Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Prescott Food Tour

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“Everybody’s Hometown” has grown into an epic eating and drinking destination.

Prescott – or “Presskit,” as some say –  is widely beloved as a fun, visitable vestige of old Arizona. Formerly the state’s territorial capital, it was where Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp boozed it up when they visited Yavapai County, in the downtown cluster of bars and saloons now known as Whiskey Row. A century later, one-time resident Barry Goldwater launched his 1964 presidential campaign in Prescott, delivering speeches from Courthouse Plaza, a green and shady park frequently filled with festivities and a quaint yesteryear feel bolstered by the statues of historical figures astride horses in the park, and the classic cars frequently parked around the square.

But this historical, high country haven is also building a reputation as a diverse dining destination, where visitors can enjoy everything from a healthful, locally sourced turkey wrap to a hungry-cowboy cut of sirloin, along with a parade of desserts so flashy and glamorous-looking you half expect them to don feather boas and start singing on the bartop. Where to start? That depends on your own personal pyramid of needs, but worry not – Prescott has whatever you need, and probably plenty of whatever you don’t need, too.

Hungry?
Feeling hot and harried after the drive? Stop and smell the mint, rosemary and lavender growing on the patios and rooftop gardens at Spanish-cuisine-leaning world bistro El Gato Azul (316 W. Goodwin St., 928-445-1070, elgatoazulprescott.com), and cool off on the patio next to Granite Creek with a deeply fruity, ruby Gato’s Sangria. Lunch menu highlights include sandwiches, salads and Southwestern-inflected seafood entrées, such as paella valencia –  mussels, chicken and shrimp sauteed with house-made chorizo in a white wine-garlic sauce over saffron rice; and poblano and chorizo shrimp in a “Creole sauce” with black bean salad. You can dally with a variety of dishes off their extensive tapas menu, which includes an intense marinated-mushroom salad with briny olives and whole garlic cloves in cold, refreshing vinegar; and plump Santa Fe shrimp wrapped in lightly charred bacon. The restaurant’s garden herbs – the ones you stopped to smell – appear in almost everything.

Find the finest dining in Prescott at Murphy’s (201 N. Cortez St., 928-445-4044, rgtaz.com/murphys.html). Classic standouts on the surf-and-turf-heavy menu include the tenderloin filet, perfectly cooked to a succulent medium-rare and topped with a slightly sweet Béarnaise sauce; and basil pesto salmon, a newer dish than Murphy’s popular honey mustard salmon, but just as good, and punctuated by tart tomatoes. The dessert menu – the kind that comes in miniature versions on a tray from a tuxedoed server – includes classics like vanilla bean crème brûlée, bread pudding, peach cobbler and a gorgeous turtle cheesecake that looks like a caramel and strawberry syrup supernova exploded around it. Winner of a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence in 2013, the restaurant offers volumes of vino, including Arizona wines from Grand Canyon Winery and Page Spring Cellars. The beer offerings also go local, with brews from Mother Road Brewing Company, Lumberyard Brewing Company, San Tan Brewing Company, Mudshark Brewing and Prescott Brewing Company.

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Santa Fe Shrimp at El Gato Azul; motorcyle on Whiskey Row

One of the most attractive dining rooms in Arizona is inside the Hassayampa Inn at Continental Cuisine classic, the Peacock Room (122 E. Gurley St., 928-777-9563, hassayampainn.com/dining). The recently remodeled inn opened in 1927, and the Peacock Room’s décor reflects Art Deco and Art Nouveau aesthetics, with tones of teal and silver, dark woods, and an Erte-esque “Peacock Lady” exquisitely etched in frosted glass on the entry door. Classic jazz plays on the dining room speakers, and courteous servers in dapper jackets fussily refill drinks while bringing out plates of generously portioned, plump lump crab cakes, lemon ricotta pancakes and several fish dishes.

Locals rave about the relatively new Prescott Station (200 E. Gurley St., 928-778-0133, prescottstation.com), and for good reason. The bartender we talked to at Hooligan’s on Whiskey Row had gone on about the grilled ice wedge salad for five minutes, like it was a revelation, and that’s pretty much what it was. The fat wedge of iceberg lettuce with visible grill marks tasted slightly charred and meaty, but had a refreshing snap and juiciness. It was topped with candied pecans, vinaigrette, blue cheese dressing and blue cheese crumbles and was hands-down superb. Exotic-meat seekers can explore elk fajitas, buffalo meatloaf, sushi nachos and “cowboy sushi” (read: raw or rare red meat), while fans of Southwestern fare fawn over entrées like Enchiladas Fruta De Mar – a trio of enchiladas including shrimp in Santa Fe sauce, jumbo crabmeat with jalapeño crème, and Canadian lobster in lobster sauce. The wine list is long, as is the tequila tome and the book of cordials. Desserts shine, literally – the 24 Karat Cheesecake is gilded with gold champagne sauce, and the toasted meringue atop the lemon tart glitters. They taste amazing, too. The Station is definitely a worthy stop.

One of our favorite Phoenix restaurateurs, Matt Poole of Matt’s Big Breakfast, recommended The Raven Cafe (142 N. Cortez St., 928-717-0009, ravencafe.com), and after eating a delicious eggs-and-bacon breakfast on their mosaic-tiled rooftop balcony, we’re glad he did. Billing itself as a “European-style green cafe,” The Raven possesses a deep devotion to local, organic ingredients, sourcing from such neighbors as Prescott Coffee Roasters, Young’s Little Farm (also in Prescott), Hickman Family Farms, Cottonwood-based Mt. Hope Wholesale and Natures Fed in Camp Verde. They offer several vegetarian and gluten-free menu items, along with possibly the biggest selection of Arizona craft beers in town, displayed as endless rows of colorful bottles in tall glass coolers nears the stairs. The breakfast and lunch menus are mostly light fare (sandwiches, salads) served in modest but filling portions.

If “modest” isn’t on your menu, should-be-legendary, cowboy-killer-portion breakfasts are available at Lone Spur Cafe (106 W. Gurley St., 928-445-8202, thelonespur.com). A half-serving of their Cowboy Benedict easily tips the plates at five pounds. With a big ol’ beast of a biscuit as its firm foundation, the dish piles on an inch-thick slab of ham, a golden yolk-oozing egg, and oceans of gravy bobbing with buoy-sized sausage chunks. And then there’s a pile of plump, diced taters or crispy hash browns on the side. Talk about eating your heart out. It’s a yummy mess, but you’d have to be humongously hungry to really make a dent. Or drunk. Which is not inconceivable, considering a couple bars along adjacent Whiskey Row open by noon.

Murphy’s turtle cheescake; Basil and pesto salmon, and tenderloin filet (background) with Grand Canyon Traveler Red wine at Murphy’s

Thirsty?
A favorite legend about Whiskey Row (whiskeyrow.us) – and you can see for yourself that this legend is true – holds that during a fire in 1900, locals saved the bar at The Palace Restaurant & Saloon (120 S. Montezuma St., 928-541-1996), carrying it across the street to continue drinking while the structure itself went down in flames. The bar is back inside today, along with a steady stream of visitors, who come to see the myriad historical displays (like memorabilia for A-1 Beer, the state’s first brew) throughout the saloon, take photos with the frequent guests in Old West garb, and order drinks including the exclusive and excellent Palace Stout, made by Lake Havasu City-based Mudshark Brewery, and Arizona Distilling Co.’s Desert Dry Gin.

The Palace sits in the center of Whiskey Row, so if you’d rather start your stroll on an end, locally distilled spirits can also be summoned at the southernmost bar on the row, the Bird Cage Saloon (160 S. Montezuma St., 928-778-9921, birdcagesaloon.com), a cash-only joint beloved by bikers and fans of classic rock cover bands. Destroyed by fire in 2012, the saloon reopened 12 months later in a new room with a trove of taxidermied animal heads adorning the burnt-orange damask wallpaper, along with little gems like a cigarette machine (remember those, smokers in the ‘70s?) and a Twilight Zone pinball machine. Gems behind the bar include the smooth and slightly smoky Bloody Basin Bourbon and the sweet and floral Gurley St. Gin, both made by Prescott’s own Thumb Butte Distillery (thumbbuttedistillery.com). If you want to branch out, you can also visit the distillery’s tasting room (400 N. Washington Ave., 928-443-8498).  

If you head north from the Bird Cage, your next stop should be the best patio in town, next door to the Palace at Jersey Lilly Saloon (116 S. Montezuma St., 928-541-7854, jerseylillysaloon.com). This almost-perfect perch (if only it were larger) overlooks Courthouse Plaza, which is forever full of people picnicking, playing frisbee, hula hooping, walking their dogs and strumming guitars. The drink menu’s not too AZ-centric, but they do have Four Peaks Kilt Lifter. And free popcorn. And giant, 1980s-era stained glass windows depicting saloon scenes from the Wild West inside along the staircase.

There’s always some rowdy fun on tap next to the Lilly at Matt’s Saloon (112 S. Montezuma St., 928-771-8788, mattssaloon.com). You can’t miss the place – it’s got a sculpted long-horned cattle skull with glowing red eyes outside, and some especially cacophonous karaoke on Wednesdays and Sundays inside. Live country music can be heard Friday and Saturday nights, and a hip-hop DJ plays on Thursday night. Again, there’s not much from Arizona in the drink well, but the entertainment value is high.

But the other side of Courthouse Plaza boasts a big taste of Prescott at Prescott Brewing Company (130 W. Gurley St., 928-771-2795, prescottbrewingcompany.com), which serves several top-notch suds, including their Ponderosa IPA (a gold medal winner at the 1996 Great American Beer Fest) and Lodgepole Light cream ale (a gold medal winner at the 1998 Great American Beer Fest). We also love their rich, chocolatey Achocolypse stout and golden Bock of Ages, but try a flight for a taste of all their beers on tap.

The new kid on the beer block is Granite Mountain Brewing (123 N. Cortez St., 928-778-5535, granitemountainbrewing.com), and you can smell their mouthwatering malts all the way down the street. This nanobrewery brews in-house and serves six beers on tap, including flagships Bradshaw Blonde (toasty and earthy, with hints of caramel), Thumb Butte American Brown Ale (hoppy and citrusy) and Muddy Wash Milk Stout (sweet and milky).

Interior of Palace Saloon; Whiskey Row

Sleepy?
One of the great things about downtown Prescott is its walkability. Park your car for free (except on holidays and during special events) in the public garage on Granite Street, check into a hotel and don’t bother driving for a few days. Right now, the most haute lodging on Whiskey Row is the Grand Highland Hotel (154 S. Montezuma St., 928-776-9963, grandhighlandhotel.com). Situated on the second floor between the Bird Cage and an old-school ice cream shop, this new boutique hotel boasts 12 rooms with different themes, including the “Singing Cricket Room” done in Native American décor, the “Prospector Room” in shades of copper and teal, and the “Speak Easy Room” with a silver, black and teal Art Deco design (plus a big bay window overlooking Whiskey Row and Courthouse Plaza). They offer coffee, tea and breakfast, plus touches like Tootsie Pops on the pillows – a nice, whimsical way to wind up an epic epicurean adventure.

 

Curious?
See the “Secret” Masonic Display
Built in 1907, the historical Prescott Masonic Lodge on Cortez Street is now filled with businesses, from dentist and law offices to a New Age gem store, but on the third floor at the top of the stairs (just outside the doors of the law offices), there’s a huge display case filled with Masonic memorabilia, including patches, pins, hats, jewelry, ledgers and photos. It’s an interesting foray for fans of “secret societies” and historical figures; Morris Goldwater was one of the longtime active Masons in the area.

 

PM’s Top Five Prescott Restos
5. Lone Spur Cafe
4. The Raven
3. Murphy’s
2. Prescott Station
1. El Gato Azul

 

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