Five Reasons to dine at Babe’s Brewhouse in Rancho Mirage

Babe's Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse beer sampler

After a short but steep morning hike in the desert mountains of Rancho Mirage, Calif., (see previous post), we opted for lunch at Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse. Hot, tired, thirsty and hungry, we may have found any restaurant option more than adequate, but we were authentically impressed with this casual barbecue eatery at The River shopping center. So here are five reasons we’ll be returning to Babe’s:

1. Barbecue. We loved the large variety menu selections of barbecue sandwiches, combination plates and platters. Our lunch sandwich temptations included choices of chicken, pork, sausage, brisket or tri-tip with two side selections of French fries, sweet potato fries, cole slaw, baked beans or turkey chili. As a no-risk diner, I stayed on the conservative side and ordered a simple sandwich lunch but other menu selections that raised my interest were: the tri-tip or shrimp po’ boy, or the smoked black angus short rib sandwich with hot link sausage, brisket, grilled onions, pickles with Babe’s spicy sauce. My pulled pork sandwich plate comprised two sandwiches. The meat was tender and juicy and dabbled with Babe’s own barbecue sauce. It wasn’t smothered with sauce, as others have attempted, as if to mask a tough meat cut or to soften up a dried, overcooked brisket. Only negative about this sandwich: it was served on a white refined flour bun. Babe’s barbecue sauce compensated for the bun drawback — it’s just the right balance of smoke, spice and sweet to pair with pork, or any barbecue meat.

2. Service. Our service was right on the mark. Sometimes servers get a little too anxious to try to move customers — ours was not. Some servers lose track of tables and neglect customers — ours did not. Some servers are a little too aggressive, trying to pump up sales for the larger tip — ours did not. He was knowledgeable about the menu products, brews and local area.

Three pigs welcome diners to Babe's Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse

3. Vibe. I’m not sure about using the ‘vibe’ category, but I suspect this includes a description of décor and clientele. One word to describe the casual interior at Babe’s Brew House: whimsical. Okay, maybe the word should be kitschy. Porcine objects are everywhere: pig lamps, pig windows, pig statues, pig pictures. Seating is comfortable, ranging from cozy booths to spacious tables to accommodate groups. We stopped by on a Sunday around noon, so we witnessed an influx of The River center shoppers, seniors, large families and the after-church crowd.

4. Price. All menu items are fairly reasonably priced – especially when you compare prices to other restaurants in the area. Our two sandwiches with beer samples came to less than $50 with tax and tip. (The beer samples were at least half of the bill.) Meal portions are large so two persons could easily split an entrée or sandwich plate.

5. Brews. We sampled six of Babe’s beers: Hog Tie Rye, Babe’s Classic Golden Ale, Honey Blonde Ale, a wheat beer called Das Schwein Dunkel Weizen, 29 Palms Pale Ale and Blackfin Lager. I thought three of the samples were very good: the honey blonde, the dark lager and the 29 Palms. The latter was my favorite — it had just the right balance of malt and hops, an easy drinking pale ale.

Added notes: Babe’s original owner was Donald Callender, known for founding the Marie Callender’s restaurant chain (Marie’s son). He died in 2009, but current chef/brewer/manager Arthur Vasquez continues his legacy.

According to Palm Springs Life’s Desert Guide, Babe’s is the valley’s only onsite brewery.

Babe’s has won awards for Palm Springs Life magazine’s Best of the Best for Best Barbecue Restaurant, Best Happy Hour and Best Cocktails. This  pub’s not only known for its beers, but its signature cocktails.

Pulled pork sandwich platter at Babe's could feed two

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Salsa Trail ends at Safford’s Salsa Fest

Delicious lunch at Salsa Trail's La Casita in Thatcher, Ariz.

It’s that time again in Arizona – fall festival time! And if you love Mexican food, especially all kinds of salsa, then chances are you’ll want to head to Safford for the Arizona Salsa Festival Sept 28-29.

Salsa is famous throughout the Southwest, and in Safford (located 165 southeast of Phoenix), there’s a literal melting pot of salsas of all types and flavors. As there are many different types of chile peppers; so is there a wide variety of salsas. And these varieties are likely to end up in the judging sample bowls for the Salsa Fest.

Safford is one of the primary Arizona cities along what’s known as Arizona Salsa Trail. The ‘trail’ stretches between Thatcher and Clifton including smaller communities such as Duncan, York, Solomon and Pima.  Several independent, family-owned Mexican restaurants, cafes, markets, plus a chile company and a tortilla factory participate in this culinary tourism route, dating back to 2005.

AzGetawayTravel picked up part of the Salsa Trail this past weekend, as we ventured to southeast Arizona. We stopped for a Saturday lunch at La Casita in Thatcher. Naturally — and very typically — we guzzled up the hot sauce with the chips before our entrees arrived. I ordered the taco-enchilada-burrito combo and Chuck requested the taco salad with beef. His looked wonderful: crisp, freshly cut vegetables, ample amounts of roast beef chunks in a bed of warm tortilla chips. I was glad I had no rice or beans to accompany my combo, since it was obvious I would already need a “to-go” box. My meal was so tempting I almost forgot to take a photo before I dug in. Oops — that’s why the above photo shows the burrito already dissected. I couldn’t wait to take a taste of that green chile beef filling. After eating my cheese enchilada, I decided to ‘take out’ the taco.

Salsa Fest in Safford is Sept. 28-29Tip: If you intend to try one of more of these Salsa Trail restaurants on a weekend getaway, you’ll need to plan ahead and check their business hours. Many of these are closed Sundays.

Festivities for the Salsa Fest kick off on Friday evening Sept. 28 with colorful hot air balloons on Main Street in historic downtown Safford. Saturday’s events include Chihuahua dog races and costume contest, live music, custom car show, kid’s activities, jalapeno pepper eating contest and of course, the salsa making contest, salsa recipe judging and salsa sampling.

Readers, I just have to ask: What’s your favorite kind of hot sauce or salsa? Do you like the smooth, blended red — or salsa verde? Or maybe a chunky style? Or are you a fan of pico de gallo? What’s your hot index?

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Fine Italian dining at Mare Blu in Rocky Point

dining room

Stop! Drop the lame excuse to try new restaurants! Now step away from your comfort zone! When choosing seafood restaurants during your next visit to Puerto Penasco, try something different! Mare Blu Ristorante has been on Sandy Beach for two years, so it’s certainly not new to Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point), but its difference is remarkable.

I usually don’t like to write reviews based on only one visit, so feel free to call this blog, “a first taste review.” During our Rocky Point vacations, we try to eat out for at least one nice seafood dinner. Unfortunately over the years, we have been stuck in a “restaurant rut” – going to the same two or three restaurants in the Old Port section of town.

On this recent trip, we just happened to stop by Mare Blu before attending Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers’ annual “Circus Mexicus” concert, held this year, just steps away, near Wrecked at the Reef. Sometimes spontaneous dinner outings– those new restaurant adventures — don’t turn out very well. Thankfully, this time, our ‘first taste’ of Mare Blu was delightful!

Upon arriving, I was immediately impressed by the well-maintained condition of the building and interior dining room, piano lounge and bar. Unlike the casual pool room, bikini and flip-flop ‘ambience’ at the Reef, the Mare Blu has finesse, polished charm — almost an aura of elegance. Our hostess seated us on the front outside patio, so we could watch the peak tide of Mare di Cortez as well as a growing number of concertgoers were lining up early.

piano

Grand piano in the Mare Blu cocktail lounge.

As I’m reading the menu my first thought is: What an ambitious goal, to capture the epitome of a fine, elegant Italian restaurant in Rocky Point… on Sandy Beach… next to the ‘Reef.’ (Now please don’t get me wrong. — I’ve nothing against Wrecked on the Reef. It has its own merits, but those will have to wait for another blog post.) The Mare Blu menu offers a solid, wide range of appetizers, soups, salads and entrees. The oenophiles in our group were pleased about the wine selection.

bar selections

Wine and liquor on display in Mare Blu Ristorante lounge.

We started with two appetizers, calamari and clams. The fried calamari was some of the best I’ve tasted in a long time: tender, succulent and lightly breaded! The clams were freshly steamed in a tasty bath of garlic and white wine. My husband and I shared one entrée: shrimp and angel hair pasta in pesto. The pasta was cooked perfectly — neither overcooked nor molto al dente. And my shrimp could have been absolutely perfect if only it had spent a minute or two less on the grill. But the combination of taste, presentation and quantity more than made up for the slightly overcooked shrimp. The two other couples in our group ordered unique menu selections so we all sampled a variety of menu items. Everyone was extremely satisfied.

patio

Sit outdoors on Mare Blu patio and you’ll be enjoying beach-side dining

At this well-organized, well-staffed and well-executed restaurant, we were happy to pay a bit more for high quality food, excellent service plus beachside dining. Plan to spend about $25 to $30 per person for the entire experience. Mare Blu Ristorante is worth it!

Readers: If you’ve been to Rocky Point recently, what are your favorite dining spots? I would love to know your recommendations!

Jerome eatery a must: 15.quince grill & cantina

quince sign

15.quince grill & cantina: highly recommended for dining in Jerome, Arizona

 

Up until a few years ago, when we’d visit an Arizona town, we’d always wonder how to find the best lunch spot. We would check all the rating-review websites and chamber of commerce listings. We soon realized, to find a really great lunch spot, you need to become a ‘stalker.’ When the local residents leave work for lunch hour, just follow them. Or, better yet, I guess you can always ask around. We asked our pourer at one of Jerome’s wine tasting rooms for his recommendation. He didn’t even need to think about it. “Quince,” he said.

Quince (or actually 15.quince grill & cantina) was without a doubt right on the mark. We had to wait for a few minutes, as 15.quince is a cozy little storefront and seating comes at a premium on one of Jerome’s sunny March Saturdays. While we waited we were captivated by a taste of the Jerome Art Walk, which occurs each first Saturday of the month. Although the art walk actually is later in the evening, a few artisans and a musician had already set up in the vacant lot next door.

sale

Artisans and musicans set up on a Saturday afternoon

 

 

In just a few minutes we were seated and I couldn’t help but notice the large number of painted cow skulls and carved wooden crosses on the wall. What a nice collection! Colorful examples of Mexican folk art are everywhere. The clientele is part local and part tourist, however, if you know Jerome, sometimes it’s hard to tell the two apart. Think: cowboy hats, Hawaiian shirts and Harley-Davidson leathers. The atmosphere is very animated; we liked that. People smiling and laughing in a restaurant is always a positive sign. Our server was excellent: attentive, personable and efficient.

 

wall art

Colorful cow skulls and cross adorn the walls at 15.quince grill

 

We immediately were brought our icy cold Negra Modelo beers. And it wasn’t long before our entrée was served: a very hefty looking burro with shredded beef, black beans, green rice. We ordered it “half-and-half:” one side red sauce and the other side green. Both colors were swimming along side the chipotle cream and melted cheeses. Excellent!

 

burro

Lunch is served: "Orale Vato Loco" Smothered Burro

 

The entire menu looks very appealing; enough to even make the most finicky diner drool. We also heard the margaritas are over-the-top, but those will have to wait for our next Jerome getaway. We did, however, opt for a slice of decadent cherry cheesecake. After a lunch like that, we felt a siesta was in order but we decided to instead walk off the experience by window-shopping through the streets of Jerome. If you have relatives and friends visiting this month, you will want to bring them here.

Seven reasons to visit Guaymas/San Carlos, Sonora

San Carlos is one of our favorite Mexican getaways. The resort area is about a seven-hours’ drive south from Phoenix and half an hour from Guaymas, Sonora. It’s an easy drive though Tucson, Nogales and Hermosillo. Spring is a perfect time to visit. We love San Carlos for the same reasons most tourists enjoy Mexico: beaches, fishing, boating, diving, snorkeling, kayaking, hiking, shopping, dining, nightlife, sight-seeing… the list seems endless. Here are just a few things we love best about the destination:

1. Crystal clean pools at our resort, the Sea of Cortez Beach Club

2. San Pedro Island’s sea lions

3. Walks along the beach: Playa Los Algodones

4. Sensational sunsets over San Luis, Doble and Venado Islands

5. Tours to Guaymas to see the city hall, municipal plaza and this church: Iglesia San Fernando

6. Snorkeling at San Pedro Island

7. Tetakawi Mountain and Lalo Cove

San Carlos has a wide variety of dining and lodging accommodations. Here are a few websites we recommend for additional travel information:

What’s Up San Carlos

San Carlos, Mexico

Go2SanCarlos

Desert Divers