Our winter home is in east Mesa, in the east valley of the ENORMOUSLY spread out metropolitan area of Phoenix. Our imaginary boundaries, however, are ridiculously limited – Gilbert Road to the west (because that’s the nearest Oregano’s Pizza), Dobson Road to the south (because that’s where my sister Bec lives), and Superstition Mountain to the east (because that’s where my brother Dave lives). To the north? Well, I walk over to the grocery store which is a block north of our house, but that’s about it.
I’m exaggerating, of course. But we really haven’t spent a lot of time exploring some of the interesting areas that the Valley of the Sun offers. Shame on us.
But thanks to a gift certificate from Dave and Jll that we received for Christmas, Bill and I actually ventured beyond our invisible boundaries to Scottsdale, where we went on a food tour of Old Town Scottsdale. Our children know us well. An art walk? Probably not. A guided tour of the historical areas of Scottsdale? Nope. Beer and wine tours? I don’t think so.
But a food tour? I am SO THERE. And Bill is by my side.
Finding food in Scottsdale is no problem. The population of Scottsdale is 226,000, and there are over 600 restaurants within the city boundaries. That’s supposedly second only to New York City in restaurants per capita. From the looks of it, a full quarter of those 600 restaurants are in the 10 square blocks or so that make up the Old Town area.
The area looks much like an old western town, frankly because that’s what it was. Sure, the saloons are now upscale restaurants and bars, and the old post office and dry goods stores are now shops featuring expensive Indian jewelry and contemporary clothing. But if you sort of squint, and use your imagination, you can almost see Roy Rogers and Dale Evans coming toward you riding Trigger and Buttermilk. (Yes, it’s true; I watched many a Roy Rogers television episode at Grammie’s house on Saturday mornings.) You have to look, however, past the tourists wearing $300 sunglasses and $100 jeans from Ambercrombie & Fitch.
The tour, which was through Arizona Food Tours took us to several restaurants where we sampled delicious (and contemporary) Mexican food from The Mission and pizza from Grimaldi’s Pizzeria. At The Mission, I splurged and bought what they called the primorita – simply agave nectar, locally-made tequila, and freshly-squeezed lime juice. It was yum. Bill had one too. Later, as we made our way to Grimaldi’s, he told me, “That was really good. I didn’t know I liked margaritas.” Seventy-three is not too old to learn new things, especially when it comes to tequila.
We learned that the Grimaldi’s in Old Town Scottsdale was the first outside of the original Grimaldi’s underneath the Brooklyn Bridge in NYC. According to our guide Chrystal, the owner’s son attended ASU and, as so many ASU grads do, decided to make his home permanently in Arizona. His idea? Open up the first non-NYC Grimaldi’s. He followed his father’s recipe to a T, but something was amiss. It didn’t taste the same. When he made a visit back home, his father told him the reason. It was simple, really. It’s the water. So he brought back several 5-gallon containers of NYC water and gave it a try. Voila! The pizzas were the same.
He worked with chemists at ASU and apparently has been able to duplicate NYC’s water, which he uses in the Grimaldi’s Pizzerias here in the Phoenix area. I have tasted the pizzas from the original Grimaldi’s, but I would be unable to confirm or deny. What I can tell you, however, is that the pizza tasted very good.
The highlight of MY day was a stop at a locally-owned olive oil store called Outrageous Olive Oils. From olive oil expert Heather, we learned the importance of making sure your olive oil is truly, truly, truly cold-pressed and extra virgin. Apparently the ones that promise they are just that are very often big fat liars. The olive oils, of which we tasted very many, were delicious. Even more surprising, at least to Bill, was how sweet and
flavorful were the balsamic vinegars. Bill maintains that he is allergic to vinegar. It’s true that vinegar often makes his throat constrict. Because of this, he was surprised at how sweet and delicious the balsamic vinegars were on his palate. He found one that was flavored with dark chocolate (the man can sniff out chocolate anywhere), and can’t wait to try it drizzled on ice cream.
Chocolate balsamic vinegar and tequila. It was a good day for Bill.
It was, in fact, a good day for both of us. The weather was perfect. The food was delicious. We palled up with a couple from Charlotte, NC, who forgave us for a wee bit of gentle gloating about our Super Bowl win, and we finished up our outing with freshly baked cookies. My favorite was a chocolate cookie flavored with cayenne and cinnamon. Who knew?
I hope this is the first of many more experiences outside our boundaries.