By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
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If longtime Scottsdale locals miss the restaurant's one-time dark and close atmosphere, they aren't complaining. A raised roof, open dining area, and a window wall to the street make for a more comfortable, upscale feel. And although the Pony's new owners have retained décor accents like the cowboy boot lamps, the baseball memorabilia, reduced from the original collection, is far less prominent — a move that seems to be speaking to a new generation of diners far less interested in the sport's bygone era and more curious about the fare, which, at the updated Pony, offers more hits than misses.
MONTI'S LA CASA VIEJA
The adobe hacienda that is now Monti's isn't just a building in Arizona's history — it's a cornerstone in the creation of one of its cities. In 1871, just after the Civil War and years before Tempe was called Tempe, Charles Trumbull Hayden used materials from the area — rough-hewn logs from upstate, reeds from the nearby and then-turbulent Salt River, and surrounding clumps of earth — to build the home his family would later call La Casa Vieja (Spanish for "The Old House"). Later, the home would become a hotel and the birthplace of U.S. Senator Carl Hayden, and it would assume various operators from the Great Depression until 1954, when Leonard F. Monti Sr., who had been operating a small diner in Chandler, purchased the landmark and started his family-friendly steakhouse two years later.
2501 E. Telawa Trail
Phoenix, AZ 85016
Region: East Phoenix
3831 N. Scottsdale Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85251-4431
Region: Central Scottsdale
1 W. Rio Salado Parkway
Tempe, AZ 85281
Today, Tempe's original pioneer home is the oldest continuously occupied structure in the Phoenix area. And preserving its history — which includes visits from celebrities like Carmen Miranda, John Wayne, and Bruce Springsteen, and stories of ghostly apparitions — is the responsibility of Leonard's son, Michael, who took over Monti's in 1997 with partner Eddie Goitia. In addition to running the landmark restaurant, Monti is also running for mayor in Tempe. (Recent polls suggest Monti is neck-and-neck with Mark Mitchell, with less than two months before the May 15 general election.)
Inside, the mostly windowless, low-ceilinged, and dark wood interior is an expansive and chaotic labyrinth of rooms and hallways with that "lived in for centuries" look. A self-guided tour allows visiting patrons to observe the over 130-year-old walls of thick adobe, feel the original river rock floor beneath their feet and view countless photos, newspaper clippings, and memorabilia from the building's past.
Over the past half-century, the steakhouse has remained remarkably consistent in its food. Yes, there was the addition of sweet-potato fries, and prime rib has been substituted for the filet on the $12 Monday night dinner special, but these are mere ripples in the restaurant's cuisine history.
Mike Monti, like his father did, prefers to err on the conservative side when it comes to change. Besides, when you're a Valley legend that keeps guests happy with standard steaks, good service, and prices that won't break the bank, why fix what isn't broken?(Read an interview with Michael Monti.)
And for a steakhouse, Monti's isn't the snooty kind. Never has been. Its generations of guests in casual to very casual attire, assembled for family gatherings or celebrating an event with friends, can, and do, feel comfortable enough to get rowdy in one of the restaurant's small dining rooms or at the bar. And a sizeable menu of meat, seafood, pasta, sandwiches, and salads ensures they won't go home hungry.
The steaks, where one should start and stay, include an Arizona-raised filet mignon, a 21-ounce porterhouse, and a slow-roasted prime rib. Seasoned with herbs and spices, carved to order, and well prepared, the prime rib doesn't disappoint and can be had with decidedly standard but generously portioned sides like Monti's classic spaghetti topped with signature marinara, bulky baked potatoes, or garden salads with lots of iceberg lettuce.
Those simply looking for an appetizer to share over drinks with friends would be wise to choose the simple but satisfying artichoke and spinach dip, topped with house-made guacamole and roasted red pepper flakes for a little kick. For the burger-bound, there's the Full Monti, a half-pound creation of Angus beef topped with tangy barbecue sauce, bacon, onion rings, and cheddar and pepper jack cheeses.
Last year, to help celebrate the historic steakhouse's 55th anniversary, Monti brought gourmet eating to his restaurant, and to his guests, with his Culinary Masters Series, a program in which visiting culinary powerhouses, such as celebu-chef Beau MacMillan, Eddie Matney of Eddie's House, and Matt Carter of The Mission, created special menus of innovative eats.
The concept seemed to be Mike Monti's way of giving his guests a taste of something different without changing what's kept the legendary steakhouse in business for more than half a century.