By Kathleen Vanesian
By Eric Schaefer
By Heather Hoch
By Lauren Saria
By JK Grence
By Eric Schaefer
By Robrt L. Pela
By Eric Schaefer
Homebuilders everywhere have their boxers in a bunch over Proposition 202, a pending initiative that will severely limit urban sprawl across Arizona. They say turning off their bulldozers will destroy the economy.
Supporters of 202, on the other hand, see the initiative as a way to limit subdivisions that are devouring the desert, bringing smog, excessive traffic, unrealistic demands on infrastructure and the rape of Arizona's natural splendor. They want to levy high impact fees against builders to pay for the cost of improved city services, libraries, schools and parks.
But the supporters are missing another important point. Yes, the tidal wave of red tile roofs and pink stucco walls is disturbing, but it's downright depressing that builders are being allowed to plunk down thousands of new homes in areas that don't even have enough decent restaurants yet.
945 E. Scenic St.
Apache Junction, AZ 85119-4127
Category: Bars and Clubs
Region: Apache Junction
Stuffed salmon $13.99
Crab-stuffed halibut $14.99
Shrimp Parmesan $12.99
Rib eye $12.50
Chicken Malibu $5.25
480-982-5726. Hours: Lunch and dinner, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily
A recent e-mail I lifted from the chat room of the Apache Junction Chamber of Commerce sums up the situation quite politely: I just moved here from Washington. It's a nice place, but a little far from all the fun stuff. Most of it is houses, new construction. Where can I go to eat?
A little far from the fun stuff? Apache Junction is in an entirely different county from the fun stuff. The closest movie theater is miles down the freeway in Mesa. The chamber lists just 28 full-service restaurants within its boundaries -- and half of these are sandwich shops. This for an area that has exploded from a population of 9,935 in 1980 to more than 23,000 this year. It's almost criminal.
Thank goodness for Superstition Skies. While nobody's going to confuse this cowboy joint for fine dining, it does surprise with an above-average menu featuring salmon, halibut, shrimp and crab. It's even open on Sundays.
An Apache Junction landmark since 1955, the restaurant gained its claim to fame as an outpost for bikers seeking a cold brew and a friendly smile as they tore up the desert in the middle of nowhere. Not so long ago, it functioned as a restaurant and cocktail lounge, and, for a while in 1988, was the property of the Apache Junction Police after it was seized in a case of trafficking in stolen property (restaurant operators were purchasing turkeys, cheese, butter, canned beef, canned salmon, vegetables, fruit and liquor from undercover officers -- go figure).
Today, the restaurant has outlived its outlaw reputation and become a favorite stomping ground for folks looking for a good, basic burger, camaraderie and, of course, lots of beer. New owners took over in March, spruced things up, signed on a country-western band and added a more adventurous menu starring fresh seafood. No canned salmon makes it past these doors anymore, paid for or not.
Fresh fish in the middle of the Pinal County prairie? Don't scoff. Owners Todd and Lisa Welch own commercial fishing boats in Alaska, so their salmon and halibut is caught, selected and shipped to their specifications. Crab and shrimp come from their equally picky friends.
What this from-the-source setup means to hungry diners is huge portions for just a few shekels.
I'm amazed one evening when my ever-ravenous dining companion pushes away his baked salmon when he's only halfway through. I've seen him eat a full meal, then choke down a sandwich just because "it's there." He doesn't believe in leftovers, either, telling me he can't return to ruins after they've sat in his refrigerator. But tonight, he's waving his napkin in the air to signify surrender.
No wonder: he's been served a double salmon fillet so large it crowds the edges of a long platter. He can only manage about two-thirds of the sizable swimmer, basted in butter, garlic and onion, then baked to a meaty turn. Plucked as it is from the sea, its flesh boasts the rich nuances in flavor and texture that makes it superior to its freshwater, farm-raised cousins. No skimping on grade, either -- the Welches deal strictly in King salmon, aptly known as the ruler of the salmon species.
Stuffed salmon is a fancier presentation, with two big fillets sandwiching a thick spread of jalapeño cream cheese and a sweet, spicy butter. It's odd to look at, topped with chopped, grilled mushrooms and onion, and for the first few bites, it strikes me as too heavy and weird. Yet, as I work my way through the plate, it becomes highly appealing, sort of like cream cheese and lox without the bagel. It's good that the kitchen uses whipped cream cheese instead of the cloying regular kind, although more jalapeño certainly wouldn't hurt -- these little green bits taste more like celery (this is Arizona, after all, so don't be afraid to turn up the heat).
Baked halibut is equally ample, bathed in a subtle sauce of butter, garlic and lemon. Toppings of chopped mushrooms and thick slices of purple onion are too harsh, though; even after I slide them off, their flavors have seeped into the entree. I've got no suggestions for the perfectly fine crab-stuffed version, though -- the creamy shellfish lends welcome moisture to this characteristically dry fish.
Halibut returns in a basket meal, with a generous tumble of large chunks beer-battered to puffy breadiness. On its own, it's bland; dipped in tartar sauce, it works just fine. Even better is a halibut wrap, grilled with mushrooms, lettuce, tomato and tangy dill sauce, plus, at our request, crab.