Route 66 through Arizona

Route 66 through AZ Yes, I’m accumulating a collection of street signs taken by the side of empty roads. Let’s say it’s on purpose. Route 66 Everyone who road trips thinks about Route 66. The Mother Road, famous for it’s cross country sprawl from Chicago to Los Angeles and equally famous for the touristy kitchy statuary and paraphernalia that sprang up to attract tourists to stop for gas and hamburgers. Now Route 66 has been absorbed by many cross country highways – like highway 40 in Arizona – but some of the kitsch still lives. Here’s what I saw between Kingman and just past Flagstaff.

Old roadside relics just barely maintained Route 66 Twin Arrows I think these twin arrows used to be part of a gas station. Now Twin Arrows is the name of a nearby casino and these arrows are behind a concrete embankment just hanging out.

Gregg Arnold added to the roadside memorabilia with this sculpture he calls Giganticus Headicus, an Easter Island head far from home.

Kbarrett Giganticus Headicus

Hackberry General Store.

Hackberry General Store

A quasi museum/gift shop of Route 66 memorabilia along with vintage gas pumps, Burma shave signs, and old red corvette and many photo ops. Bikers like to drive up here and hang out on the picnic benches, adding their own picturesque quality to the scene.

Williams

The entire town of Williams is a tribute to Route 66 with a historic main street packed with gift shops and 50s style diners. I ate at Cruisers 66, a restaurant attached to the Grand Canyon Brewing Company.

Cruisers 66

I had a stout, cuz i’m on a stout kick at the moment, and a salad that wasn’t really picture worthy. I thought the beer was decent but nothing to write home (or here) about and the whole restaurant is the kind of place you eat when you’re determinedly doing the Route 66 thing, which I was.  If you want good food you probably want to go elsewhere in town. I hear Cafe 326 is good.

2 Guns Arizona was my sad Route 66 finale

Two Guns AZ

I think it was once a tiny thriving settlement of a gas station, a store and an inn called Kamp (only slightly kreepy) but now it’s a bonafide ghost town

Two Guns AZ

Full of graffiti and just enough of a weird vibe to keep me checking over my shoulder as I took pictures while the car was still running. I hope that Route 66 kept this little place alive for awhile but it’s definitely wreckage now. And probably won’t even be that for much longer as the desert and the sun take their toll.

I don’t know, ya’ll. I love the romantic idea of Route 66, all those bright shiny cheeked parents and kids seeing the USA in their Chevrolets. And I love the genuine old relics like Twin Arrows and the new ones in the same spirit like Giganticus Headicus. But the museums and the 50s diners and the endless gift shops? Those can go anytime.

I say bring back the spirit of Route 66 by bringing back the American Road Trip. Create new kitschy roadside stuff to give drivers an excuse to stop and take pictures. Let’s all get in our cars and see the USA in our Nissans and Hyundais.

It’s pretty cool out there.

Route 66 Betty Boop

Americana along Route 66 and eating at Samar with Stephan Pyles

The end of my day and the beginning of my day belong in different universes. I started my day here:

I’m a fan of the Waffle House and the one I visited in Joplin MO was a particularly good one. Nice and clean, fast service, good food, in and out the door in about 30 minutes, which put me on the road late morning, headed out on the classic American road trip road:

Route 66 is hundreds of miles long and winds through several states and I’ll see parts of it here and there as I head further west. All along this road are pieces of Americana left over from the decades between 1950-1980 when families (including mine) took long road trips. Some of these pieces remain, like this classic:

Hugh Davis built the Blue Whale of Catoosa as an anniversary gift to his wife in the 1970s and surrounded it with a picnic area, a pond and a zoo in an Ark. The Ark has since fallen apart and in the 80’s the whale also fell into disrepair but then some Whale Boosters (I love those two words together) raised money and rebuilt it and gave it a fresh coat of paint.

Now the whale has a curator (with business cards) who remains devoted to keeping this little roadside attraction in good shape.

A little further down the road is another Route 66 attraction:

Recently rebuilt after a fire destroyed everything except the 4 rock walls and the giant iron stove in the kitchen. The owner, Dawn Welch, was the model for the car “Sally” in Cars and the café serves down home food. I stopped and had some great peach cobbler, but knowing what the evening had in store for me I’d have had a cup of coffee and taken a picture and kept on driving.
I did a lot of driving today and didn’t see much beyond those two attractions. I’d have liked to stay on Route 66 but I had to go south to Dallas where friends and dinner reservations were waiting. It wasn’t a frantic day of driving but I didn’t get any yoga in either, so I was happy to get out of the car at 6pm when I finally pulled into town. I got a brief chance to talk to my high school friend Cynthia, her kids and her parents before she and I changed and headed downtown to go to Samar.

Samar is a Stephan Pyles restaurant, named one of Esquire’s 20 best new restaurants of 2010. Stephan Pyles is a James Beard award winner, he’s had his own TV show and he’s the only celebrity chef with whom I have any connection because he happens to be good friends with my friends Scott and Cynthia. Don’t you love it when that happens? I met Stephan the last time I was in Dallas but didn’t get to eat at his restaurants so I wanted to make sure I did this time.
It was Tuesday night so we didn’t have trouble getting a table on the patio. We expected that maybe Scott would join us so we told the waiter to set the table for 3 and she took the 4th place setting away. She then brought us drinks and we ordered the first couple plates. Samar’s food merges influences from India, Spain and the Eastern Mediterranean. Plates are meant to be shared and that means we’d get to taste a lot of different things. We figured we’d order 4 or 5 plates and share them all. The first plate came out:

House made naan with hummus, moutabal (smoked eggplant, like babaganoush) and labne (thick creamy yogurt).

And the waiter brought a 4th plate and said “Scott and Stephan should be here in about 10 minutes.” Oh good, Scott’s going to make it. Wait a minute, Stephan? Stephan Pyle’s coming to eat with us at his own restaurant? We get to eat with the chef? Whoa.

AWESOME.

And then the Executive Chef – Jonathan – came out to introduce himself and say that Stephan had called ahead and asked him to prepare the chef’s tasting menu for us and did that sound ok? He would just have the waiter take the menus because we wouldn’t need them and since Stephan was running late, he said to just start bringing food out. If there was anything we needed, just ask. It was a pleasure to cook for us. Thanks for coming in.

Let’s be very clear that from this point forward I cannot be objective because I’m sitting on the breezy cool patio of a gorgeous restaurant created and designed by a famous award winning chef who will now be ordering for me and eating with me. It simply doesn’t get better than that.

But perhaps a tasting of pictures? How about my favorite subject to start, “patatas y chorizo con huevo organico,” potatoes and chorizo with a fried egg:

Or this called “Tres Vasos” filled with such esoteric things as lemon air, vanilla scented potatoes and foie gras mousse:

Possibly this? “manti maa lehme,” “Lahmacun” and “battah tangine maa couscous” – or lamb “pizza,” Turkish pasta in a yogurt garlic sauce so good you want to drool on yourself and duck confit over couscous:

And that’s just a sampling! We ate things off the menu, we ate things I can’t remember, we ate things I didn’t take pictures of because I was eating. We ate for hours.

And Stephan actually took time from his busy life and the planning he’s doing for an event this weekend called the Buffalo Gap Food and Wine Summit and he ate with us. He told us where he got some inspiration for the dishes and recounted stories of hunting for restaurant furnishings in the Damascus markets and fighting with his designer to get them all incorporated. He was charming and lovely and interested in the food and when we finished everything he said “dessert?” then looked around the table and said to the waiter “bring us one of everything.”
Here’s are some of my favorites:

I started with the candied ginger stuffed semolina croquettes (at the bottom right) and put my hands in the air in what Scott called a “Pentecostal moment” because I just couldn’t contain myself over the subtle aromatic flavors. My final bite was the dark dense rich delicious Turkish coffee pot de crème (bottom left) and that small pot seemed to last forever because the flavors were so intense and powerful. Stephan had a bite of everything, seemed to make notes of things he might change and then had to run back to his obligations. But we three stayed while the moon came up over the patio. They lit the firepit and we talked about art, photography, travel and pending screenplays over fragrant licorice tea and a hookah pipe with rose flavored smoke.

Perfectly perfect perfection. Thank you to Jonathan for incredible food. Thank you to Stephan for his unparalleled generosity. Thank you to Lisa for her waitstaff skills arranging the table and smiley patience while I took pictures during her descriptions of all the food. And to Scott and Cynthia for companionship, conversation, smoke blowing, story telling and years and years of shared history.

I’m too stuffed to move and have yoga tomorrow. Pray for me.
See you tomorrow.