Firecreek Cafe • Flagstaff, AZ

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1609684_10152166560151281_1612280284_nWITH A FRESH FRENCH press, I sit in a long dim coffee shop.  Coming and going are the ubiquitous tourists.  More likely in queue, however, are one of the 22,000 students of this college town.  And post students, people who stay and give the community its continuity.  The true vitality of Flagstaff, shaping its future.

Bianca, 20-something manager of Firecreek Cafe, sit’s with me as I take a break from The Great American Road Trip, Part II.  She grew up in Flagstaff and knows it’s heartbeat.  After a stint at a Bay Area art school, studying permaculture, where best to settle?  And settling she is, building an adobe house north of the peaks.  Next visit, more on that!

10639678_10204058714123651_3102200037375503650_nFirecreek Cafe is Hub of the Universe of Flagstaff.  Surrounded by the majestic San Francisco peaks, this eclectic hall with its exposed structural walls and open floor plan is the 1st Third Wave
coffee shop to hit town.  Lighter roasts are back!  But they may be better known for their cappuccino, made with organic unhomogenized Straus milk.  Quality is not cheap!

1016169_10151955090346312_1062384862_nFormerly the famous Alley Bar, Firecreek continues this legacy as an indefatigable hub of this active community through dance parties, costume-related theme parties, even the INNERSPACE DJ event,  transforming the entire 20′ x 120′ space through decoration, lights, and music.  A constant influx of forestry, English, and nursing students supplies steady support of touring musicians, art shows, and poetry slams.  Locals ensure continuity between sessions.  A self-perpetuating cycle.  The lifeblood is, in the end, the locals.

Try the chai, Firecreek’s own blend of spices and herbs.  Very popular among the artists of this art-related town!



Basic Chili (with beans) • Anywhere USA

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DSCF0938Can’t cook?  Won’t learn?  Getting tired of fast food and cereal every meal?  Here’s a basic everybody can eat, easy to make, freezes well, and turns a house into a  home.

 Using familiar staples, you can whip up a batch of fresh chili in about an hour.  And leave the “beans” debate to Texans.  What debate?  It seems that purists refuse to recognize spiced meat, onions, and tomatoes as “chili” is one adds a single bean.  Humm . . . 

So have at it!  Brown a pound of ground beef.  Remove and saute a large chopped onion in the fat.  Then dump the meat back in,  add a can each of chopped tomatoes and rinsed beans, along with a packet of chili seasoning.

Don’t just mash it around.  Mix it all up by lifting portions and folding into other areas.  You’ll have to add a little water, maybe 2 ounces to start.  It’ll take a few minutes to bring it back to a simmer, then maybe ten or fifteen more to finish it.

Grab a bowl and spoon, some dried hots, and a box of Saltines.  Enjoy!

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Some tips:  Chop the onion while the beef is browning.  While the onion is cooking, rinse and beans and wash the onion-chopping implements.  While everything is cooking, finish washing up.

Missouri Hick Bar-B-Q • Cuba Missouri

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dscf0821TUBING IN THE MISSISSIPPI from April to October, involvement in multiple competitive sports like softball and golf, and generally running around the beautiful countryside stirs up a passionate hunger in the local populace.  And every Sunday the town heads to Hick’s for the all-you-can-eat ribs.  But they always leave some room for cobbler.

I missed this event by a day, but did sample the meats, smoked over wild cherry.  Being a purist, I eschew sauces on my meats, and go for the true taste of the smoked product.  Missouri Hick does not disappoint!

And the cobbler?  That may be the hidden story of this BBQ  joint.  Although the recipe was sealed behind loyal lips, I’d bet there’s a little lard rolled into the biscuit that you find in your bowl under a mound of fresh fruit, itself cooked with butter and sugar.  A meal itself!

Missouri Hick’s is a MUST DESTINATION!

Cliff Dwellers Restaurant • Lees Ferry AZ

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Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 10.09.50 AM Hard upon the Anglers Guide Fly Shop, in front of a row of neat rental bungalows, stretches a porch with an impressive view.  Rows of tables await the weary, the excited, the sunburned.  A small restaurant attached with a few tables inside as well, this establishment is Cliff Dwellers Restaurant.

YOU WILL NOT “STUMBLE UPON it if driving US-89 north.  No, this requires an intentional detour upon US-89 Alternate, which was recently engineered by bridge construction.  Such unplanned detours remind me to fuel up frequently, as this stretch of 89 Alternate boasts only one station, catering to the forgetful.Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 10.10.02 AM

Tired, I cared not for decision-making.  To my rescue came waitress-proprietor Mrs. Davis who, along with her husband, manages the entire establishment.  fish tacos were recommended, ordered, and consumed.  Taking into consideration Marble Canyon is the “End Of The Line” either direction you look, the grub was excellent.  Even if this restaurant was in an urban center, it would still score high marks.  Sure, fresh ingredients are more challenging to obtain, but the flavor, texture, presentation, and decor are top-notch.

Cliff Dwellers Restaurant, in the middle of God’s Country. Highly recommended!

Jim’s Coleslaw • Pennsylvania Recipe

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WHAT KIND OF SALAD DOES one most often find next to their sandwich at most diners and restaurants?  Another hint: It is packaged in just about every clamshell to-go (take-away, for you Brits) container, adding value to the entrée, along with your chips, rings, and fries.

You’ve probably figured it out from the title or the pictures.  Why are we discussing slaw?  Slaw is good for you. It is easy to make.  So today, we’ll cover the basic slaw recipe. With pictures!

Buy a nice clean head of cabbage.  Look at the base. If it is seriously discolored, it has been sitting for weeks or more.  Visit a produce market with lots of foot traffic.  An average medium head is about three pounds.  Shedding the outside leaves at the market, before paying, will save you a little money, as most people throw away the bruised and dirty outer leaves.

DSCF0923After sectioning and removing the core, we’ve dropped about half a pound.  For this amount of cabbage, we’ll use 1.5x the dressing recipe, as opposed to 2.5 (one unit of dressing per pound cabbage).  This makes for a tastier, lighter slaw.  Hey, tell your guests they have two choices: take it or leave it.  Besides, it is healthier.  One can add a little more salt or pepper if they want to punch it up.

It’s been thrown through the Cuisinart, along with a few carrots.  In a mixing cup, we’ve combined 3 tbs each sugar and tarragon-infused white wine vinegar, a couple tsp each salt and celery seed (we faked it with celery salt for this batch), a little white pepper (or regular pepper if it is all you have), a SMALL dash of yellow mustard, and as much mayonnaise as you can scoop onto a tablespoon. Add a little more mayo if you want, but not too much more. Whisk until liquid and solids combine.

A large Tupperware® is great for mixing.  Pour about half the dressing on the cabbage, close the container, and shake it up.  TASTE IT NOW.  You’ll notice it tastes like . . . cabbage. And needs salt.  That is good.  It means you are paying attention.  Add another quarter, shake, and you’ll probably add the rest of the mixture.  CAUTION: Do not add your dressing all at once.  A spicier dressing due to heavy hand on the seasonings, or less shredded cabbage than anticipated, can change the end product.  Add, mix, taste. Add, mix, taste.

Fridge it for a few hours, clean up, and turn it over before serving. Bon Appétit

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Ramon’s Taco • Planada CA

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DRIVING THROUGH THE ALMOND trees of the Central Valley can be hungry work!  You’re headed to or from Yosemite or Mariposa, and wonder, “Where can I get a decent burrito or taco?”.  Yes, the packing lot by the Mineral Museum sometimes has an excellent lunch truck, but if you can wait until you get to Planada, you’re in for a treat!!!

Hey, and there’s Ramon himself, in his sharp red truck!  Ramon knows his stuff, and now has several trucks.  I first discovered his truck when bringing a friend into Mariposa.  The vegetarian burro was a two-hander, and dripping with so much flavor, I’d of sworn it had a pork-based sauce within.

DSCF0043However good it was, the best has got to be the al pastor burrito!  He’s figured out how to punch up the ingredients to a new high of culinary pleasure! This thing is BURSTIN’ with flavor!  If I could eat every meal, I’d be the happiest of men!  The tacos are the same.  Not the Americanized TacoSmut version, but the REAL DEAL!

Stop in Planada or where ever you see Ramon’s vans.  He will personally return your money if you are not 100% satisfied!


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Casa Reynoso • Tempe AZ

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Highly recommended!   Headed anywhere near Tempe, Arizona?   Make the trip.  If you’re staying five days, plan to eat there four times.  I had the same thing every time.  A #5 Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 9.14.50 AMCombination plate smothered in enchilada sauce.  Enchilada, Taco, Burro Red Mixed.  Skipping the beans and rice on the plate is all that allowed me to finishtheir huge portion.

Easily overlooked, tucked as it is into the corner of a corner strip shopping plaza, overwhelmed by a Fry’s Grocery Store and a string of forgettable but, to some, necessary, retail and service providers,  stands a restaurant of impeccable pedigree.  For 30 years now, Antonio and Roberta Reynoso have prepared and served  old style cooking made famous by their mother, Salustia, of Marfa, Texas. 

Make the trip and cross off another line on the bucket list!

3138 S Mill Ave  Tempe AZ 85282   (480) 966-0776

Herbal Tea • Anywhere USA

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1 gallon honey weighs 11 lbs., 13.2 ounces.

DSCF0959There was a time when I could lay back on the couch, ignoring sports flickering on the TV, daydreaming while the world continues.  And polish off a six-pack of Coca-Cola®.  In one hour.  This excessive consumption of caffeine and high fructose corn syrup alarmed and frightened those around me, and, knowing better than I do, removed soda from the house and replaced it with sun tea.  Herbal, caffeine-free tea, chilled or outright cold.  Boring!

DSCF0941Sometimes it would taste better than other times, and I started to pay attention, until I was making a gallon of a rather tasty brew every day or so in the summer .  An interesting mix of teas, honey, and fresh mint make all the difference.  Steep times increased, and direct sunlight was removed from the process.

My best brews come from a gallon jug with 7 or 8 tea bags steeped 20 hours.  Two tablespoons of honey dissolved in half a cup of hot water.  A handful of mint from the garden, washed in hot water to  help bring out the oils.  Four hours in the fridge, and it is ready to drink without ice.  As God intended.  The Garden of Eden contained no ice, after all.

So buy a gallon jug of honey at the next farm show you visit.  Decant the honey into smaller jars.  Use the jug to make your own tea.  Don’t worry about your Coca-Cola stock.  They’ll think of something to prop up sales, no doubt.

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Más Taco • Red Lodge MT

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DSCF0887DRIVING OUT OF YELLOWSTONE over the Bear Tooth Pass Highway, one experiences a truly mortal encounter with their fate.  Motoring above cloud cover with little between the pavement and plunge?  Possibly the snow slows one down long enough to develop real appetite?  Either way, out of the Pass, the first few choices are typical tourist town smack.  Keep driving.  A little further.  To Red Lodge, my friend.

On the north edge of a very walkable business district, conveniently placed upon  a corner with plenty of parking, lies the answer to life’s riddle;  “How do I compete with the scenery of Bear Tooth Pass?”.  Begin with one Taco Carne Asada, designed and built by Mike Muirhead.  Then try a small burrito.  Or another taco, different flavor?  

The chips and salsa are a must.  This is not the salsa you gorge upon as a mini-meal; besides, you don’t get enough in their serving.  You do get a robust explosion of flavor upon their freshly-cooked chips.  A value at twice the price!

My first impression was that the food far exceeded my expectations.  The waitress explained the chef was from LA.  I spied it in his focused, steely eyes, from the start.  The passion for flavor.  Seriousness for the product delivered.  A professional making this one small taco joint his life.

509bfafed55cd.preview-620What makes it so good?  I called a few days later, and Jake gave it to me straight.  Lots of work!  The crew starts their day 5 hours before the 11am opening.  EVERYTHING is made fresh, from scratch, daily. Trim the steak, marinate in “secret” ingredients, make the masa (corn meal dough) fresh every day, cook it to order, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera!!!! And this is just for my taco!  I was tired just imagining the amount of work involved!  Maybe I’ll pay the $2.95 per taco, and stick to plumbing?

Make it part of your life.  Find the time to make a trip to one of America’s great eateries.  The Bear Tooth Pass Highway will make an excellent addition to a perfect day!

 Mike Muirhead’s culinary journey has taken him from  Florence, Italy, to Beverly Hills. His Red Lodge restaurant, Mas Tacos, offers al pastor — served five different ways — as its specialty.