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.

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

Eggs Benedict Done Right Nichols West Restaurant A Congress Brightspot

My favorite thing for breakfast is Eggs Benedict. It’s an indulgence that I refuse to give up even though I know that plate full of calories and cholesterol is trying to kill me. By no means am I a traditionalist. I like all the varietals. I’ve tried the Californian with turkey and avocado, the Florentine with spinach, a crab cake version, and one made with salmon. The most exotic and memorable Benedict I’ve ever had was when Jeff and I stopped in Santa Cruz on the homeward bound leg of our infamous San Francisco trip. I believe it was in the Walnut Avenue Café that I ordered Blackened Ahi Tuna Benedict. I don’t know why I’ve never been back. The peppery tuna and lemon creaminess of the sauce was one of the best things I have ever eaten.

I have a version that I make when I’m in the mood to struggle with egg poaching. I substitute a nice thick ham slice instead of the usual Canadian bacon and I replace the Hollandaise with Béarnaise because I enjoy the tarragon and vinegar sauce even more. I call my version Eggs Better-dict.

Eggs Benedict at Nichols West
Craft paper replaces white tablecloths at Nichols West and they make the best Eggs Benedict.

One of the best things about living in Congress is that we have a local restaurant that really doesn’t belong here. A couple blocks west of US 89 on State Route 71 is a small café named Nichols West. It would be in the heart of downtown if Congress had a downtown. The cream-colored building with its star jasmine-covered façade houses a bar and restaurant that seats—at best—fifty people. Simon ­­­Smith—a British transplant—is the proprietor of this American Restaurant and over the last decade, he has built up a large and very loyal clientage here by having a varied menu, serving fresh ingredients, and being open year round. That’s an important part of being able to keep good staff.

As expected from a diner like this, the prices—although reasonable—prevent us—as retieries—from having dinner there every night. However, they’re open for breakfast every morning at eight, and one of the best deals on the breakfast menu is the Eggs Benedict, starting at under $10.00. I say starting because they have a half-dozen versions including a Country Benedict (biscuits and gravy in place of the good stuff). The sauce is the key to making this meal great. Anyone can slap egg yolks and lemons together, but here it’s bright without being too lemony. I don’t recall having a better Hollandaise, and so I’ll put it up against the best in Arizona.

Nichols West In Congress Arizona
Nichols West is a small restaurant that has unexpectedly good food for such a small town.

Out here in Podunk-Ville, we live without a lot of amenities, like sidewalks, stop lights, bike lanes, and indoor toilets. But a great restaurant isn’t one of the missing. That’s why on trash days when Queen Anne and I are heading home from the dump, we’ll most likely be stopping off at Nichols West for breakfast.

Until next time – jw

El Gato Azul

There are a lot of things we’re thankful for when we moved to Congress last year, but shopping isn’t one of them. Sure we have a couple of local grocery stores and merchants nearby that we make do for basics, and there’s always Amazon for the occasional weird stuff we need, but making a Costco run takes days of planning. The stores are far enough away that we plan our trip into town with multiple stops along the route. Shopping at the big box store is an all-day trip.

Our house is conveniently (if you can call it that) located midway between the two nearest stores. We exclude the one in Sun City because it’s impossible to maneuver around the golf carts and inattentive drivers. Our choice is between the Deer Valley store on I-17 and the one in Prescott. The drive time difference is literally five minutes, so the choice comes down to what other errands we need to run. If I need to pick up some hardwood, we go to Deer Valley. If I need something at Harbor Freight, we head to Prescott (for our friends out-of-state, the townspeople pronounce it ‘Press-kit’ and they’re not shy about correcting you). During the summer though, Prescott wins hands down because it’s in the pines and cooler.

When we make the Prescott run, Queen Anne and I try hard to build in time for lunch, and our favorite place there has become El Gato Azul a tapas place at 316 West Goodwin Street. Goodwin is the street that runs along the south side of the courthouse; the restaurant is two blocks east of Whiskey Row.

El Gato Azul Restaurant
Two blocks east of Whisky Row is the tapas bar, El Gato Azul.

The restaurant building is a small one story box on the east side of the Willow Creek trail. It’s smaller than most fast food chains, and the Dijon mustard colored façade has lavender ledges covered with potted plants and lights. The clutter almost obscures the sign.

To enter, you step down from the sidewalk (an access ramp is a few steps to the right) and walk through the bright blue door. Inside the dining room are two . . . maybe three tables and behind the hostess station, an ‘L’ shaped bar fills the rest of the room. The décor is a mix of upscale Goodwill and early garage sale interspersed with canvases from local artists. If you’ve come to eat, (why else would you be there) the host/hostess will escort you back outside through a door on the right. Here is a large covered main dining area that is open in summer, but enclosed with clear vinyl curtains in winter; portable heaters provide warmth.

The food that we expect at El Gato is not what you’d call rib sticking comfort food, but small dishes as you would find in a Spanish tapas bar, but with a southwest influence. It’s more of a tasting menu where you get an interesting burst of flavor combinations in one bite. As with a Chinese restaurant, it’s fun to pick out several items and share. One dish is not enough for a full meal, but the Queen and I fill up by sharing three items. It’s sort of like making a dinner out of a couple of appetizers. Plates range in price from $10-$13 each, so it’s not cheap. They offer a list of soft drinks along with the stocked bar.

Cajun Corn Dogs
One of the meals we enjoyed was their Cajun Corn Dogs. This consists of bacon wrapped tiger prawn fried in corn batter and a glaze of honey.

The next time you travel up Prescott way and you want to try something different, the Queen and I recommend you give El Gato Azul a try. We recommend it, even though Anne is now annoyed with me for letting The Blue Cat out of the bag.

Till then . . . jw

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