About Renee Blodgett

Renee Blodgett

Renee Blodgett is the founder of We Blog the World. The site combines the magic of an online culture and travel magazine with a global blog network and has contributors from every continent in the world. Having lived in 10 countries and explored nearly 80, she is an avid traveler, and a lover, observer and participant in cultural diversity.

She is also the CEO and founder of Magic Sauce Media, a new media services consultancy focused on viral marketing, social media, branding, events and PR. For over 20 years, she has helped companies from 12 countries get traction in the market. Known for her global and organic approach to product and corporate launches, Renee practices what she pitches and as an active user of social media, she helps clients navigate digital waters from around the world. Renee has been blogging for over 16 years and regularly writes on her personal blog Down the Avenue, Huffington Post, BlogHer, We Blog the World and other sites. She was ranked #12 Social Media Influencer by Forbes Magazine and is listed as a new media influencer and game changer on various sites and books on the new media revolution. In 2013, she was listed as the 6th most influential woman in social media by Forbes Magazine on a Top 20 List.

Her passion for art, storytelling and photography led to the launch of Magic Sauce Photography, which is a visual extension of her writing, the result of which has led to producing six photo books: Galapagos Islands, London, South Africa, Rome, Urbanization and Ecuador.

Renee is also the co-founder of Traveling Geeks, an initiative that brings entrepreneurs, thought leaders, bloggers, creators, curators and influencers to other countries to share and learn from peers, governments, corporations, and the general public in order to educate, share, evaluate, and promote innovative technologies.


Latest Posts by Renee Blodgett

Taking a Tour of the Bronx Just May Surprise You…

May 16, 2015 by  

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I first learned about Bronx Tours on social media, when the founder and the brains behind the operation Alexandra Maruri commented on one of my earlier Bronx posts. Given her in-depth knowledge of the Bronx, she asserted that perhaps I could be exposed to a few diamonds in the rough. She was absolutely right and that was before I had the pleasure of visiting the Bronx Zoo and the Botanical Gardens for the first time.

Intrigued, we started a dialogue which led to us following each other’s worlds on Instagram and Twitter. It then led to conversations about foodie tours, cultural excursions and restaurants, which is when I learned about the her tours of the Bronx, which range from cultural, artistic and educational to nature, historical and food. It was Alex who recommended many of the restaurants we reviewed here on We Blog the World. Crikey, I even wrote about Fourth of July fireworks in the Bronx last July.

We had quite an eye opening time as we sampled delicious food across a number of neighborhoods over the course of six months — from the bowels of the South Bronx (we love you Charlies) and Riverdale to City Island and Arthur Avenue. The authentic Italian food on Arthur Avenue is so worth exploring. After so many successful Bronx restaurant experiences, we even ventured out and did a round up of where to find great brunch in Harlem.

What we learned in this process was how important it is to dig under the hood, to explore untamed territories — how different is that to a sentiment I subscribe to in that the gems are usually found on the road less taken? Most avid travelers will agree.

Alex is your go to gal for exploring the Bronx. She apparently came up with the idea for the Bronx Tours from working in a hotel. I particularly love her art and culture tours as there’s a wealth to learn and see from the raw talent found in the Bronx.

Now that she has been running the business for awhile, she has faced some “image” issues which isn’t surprising given how little is known about the Bronx. Remember that most travelers hang their hat in Manhattan when they hit the Big Apple, preferring to dine in Chelsea, the West Village or the upper West Side.

After all, much of the City’s theatrical performances and Broadway shows are in mid-town, but that’s also what makes it so expensive and the food often so mediocre. This interesting article in Tracy’s New York Life walks you through some of the challenges Alex has faced by representing a less known New York borough, whereas this piece in Bronx Ink on graffiti and street art will give you a taste of some of the cultural diversity you can find in the Bronx.

Her tours provide access to the following attractions and places: Wave Hill, Yankee Stadium, Bartow-Pell Mansion, New York Botanical Garden, Wildlife Conservation Society The Bronx Zoo, Lehman College Art Gallery, Hall of Fame for Great Americans, City Island Nautical Museum, Andrew Freedman Complex, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, Edgar Allan Poe Cottage, Bronx County Historical Society, Home Bronx Council on the Arts, Bronx Documentary Center, Woodlawn Cemetery, Van Cortlandt House Museum, Former Adath Israel Temple, Wallworks NYC, Elisa Contemporary Art, Derfner Judaica Museum, Bronx Music Heritage Center and more.

Some of the specific tours include the following highlights, most of which are walking tours: (not an exhaustive list)

  • Bronx Street Art Walking Tour
  • El Barrio/East Harlem Cultural & Historic Walking Tour
  • Salsa Row Historic Walking Tour
  • Bronx Historical Walking Tour to Arthur Avenue  
  • Fort Apache The Bronx Walking Tour 
  • Bronx Sightseeing Tour to Arthur Avenue 
  • Arthur Avenue Little Italy, History & Pizza Group Bus Tour  
Crikey, you can even get a taste of Ireland in the middle of the Bronx. Alex also offers private tours as well.
More information can be found at www.bronxhistoricaltours.com and go ahead and follow Alex on Twitter and Instagram @bronxtours.

 

Che Ah Chi in the Heart of Sedona’s Boynton Canyon, for Fine Dining Amidst Red Rock

May 14, 2015 by  

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Set among the all luxe five star Enchantment Resort on 70 acres in Sedona Arizona’s Boynton Canyon, it’s signature restaurant Che Ah Chi extends your five star experience with world class dining in an elegant but extraordinary serene setting. Imagine tasting exquisite dishes amidst a natural arena of vermillion-colored rock formations while sipping on a delicious glass of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Named for what the Apaches called Boynton Canyon, Che Ah Chi Restaurant brings out dishes that live up to the views.  The restaurant serves contemporary American cuisine with a hint of Southwest influence and a focus on Arizona-sourced ingredients. In addition to its oh so natural and sustainable menu, their wine list from The Wine Bar earned Wine Spectator’s “Best of Award of Excellence.”

The oh so chic and stylish bar offers a terrace and a twice-weekly Chef’s Table featuring four-courses paired with wine and commentary from the chef and sommelier. Under the glow of amber and earth-colored blown-glass custom light fixtures, guests congregate around a 20’-long communal gathering table of solid iron laid with a thick sandstone top.

The foodie alert doesn’t stop there. It’s top notch menu is what lingered on my mind for days after we left the resort. The chef thought we should start with their combo Chef’s Board platter, and so we did! It includes housemade preserves, pickles, charcuterie and prosciutto. Look at how fresh the ingredients are, from the cured meat to the arugula on the wooden platter.

I was eager for something light given our trend of dining at 4 and 5 star restaurants since we left the East Coast many weeks before. This Hamachi Crudo did the trick – the incredibly fresh combination of charred avocado, grapefruit and white truffle broth had me at hello.

Note while the below Beeler’s Pork Belly dish is not known to be a light dish, executive chef David Schmidt and chef de cuisine Sam Williams seem to take great pride in keeping things healthy and light, even their preparation of some of the heavier meat dishes. The Pork Belly, which is Gluten Free btw, is served with arugula and red pear in a whole grain mustard vinaigrette.

Their baby beets salad with gorgonzola and candied pecans was outa this world, especially with the Charred Lemon Yogurt topping. Other appetizer options include a delicious Buffalo Carpaccio with Balsamic Chia, Confit Shallots and brown butter croutons (so much Buffalo out west) and the Lobster Bisque with beech mushrooms and a cognac whip, which has apparently been on the menu since Day 1. YUM!!

Note that all their mains are gluten free (way to go David and Sam)! Their ”skin-on” Jidori Chicken is first pan-seared and then finished in the oven and baked with Prosciutto and sage and served with grilled corn grits and grilled asparagus. To die for!

For fish lovers, they offered a healthy Cobia dish, simply grilled with organic spinch, charred lemon, agave lacquer and a clam emulsion, Scallops with brussels sprouts, parsnip pudding and raisins, a pan-seared Steelhead Salmon with creamed leeks, sunflower sprouts and tempura dipped cauliflower, and a Branzino pan-seared sea bass, served with a warm zucchini salad, radishes, chimichurri, cilantro, parsley and red chili.

Meat lovers, your palates will be in heaven over the Harris Ranch Filet Mignon with foraged mushrooms in a garlic puree, the Wagyu Bavette Flank Steak with a horseradish creme fraiche and the Lamb Sirloin with cucumber, mint, tomatoes, red onions, feta, olives and Greek yogurt. I noticed a bit of Greek influence throughout the menu although their big focus is really on seasonal cuisine and the B.O.W.A. concept. They tend to tap into local organic growers, artisan cheese makers, sustainable fish mongers and ranchers to keep their menu as authentic and close-to-the-earth as possible.

Our host decided we had to try their housemade spaghetti. Who am I to turn down homemade pasta, especially with a bolognese sauce and fresh Pecorino? It was incredibly delicious, especially with its fresh from the garden basil on the top.

We had a few different wine pairings throughout the evening, but my favorite was the Z Wine, which is 80% Zinfandel, 10% Cab and 10% Montepulciano. Wine production is apparently growing in Arizona (we later learned how and where during our follow on visit to Prescott and Jerome), and most of the blends are Rhone blends.

Sides were also all gluten free and ranged from basic seasonal vegetables to mushrooms, Acorn Squash, asparagus and spinach. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Anthony’s favorite part of the evening — desserts. From chocolate bread and butter pudding, sorbets and cheese boards, to Gianduja Creme Brulee with a cherry hazelnut biscotti and their Coconut Rum Tres Leches with fruit salsa, toasted meringue and passion fruit, you won’t leave disappointed.

My top choice was definitely the Lavendar Panna Cotta, served with a strawberry-champagne gelee (OMG!). And, look at their presentation of it!!

Almost as divine and certainly more decadent was this over-the-top exquisite Canyon Crunch Chocolate Torte. This chocolate cake and mike chocolate mousse combo with vanilla gelato is bound to make your future chocolate cake splurges a little inferior.

The restaurant by day; the dining room features a split-level dining layout with expansive windows that showcase scenic views from an elevated setting.

Two thumbs up! We would definitely return to the restaurant and the resort – be sure to check out our review of Enchantment Resort, where we also stayed during our January stay in Sedona. We love love love this heavenly spiritual getaway!

Details:

Che Ah Chi (at the Enchantment Resort)

525 Boynton Canyon Road

Sedona, AZ 86336
(844) 204-6000

 

Note: I was hosted by the resort, but all opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Sedona’s Dahl & DiLuca, Where Romance & Old World Meet Italian Cuisine at its Best

May 13, 2015 by  

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Now close to twenty years ago, I discovered Sedona Arizona for the first time sometime in my twenties and an Italian restaurant named Dahl & DiLuca was relatively new on the scene at the time, receiving applause and accolades, including a AAA vote for being one of the most 5 romantic restaurants in the country. Back then, I wasn’t yet a foodie and was far too young to have known what defines a romantic experience because everything is hopelessly romantic in your twenties, at least it was for me.

I knew there was something special about this restaurant gem, something you couldn’t put your finger on, something that illuminated not just great Italian cuisine, but much much more. It was a dreamy experience and above our price range at the time given that my dining budget in my twenties was far from ideal. Being a rookie in the agency world was an honor back then, so it was rare to get a handsome salary for working those 20 hour days. And so, my first visit was a splurge so many years ago on what I recall as a perfect full moon night!

I returned 3 or so times over the years, in my thirties and later in my early forties and each time was as memorable as the first, although I saw the restaurant evolve. One of those trips was a luxury meets rustic drive through the Utah and Arizona canyons, and I remember how romantic the ambiance was even though I wasn’t on a romantic journey at the time — the bar scene was bustling but quietly so, the ambiance dreamily surreal with a piano player calming our spirits in the background and the wine pouring in the foreground of what felt like a rustic old world villa-themed grotto meets elegant bistro.

As I watched the scene with a wry smile on my face, happy to be sipping my Cab at the bar while waiting for our table, Roman-born Andrea, the charming owner at the time with his oh so Italian flamboyant but tasteful style, starting chatting with us and our two “new” pals we had met moments before. It wasn’t long before Andrea started pouring me wine after I described my preference for old world and out came a Zin and a Brunello, the latter I oddly hadn’t been exposed to yet. Endearing, generous and memorable is what comes to the forefront of my mind.

I also met ever so gracious Lisa Dahl on that very same night, his partner in culinary crime, who was behind much of the cooking, and remains so today. She now runs the restaurant with her “front of the restaurant” team who includes Tyler Backus, Michael Siedel and Jim Franckowiak (aka Ambassador of Romantic Affairs).

My nostalgia and positive memories of the place were so high given that each experience surpassed the previous one, that I was a little reluctant to return on my recent trip in January, especially given how many fine dining experiences I had under my belt between my last visit and today. I didn’t want to ruin the memory of this romantic gem that had always been an integral part of my Sedona experience each and every time I returned.

But, as it would so happen, I found myself browsing through the Dahl & DiLuca site one late evening as I was planning our culinary and other travel reviews while in Sedona, part of a cross country journey that would take us through a dozen states. I saw Lisa’s face glaring back at me and remembered her from so many years ago and decided I had no choice but to return to one of my favorite foodie haunts in America’s west. And so, we did, lining up a reservation after a few email exchanges to taste the latest and greatest, letting Lisa, chef au extraordinarie do the choosing. What a treat, I thought, to have her decide my culinary fate on an evening.

Bruschetta is always good at an Italian restaurant, but imagine a variation with prawns and scallops topped with chives in a scampi sauce (pictured below). It was a heavenly way to start off our evening. We didn’t just have Lisa’s recommendations but also the voice of Scott Yates, one of our other gracious hosts, Brian, our knowledgeable waiter who is an excellent storyteller and David Dimler, who among wearing other hats, is also Dahl & DiLuca’s wine steward. It was David who set us straight with some fabulous wine pairings throughout the evening.

We started with a 2013 Vermentino, Temuta Argentiera ‘Poggio Ai Ginepri’ from Bolgheri, which is in the Italian province of Livorno on the foothills of the Colline Metallifere.

This Mozzarella-filled ambrosial radicchio completely number surprised us. It was wrapped in prosciutto and filled with mozzarella, tomatoes, jam and a balsamic reduction sauce — first grilled and then baked. Yum!

I can’t seem to be completely fulfilled with a meal unless there’s a salad on the table somewhere along the way. Give me my lettuce — simple is often the best, especially when you are tasting numerous dishes.

They have a couple of Caesar options on the menu — what’s most worth mentioning is the signature creamy lemon garlic dressing. Apparently they source their olive oil locally from Wilcox Arizona, so obvious advocates of using local farmers and purveyors as much as seasonably possible.

Onto their Della Casa Exotica, which is what I had on that oh so food orgasmic evening. It is lightly tossed in a balsamic shallot Dijon vinaigrette with parmesan, gorgonzola and Amaretto glazed pecans. So so delish!!!

I hadn’t yet moved onto the 2010 Chianti Rufina Riserva, Frescobaldi ‘Nipozzano‘ from Tuscany, but when I did, I was in oh such Italian wine joy – thanks David. Even though I had vowed to stay away from cream and cheese as much as physically possible on our trip, it’s an impossible goal when you’re A) a foodie, B) doing restaurant reviews and C) love cheese, especially laced throughout Italian dishes in just the appropriate amount.

The Ravioli Romana is made with Quattro formagio cheese in a crimini and button mushroom truffle cream sauce and topped with chives.

A lighter soup is Lisa’s carmelized onion and sherry concoction, served with a parmesan and garlic reduction. The size was perfect, understanding what came before and what we were still planning to taste.

There are many chicken and veal dishes on the menu, served in a variety of classic Italian styles — parmigiana, scaloppini, valdostana, rosmarino, piccata and my favorite dish, so suited for the ambiance and their raison d’etre — the Romeo & Juliet, which is sauteed scaloppini of veal and eggplant finished al forno with their signature marinara and mozzarella served with capellini pomodoro.

I was falling in love with my 2010 Super Tuscan Tenuta Argentiera ‘Pogio Ai Ginepri’ from Bolgheri which I requested a tad early and yup, as I expected, it was my favorite of the wine that David paired with our savory dishes. As my palate was in savory heaven, the Vitello Piccata came marching out of the kitchen, which came recommended from both Brian and Lisa. It is a sauteed scaloppini of veal cooked in a delicate lemon-caper and chardonnay sauce.

Classic pasta dishes are also in abundance if you wish to skip the meat altogether. For example, non-meat eaters can get lost in the Gnocchi alla Vodka, a potato gnocchi served with vodka sauce, the Garganelli Paradiso, a spicy mushroom sauce with chevre or the Fettucine Primavera which is topped with a medley of seasonable vegetables topped with a pesto cream sauce and pine nuts.

I for one wished we had more time in Sedona so we could return and focus on pasta dishes alone. Anthony was dying to try the Lasagne and the Tortellini della Nonna with prosciutto and green peas (we both grew up with that dish) and I am a sucker for Angel Hair pasta and here, they prepare it simply, my favorite — tomato and garlic solo! Perfect, just like I order it in Italy.

There’s seafood for fish lovers (Scottish salmon – yum, yum, yum) and classic grill options, like the Australian rack of lamb chops with lemon and herbs, the White Mable Farms pork chop with asparagus and the Black Angus filet with portobello mushroom, white truffle and gorgonzola sauce. If only we had room!!

Somehow we managed to save room for dessert, or at least my southern Italian partner in dining crime did – how can you pass up Panna Cotta, a Hazelnut Gelato drowned in Espresso served with Biscotti, a Lemon soaked Chiffon Sponge cake layered with candied fruit and sweet ricotta or Cream Brulee? Or, how about a flourless chocolate cake with vanilla bean gelato and blackberry merlot sauce paired with a lovely Zinfandel or a classic Tiramisu paired with a 10 year Tawny port? Is your mouth watering yet?

They whipped up a combo for us, which included a Cannoli of course and we had a delicious dessert wine to pair with it, thanks to David, who poured the Moscato d’Alessandria – Donafugata ‘Ben Rye’ from Sicily.

Lisa, together with head chefs Ray Leza and Ruben Pedroza were responsible for smile after smile all night long as we tasted old Italian cuisine in a romantic atmosphere with the piano playing in the background, just as I had remembered.

The decor has since changed however since my last visit. While keeping with classic romance and Italian villa style, the motif is now more modern and the layout a bit more elegant, with the piano in a different location – ahhh yes, the things we remember, the things we notice!! The bar was still funky and full of countless colorful bottles of spirits, liqueurs, brandies, cognacs, ports, sherries and dessert wines, all of which could be blended with a late night coffee with your dessert.

Below, is a private table for the ultimate in romance, tucked away behind a closed curtain — apparently, many a’ proposal has happened there.

The waiting area, which is in front of the check in desk is not far from how I had remembered it although I know they made a number of design tweaks since my last visit.

Alas, down the hallway to the restrooms – I looked for the painting I had remembered on the wall and couldn’t be sure whether it was still there or not – regardless, the ambiance was still charming, still old world, still rustic and luxurious at the same time and still oh so Italian.

If you want romance, exceptional service (ask for Brian), old world meets chic modern ambiance under one roof and exquisite Italian food, then Dahl & DiLuca is a must for your Sedona visit. I’d argue that it’s worth going to Sedona just to dine at Dahl & DiLuca alone, but then again I’m a bit biased and am a hopeless romantic who loves great Italian food and they do both exceptionally well.

It’s also worth noting their two other restaurants: Cucina Rustica in Sedona VOC, which I haven’t tried yet but Lisa was eager to get us over there (if only we had more time) and their new wood fired pizza restaurant Pisa Lisa in West Sedona.

Details:

Dahl & DiLuca

2321 State Rte 89A

Sedona, AZ 86336
(928) 282-5219

 

NOTE: we were hosted but I can assure you all opinions expressed are entirely my own. LOVE LOVE LOVE this place!

La Posada Hotel, Where Art & Comfort Meet Fun and Creativity in Winslow Arizona

May 13, 2015 by  

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I discovered La Posada by accident while I was online doing some research on Arizona’s Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert. I couldn’t find the kind of resort or hotel I was looking for at first, something that exuded a combination of luxury, nature and adventure. In a little place called Winslow Arizona along the infamous Route 66 that runs across America, La Posada finally came onto the screen and after one glance at its incredibly funky, creative and dreamy rooms, I knew I had to visit.

It’s currently owned by Allan Affeldt, however the architect behind it is Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter. The property has quite a history, starting with Fred Harvey, who “civilized the west” by introducing linen, silverware, china, crystal, and impeccable service to railroad travel. He was so legendary that MGM made a movie called The Harvey Girls starring Judy Garland. Harvey developed and ran all the hotels and restaurants of the Santa Fe Railway, eventually controlling a hospitality empire that spanned the continent.

In the 1920′s, Harvey built a hotel in the center of northern Arizona and called it “La Posada” aka the Resting Place, which was slated to be the finest hotel in the Southwest. Construction costs alone exceeded $1 million in 1929 and its doors opened on 1930 until 1957 when it closed down. Much of the building was gutted and transformed into offices for the Santa Fe Railway until Allan Affeldt purchased it after learning that the property was in danger.

Although none of the partners is a hotelier by training, they have accomplished what once seemed impossible—transforming a forgotten but magical place into a living museum. Allan oversees the overall rehabilitation—design, architecture, financing, and planning and Tina, a renowned artist, paints in her studio upstairs and her art is now an integral part of La Posada experience.

All the rooms at the hotel are uniquely decorated and named after famous people, so you can ask to stay in the Shirley Temple room for example. Other such names on the list include Will Rogers, Jackie Gleason, Clark Cable, Gary Cooper, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John Wayne, Roy Rogers, Jimmy Dolittle, Jane Russell, Jimmy Stewart and Frank Sinatra.

Deluxe rooms are slightly more spacious and the room names included in those lucky 12 are Tom Ford, Diane Keaton, Harry Truman, Albert Einstein and Howard Hughes. (pictured below and the room we stayed in during our stay).  Apparently, the Howard Hughes Room (#225) is always in high demand. This was the sitting room of a deluxe suite with a Lindbergh bedroom and Hughes was a frequent guest (Winslow was a TWA stop and he owned the airline).

The Harry Truman Room

The Affeldt Mion Room

Many rooms feature handmade Ponderosa pine beds designed by master carpenter Keith Mion. Handwoven Zapotec rugs and Mexican tin and Talavera tile mirrors adorn the walls. A number of rooms feature original 1930 B&W mosaic tile bathrooms complete with 6-foot cast-iron tubs while other rooms feature new custom Talavera tile bathrooms with whirlpool tubs and hand-painted tile murals. There are views into the Sunken Garden, into the Cottonwood Grove, across the South Lawn to the Santa Fe railroad, into the Potager Garden, and across the north gardens to Route 66.

The place is so unique that you find yourself walking around in awe most of the time, looking at detail after detail, painting after painting…..the gift shop on the main floor is also loaded with creative artisan work, jewelry, boxes, pottery and more. They even have kitchen ornaments, hand crafted brightly painted wood crosses, and more.

Below, the hallways leading up to the rooms.

A sitting area on the second floor.

The Turquoise Room is a fine, but artsy Southwestern influenced restaurant with a ton of game options on the menu and is connected to La Posada. We had dinner and breakfast there before we left for the next leg of our journey — highly recommended even if you don’t stay at the hotel. Our only regret is not giving it enough time. Be sure to read my write-up on the restaurant, which includes lots of photos bound to make you hungry.

To entice you to read the article, check out this ever so scrumptious Farm raised New Zealand Elk loin medallion dish, served in a Cassis and brandy blackcurrant sauce. It was prepared in a wild mushroom and roasted corn flan, and served with steamed sugar snap peas. Let’s not forget the fresh organic vegetables and the twig of Rosemary on top! They paired this with a Coppola Director’s Cut Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley. Yum!!!

OKAY, so one more tease from The Turquoise Room – how’s this double chocolate grand marnier souffle as a choice to end a long day? It is baked with grand marnier and then tossed with powdered sugar and fresh mint. They then pour dark chocolate syrup on top and if you want it — house-made whipped cream.

The Posada Gardens

Mary Colter’s original 1930 design for La Posada included plans not only for the hotel building but also for 12 acres of gardens based on sustainable desert plant communities. Unfortunately, these plans were never implemented because the Santa Fe Railway faced major budgetary constraints in the years following the Great Depression. By the 1980s, La Posada’s gardens had fallen into total disrepair.

They restored the gardens at La Posada in 1997 including the Sunken Garden and the Rose and Potager Gardens are thriving on the north side. The Cottonwood Grove has been stabilized and new trees have been planted. The South Lawns are healthy and new walkways and a straw bale maze has been added.

There’s also a walking tour that starts at La Posada’s Route 66 entrance and winds through the hotel in a somewhat random fashion. On the way, you can marvel at the paintings and tip your hat off to the beautiful La Posada Madonna by Verne and Christy Lucero, which is considered to be one of the finest pieces of contemporary New Mexican tinwork in the world.

The Sculpture Gallery connects the lobby to the west wing and overlooks the Sunken Garden to the north. Gas torches illuminate the south wall and rough Spanish benches are along the edge, covering the steam radiators. The Sculpture Gallery was designed as an orangerie — a warm, well lit refuge for fragrant citrus trees which would be moved indoors in big pots for the winter, then back to the patio for the spring.

There’s a ballroom, reading room and massive sitting rooms throughout, all curated with unique art and floral murals by Santa Fe artist Earl Altaire.

We LOVE this hotel and would definitely return – — the service, the art, the creativity, the uniquely artistic and cozy rooms, and the countless other nooks and crannies loaded with history and eye candy, will have you at the edge of your seat for your entire stay. Two thumbs up!!

Details:

La Posada Hotel

303 E 2nd Street

Winslow, AZ 86047
(928) 289-4366

 

Note: we were hosted by the hotel but all opinions expressed are entirely our own.

Foodie Alert: Traditional Steakhouses & Beyond in Oklahoma City

May 11, 2015 by  

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While steak may still be the order of the day in the state of Oklahoma, more modern and sustainable eateries are emerging in Oklahoma City, particularly in the ever so trendy Bricktown, which boasts a thriving nightlife in addition to great foodie joints. After I did some research and digging around after getting recommendations from a long time local (thanks Seth), I still opted for Cattleman’s Steakhouse, an old established steakhouse smack in the middle of Stockyards.

Stockyards is the closest thing Oklahoma City has to an “old town” and there you’ll find Cattleman’s Steakhouse on South Agnew which has been around since 1910. Locals still love to go to Cattleman’s for its coffee, legendary breakfasts and of course, the variety of steak offerings.  Once a smoke-filled room and a tiny little diner, it’s now a state-wide legend full of western folklore and perfectly-aged steaks.

Their corn-fed beef is Midwest raised and they then slowly age their beef according to what they refer to as a “closely-guarded house secret.”  To get a “perfect steak,” they hand-cut the meat in their own butcher shop, then broil it over a sharp, hot flame from real Charcoal.

Steak options on their menu include a t-Bone Steak – this hearty portion is sort of “two Steaks in one”, the Cattlemen’s Strip Sirloin, which is a thick center cut strip sirloin, something they call Top Club, which is extra thick Aged Beef, the classic Filet Mignon, which is broiled in savory juices and then wrapped in bacon, the Rib Eye Steak, the Small Filet, Pepper Steak, Ham Steak and Cattleman’s Chicken Fried Steak. Yum! We tried a few so we could get an idea of Cattleman’s different “cuts” and “styles.”

The appetizer below isn’t fried oysters or calamari and nope, not potatoes or onions either.  Below are Cattleman’s well renowned Lamb Fries, which are essentially battered and fried lamb testicles. Whoah Nelly! I have to say that they were delicious!

Their sides are equally delicious…..you can also get traditional Mac & Cheese on the side, sauteed mushrooms or steamed broccoli with cheese sauce.

In addition to their wide array of steaks, there’s a range of sandwiches, fried catfish, chicken breast, spaghetti and they even have fried okra for southern food fans. Cattleman’s is also known for their desserts, most notably their fruit and cream pies. Bring them on please!! The heavenly coconut concoction below was to-die-for and a must order. Vegetarians can skip the steak altogether and just go to Cattleman’s for the pie – it’ll be worth the trip.

Below, chocolate cream and lemon meringue.

Since 1945, Cattlemen’s Steakhouse has become a gathering place for all kinds of folks – from movie stars to rodeo greats, politicians and potentates! The dining room walls have drawings of legendaries who have passed through its doors, including Gene Autry, John Wayne and Ronald Reagan (before he was President), to name a few.

A stone’s throw away, you’ll find Langston’s around the corner, a classic cowboy store, where you can shop for traditional cowboy hats, clothing and boots.

Every state has its historic restaurants, and Cattlemen’s Steakhouse is a major one for Oklahoma — it remains the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Oklahoma City! Visualize it as a cafe when it opened its doors to hungry cowboys, ranchers, cattle haulers and the like in 1910. The Stockyards City area was a beehive of activity back then, as herds of cattle were driven to Oklahoma City in an unending stream to satisfy the East’s growing demand for beef. By 1926, Stockyards City was the home of two major meat processors and the area became known as “Packing Town.” It was in 1926 that H.V. ‘Homer” Paul took over Cattlemen’s, already a well-known establishment among the area’s thousands of workers. Cattlemen’s was one of the few places that stayed open after sundown.

When planning your Oklahoma City agenda, be sure to add Cattleman’s Steakhouse to the list, located at 1309 S Agnew Avenue in Oklahoma City. It’s worth taking the time to meander around the Stockyards area as well.

Today, the Stockyards is still busy and there are cattle auctions regularly, only a few blocks away from the restaurant. We had a chance to visit after lunch — the place seemed to sprawl in all directions. While there were plenty of cattle during our visit, there were also areas that were completely empty. During auction time however, that is not the case.

In Bricktown, the newer and trendier section of Oklahoma City, the hipsters have created demand for more modern style restaurants and bars. Fun vibrant cafes and eateries have emerged, including organic, vegan and farm-to-table restaurants.  Previously, the area was actually a major warehouse district and in addition to entertainment, night life and the food scene, the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark and the 16-screen Harkins movie theatre can be found there. There’s also a very cool navigable Canal.

Above Bricktown at night, courtesy of Oklahoma Tourism Board.

A few other restaurant suggestions that focus on fresh, local and/or organic include the following:

PACKARD’S NEW AMERICAN KITCHEN: This fabulous eatery is a great spot for good, local food. Located in the former Packard dealership in the Automobile Alley part of town but still somewhat centrally located, this restaurant focuses on inventive, artisanal spins on classic American fare.  They don’t use antibiotics, steroids, hormones or animal by-products and try to source from as many local businesses and farms as possible, including Edmond Pepper Farm (where they get their rabbit) and the Wichita Buffalo Company for their grass fed beef.

Unique appetizers include mussels with Andouille Sausage, Garlic, Smoked Tomato Broth, Green Onions, their Duck Rillette, served with Creole Mustard, Luxardo Cherry Compote, Caper Berries and Toast, the Beer-Battered Crab Beignets with Comeback Sauce and the ever so delicious Pork Ribs with honey-chipotle glaze and pickled vegetables. (below)

Above shot taken from their Instagram feed in April 2015.

Fabulous entree options include a Filet with Whipped Potatoes, Asparagus, Glazed Carrots and Horseradish-Chive Butter, a Ribeye, served with Crispy Fingerling Potatoes, Gorgonzola, Arugula, Lemon, and Pizzaiola Sauce, Pork Chop with Jalapeño-Cheddar Grits, Broccolini, Bacon Jam and Pickled Onions, and for fish, Salmon with Snap Peas, Smoked Carrot Purée, Oyster Mushrooms, Sweet-Chile Glaze, and Sesame Seeds or the Blackened Redfish, a Crawfish Étouffée with Risotto and Green Onions.

Also worth mentioning is their Roasted Half Cornish Hen, with Whipped Potatoes and Glazed Carrots and their Lamb Ragu, which is served with Peas, Goat Cheese and Mint Gremolata. Yum!

Details:

Packard’s New American Kitchen

201 NW 10th Street
Oklahoma City, OK 7310

VAST: Vast is the place you want to go to be seen and to people watch. Located on the 49th Floor of the Devon Tower and 850 feet above downtown Oklahoma City, Vast boasts incredible views and chic drinks.  They’re known for their fresh fare and cool cocktails, trendy late-night dinners and leisure lunches.

Above and below photos, from Vast Site.

They’re located in the middle of downtown and while they may be known for their fabulous drinks, their food is top notch as well and executive chef Patrick Williams and culinary team are proud to tout that they source from local producers.  I was thrilled to see this as a growing trend in America’s southern belt prior to hitting Oklahoma, so even more excited to see the trend continue through America’s mid-core. Bravo!

Imagine a crab deviled egg appetizer made with Louisiana Blue Crab, capers and arugula, or how about Quail stuffed with Pickled Shiitake while taking in stunning city views? There’s also the ever so tempting Roasted Garlic Gnocchi and the Seared Gulf Shrimp with Smoked Paprika Butter and a Sweet Potato Polenta.

They offer fresh soups and salads as well however their entrees is what will stop your heart beating, just for a moment or two. Imagine that view again while you graze on Seared Salmon with Sauteed Baby Kale, and Orange Gremolata, a Crispy Chicken Breast & Braised Shank with Cornbread Pudding, a Grilled Niman Ranch Pork Chop with Root Vegetable Hash or the Seared Duck Breast with Confit and Cabbage served with a Horseradish Crème Fraiche. Ouch! They also have a delicious Rack of Lamb that is smoked and roasted, and a Pappardelle Pasta with Mascarpone and Wild Mushrooms.

Vast is bound to change your view of what you think the Oklahoma food scene might look like!! Two Thumbs Up say three local sources since we were not able to go – the afternoon we were hoping to grab lunch there, it was closed.

Details:

VAST

333 W Sheridan Avenue

Oklahoma City, OK 73102
(405) 702-7262

KITCHEN NO. 324: This casual but fresh place is the just the spot if you want sustainable and organic all the way. They have a variety of delicious fresh juices, sandwiches and salads and is a great place for lunch.

Think of it as a bit of a plush cafe where even things like cupcakes will forever change the way you think of sweets!

Their mantra and focus is all about bringing neighborhood fresh choices and authentic hospitality to Oklahoma City. No. 324 is actually their address, but the story of The Braniff goes beyond its 1923 brick and limestone. One of Oklahoma City’s most historical buildings, it was once home to Paul R. Braniff’s airline company. Rumor has it the aviation pioneer would buzz over his house daily just to let his wife know he was home for dinner.

They have a craft bakery as well as a wide array of salad choices, from Kale Caesar with Garlic Crouton Crumbs which you can get with Grilled Chicken, Salmon or Beef Tenderloin and a Kitchen Salad with Beef Tenderloin, Avocado, Green Leaf and House Bacon with Roasted Corn (Yum!), to a Poached Pear Salad with Dried Figs, Cranberries, Toasted Pecans, Shaved Prosciutto and Bleu Cheese. OMG!!

For mains, options include a Hand Carved Petite Filet with Sherry Jus, Baked Potato Cake and Green Beans, a Fried Chicken Pot Pie, a Romesco Crusted Salmon with Israeli Cous Cous and Brussels Sprouts,  a House Crafted Turkey Meatloaf (we love love love the sound of this one) with a Smoked Turkey Gravy and Baked Potato Cake, a Cauliflower Steak or a delicious Short Rib Ragu, served over Pappardella Pasta, Parmesan and Shishito Peppers.

Two thumbs up for their approach and for bringing local, organic and all things healthy to Oklahoma City! Above three photos from Kitchen No. 324′s website.

Details:

Kitchen No. 324

324 N Robinson Avenue

Oklahoma City, OK 73102
(405) 763-5911

4 other choices worth mentioning that came highly recommended from the local tourism folks include:

  • Cheever’s Cafe – more info at: http://www.cheeverscafe.com/
  • Paseo Grill – more info at: http://www.paseogrill.com/
  • The George – more info at: http://thegeorgeprime.com/
  • Ludivine - more info at: http://ludivineokc.com/

 

 

 

Reliable Yakima & US on the Long Haul Across America

May 11, 2015 by  

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I did a boat load of research for top of the car cargo racks before we landed at Yakima’s doors one afternoon last fall. I was spending more time in New York than California at the time, and we had already gotten a Yakima Bike Rack in for review (we love it btw) over the summer however I was open to other brands for a cargo rack — in other words, just because Yakima manufactured a top notch bike rack didn’t necessarily mean they’d do a stellar job with a cargo rack.

Given the car model and year we had, Yakima was one of only two options and since we had such a great experience the first time around, we thought, why not give Yakima another try?

The above shot was taken in rural Virginia towards the beginning of our cross country trek.

Yakima was a great choice as we later learned after traveling several thousand miles across country with two Yakima products in tow during January of this year. Even after putting one of their bike racks to the test over the summer, we extended its use on our cross country trip, where it continued to perform flawlessly.

Bottom line, their products rock when it comes to long term treks. A combination of their feature set, functionality, material quality and durability all make Yakima a perfect go-to brand for long haul travel. Introducing the Yakima SkyBox, a great solution for storage on your journey — I’d advise storing things in your SkyBox that you don’t readily need access to every day to avoid having to reshuffle things and repack at every stop.

Before we get into our journey where Yakima performed as advertised without a glitch across 14 states, let’s get into the nitty gritty, shall we?

We decided to go with the SkyBox 16 Carbonite, a mid sized solution given our packing needs. Remember that the boxes have weight limits as well, so going with a bigger box may not necessarily serve you if the load is too heavy for your car to handle. Be diligent here and check before setting up so you don’t have to deal with a safety issue several hundred miles into your trip.

The SkyBox 16 Carbonite boasts a new textured lid, touted as the next evolution of the SkyBox series. Versatile, yet sleek and aerodynamically designed, the latest model helps to reduce drag and wind noise. Once assembled, its well-designed latch makes it easy to open and close.

We opted to have it assembled professionally, largely due to lack of time before our trip and winter weather conditions on the East Coast in the heart of January. REI and other places can do it for you or as we were told by the folks at Yakima and from several reviews, assembly isn’t that complicated and there’s a video walking you through the steps, as well as this nifty instruction guide.

The strong durable material is worth boasting about since reliability is one of the key areas where the Yakima folks take pride. The SkyBox includes durable internal lid stiffeners, which add rigidity whereas the very cool SuperLatch ensures that extra security you so want when you’re on the road and changing destinations frequently.

The quick-release mounting hardware fits most crossbars although the Yakima site walks you through compatibility as soon as you land on their site – you simply type in your car model and year and it will tell you which products will work with your car and which ones won’t, making the selection process both handy and efficient.

The SkyBox is perfect for hauling gear for up to 3 campers and while we didn’t use it for sports gear, it’s great for snowboards and skis up to 180 cm. We chose to pack things into the SkyBox we didn’t need access to every day to avoid having to open it too much, however there is a dual-sided opening for easy access on either side of your car. The rear of the cargo box is also tapered for improved hatch clearance.

I mentioned safety above, which was an important factor for us considering the fact that we were planning to hit a number of urban cities in addition to our rural hit list. Yakima has an integrated SKS lock system, making it harder to tamper with. The 16 model, which is the one we toured with, is 16 cubic feet although it is also available in 12, 18, 21 and Lo sizes.

The Yakima SkyBox 16 was priced at around $479 at the time of writing this article. More information can be found at www.yakima.com. If you’d like to see some of our photos on social media throughout the course of our journey, check out #WBTWxAmerica on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.  You’ll see through our feeds how much we love Yakima products and we genuinely mean it! They perform as advertised – in other words, durability and reliability are core to their raison d’etre, which is an absolute must for a long journey. Did I mention the mileage?

Now for a l’il fun, shall we?

The Yakima SkyBox kinda became family on that long term journey, together with Vinny, the New York-born Pontiac the cargo box sat on for several thousand miles. Join me on a visual journey across America, where you’ll see Vinny, the Yakima SkyBox and bike rack, and us in full form against a myriad of different backdrops. Sometimes we were elated and invigorated, other times exhausted, hungry and spent. Regardless, we were resilient and Vinny and Yakima were part of our team and helped to make an otherwise tough trek, that much easier.

 Above — Dunkin Donuts anyone? Along Bruckner Boulevard in New York City’s Bronx at the start of our journey.

Alongside the Road in Virginia.

More Rural Virginia.

Route 40 West, from Nashville to Memphis Tennessee.

 In Front of the Madison Hotel in Memphis Tennessee, a great boutique hotel worth staying at when you hit Memphis. Check out my Madison Hotel review.

In the parking lot at Stax Museum in Memphis Tennessee.

 Detour! About to cross the Mississippi State Line.

Inside the town of Clarksdale, Missisippi, home of the Delta Blues.

Heading West Out of Clarksdale Mississippi.

One of our goofier moments — you’ll see that our reliable ole Yakima rack isn’t very far away! A Selfie taken in rural Mississippi.

 Inside Ouachita National Park in Arkansas

Discovering Serenity & Great Light in rural Arkansas.

Filling up the tank on the long road to Oklahoma.

Dusk has an eerie but beautiful presence in rural Oklahoma. Peaceful. Surreal. Alive. And, eventually calming after the afternoon Oklahoma winds subsided. Even our trusty Yakima and Vinny were able to unwind.

Finally, we hit the massive state of Texas. 

We came across a few spots of snow on the ground in Northern Texas, even though we had relatively warm days.

A big state calls for silly selfie moments. Ever driven through Texas?

This Road is Lonnnnnggg, with many ‘a winding turns……did I mention that Texas seemed to go on forever?

But, finally we reached beautiful New Mexico, where we hung our hat for awhile.

The High Road to Taos New Mexico before we hit the snowstorm.

Oh yeah, then we hit snow — a lot of it and it came teaming down for two straight days. Yakima and Vinny kept going strong.

It started to clear as we were ready to leave New Mexico.

Heading from New Mexico to Arizona along Route 40.

Driving Through Arizona’s Petrified Forest and Painted Desert.

Side of the road as we made our way across the California border and through the dry heat of the Mohave Desert.

Heading South from Flagstaff Arizona.

Taking the scenic route from Holbrook to Sedona Arizona.

 Alongside the road in Arizona.

That insanely mountainous road from Flagstaff to Sedona Arizona.

Even the cacti are hot – the Mohave Desert and beyond in Eastern California.

Making our way to the California Coastline.

About to leave Paso Robles in southern California.

Ahhh yes, finally arriving at the beautiful California Coast. 

 

 

Note: Yakima did provide the rack for our cross country journey, but I can assure you all opinions expressed are entirely my own. We LOVE Yakima products and have had nothing but positive experience with both the bike rack and the top of the car Yakima Skybox.

 

The Turquoise Room, For Fine Dining With a Twist at the Edge of the Painted Desert

May 10, 2015 by  

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My latest discovery – The Turquoise Room – is a gem of a find that serves regional Southwestern cuisine at the edge of Arizona’s Painted Desert. This funky, creative fine dining eatery is connected to the ever so artsy La Posada Hotel in Winslow Arizona.

Considered by many to be the finest restaurant in the Four Corners region (I would agree), the Turquoise Room opened in 2000 under the direction of renowned Chef John Sharpe, who is all about using natural ingredients, cooking from scratch and using local regional suppliers wherever possible. In winter months for example which is when we were there, much of their produce comes from Crooked Sky Farms of Glendale, Arizona.

Located between the infamous Route 66 and the railroad tracks, the restaurant is named after the private dining car on the 1936 Super Chief that ran between Los Angeles and Chicago.

The menu features retro dishes from the days when the Fred Harvey Company served rail travelers across America, but don’t let that factoid kid you. This is fine dining at its best. From salads and soups to fish, cured meat and lamb, John and his culinary team will make you jealous that this incredible restaurant isn’t in your backyard.

I try to always start with a salad and the McClendon’s Organic Winter Salad on the menu was so beautifully presented, I didn’t want to dive in at first. He makes it with mixed greens, which are tossed in a blood orange and hazelnut vinaigrette and garnished with Moro blood orange segments, pomegranate seeds, gold beets and radishes. It was so fresh that you could never guess you were in the middle of a desert region in the heart of winter.

The Classic Southwestern Caesar with roasted Pumpkin seeds and parmesan cheese, all garnished with red peppers and parmesan crusted cracker bread.

We didn’t try the Cured Meat and Pate Platter, but it sounded divine. John prepares a mixed plate of goose rillettes (cured slivers of goose in a soft style of pate), silvers of Smoked Mangalitsa Pig (dried cured and then smoked), Sliced Pickled Churro Lamb’s Tongue and pickled gherkins, house-made quince and apple chutney. Wow!

While I rarely order anything fried, when I’m traveling to unique places where part of the local cuisine involves a whole lotta oil and fry power, I’ll give it a try. They were eager to have us sample the Churro Lamb Meatballs with Green Chili Mint, as apparently it’s a favorite among regulars.

The meatballs are studded with currants, pinion and Sonoran wheat berries, Panko crushed on a bed of wilted spinach salad and tossed in a sherry vinaigrette. The dipping sauce was outa this world — a blend of green chili, tomatillo and mint.

Their Churro Lamb is free range certified Organic and reared by Antonio and Molly Manzanares, who raise their lambs in the Tierra Amarilla area of New Mexico and at their family ranch at the foot of the San Juan Mountains. They are hormone and antibiotic free (YAY!!) as well as being a “Heritage Breed” of lamb. It’s no surprise that the meat at Turquoise Room is organic and fresh given John’s approach to food. An active member of Slow Foods, he looks for naturally raised, whether it’s pork, goat, beef, elk, quail, salmon, lamb or beef.

The main entree options were so extraordinary and unusual that it was hard to pick a few to sample, particularly given the large selection of game on the menu — goose, quail, elk, boar….you name it.

We opted for the Native Arizona Cassoulet with Churra Lamb and Goose, paired with a 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel Ballentine Napa. It was perfect! He takes Arizona grown Tepary beans and simmers them with smoked pork, goose, and Churro Lamb and then adds red chile and spices. It is served with a boneless grilled lamb loin chop, confit of goose and grilled Heritage pork Andouille sausage. A drizzle of red chile sauce sits on top accompanied by Romanesco cauliflower.

Then, we dove into the “died and gone to heaven” seared Elk Medallions with Black Currant Sauce. Three Farm raised New Zealand Elk loin medallions with a Cassis and brandy blackcurrant sauce was cooked in a wild mushroom and roasted corn flan, and served with steamed sugar snap peas. Let’s not forget the fresh organic vegetables and the twig of Rosemary on top! They paired this with a Coppola Director’s Cut Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley.

Other mains worth mentioning include the Wild Platter (quail, elk, and wild boar chili), the Blackened Farm Raised Redfish with Mushroom Ragout, a Grilled chicken breast with sweet corn tamale, a Shrimp with spinach papardelle pasta, Pork Carnitas, the Churro Lamb Sampler prepared three ways and the Bacon Wrapped Filet, which they serve with potatoes and vegetables. OMG!

While your mouth is watering and you probably can’t read anymore without craving all of the above, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the chocolate decadence we ended our meal with — a double chocolate grand marnier souffle, which took about a half an hour to prepare. Note to self – order it when you put in your main course order.

The cake is cooked with grand marnier while it bakes and powdered sugar is tossed on top with a little mint. Then, to make matters worse (or better depending on your perspective), they pour dark chocolate syrup on top and if you want it — house-made whipped cream. I think we stayed with our Zin for this, together with decaf cappucinos.

The ambiance is ecelctic, from the art on the walls, to the creatively curated tables and the overly ornamental gold ceiling lights with the copper fixtures that were commissioned in the Pueblo Deco style to add warm tones to the dining room. They are enhanced by trolley lights, contemporary task lighting strung across the dining room, to illuminate each table….and it just works.

Imagine a two story adobe that doesn’t appear to be any bigger from the outside than a mid-sized inn, and yet when you enter its doors, you’re swallowed by massive rooms that are oozing with art, color and creativity. Be sure to read my write-up on La Posada Hotel.

It’s eclectic and old world. Throughout the restaurant, there are countless religious symbols, painted on walls and inside of the stained glass “paintings” in the restaurant and the hotel itself. In the ‘stained glass’ images are saints, likely of Spanish descent.

Indian and Mexican tapestries and rugs hang from the walls and turquoise and green wooden beams jut out from the ceilings, giving the main dining room at The Turquoise Room, major presence. There are domed entryways throughout the restaurant and hotel, a sign of its historical significance and attention to detail. Like the attention paid to the architecture, the food is as exquisite and memorable. John also has a Turquoise Room cookbook which is loaded with photos and recipes – more information can be found at www.theturquoiseroom.net.

Two thumbs up! John’s cooking had me at hello — what a treat at the end of our incredibly day driving through the stunning Painted Desert.

Details:

The Turquoise Room (located inside La Posada Hotel)

303 E 2nd Street 

Winslow, AZ 86047 
(928) 289-4366 

 

Authentic, Artsy & Urban on the Other Side of Memphis

May 10, 2015 by  

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When you think of Memphis, what do you think of? Likely Elvis comes to mind, the birthplace of rock-and-roll according to most, and a sense of some things southern, especially given the fact that Memphis is only a stone’s throw from the Mississippi border.
History tells us a lot. Rewind the clock to the 1500′s when the Spanish first settled in the area and then visualize Confederacy supporters during the Civil War. It was considered a strategic location at the time because of its prime location along the Mississippi River, but its location also contributed to the city’s first failure.
The city didn’t enjoy the sanitary conditions that it does today and much of the area was prone to flooding, which led to the breeding of mosquitoes. Then, yellow fever. This was long long before a wealthy black businessman named Robert Church, Sr., began buying up land around town, primarily on Beale Street. For those not familiar with the Memphis Scene, it is where the blues, soul and rock music performed in its music heyday and still today.
He built Church Park and Auditorium as a place specifically for blacks and helped make Beale Street an integral part of daily life for the city’s African Americans. No grave surprise given that it was on the west to Chicago route that the 1800′s were full of saloons, gambling and prostitution. William Christopher “W.C.” Handy was hired to write a campaign song for E.H. “Boss” Crump, and in 1912 he changed the wording of the piece and published “Memphis Blues,” the first blues song ever published in America. Handy, considered to be the Father of the Blues, also went on to publish the “St. Louis Blues” and “Beale Street Blues;” the three were tremendously popular blues songs throughout the century.
Above Photo credit: Outside the Beltway.com 
It was Beale Street where the locals went to find anything and everything legal and illegal. In addition to dice games, houses of ill repute and other wicked diversions, Beale was home to a number of music clubs. Workers who toiled in the hot dusty cotton fields all week would come to Beale Street on the weekend in search of good times and good music. They didn’t have to look far. They brought with them the chanting songs, called “field hollers.” W.C. Handy was the first to put pen to paper and record these songs and their “blue” notes, and an enduring American art form was born.
Above, courtesy/from www.HistoricMemphis.com of historical Beale Street 

In 1916, the modern supermarket was born in Memphis as local entrepreneur Clarence Saunders opened Piggly Wiggly, the first self-serve grocery store. Within seven years, there were more than 2,600 Piggly Wiggly stores across the country and Saunders had become a millionaire. During the early 1920′s, he began building himself a 22-room, pink marble mansion – dubbed the Pink Palace – which he eventually lost, along with his company and all of his millions. Today, the mansion belongs to the city of Memphis and has been turned into a museum, planetarium and CTI 3D Giant Theater.

Above Piggly Wiggly from www.speakingofwhich.blogspot.com. 

Like other cities across the nation, Memphis was hit hard by the Depression. The country’s entry into World War II provided the city with a much-needed influx of commerce and industry thanks to a strong cotton market and the city’s numerous defense-related industries. Memphis provided WWII with one of its most enduring symbols – the Memphis Belle, the first B-17 bomber to successfully complete 25 missions over Europe. The plane and its crew logged more than 20,000 combat miles, all without a single casualty. The bomber was named for Margaret Polk, a Memphis sweetheart of the plane’s pilot, Robert Morgan.

Throughout the 1940′s, Beale Street became home to black musicians who brought the cotton field hollers into the juke joints and clubs. A few blocks off Beale, WDIA became the first radio station in the country that had an all-black format and black disc jockeys. Rufus “Funky Chicken” Thomas and legendary blues man Riley “B.B.” King were DJs on the historic station, and both began recording at Sun Studio in the 1950s.

Above shot from www.historic-memphis.com of Beale Street in the 1950′s.

During the early 1950s, Elvis Presley showed up, begging night club owners to let him in, then spend all night listening to them play and copying their styles. He even copied the way the flashy musicians dressed and bought his clothes at the same Beale Street men’s store, Lansky Brothers. Later, Elvis took what he learned from the Beale Street musicians and used it when he recorded ”That’s All Right Mama” at Sam Phillips’ Sun Studio located a few miles east of Beale Street. (see our write up on Sun Studio as well as our fun summary with tons of fun photos from Graceland taken this past January).

During the 1950′s and 1960′s, blacks and whites worked together to create some of the most important music in American history. The “Memphis Sound” emerged in 1960 when siblings Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton formed Stax Records. Stax would give voice to such legendary musical artists as Sam & Dave, Isaac Hayes and Otis Redding, and the world would groove to soul classics like “Soul Man,” “Hold On, I’m Comin’” and “Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay.” Another local record label that played a major role in the development of the “Memphis Sound” was Hi Records. (See our write-up on the Stax Museum, the only museum in the world dedicated to honoring soul music and soul musicians — located in Memphis of course).

In the early 1990′s, Beale Street made a comeback as a tourist destination and entertainment district with clubs offering live music seven days a week. The entertainment district continued to flourish throughout the decade and was voted the second most popular entertainment district in the country. Every year, Beale Street and Downtown’s Tom Lee Park are transformed into a sea of music, pork and people during the Memphis In May International Festival. This monthlong celebration draws tens of thousands of visitors every spring and features the world-famous Beale Street Music Festival, World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest and several international events honoring a different foreign country every year.

Below, the Beale Street Music Festival in Memphis

Above photo courtesy – www.thebealestreetmusicfestival.com

Since the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Rock ‘n’ Roll (July 5, 2004 — the same date that Elvis recorded his first record, “That’s All Right,” at the legendary Sun Studio), Memphis has grown in popularity as a tourist destination particularly for music lovers.

Today Memphis is home to a revitalized downtown area, at which Beale Street closeby – we stayed at the ever so funky and chic Madison Hotel, which is a stone’s throw from everything ‘downtown’ and the service is outstanding. (see our write-up on Madison and our write up on the neighboring outa this world restaurant Eighty3, with an award-winning chef)
Most won’t relish in the other side of town, the not so built up or renovated part of a city. I do. Always. I love the path not taken, and the authentic and raw about a city even if it’s not particularly pretty. The historical past to Memphis gives rise to so many things, calling attention to what is real and authentic about this magical music wonderland. Sure, there are studios, theatres and musical venues galore, where some of the top musical greats of our time got their start.
There are historic buildings, the historic riverfront area in and around Beale Street Landing, which is going through renovation. There’s also the area on the other side of town, not far from the Stax Museum (the museum of soul music) and Sun Studio where Elvis did so many great recordings, that are not undergoing renovation but are interesting and compelling in their own right.
Raw brick buildings with no touch ups exist here….and their history tells me Memphis’ history, at least a little more authentically.

Below, graffiti and murals are splashed along the walls not far from Sun Studio. Here we walked and we captured art, grunge and a whole lotta nothing-ness and everything-ness all at the same time.

When you go to Memphis, yes, be sure to soak up the newness and fabulous art scene and great food in and around Beale Street and the renovated downtown area, but don’t be afraid to venture across town to where it all began — where the soul of music began.

Despite there being no trendy shops, restaurants or even clubs, you will feel a different side of Memphis worth knowing. I did, and it’s worth the meander — by car, by book and by foot. If you have time, I’d encourage all three.

 

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