Rancho Tia Rosa

Restaurant Reviews By:    Cavewomanimages[2]

Restaurant:  El Rancho de Tia Rosa

Location:  Mesa, AZ, Stripmall

Day & time visited: Friday Night, 5:55pm

Reservations:  Unknown

 

El Rancho de Tia Rosa’s – “where Mexican Cuisine becomes a work of art.”  Well, give me the name of the artist and remind me to NEVER buy from them!  EVER.

Let me give you a little background on why we chose to try Tia Rosas (as I’ve always heard it called).  This is a place that has come highly recommended to me by coworkers and out of town visitors.  More than once over the last 3 years, I’ve heard this place come up in discussion…and so I put it on my list of places to try.  I was told most recently by a woman I work with – don’t go there if you want good food.  That raised a flag for me so I started to remember why it came recommended from others – the atmosphere.   Well, let’s go see for ourselves.

We had gotten home from work on a Friday night and were excited for ‘date night’ because we hadn’t done one in a while. It’s always nice to go out.  Plus, it was early so we figured we can go and have an early dinner before the crowds arrive. I quickly changed my clothes and freshened up my make up while Caveman changed his shirt and grabbed a jacket.

El Rancho de Tia Rosa is located in Mesa, AZ not far from where we live.  Maybe 6 or 7 miles north of where we’re located.  It was easy to find the corner location, but not as easy to see which building was the restaurant. Tucked away in a rather large corner filled with strip malls and workout places, we finally see the neon red, blue and green sign that spells out Tia Rosas.  Honestly – the neon sign was a little tacky…but that’s just my first impression.

It’s 5:55pm and the lobby is already jam packed with people.  My initial thoughts are – Really? This early and this many people??  We put our names in and were told we‘d have a 15-20 minute wait.  We decided to go to the bar because we saw 2 openings at the bar top and I could tell Caveman needed a drink.  We aren’t big fans of huge crowds of people, so we quickly grabbed the 2 seats at the bar.  The biggest plus we have going for us at this point in our experience is – the food must be really darn good!   First impression of the bar?  It’s really small.  Only about 5 seats at the bar top and probably 5-6 tables in a dark room.  It’s a rather cramped bar compared to the rest of the restaurant and gave off an airport vibe.  I can say that because I spend half of my adult life in airports across the US!  Caveman ordered a greyhound (vodka & grapefruit juice) but the busy bartenders told him they didn’t have grapefruit juice.  They also didn’t look him in the eye and laughed when he ordered it.  Hmmmm…..is this something they get all the time?  Not really feeling a friendly vibe.  So, Caveman ordered some cranberry juice with his vodka instead.  He’s not a huge tequila guy on the whole…so no margaritas for him.    I let the bartender know that I wanted a tequila drink that wasn’t “too sweet” because I don’t care for super sweet girly drinks.  I like my drinks to have some substance.

He suggested I get a margarita without the sweet and sour but with grand marnier instead.  He was really nice to me and asked if I had a tequila preference?  “Umm…..Don Julio?” I suggested.  You betcha!!  Almost as quickly as he poured this tasty concoction, our names were called to be seated.  Holy 7 minute wait! We were expecting longer!  I sent Caveman to go get our seats as the bartender told me I had to pay now.  Sure – what do I owe ya?  The damage was $16.86…which means Tia Rosas is charging a good $8 a drink.  Okay. So I threw a $20 his way and went on my mission to find my man!

I followed my Caveman through a very crowded, very loud dining area to a “backroom” in the corner.  This room was small and had only about 5 tables, but the amount of echoing noise blaring from these walls could be compared to that of a parade!  One table had about 20 or so people and the other 2 tables had small children.  Oh the yelling, the screaming laughter, and the annoying echo in my ears! I have a naturally loud voice (or so I’ve been told) and this was a challenge even for me!  Minus all the uproar in that back room, I must say that there was a nice fireplace with a real fire burning.  I am always a fan of “homey environments”

We were immediately brought chips and 2 different kinds of salsa, one was red and the other was green.  Our waiter greeted us and noticed that we had drinks that we carried from the bar, so he stepped away and gave us some time to look.  At this point – I’m hungry! I would describe the red salsa as a liquid with very salty flavor & lacking chunks of goodness.  It contained a lot of pepper seeds but it’s flavor was unauthentic.  The chips were nothing special…possibly even store bought and warmed up, but I’m not sure.  I enjoyed the taste of the green salsa much more.  Though it was also a very fine liquid, it was sweet in essence and tasted much better than the red.  Caveman kept saying it was too sweet…and toward the end, I could really see his point.  But I’m hungry, so keep the green salsa coming!

The menu had several odd choices for a Mexican place. The most noticeable mistake on the menu was, No combination dinners!  What Mexican place doesn’t offer food combos like enchilada and burrito, or tacos and a tamale?  We continued to look and tried to be fair, but the menu seemed confused. What’s up with the clam chowder and peach blossom soup?  Where am I again?  In addition, there was pineapple and mangos in almost every item.  No combos + odd choices = MENU IDENTITY CRISIS!!!  This is going to be a tough night.  Stay optimistic.

I was really struggling with what to order but wanted to stay true to the local favorites.  Caveman decided to order the Nuevo Chile Relleno.  It was described as a roasted poblano chili pepper stuffed with pork picadillo, and topped with pinon nuts, sour cream and cheese.  It was to be served with Spanish Rice. It has been a while since he ordered a chile relleno…and it sounded delicious.  I was torn between Fajitas, Burro or tacos mariscos (seafood).  I went out on a limb since we never order seafood in Arizona and went with the Shrimp Taco and a Salmon Taco.  They came highly recommended by our server, so I decided to try it.  The shrimp taco is covered in a pineapple salsa while the salmon taco gets an orange mango salsa.  A little sweet and savory combination sounded good to me.

As we waited on our food to come, we had trouble ordering more chips and salsa because our server was very busy.  I was finally able to nab the attention of a waitress passing-by and asked if there was any HOT salsa available. Seeing as the red and green salsa was not doing it for us – she had no problem bringing us a cup of hot salsa.  Not only was it heated up hot, but its essence was chipotle based with smoky, peppery heat emulating as it hit your mouth.  It sure was HOT!!!  But I’m not a huge chipotle lover, so the flavor was limiting for me.  I decided to look around at the large dining area adjacent to our corner room and that area had high ceilings and was very well lit, offering a mix of colors to the eye.  From yellows, reds, greens and purples, the décor was all over the place.  At the end of the day, it just doesn’t ring Mama’s Mexican to us.  My headache starts to set in and I realize it’s from the loud voices echoing in our back corner room.  It’s so loud in there, we can’t think and now we’re starting to have a hard time enjoying ourselves.  And our drinks are empty.  They stayed that way for about 10 minutes until our waiter brought the food.  No refills for us during our wait.  The service is getting questionable…

Our food comes out and we reorder our adult beverages and disappointment starts to sink in.  The appearance of our food was unexceptional at best.  Caveman’s Nuevo chile relleno looks like it’s covered in spaghetti sauce, and it’s very small in size.  Stay open minded….he takes a bite or two and all we can say is the sauce on this poblano chile is unsophisticated.  As you take a bite, you get a rush of sweetness that enters your mouth, followed by this unwelcomed burnt flavor.  The sauce tasted like bottled pepper juice and did nothing for the meal.  The sweetness I described was coming from the mysterious pork inside the pepper.  It was served with what they are calling Spanish rice, but quite honestly – the rice mirrored the flavor of a white onion.  Little did we know, that’s the best tasting thing on both of our plates!  For $15, this meal really lags in every possible area.  We’re going to need those drink refills now…

My tacos mariscos.  The presentation was inviting and I couldn’t wait to eat!  Heck – after seeing Caveman’s Chile Relleno, I was certain mine had to be better…

Um…I was wrong.  My first bite was into the rice which was bland, unseasoned, and tasted like an onion. Did I mention it was barely warm in temperature?  The salmon from my salmon taco was not only cold, but EXTREMELY dry and substandard. There was no flakiness and the salmon was lacking any seasoning; including salt and pepper. How long was it sitting under a heat lamp back there?  The mango salsa was forced to do damage control, but when you put cold salsa on cold salmon – it does not result in good.  So I quickly moved onto my Shrimp taco.  The shrimp had better seasoning and good texture, but it was also cold.  What an unimpressive display that I have to pay for!  Not a lot of things dishearten me as much as a restaurant serving cold food!  The one item I ordered that was served hot was the beans.  Deemed frijoles, I expected these to be good. I mean – they are my first warm food all night!  But to my grave dissatisfaction, the beans had an overwhelming BBQ flavor that finished with that same burnt taste from the relleno sauce.  Where is this burnt flavor coming from??  El Rancho de Tia Rosa – you can keep it!  Take it back to the artist that created it.  We don’t want it!!

I left almost all my food on my plate and Caveman ate as much as he could handle of the small portioned pepper.  In my experience, men will eat anything, but this cavewoman wasn’t about to waste her calories on this crap.  Tia Rosa’s can best be described as “overpriced Americanized mexican food” and we will never go back.

Want to hear something totally random??  As we are unhappily waiting to pay our $46.21 bill (that’s without the first round of $20 drinks) – a man dressed as a clown comes up and proceeds to do magic tricks at our table.  **This is not a typo!  A man dressed as a clown performed magic for me.  I think he saw the look of regret on my face and was trying to cheer me up.  I have nothing negative to say about a man going table to table performing magic tricks; but I will bundle this final straw into my earlier comment – unauthentic identity crisis!!!!

Needless to say – we will never go back to El Rancho de Tia Rosa.

On a scale of 1-10, 1 being poor, 5 being mediocre, and 10 being the best experience I can describe, here is how I rate the following for El Rancho de Tia Rosa:

Atmosphere – 3     Service -4     Appetizers- 3     Food-1    Drin

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B & G Diner

Restaurant Reviews By:   CavewomanB&G pic

Restaurant:  B&G Café

Location:  Gilbert, AZ, (roadside)

Day & time visited: Saturday Morning, 9am

Reservations:  No such thing

We woke up on a Saturday morning and instead of our usual Burrito Shack run, Caveman was in the mood to try a place (again) that we had tried a long time ago…  During a time when our favorite breakfast spot on the planet had recently been closed – Bongo’s –and we were on our mission to fulfill its greatness.  Being that this is no easy feat and that our breakfast mark had been set quite high…we decided to take another look at B&G’s.  Besides, the first time we went there – we were both hung over!  Shhhhh.

Being that this local spot is only about 10 minutes down the road, we jumped in our jeep and were there in a flash.  Located in what looks like a little deserted strip mall, this place sits next to a cactus feed store and you wouldn’t think by the outside that delicious soul food cooking is brewing’ on the inside…

After “off-roading” behind the alley to get to the parking lot…**Caveman turned too early on Ray Rd. and put us behind the restaurant. Instead of admitting that maybe we needed to turn around…he found a welcoming hole opening in the wall, which of course our Rubicon could easily fit through… Right?  Needless to say, I pulled my seatbelt on tighter and became certain we could not fit through the hole. But what does he do? He continues cruising forward, toward the hole, determined to make it work.  I had my doubts, my fears…I even held my ‘oh-shit handle’ and before I could say a prayer – Caveman maneuvered beautifully down a sufficient awkward hill with a bump to top it off, and through the wall opening we went.  We parked, and it’s time for breakfast!

We walked in to an “older style café” atmosphere with mostly booths and a few tables. It is not a large space and probably wouldn’t seat many people at once.  The wait-staff was sharing all the tables in the restaurant and you could see the cooks prepping food behind a window.  B&G’s gave off a friendly family vibe, like everyone knew everyone, and we were the outsiders walking in.  We were immediately welcomed and sat ourselves in a booth near the wall. We didn’t even have to wait. Who doesn’t like that?  A friendly woman greeted us and promptly brought Caveman his tea and coffee for me.  The menus were aged to say the least and hung from a hook on the wall with a homemade hole punched in them.  They were bent and old, but located right at our table, so we started browsing the choices.

The menu was simple really, offering up many breakfast classics.  Any avid breakfast eater could find something to order at B&G’s.  They offered things like biscuits and gravy, to any style of egg combo including omelets, chorizo and even pancakes.  If you’re a skillet guy or gal, you’re outta luck.

It took Caveman exactly 1.2 seconds to figure out what he wanted because that Country Fried Steak and eggs was calling his name.  As for me – I knew I wanted eggs and potatoes, and some bacon but I also wanted biscuits and gravy!!  I have “decision making” issues sometimes…what woman doesn’t??  To my luck – I was able to get 1 egg, 1 slice of bacon, and 1 side of potatoes from the kid’s menu…YEP! She let me do that, but mainly because I was also ordering that side of biscuits and gravy. And boy I’m glad I did!!  My breakfast was the perfect size.  Our friendly waitress jotted down our orders and to my surprise, I recognized her from a newspaper clipping on a nearby wall.  Along with what looked like the cook and seems like they might be family.  And maybe even the owners? The article explains that B&G Cafe received a “best of the best” award in 2010 for best new breakfast restaurant.  Hmmm, pretty motivating.

We didn’t have to wait very long before our food arrived.  Just long enough for our stomachs to start growling.  As she set the plates down, I noticed that mine and Caveman’s plates are portion appropriate…Not too huge to clean our plates without feeling gut guilt. **Caveman would disagree, and even try to tell you that the portions were “small” but from this Cavewoman’s opinion – you will get full. And you won’t feel like you have to go to the gym afterwards.

I took my first bite and it was clear to me that the breakfast potatoes on both our plates were real potatoes! Sliced in house and even seasoned well, with a teeny perfect crunch on the outside.  You’d be surprised how many breakfast places open up a bag of frozen potatoes, heat then up and throw them on your plate without even adding salt and pepper! YUCK!!  I had ordered my eggs over easy and my plan was to throw my egg on my potatoes and let the runny part ooze onto my potatoes making for a nice combination of savory tastings!  What a relief to me that my plan worked!  My egg was cooked correctly!  Not over hard, not sunny side up, but perfectly over easy, just as I wanted!  I threw that on my homemade potatoes and tore up the bacon and made myself a little “messy.” At this point, I’m very pleased with the flavor of my breakfast so let’s talk about caveman’s chicken fried steak.

As I mentioned, it was not a frozen patty!  It wasn’t larger than the plate but about 2 fist sizes large.  It was covered in the same generous amount of sausage gravy as my biscuits.  The country fried steak in itself was delicious.  It offered nice texture with the gravy and finished with a perfect crunch.  All the flavors together were satisfying enough to not add salt and pepper.  Overall – we’re happy we came back to B&G’s.  Chicken Fried Steak on Caveman’s level is hard to find.

As we’re eating, both Caveman and I are picking up this unidentified zest in the gravy……hmmm, what is that? Poblano pepper I suggested?  Is it green chile?  Then we look closer in the gravy and we see these little pieces of green spice. We know it’s something… We know we like it, we’ve just never had that in our gravy before, and so we’re a little puzzled.  We continue to taste and identify what this zing in our gravy is; when not to my surprise – Caveman, with his excellent palate, whips out – Jalapeno!  It’s Jalapeno.  My reaction was no …. Is it?  Another bite, another delight…Yep. It’s jalapeno.  It’s good.   Just then, our pleasant waitress comes back to check on us.  So we ask…”is this jalapeno in your gravy?? It’s goooooood!”  She confirms that the green spicy zest we have tasted is in fact jalapeno, and she seems very pleased that we like it.  And we did like it.  The gravy had the right consistency and flavor, and the jalapeno makes you want to take another bite.  It also substitutes the need to add extra pepper, if you’re a pepper person.

Both Caveman and I cleaned our plates and had a great breakfast.  I must say it was unexpected, because last time we went, it was not on our radar or priority list to come back.  Well, we must not have been paying attention!  We know without a doubt, we would love to come back to B&G Café.  You can’t just go anywhere and find tasty, homemade soul food…for the price we did this morning.  Our entire bill with drinks was less than $19.  Between the service and overall experience, it made shell out about $7 in tip!

 On a scale of 1-10, 1 being poor, 5 being mediocre, and 10 being the best experience I can describe, here is how I rate the following for B&G’s Cafe:

Atmosphere – 4     Service -8     Appetizers- n/a     Food-9    Drinks -7

Tuttu Santii

Restaurant Reviews By: Cavewoman

Restaurant:  Tutti Santi

Location:  Gilbert, AZ,  on corner stop

Day & time visited: Friday night, 6pm

Reservations:  Not needed.

 

 

It was my turn to pick the restaurant so I chose, Tutti Santi.  I had passed it several times on my way to the gym and it appeared to be local and I like to support local restaurants.  Caveman and I had read reviews on this place and sort of had a mixed bag going in.  We heard negatives like it was way too expensive and the food was mediocre and then positives like the service and food was great!!! So, we decided to see for ourselves.  Just so you know – My Caveman makes the best marinara sauce known to man – it’s homemade and fabulous, so we will never order marinara “out and about”….just something we know about ourselves to be true…This makes the “Italian restaurant” feat a little more challenging.

I dressed cute – turquoise jeans, and a black tanktop, and Caveman wore a nice button down shirt with jeans. We set out on our ‘date night’.  We got to Tutti Santi around 6pm on a Friday night and there was zero wait!  We went inside and were immediately seated by the host.  We were instantly impressed with the totally white décor they had chosen for the inside.   They had white curtains draping elegantly over the windows in the dining area, as well as old fashioned family pictures, and old world paintings.  The chandeliers were gorgeous and complimented the dining area, giving it lots of character inside. Definitely looks better inside than roadside.  The most confusing part of this first impression was the apparent sophistication around the restaurant …and then you look into the bar, and the TV was playing an NFL replay!?? What? It was the Jets no less and it just didn’t seem to fit the pleasant décor….

Time for drinks!!!  I liked the wine menu, as red wine sounded fabulous….. I order the Alamos Argentine Malbec, about $7 a glass.  My man opted for a greyhound (not a wine guy) vodka and grapefruit juice – which tasted great and ran about $6 a glass. Our service was prompt and confident, which we both appreciate. I did notice they were confused on the proper wine glass selection as they served my red wine in a white wine glass.  Upon delivering our drinks, our waiter instantly described the “specials” which included an appetizer and 2 different entrees. He sold Caveman on the spot by the sounds of ‘that one special.’  Before our waiter let us have another minute to decide on food, he served us a basket filled with Italian bread & butter all wrapped in a white cloth.  But this was not just ordinary butter.  This butter had the slightest hint of something blended into it.  Not an outstanding amount though, as it took us a minute to figure out what seasoning was enhancing this butter.  And then it came to us….. Rosemary! Just the tiniest dash of rosemary was blended into the butter and we liked it.  Something nice to munch on with the drinks.

Now, let’s get to appetizers.   We ordered the Carpaccio di Bue which comprised of thinly sliced raw pieces of filet mignon, covered in capers with basil and extra virgin olive oil on the plate.  It came presented with provolone cheese slices on the side and a diced tomato mixture to top it off.  So, we started gathering each component and gave it a taste. Wow!  The meat slices were well seasoned and practically melted in my mouth.  Add the tomato mixture and a slice of cheese – talk about balance!  The salty taste of the cheese paired very nicely with the filet and tomatoes and capers really made my palate dance. We found ourselves enjoying every single bite of the Carpaccio di Bue.  Worth every penny of the $15.95 price, and we would order it again.  As we’re sitting enjoying this delightful appetizer, Caveman and I begin looking around when we saw an old Brick Style Pizza Oven that appeared to be out of commission…  We asked our waiter “Why, (oh why) is that pizza oven out of commission?! Why would you let that happen in an Italian joint?”  He simply replied they tried making it work, but he wasn’t sure the latest status.  **Special Note: We hope they bring that pizza oven back to life!**

Almost time for dinner, but before I get to that, we had our pre-dinner accompaniments.  Caveman had the minestrone
soup and I got a salad.  The minestrone was colorful and chunky, with a liquid base that was not too creamy.  The flavor was missing salt, so we had to add a couple spoonfuls of parmesan cheese to make it taste better.  The biggest “no-no” of all was that it was brought to the table lukewarm!  Too cold for soup and very sad for us.

The salad was very basic, both in presentation and taste.  It had roma tomatoes, lots of greenery, but was too large for a dinner salad.  The balsamic vinegar dressing was a house combination and tasted good, but overall it was just average.  We recommend some additional color on the plate for the salad (onions or olives) and some croutons or something similar to give us the crunch that was missing.   At this point…we are hoping the entrees taste more like the appetizer. The funniest part of all…Caveman and I ended up switching, my salad for his soup!  Give me soup any day!!  But – I will say – I need it hot.

We needed another drink.  We asked, and very quickly – we received another Greyhound and Malbec.  Hey – this time the Malbec was in a red wine glass!! Did that bartender read my thoughts?  Very attentive service by our waiter…always important when it comes to drinks!

Time for dinner. I ordered the Agnello Dorato which was lamb shank braised in lamb vegetable stock and served over a bed of risotto alla millanese. It was priced at $25.95, so I had high expectations.  Plus, I had to get the lamb shank because this particular dish was like nothing I’ve ever ordered at an Italian Ristorante, so I wanted to see what Tutti Santi had to offer.  As it came to the table, I will say that the portion of Lamb Shank was huge!  The lamb was braised properly and proved to be extremely tender as it fell apart using only my fork.  The sauce tasted good, but 2 things I caution when ordering this dish:  One, there was entirely too much sauce on my plate which drowned out the taste of the risotto completely; and two, the Agnello Dorato was lacking salt.  This opinion is coming from a Cavewoman who never adds salt to any dish she is served.  However, at Tutti Santi, the Agnello Dorato needed salt!  For $25.95, nothing I order should need salt.  It is unfortunate that I cannot say too much about the risotto because it tasted like the millanese sauce that covered all the food on the plate, and I believe we mentioned the need for salt. The Italian Lamb Shank and Risotto combination can be best described as “comfort food.”  We all like it and at times, it’s needed…but it was nothing like Cavemom makes.

Remember that special from earlier that sold Caveman on the spot??  We believe they call this the “Chicken Special” and we can tell you that it was a boneless chicken breast, egg-washed, and then covered and stuffed with prosciutto, topped with gourmet cheeses and covered in a marsala mushroom sauce, served over Julian Vegetables and it ran for $22.95.   The chicken came to the table and the presentation was respectable.  Caveman started to dig in and noticed a couple of things.  First off – the vegetables were cold and were not seasoned!!  I know it’s a side dish, but side dishes still need to taste good!!  And be up to temperature, to that point.  What an important impression, especially after serving him cold soup earlier…

The chicken had a crispy exterior, but was bland in flavor.  The prosciutto stuffing made the chicken dry and it was also overcooked so that made it a tough, like chicken jerky.  While we were unimpressed with the chicken (I was definitely liking my lamb dish after trying the chicken special), we have to say the marsala sauce made the dish!  The sauce was seasoned very well and had a wonderful mushroom gravy flavor, but also the right consistency for a sauce.  We really enjoyed the essence of what the sauce did to the chicken and it helped raise the dish to a more suitable level.  To sum it up – the chicken lacked seasoning and was dried out, but the sauce saved the dish and made it edible.  We also feel the vegetables did absolutely nothing to compliment the meal and we want to remind Tutti Santi that food should always be served at a desirable temperature.  **at this time, we both have our forks in the lamb shank because it completely outweighed the presentation of ‘chicken special’**

As we were finishing dinner, I decided to stop at the restroom, and that’s when I saw this magnificent Mary Magdalene painting!  I had to stop and stare because it was completely awesome!  The décor continued to impress us and we liked the atmosphere in every corner.

Still wanting to satisfy that special something we were missing from this date night dinner, we wanted to continue on the mission of ‘trying something different.’ So, we decided to order a slice of the Mascarpone Cheesecake.  It came sensibly portioned, not too big, not too small, and it was drizzled in a lovely raspberry sauce.  Still, if you’re anything like me – raspberry sauce is not my first choice, so maybe ask prior to doing so or play it safe, and put it on the side.  Nevertheless, I was a trooper and do feel it added to the dessert.  The cake was served cold which we appreciated, but we noticed it was not real rich in flavor.  It was actually more creamy than New York Cheesecake…for those of you who have not tried this type.  We would have loved to relish more crunch from the crust to help break up the creaminess.  The texture was too smooth, and that much needed crunch in the crust could have helped to break up the monogamy on my palate. Altogether, it was kind of a boring dessert.

As the evening came to an end, we decided we really did like the artwork and overall mood of this restaurant.  They did a fine job delivering a decadent ambiance, but we just wish the food would have compared in the same ballpark as the price we paid.  Our base bill ended up at $115.94 and that was without the generous tip we added. (due to the incredible service)

On a scale of 1-10, 1 being poor, 5 being mediocre, and 10 being the best experience I can describe, here is how I rate the following for Tutti Santi:

 

Atmosphere – 8     Service -9     Appetizers- 7     Food-4     Drinks -7

Mary’s Cafe

Restaurant Reviews By:    Cavewoman

Restaurant:  Mary’s Cafe

Location:  Flagstaff, AZ, (roadside)

Day & time visited: Saturday Morning, 9am

Reservations:  No such thing!

 

We were heading up to Lee’s Ferry for a weekend filled with Rainbow Trout and Cooking with Caveman when we reached the halfway point and decided to stop for breakfast.  Now, anyone that knows anything about my caveman knows that if a breakfast place does not serve chicken fried steak….well, we have no business stopping in!

So using our smart phone devices (yeah…I know what you’re thinking, but it is 2012 and we have good jobs that provide this wonderful technology) we quickly looked up breakfast places in Flagstaff.  We got hits like Denny’s, Cracker Barrel, and McDonalds…  Really?

So, we started reading the reviews of “local joints” when we saw the words “hole in the wall.”  We tend to like those words, because we – like most people – know that those places sometimes have the best food.  And boy – were we right!

We took the gamble with local hole in the wall, Mary’s Café and lucky for us – it was right off the side of the road that we were traveling on!  And side of the road it was!  The curbside appearance was less than flattering and words that come to my head are “old, deserted…empty.”  However, when we went inside, it was quite the opposite.

Bustling with bikers, locals and the smell of coffee, Caveman and I quickly found a booth in the front of the restaurant. There were only about 10 tables or so in the front area, but the restaurant had an “L” shape and around that corner, there seemed to be many more people. The inside was decorated in a western style with spurs on the wood walls and old pictures with lots of timeworn décor.

And then we saw our waitress.  Unfortunately, she was EVERY table’s waitress and she was working her butt off!  She greeted us with a friendly tone, and told us to have a seat, as she wiped sweat off her head and hurried to get steaming hot food to all her tables.  There’s always the one table in the restaurant filled with difficult people who keep asking for crazy requests and force the waitress to go back and forth, and back and forth, to the kitchen.  Which happened to delay our service even longer.  We probably waited a good ten minutes before we were even asked if we’d like coffee or water.  But it wasn’t like she was just standing around, she was busy as heck people!!!

This “waiting period” gave us plenty of time to look at the menu.  It took Caveman exactly 1.2 seconds to know what he wanted: The chicken fried steak & eggs.  As for me, I was not sure.  I went back and forth with “do I try to be healthy or do I just eat?” A normal internal conflict for this cavewoman…. When I saw a popular menu item named the “country ben,” which read as layers of several different breakfast items like biscuits, gravy, and sausage, so I went for it. I mean, why argue with a local favorite??  “just eat!” my internal self was saying…so I didn’t argue!

Our waitress came back by and at this time, we went ahead and ordered our drinks and food at the same time.  Caveman got iced tea and the chicken fried steak & eggs.  Almost immediately – our waitress looked him square in the eye and said this is going to take a little while to cook which would probably delay our meals.  Caveman asked “does that mean it’s homemade???” She simply smiled and said “yes.”

****I have to note how refreshing and exciting it is that this chicken fried steak is made from scratch.  We go to breakfast quite frequently and more often than not – they take a frozen patty and throw it in a fryer, and here’s a newsflash- we can tell!!!!  It reflects in the taste. So being told we have to wait for the real thing…makes us pumped!!  We cannot wait for the chicken fried steak to come to the table. Make us wait forever – it will be worth it.

As for me – I ordered the coffee, the Country Ben, and water.  She told me “good choice” when I ordered the ben and then threw me off completely when she asked if I wanted my water wet.  She did something to me that does not happen very often; she made me speechless for half a minute!  After a full 30 seconds, and seeing her sly smile…I realized she was kidding and had made a joke.  So I replied that the water better be wet water or else we have problems.   It was then that we settled into Mary’s café and started to feel like locals.

Our waitress brought out the iced tea and coffee and conveniently forgot my water!??? You believe that??? Kind of funny since we had a joke about it earlier…but clearly – our server had every table in the restaurant and probably a slew of other things to remember.  I was content with my coffee, and caveman’s iced tea when I needed it.  The coffee was nothing special, but it was hot and early, and worked for me after having driven 2 hours from Phoenix.

We did wait a while for our food – but I’ll tell you now – it was WORTH THE WAIT!!!

Our food was finally delivered and the portions were very generous!!! Caveman’s chicken fried steak covered the entire plate, leaving him wide-eyed like a little kid in a candy store.  It also came served with fried eggs and country potatoes, all covered in white sausage gravy. The chicken fried steak was shallow fried, meaning they put a little oil in a skillet and cooked one side thoroughly, before flipping it over and cooking the other side; as opposed to deep fried, when you just drop the steak in a fryer.

It had a good exterior crust and the steak was perfectly seasoned.  The flavor of the chicken fried steak was really good!!! As for the sausage gravy – it had the right consistency.  It consumed the right amount of sausage and it was seasoned flawlessly leaving the taste on point! It was the best chicken fried steak we’ve ordered in a restaurant in years.  And the portion was right up a caveman’s alley!  ** meaning VERY LARGE!!!!

The potatoes in the dish were not frozen, but instead freshly sliced into cubes and cooked country style, packing a great flavor.  ***Finding non frozen breakfast potatoes are also a rarity these days, so thank you Mary’s Café.

As for the Country Ben (my meal) – it was delicious!  A layer of homemade biscuits, open-faced and topped with a sausage patty.  Top that with a layer of scrambled eggs, and top it all with homemade white sausage gravy – and you have The Country Ben.  The biscuits were tasty and super fluffy while the sausage gravy was absolutely superb.  The meat and eggs in between were purely compliment this layer of breakfast innovation!  I would say I stopped eating once I got full but given the great taste and local flair of the Country Ben; it made it hard to stop!!!

We filled our bellies and our meals were delicious. We were so impressed by Mary’s Café, we just had to write about it.

We hope that anybody that’s in Flagstaff who enjoys a scrumptious breakfast, that really likes chicken fried steak or a local layering dish – this is your SPOT!!!!!  You must visit Mary’s Café and sink right into a piece of lip-smacking history.

On a scale of 1-10, 1 being poor, 5 being mediocre, and 10 being the best experience I can describe, here is how I rate the following for Mary’s Cafe:

 

Atmosphere – 5     Service -4     Appetizers- n/a     Food-7    Drinks -5

Down Under Wine and Bistro

Restaurant Reviews By:    Cavewoman

Restaurant:  DownUnder Wine Bistro

Location:  Gilbert, AZ, Strip Mall

Day & time visited: Friday Night, 6pm

Reservations:  We made one but I don’t think you need one.

 

 

We visited a local bistro, Down Under Wines and Bistro, on a Friday night for date night.  As we parked in the parking lot, we were not sold on “curb appearance,” as the strip mall it’s located in seemed a bit deserted; however, we were pleasantly surprised once we went inside.  The place was unexpectedly busy, and customers appeared to be having a great time.  The hostess was very friendly, and the atmosphere was “happy hour enjoyable.” I would not describe DownUnder as a lavish sit-down dinner place.

 

We started with drinks.  I was impressed with the wine list, as they listed wines from Australia to Chile, with a variety of reds and whites alike.  The wine pricing was certainly fair.  I ordered the Boxhead Shiraz, from Australia which had a blackberry, raspberry and plum flavor, with a peppery spice.  Just like me!  The caveman (not being the wine-type) attempted to order the 22oz. Vetlins Pilsner, right off the menu, but was told “we do not have that in-house.”  So, our waiter quickly suggested a similar standby Pilsner.  Caveman seemed to enjoy this beer as he had more than 1…so, no hard feelings there!  I do feel the need to mention that beyond wines, the beer menu is limited and cocktail menu is almost non-existent.

 

The menu was very cool, listing a range of tapas and the option to build your own cheese and meat plates to go along with the wine.  I could definitely see myself going back with my girlfriends for a wine happy hour night.  That said, we decided to order a couple of the house appetizers.  We chose the Crocodile Kabobs and the Chef’s Choice Bruschetta.

 

The crocodile bites were respectable, a gamey meat in nature, but served with a sweet flavored BBQ sauce that took the meat to the next level.  The meat resembled pieces of sausage, sliced and served on a skewer with grilled red onions and green bell peppers.  The kabob was placed over a bed of white rice and drizzled with the aforementioned sauce.  I, personally, am not a fan of gamey meat, so I would probably not order the crocodile bites again; however Caveman liked it! Although, for $9 he thought the portions were a little skimpy.  Before I get to our review of the Chef’s Choice Bruschetta, I feel I should mention that they had a “Specials Board” with several of the day’s most popular sellers and tasty suggestions listed for different categories (i.e. desserts, fresh fish, daily wines, entrees, cheeses, etc). However, our waiter never once mentioned any specials once we sat down.  We found that to be odd.

Now onto the Chef’s Choice Bruschetta…. It was delivered to the table by a “food runner” and  it appeared  to be a slightly brown cheese-fluff mixture sitting atop a thick slice of toasted sourdough.  We immediately asked what was the topping on the bruschetta made of.  She had to run back to the kitchen to ask.  At that time, our waiter approached and informed us it consisted of a cream cheese, bacon and sriracha mixture on toasted sourdough.  Okay, (pause to let this information sink in)…Initial thoughts included, “interesting…” “I love all those ingredients!” “This should be yummy”… So needless to say, I was expecting heaven on a piece of sourdough.  Unfortunately, what I experienced was more like a cheap, disappointing cheese-whiz spread on too much bread.  It had a little spice,  and that’s the best I can say.  We were charged $7 for this chef’s concoction and needless to say it was nothing special…nor is it anything I’d eat ever again.

 

On to our entrees:  Caveman ordered the Kangaroo Loin.  I mean, how often can one say they ate a kangaroo loin?  I went with the Seared Barramundi, for the lighter fare.  The waiter suggested Caveman order the Kangaroo loin as “rare as he can take it” so he went with medium rare.  The loin was delivered in a timely manner and was served thinly sliced with grilled Portobello mushrooms and a port reduction sauce, topped with 3 crispy fried onion rings, over a bed of rice.  The portion was enough to feed my caveman, overall  an exotic dish for $15. The kangaroo was tender with a good sear and great flavor.  The port reduction sauce complimented the dish well; still, the one regret he did have, was not ordering it rare.  When dealing with steak, caveman likes an appropriately cooked medium to medium rare, but one thing we learned – kangaroo is not steak.  Order it rare!  At this time, we were both due for another Boxhead Shiraz and Pilsner.

As mentioned, I got the seared barramundi.  Upon my first glance, I could immediately tell that barramundi must belong to the sea bass family, as it was a light pink and beautiful fish.  I received a fist sized piece of fish with the skin on and a nice sear, but it was not crispy.  The barramundi had nice pink coloring around the edges and was flakey in the most delicious way.  My plate was filled with color, with a lemongrass vin blanc sauce around the edges, and some type of garlic sauce approaching the fish. It was served over a nest of spinach and leek rice, all booming with wonderful flavors when eaten together. It was well worth the $14 and I would definitely order it again, recommending  you do the same.  The portion size was adequate, especially after our appetizer experience.  Sadly, we did not save room for dessert, so no review on that portion.  The wine was sweet enough.

 

On a scale of 1-10, 1 being poor, 5 being mediocre, and 10 being the best experience I can describe, here is how I rate the following for DownUnder Wine & Bistro:

 

Atmosphere – 7     Service -7     Appetizers- 3     Food-8     Drinks -6