Well, it may be special-ordered, but delivery day must have been Monday, and this was Saturday. The apple interior had no shortcomings, with thick chunks of sweetened apple. But the crust was soggy and stale, perhaps a victim of the monsoon humidity.

Despite the food, Handlebar-J is a fun after-work joint. Next time, though, I'll eat at home, pay the $3 cover charge and mosey up to the bar.

Location Info


Handlebar J Restaurant and Saloon

7116 E. Becker Lane
Scottsdale, AZ 85254-5210

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: North Scottsdale

Bitter Root Cattle Company, 4343 North Scottsdale Road (Galleria), Scottsdale, 947-0448. Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., seven days a week; Dinner, Sunday through Thursday, 3 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 3 to 11 p.m.

You don't have to scan the zodiac or read tea leaves to know the auguries are not bright for the recently opened Bitter Root Cattle Company. You just have to check the address: the Galleria. This monstrous white elephant, housing the dead but unburied Carnegie Deli, pulsates with all the energy of a mausoleum.

But Bitter Root's location does have some advantages. Perched on the top floor, from our window seats we viewed a spectacular lightning show on a recent Friday night. Between flashes we could pick out Camelback Mountain and Papago Park. And best of all, we didn't have to look at the Galleria.

Like Handlebar-J, Bitter Root goes the Western route with the single-minded purposefulness of the pioneers. Wagon-wheel chandeliers, lariats, old saddles and rusted barbed wire provide the bunkhouse ambiance. There's also a John Wayne shrine--a wall and glass case that must house more Wayne photos, paintings and statues than even his agent had.

Unfortunately, the Duke is not the patron saint of Western-style cuisine.
We skipped the potato skins and mozzarella sticks that show up on just about every Valley menu. Instead we grabbed the rattlesnake and Rocky Mountain oysters, each deep-fried in batter and served with a horseradish shrimp-cocktail-style sauce.

This must have been free-range rattler, because it was as tough on the jaw as it was on the wallet. At $10 a throw, I've now learned to avoid rattlers on the plate as well as the trail.

But I enjoyed the crispy Rocky Mountain oysters, even though I couldn't shake the thought that I was committing an unfraternal act.

We tried four main dishes and came away with the feeling that this was not how the West was won.

The New York steak, a big slab, arrived medium-rare as requested, but seemed to have all the juices drained from it. It was as dry as an abandoned water hole, and no bargain at $15.

The pork back ribs were plentiful, but a tad overcooked and surprisingly unmeaty. I never got that rip-the-meat feeling that is one of the great pleasures of gnawing barbecue. The mild barbecue sauce seemed aimed more at effete dudes than hearty cowhands. The half mesquite-smoked chicken also lacked punch. It had no more smoky aroma than a chicken roasted on a supermarket rotisserie.

Only the prime rib got us nodding our heads with pleasure. Moist, pink and tender, it was the only dish that had us looking around for more.

All the entrees come with dreadful salad, drenched with ranch dressing; bland cowboy beans; and "corn cobbettes"--about a third of a cob. Hey, guys, it's summer, and the supermarkets are selling ten ears for a buck. Put those soggy cobbettes away til February.

Unlike the patrons at Handlebar-J, diners here don't get to enjoy the country-western entertainment. It takes place in the next room, where Robin and the Rocky Road Band were serving up tunes the night we were there. After dinner we wandered over and watched the couples swaying on the dance floor to Patsy Cline laments. We thought of countless hours watching Rawhide, Bonanza and Wagon Train. And then it hit us: No cowboy ever seemed in a rush to get to the chuck wagon.

Who says TV isn't educational?

SUN RISES IN EAST... v8-05-92

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