Monday, February 16, 2009

Cowboy Country

Prescott, Arizona, two hours noth of Phoenix, bears no relation to the desert cities. When you're leaving the Phoenix valley, the cacti grow tall and green scrub vegetation spreads out over the desert. But the climb in elevation, rising to a mile when you hit Prescott, changes the topography of the land. Tall cacti are replaced by prickly pear and snow-capped mountains. Keep driving north and the land more closely resembles Colorado, with colossal pine trees rising from clay soil.

Prescott is one of the original western mining cities and still capitalizes on history and old architecture. Downtown, near the straight-out-of-Back to the Future court house, the so-called Whiskey Row dominates the town. Old saloons have been renovated into new saloons. Candy shops selling hand-churned ice-cream and popcorn replace boutique coffee joints or delis.

In the heart of this western square lies the ancient and tourist-attracting Palace Restaurant and Saloon. It was once a hotel and brothel, replete with a long bar and a host of heavy gamblers ready to dedicate their fortunes to the dealing of the cards. Wyatt Earp and his brother, Virgil, spent a good deal of time at the Palace before retreating south to Tombstone. The space is reportedly haunted by its past and has the authentic bullet holes to prove it.

Like any good slice of American history, the Palace stores its treasures in glass cases so onlookers can admire postcards, coins, and slick silver guns from the Wild West. They also serve western steakhouse fare to a market of eager tourists.

I ordered a thick corn chowder to start, which came adorned with thin and smoky ribbons of fresh bacon. The soup was roux-thick and most certainly not the kind of cuisine that keeps you thin or healthy. My friends ordered a 'calamari steak,' double-wide planes of calamari deep fried and served with a pineapple salsa. I couldn't bring myself to eat calamari that was both genetically altered to resemble a steak and also clearly not even close to native.

But I could bring myself to order a rib eye, and the 12 ounce steak came with decent skin-on mashed potatoes and boring steamed zucchini. I should have taken my other option, ranch beans, slow cooked beans resembling the refried variety and fortified with fresh corn.

My steak was thinner than I expected, but still marbled and tasty. In the west, the meat is good enough to stand alone without the sauces or silly fanciness we rely on back east. That's no real surprise, given the wide swaths of land dedicated to free-grazing cattle, likely some of the happiest cows in the world.

The Palace would benefit by giving up the shtick and focusing on food alone, but that's probably an unlikely expectation. In the end, theyb serve a good (if kitschy) steak.


The Palace Restaurant and Saloon
120 South Montezuma Street
Prescott, AZ 86303

No comments: