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It's been the kind of week I'd rather just forget. Nothing's been going as smoothly as it should. Now I'm camped out at Iguana Mack's, a new Chandler food hall that describes itself as a "hip dining experience" celebrating the "early Arizona desert oasis: the Roadhouse." Groovy concept, I'm thinking -- casual charm, cheap eats.
Eats so cheap, in fact, that I marvel at the bargains before me. How in the world can this place send out such massive lunches for only $4.95 -- like two bulging fish tacos with rice and beans, a half-pound burger with a mountain of fries, or a huge, open-faced pot roast sandwich with mashed potatoes and tomato-garlic green beans, all including coffee, tea or pop?
Yet I'm despondent. The food is lousy. Chalk up another disappointment in what's been a crazy seven days. Money-saving meals or no, the only thing that's going to make this dreary feeding time survivable is to load up on Iguana Mack's signature margarita -- the Blue Iguana, a potent blend of Cuervo Gold, Cointreau and Blue Curacao.
1371 N. Alma School Road
Chandler, AZ 85224
480-899-6735. Hours: Lunch and dinner, Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Because darn this week. It started out good. I was terribly excited, for one small example, to have found an incredible deal on hay (this is the West's most Western town). The cost has been soaring through the roof from the Arizona drought, and it doesn't help that my historic neighborhood feed shop just burned down (the hay caught fire and torched the building). Groovy luck, I thought, I found first-rate roughage, and cheap. So I ordered 10 bales delivered.
Yet somehow the message went through as 142 bales. One hundred and forty-two 100-pound wads of grass! The delivery guys dropped it and ran. Simple communication problem, they stuttered. And they won't take it back because it requires special trucks, and they're busy.
The mishap would be livable, but the stack is almost five feet taller than my house. Divided among two already-plump horses and two tiny goats as well-padded as Roseanne, I'm stocked in alfalfa for the next two years, plus I can't get into my driveway or see out my side window. And here's what's coming: I figure the hay will rot within six months, go up in flames like my feed store, then smoke furiously like the mulch fire that raged out of control in the East Valley for most of last week. I'll be arrested and charged with huge environmental crimes. My animals will starve while I'm in prison, and I'll emerge penniless and homeless.
Such a bargain. It's been that kind of week.
So I figured retro roadhouse grub would be just the ticket to ease my mind and my wallet, the place described by Iguana Mack management as "unplugged, unprogrammed and a little uncivilized."
What this means is a redneck-kitsch setting, with an all-over-the-map menu of American, Mexican, Cajun and soul. The place opened at the beginning of September, and I eagerly planned out my relaxing, let-loose meal based on the menu I picked up then.
This is real comfy grub, I tell my buddy, dragging him away from his fascinated ogling of my Eiffel alfalfa edifice. It'll be just what he likes: an all-out gorging on staples like spicy fried chicken with chorizo gravy, steaming bowls of chili Colorado and beans with cheesy chile corn bread, and iron skillet tamale pie with gobs of sour cream. We can come grubby for this decor -- it's grunge-cute, with lots of brightly colored walls, crazy knickknacks, and chandeliers fashioned from empty soda and liquor bottles. Another plus: The owner's got a good track record, being Michael Lopercio, who owned the property's former incarnation as the popular Chops steak house and was a partner in 1980s hot spot Lunt Avenue Marble Club. He honors his past here with several nostalgic dishes -- Marble Club zucchini, Chops' spinach fundito and chips, and Chops' au gratin potatoes. So he says.
Except now we're pushing a complimentary ramekin of salsa and a tin pie plate of cold, from-a-bag tortilla chips back and forth, neither of us wanting to take ownership of a watery chop of tomato, onion and exhausted chiles. I'd have bet that the salsa came from a plastic jug; if it's homemade like our server insists, the kitchen could save a lot of time by resorting to a Costco brand.
And then I'm told that my sought-after items have been taken off the menu. What? An Arizona roadhouse with no chili? No chicken-fried anything? This isn't fun. The last time I had such a sinking feeling, in fact, was just a few hours ago, when I went out to feed my pets and crashed face-first into the tower of hay so high it blocks the sun.
The only old-fashioned thing at Iguana Mack's is Lunt Avenue Marble Club's famous -- and at the time highly novel -- appetizer of deep-fried zucchini. How's this for a blast from the past, during those wildcat culinary years two decades ago, when people lined up nose-to-neck to get a plate of steaming-hot, greasy-as-all-get-out nubbins of vegetable cloaked in batter and sunk in blistering oil. It was so chic, I remember fondly -- a platter of fried zuke 'n' 'shrooms, rounds of Pac-Man, a pitcher of margaritas (I was just a teenager, true, but carding was so much looser then).