoot in Jerome in the good afternoon light and the drive from our house is a little over a couple of hours, so my cheapest bet was to buy her lunch. When we travel we use the TripAdvisor rankings to see what the popular restaurants are at our destination. It eliminates some guesswork picking out a place to eat. We look at the best reviews and then try to find them when we get to town and for our Jerome trip, Bobby D’s BBQ was their top pick.

Bobby’s is in the English Kitchen Building directly across the street from the Liberty Theater. The old building has hosted various restaurants since Charley Hong built it in 1899, according to the story on the back of the menu. I enjoyed reading the part about the English Kitchen name because—being a Chinese restaurant—it never served traditional British fare. If unwitting diners ordered an English breakfast, they were more likely served a dish of chop suey.

The interior of the original building is simple with about dozen wooden tables and historic Jerome photos decorating the wall. There’s not much room inside and since it was a pleasant day, we opted for seats on the deck. Our friendly hostess quickly found a spot at one of the many picnic tables. We enjoyed a nice breeze in the shade of the orange canopies and gawked at the Verde Valley panorama while the aroma of the smokers seduced our appetites. Our pleasant waitress brought menus and took our drink orders before we finished looking around.

Bobby D’s is a BBQ joint and the staff proudly proclaims that they’ve won a Best in Arizona award. The first page of the menu is all BBQ, but we weren’t that hungry so instead, we split the Arizona Cheesesteak from the second page. It consisted of brisket, sautéed onions, pepper jack cheese and (Ortega) chilies stuffed into a hoagie. It sounded different. It came to the table dry along with four house-made sauces for us to sample.

I’m a guy that likes BBQ and I’ve cooked a mean rib a time or two. I like a lot of flavor. A good sauce should singe your nose hairs but leave a sweet taste. The sandwich was good, but it surprised me at how little smoke and rub seasoning was in the meat. While I’m picking nits here, the mild chilies they use are lost in such a bold sandwich as this—jalapeños would have been a better choice. Their BBQ is southern style so one of the sauces is mustard-based, but it was too reminiscent of honey-mustard dressing for me. A second blend they have is called Jalapeño Molasses and again the chilies were missing in the sweet syrup. That leaves their Little Miss Tango sauce as my pick among the three. Anne liked it too—so that alone shows that it wasn’t spicy enough.

Bobby D’s is a good place in Jerome for lunch or an early dinner. It’s fun to eat in and learn about the historic diner. Our service was very good, and the staff was attentive. The food was also very good even if I felt it was on the bland side. Is this the best restaurant in Jerome? The reviews say it is, but I haven’t tried the others. Is it the best BBQ in Arizona? I’ve had better, but BBQ is always a safe bet. Because Jerome isn’t an overnight destination, many of its restaurants close by 2:00 while Bobby’s is open until 6:00. If this were a Yelp or TripAdvisor review, I’d offer four out of five stars.

Until next time — jw

%d bloggers like this: