Tag Archives: Dining

Travel Tuesday: Yuma prison is an oasis in a tourism desert

You know the saying, “Nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there”? Yuma, Arizona, has the opposite problem. It’s a nice place to live, for a few months in the winter at least, but there’s not much for tourists to see.

Two Yelp-worthy restaurants keep downtown alive, there’s a good shopping mall and I know organizers offer some farm-to-table dining events in honor of all the fresh veggies they grow in irrigated fields all around Yuma, but as far as notable tourist attractions, the Yuma Territorial Prison on the shores of the Colorado River is it.

Would I travel all the way to Yuma to take it in? Probably not. But worth seeing if you’re in the vicinity.

The Yuma Territorial Prison was built in 1875. It was closed as a prison in 1909 (though hobos in the Depression found it a welcome shelter) and renovated as an interesting, semi-interactive museum in 1940. If touring the dingy cell blocks where inmates literally sweat to death doesn’t scare you straight, I don’t know what would.

yuma mugshot faroffThe museum offers photos and storyboards of notable wardens, workers and all kinds of infamous Wild West inmates. You can even dress up as one!

Even if decide not to go inside, the grounds and surrounding area are beautiful (in the wintertime anyway). The prison is on a bluff overlooking the Colorado River, the same waterway that carved out the Grand Canyon. But by the time the Colorado makes its way to Yuma, you can practically wade across it.

IMG_6097A beautiful riverside park with walkways and bike paths lines the banks. Compared to the rest of Yuma (which is in the heart of the desert), the park is a welcome oasis of green.

If you took the prison tour, your best bet for dinner is Prison Hill Brewery, one of those notable downtown restaurants I mentioned earlier (the other is Da Boyz Italian Cuisine, which offers enormous servings of pasta and pizza). Prison Hill offers its own cleverly named beers (I enjoyed a nice light Jailbait Blonde once) and an interesting bar menu of appetizers such as fried avocado and burgers like The Shank. Both Prison Hill and Da Boyz offer shaded winter outdoor seating, which is bliss on a nice, sunny day.

A sprinkling of salt makes the mescal go down

Whiskey is out of the question. My father and my Beloved like it, but I got sick on cheap whiskey once (a few decades ago), and that ruined it for me forever. If I go to hell, the Devil will force me to drink cheap whiskey until I throw up. Again. And again. And again.

Gin tastes like gasoline (sorry, sister). Mixed drinks with rum can be yummy, but invariably, they’re sweet. Eh.

Vodka is OK with the right mixer, but if the mixer is what tastes good, then it’s not the vodka. Although I love a good Bloody Mary with a beer chaser.

It’s taken me three decades at legal drinking age to figure out I like savory mixed drinks better than sweet ones. Who says Bloody Marys are good only in the morning?

Then I read about mescal in the Chicago Tribune. Mescal (or mezcal) and tequila are both distilled from agave and when making agave, “the agave core is charred, usually in an open pit, lending a characteristic smokiness to the beverage.”

Mmm, smoky.

I learned to appreciate tequila in a tradition celebrated by my last corporate employer, a Texas-based food company that clearly valued the distinctive liquor made across the border. At the end of the annual convention show (which was an enormous undertaking requiring weeks of sacrifice), the staff backstage would do a tequila shot, complete with salt and fresh limes. Here’s to us. Yum.

So if tequila is good, mescal must be better, right?

My Beloved and I ran across a tequila bar (what a novel idea!), and I discovered the bar’s signature Mescalita, a divine mixed drink of mescal, fresh lime juice, cilantro and crushed grilled pineapple.


When I ordered a second one (yes, it was that good), I had the bartender salt the rim.


Better to shut up and eat it?

I am loathe to send food back to the kitchen when it’s wrong. I’m afraid of a spit condiment.

But we sent my Adored stepson’s burger back not once, but twice today. It wasn’t even right the third time. But we expected perfection for a $15.95 burger. We’re we expecting too much?

First time: Mushrooms and onions everywhere. Stepson ordered his burger without them.

Kitchen scraped them off and delivered burger again. One bite later, Stepson realized his burger was done well. He ordered medium rare.

We sent it back again, and 20 minutes later (!) he got a new burger, cooked perfectly. But lacking bacon. He ate it anyway.

The restaurant comped the burger and a beverage, too. The right move.

But after eating 3/4s of his sandwich, he noted the container of white sauce (presumably spiced mayo) that had come with the first two burgers was missing.

Or was it?

The best salsa on South Padre Island doesn’t have tomatoes

The creator is a native of India who’s lived in Brownsville, Texas, for 30 years, and he serves up the best fusion cooking around.

You can find him and his bawdy jokes at Padre Bar, a nondescript locale on the island’s No. 1 Beach Access — not necessarily the best beach access, but the first.

He keeps us coming back, not just for the cold beer (which one can find anywhere on South Padre Island) but for the green salsa.

I can confirm that while Zeste Gourmet Market & Cafe serves a killer red salsa ranchero, Harry’s green stuff is like nothing else. Served with fresh fried tortillas, it’s the perfect combination of fresh, hot and zowie.

cilantro salsaHarry’s salsa touts cilantro, a mysterious combination of Serrano and cayenne peppers, and peanuts. Blended until smooth. Served with a fully dressed beer.

I didn’t get the recipe though he promises to email it. Until he sends it and I can share it here, you can get some at 1500 Gulf Blvd., South Padre Island. Enjoy.

Going out for Thai? Bring a box of Kleenex

My latest obsession when dining out is shrimp green curry.

A couple of months ago, my Beloved and I encouraged (demanded) my stepson try Thai food. It required lots of cajoling and the promise that we’d leave if he couldn’t find something on the menu at a Thai restaurant in (tame) Minnesota. He took the bait, ordered pad Thai and proclaimed he liked Thai food after all.

In an attempt to prove how adventurous an eater I was, I tried something new (for me) on the Thai menu: shrimp green curry.

It was delicious (of course), and I was reminded how much I enjoy coconut milk — something I don’t use when cooking at home. Thai eggplant and basil just added to the allure.

Since then, we’ve eaten Thai more frequently. Another of my hair-brained theories referred to in yesterday’s post is that you crave what you eat — so if you’re eating Doritos all the time, you’ll crave more Doritos but if you’re eating salads regularly, you’ll get so you crave salads, too; when you’re eating Thai a lot, you crave it more. So I’ve been eating green curry everywhere from Minnesota to Florida in the past several weeks.

The hottest meal I’ve ever eaten in my life of any ethnic vein was shrimp green curry at Thara Thai in Champaign, Ill. (yes, that would be in the Midwest folks — Midwesterners don’t all eat tasteless mashed potatoes at Cracker Barrel). I ordered “mild,” and I got a dish so hot I was sweating, my eyes were watering, my nose was running and my tongue was burning — all the while, I was shoveling it in as fast as I could.

Seriously, I think “hot” would have killed me. But it might have been worth it.

With Thai food, the spice is sort of a creeper hot. It’s not hot right away, and it enhances the flavor of the dish rather than completely obliterating it. But over the course of a few bites, the heat builds, transforming from taste on the tongue to a whole body experience.

The problem with Thara Thai (and a lot of Thai joints generally) was the atmosphere. It was a bit like dining in a KFC — plastic plates, bad overhead lighting and uncomfortable booths.

Tonight, my Beloved and I found the whole package: Thai Spice in Peachtree City, Ga., served our wine in glasses, dressed their tables in white tablecloths and set the lighting to “romantic.” And the food? Divine. We loved our appetizer of spicy basil spring rolls. I deviated slightly from my standard shrimp green curry, and I tried the shrimp panang curry, which according to the menu was an exclusive red curry recipe. Instead of a thin greenish sauce, I got a thicker orangey one. I got flavor in spades.

And the heat?

Please pass the Kleenex, my eyes are watering. And I’m still sweating.

Learning is the beginning of wealth

Three things I learned today:

1.There are two locations with the address of 214 20th St. North in Birmingham, Ala. The first one the Garmin brought us to was a domicile, not a trendy lunch spot. The Brick & Tin, it turns out, is located in downtown Birmingham, and the purveyors believe “people should know where their food comes from.” We enjoyed both delicious soups of the day: Butternut squash and cauliflower. And I just love a place that serves couscous. Today’s seasonal side was a tasty couscous with roasted squash.

Rustic bouquet by Denise Bann of Green Finch Floral Design2. Brides love rustic arrangements, according to Denise Bann of Green Finch Floral Design in the Nashville area. Before leaving her fine hospitality this morning, she sent us on our way with this cute bouquet to brighten our hotel room tonight. What is “rustic” in flowers? “Tightly packed, fully arranged blooms that are lush, and arranged in a more textured, compact way,” as quoted from an Ashworth Community blog. “Hold on to those mason jars, but instead of having a few stems idly leaning against the side, they will be arranged in abundance.”

If you love this bouquet, pin it on Pinterest and talk up my friend Denise.

3. It’s the season of “yes” at Victoria’s Secret. After racing to a local mall at 8:45 p.m. tonight during the Bears game on Monday Night Football (!) only to find I’d forgotten my coupons (double !!), the Victoria’s Secret associate told me I could return tomorrow and use the coupons even though they expire today. Hey, the coupons are for free underwear! Whew.

Menu finds

Today’s flavors worth savoring:

  • Buckwheat pancakes with lots of butter at the Original Pancake House.
  • Thin crust pizza at Broadway Pizza. The “more saddle than horse” toppings included pepperoni, sausage, green olives, mushrooms and extra sauce.
  • Passed over the sweet cream ice cream in favor of limited edition? new? salted caramel at Cold Stone Creamery. Mix-ins were chocolate chips and pecans.

Not only that, the skies were clear and the sun was out today. Even though we were camping (we sleep in the camper, but we don’t necessarily cook).

Check out Ko-Zs Cupcakery & Cafe for meals and sweets that can’t be beat

Find Ko-Zs Cupcakery & Cafe at 601 Second St. S. in Waite Park, Minn.

Soup is one of my favorite indulgences in the autumn.

And chocolate. Just one of my favorite indulgences. Any time.

You can find both at Ko-Zs Cupcakery & Cafe, my friend’s new restaurant in the heart of retail-rich Waite Park, Minn.

Barb and I worked together at my most recent place of employment, and this much I know for sure: She’s a foodie with a passion for quality. She recently took over management of Ko-Zs Cafe and added a line of truly sublime cupcakes. When the economy is bleak and jobs rare, you have to root for every courageous small business owner like Barb who’s willing to take a chance.

Ko-Zs boasts of soups, sandwiches, salads and sweets. Just about every item on the menu is made to order right on premises so it’s a little like placing an order at the kitchen table and having Mom fix it for you.

Barb’s cupcakes are superlative. I had the chance of dining at a number of cupcake shops with her when she was doing market research, and she’s got some real doozies:

  • The Sweet Mariah is named for Barb’s sweet-tempered daughter (I love you, Mariah!). It’s a Madagascar vanilla cupcake filled with vanilla whipped cream, topped with pink vanilla buttercream icing, a dollop of whipped cream and confetti sprinkles.
  • Chocolate! Chocolate! is a cocoa-lover’s dream, and it deserves the exclamation points. It’s a dark chocolate cupcake filled with chocolate ganache, topped with chocolate mousse and sprinkled with chocolate sprinkles.
  • If you like a caramel with your chocolate, try the Chocolate Toffee cupcake, filled with luscious caramel and topped with chocolate ganache and toffee pieces.

The atmosphere is laid back — no one is shouting your name over the sound system — and an inviting little nook features a fireplace.

If you live in St. Cloud, by all means, stop by for lunch or dinner. They cater, too. Bookmark the website at www.ko-zs.com, become a fan on Facebook at Ko-Z’s Cupcakery & Cafe and follow Ko-Zs on Twitter at KoZsCafe.

“One restaurant is the basic fundamental business unit in this country,” Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain said during the debate last night. If you live in the St. Cloud area, stop by Ko-Z’s Cupcarkery & Cafe to support a better economy and get a yummy meal at the same time.

Sweet, tangy onion jam is worth the effort

That caramelized red onion jam Tyler had on his pork chop yesterday at Doc Ford’s Rum Barb & Grille was so good, I decided to try to recreate it today to enjoy with our steak for dinner.

While it takes a little patience, the time invested pays off. It was delicious. Again.

(Kay, I used the olive oil and balsamic vinegar you gave me for Christmas. Yum!)

Try it for yourself.

Caramelized Red Onion Jam atop filet mignon on a bed of hash browns.

Caramelized Red Onion Jam


  • 2 large red onions, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon Homemade Gourmet Pepper Pizzazz (or freshly ground pepper)
  • 1/4 teaspoon tarragon leaves
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar


  1. Melt butter and olive oil in a non-stick saute pan over medium heat. Add onions and saute over low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add honey, salt, pepper and tarragon. Stir to combine. Continue to cook over low heat for 15 minutes, stirring a bit more frequently.
  3. Add vinegar. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring periodically.
  4. Serve as an accompaniment to pork or beef. Would also be good on toast or bruschetta (like marmalade!); I’m going to try the leftovers on an egg sandwich tomorrow morning.

P.S. If you’re a Twins fan, follow me on Twitter tomorrow. I’ll be attending my first spring training game of the year and I’m intending to tweet like a fanatic!

Restaurant is the icing on the cake of baseball

Today’s lesson: When you’re in a new place,
get advice from the locals for good places to eat.

I’m here for one reason and one reason only.

Fort Myers, Fla., is the spring training home of the Minnesota Twins (not that their spring training record means anything, but they’re 2-2 so far).

I’ve been coming here for something like seven of the past 10 years. The weather is beautiful — truly heavenly compared to Minnesota at this time of year. A sprawling retail hub, Fort Myers offers great shopping, too.

The traffic in Fort Myers is awful, but with baseball and the bonuses of sunshine and outlet malls, it doesn’t much matter.

I eat to live in this town. Chain restaurants and fast food tend to dominate the main byways. And when you’re at the ballpark, you eat hot dogs and popcorn and you drink beer. It’s not exactly haute cuisine.

Until now. We took Rachel Ray’s advice to ask around for good places to eat, and our neighbor who’s been coming here for years suggested Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille.

I don’t think we could drive there if we tried. It’s tucked under the Fort Myers Beach bridge so it requires going right when you want to end up left, and if you hesitate, you’ll end up on the wrong side of the bridge. Fortunately, we took our bikes, thus avoiding traffic, misleading stop lights and having to park at the end of an enormous parking lot.

In all the years I’ve been coming here, I can’t believe I haven’t eaten at this place. Wow. The service was amazing (and friendly), they had live music, and we enjoyed dinner outside. Among options on the menu was quinoa. Quinoa! Standard run-of-the-mill restaurants do not serve quinoa anything, and Doc Ford’s was serving a shrimp-topped quinoa salad! (Don’t know quinoa? Look it up. Healthy and delish.) Also on the menu: Island Style Shrimp and Grits. Oh, what to choose?!

In accordance with my resolution to be bold, I went with the chef’s special: Tripletail on a bed of roasted cauliflower with a honey aioli sauce. I’ve never eaten tripletail, but the waiter had me at “it’s the filet mignon of fish.” With a pearly white flesh, it’s not as flaky as tilapia and not as meaty as tuna.

The texture was wonderful, and the flavor was almost creamy. So good.

My Beloved enjoyed a pork chop — yes, a pork chop at a waterfront restaurant. Served with grits and a chunky caramelized red onion jam, it was as good as the amazing inch-and-a-half pork chops he grills at home (and that’s saying something).

Bonus fact: Doc Ford is the main character in author Randy Wayne White’s mystery novel series. White was a fishing guide at Sanibel Island for a number of years before turning to writing and, apparently, backing restaurants.

I’ll be back Doc Ford’s. And I’m recommending you to anyone who asks.