Bite Me has a loving, trustful friend who didn't know what he was in for when he offered to treat your humble narrator to a birthday dinner just after she hit the Valley.
The poor sap suggested a swanky joint, not realizing that, when she's on a freebie, Bite Me can put away half the menu. And what a menu! Bite Me's light-in-the-loafers pal took her to Lon's, the fancy eatery at the Hermosa Inn in Paradise Valley. To his credit, Bite Me's benefactor didn't flinch as she ordered and consumed an appetizer, salad and soup, an entrée, a single-malt scotch and a bottle of champagne (well, she had some help with the bubbly), but her waiter did raise an eyebrow more than once.
Let him smirk. This was darn good grub, and Bite Me wanted her fill. Her friend, meanwhile, got all adventurous and requested the antelope, not knowing what the hell an antelope is. (Neither did Bite Me, to tell the truth.) But it was succulent and mighty tasty, and it helped gay buddy wash away whatever regrets he had when the bill arrived. (The Adam's apple always gives it away, doesn't it, girls? That ticket was a whopper. Gulp!)
Lon's at the Hermosa
5532 North Palo Cristi, Paradise Valley
602-955-7878. Hours: Sunday brunch, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Brunch: $19; la carte: $12-$15. Major cards.
But soon enough, Bite Me wanted to make a return trip. Stepmom had come to town, and she's one particular eater. Only problem was, Stepmom's tastes go well beyond Bite Me's budget. There was no way your ever-lovin' host could afford to take Stepmom to a dinner at the Hermosa -- and have Dad's old lady chomp down on antelope or any other four-legged deer-like animals that might happen to be on the menu. (Bite Me eventually did look up what an antelope is.) Bite Me's gotta think about making rent, and with what little she squeezes out of her heartless editor, that ain't always a sure thing.
Imagine her relief when Bite Me found out that brunch at Lon's runs only $19 per, not a bad price for a run-of-the-mill restaurant and insanely cheap for someplace as fine as Lon's. She and Stepmom were amazed by the mountain of food that arrived at their table: à la carte orders of grilled meats, ham, beef, sausage, bacon, a mass of hash browns, and a monstrous fruit plate doing that thing where every bit of unsavory pulp is skimmed away, as well as a mound of buttery croissants, sticky buns and blueberry muffins. The carbs just kept coming in the actual brunch order: a wealth of stuffed French toast, frittata, pancakes and huevos rancheros. The leftovers lasted a week.
Stepmom was duly impressed, and the brunch paid off major dividends. In no time, the family and friends back in L.A. were tellin' tales about Bite Me's new high-flying lifestyle. And good impressions can't hurt, especially on this salary.
Keith and Ann Edwards
Bite Me: Tell me how your brunch was.
Keith: It was great. This is our second visit here. We were here in January. We love the architecture.
Bite Me: Isn't it gorgeous? (Lon's has a kind of Southwestern ranch-meets-upscale chic kind of thing goin' on. The effect is best at night, when the staff fires up chimineas and warming lamps, and there's no other illumination. The Hermosa Inn sits in a dark, dark neighborhood without streetlights anywhere nearby. The place is so inky at night, Bite Me nearly misses it every time she goes.)
Keith: Our ranch is one of maybe two houses in the Solvang area with the Southwestern architecture. So we do like the architecture. But as far as the restaurant, the ambiance is great.
Bite Me: My parents are visiting from Oakland and we brought them here, and they freaked, thinking the prices were nutso. But you know, it's really inexpensive. They you give so much food compared to places in California. Did you get the brunch?
Keith: No, we didn't have the actual brunch; we had the steak.
Bite Me: Did you like it?
Ann: Yes, it was wonderful. When I was here before, I had their fruit salad plate. Delicious. Their steak today was "mm-mmn" good. (Bite Me was falling in love with sweet Keith and Ann, especially when they told her that they were spending their retirement years helping out a church organization that helps attack hunger in the Third World. Bite Me felt some serious guilt when she was asked about her own life's work -- accosting diners outside fancy food palaces -- but she did feel good about all the places she'd been and folks she was meeting since her humble origins in the Midwest.)
Keith: You haven't asked us where we're from. Don't we have an accent? Guess.
Bite Me: I was thinking like Ireland, or . . .
Keith: That's not bad. England. We're both from England. But we lived in Canada for many years.
Ann: We met when I . . .
Keith: Don't tell them our whole life story!
Ann: . . . when I was 16 and he was 17.
Bite Me: That is sooo cute! You've been married a long time?
Bite Me: How long have you been married?
Ann: 42 years. But we've been together over 50 years.
Keith: Yes, darling, not quite.
Bite Me: What's the secret to a long-term marriage?
Ann: Have an opinion and stick up for it . . . and love each other no matter what!
Jet chartering service
Bite Me: Do you fly?
Brad: I don't fly. I sit in the back.
Bite Me: You mean you don't know how to fly?
Bite Me: Do you want to know how to fly?
Bite Me: Wow. Okay, cool. Are people more scared about flying? Are they chartering private jets because they want to, like, have more control?
Brad: They're chartering private jets because of security issues out of airports, yeah.
Bite Me: Yeah, it takes you forever to fly.
Brad: Well, you just don't like stopping four times between here and Tampa, you know?
Bite Me: Did you have the brunch?
Brad: We wanted to have the brunch, but we looked over to the table next to us, and there was enough there to feed, like, six people.
Bite Me: It's so much food. And for 19 bucks! How do they do that?
Brad: We don't know, because they brought it over and set it down beside us and we were salivating like dogs.
Bite Me: Seriously.
Brad: Because it smelled so good.
Bite Me: Most of the places in Arizona feed you a lot. I just moved here from L.A.
Brad: Oh, yeah. This is not L.A. food.
Ed Carpenter and Lisa LaFolette
Racecar driver and free spirit
Bite Me: What do you do, Lisa?
Lisa: Nothing right now. I kinda travel around. Take care of the dog.
Bite Me: Cool, right on! So what did you eat?
Lisa: I had the Hermosa salad, and I had them add grilled chicken.
Bite Me: Look at how cute she is. Okay, so did you just move here?
Lisa: Actually, we're from Indy. We just arrived here.
Bite Me: Oh my God! I'm from Michigan, originally.
Lisa: Oh, so we're Midwesterners. We don't have a lot of quaint little restaurants there. This is nice.
Bite Me: I'm just getting used to this town. I just moved here like two months ago from West Hollywood. It's weird. I'm from Michigan, so I understand that, like, they feed you in Arizona like Michigan feeds you.
Lisa: They do.
Bite Me: They eat so much back there. I go back to visit my relatives, and they're like, "Time for lunch," and I'm thinking, "I just digested breakfast," ya know? You're just visiting?
Lisa: Yeah. He races. He's racing at Phoenix International Raceway.
Bite Me: Whoa! Look at you. Cool. Have you been watching his races? Is it scary?
Lisa: Yeah, it's a little scary. It gets my nerves going a little bit, you know?
Bite Me: How long have you been together -- a long time?
Lisa: About a year.
Bite Me: Doesn't everyone who goes to a race just watch, hoping for a big pileup?
Lisa: Not me.
Bite Me: No, not the people in the cars and the people who know them. It's just like, bizarre. I was wondering what that would be like.
Lisa: Yeah, it's not like Winston Cup racing. This is probably a little bit more elite.
Ed: It's like Indy cars.
Bite Me: Indy cars?
Ed: Yeah, we're racing out here at the end of this month. I race the Infiniti Pro Series, which is like Indy-style racing. Not NASCAR stuff.
Bite Me: You look young.
Bite Me: My God, how long have you been racing? It's like every kid's dream. How did you get into that?
Ed: I started racing go-cart type things when I was 8 years old and just kinda did it ever since.
Bite Me: Did your mom really enjoy it when you became a racecar driver?
Ed: She's dealing with it. She comes to most of the races.
Bite Me: Oh, cool.
Lisa: But you can watch it.
Bite Me: Yeah? When is it gonna be on?
Ed: You can watch it on ESPN2 on March 23.
Lisa: Like at 1 p.m.
Bite Me: Wow. So, do you win a lot?
Ed: I haven't won recently.
Bite Me: Oh, c'mon. Lisa, is he any good?
Lisa: Yeah, he is very good. I mean, honestly, out of all the guys out there racing, he is among the most talented of all of them.
Bite Me: What's it take to be talented?
Ed: Most of the young guys that race have been doing it their whole lives.
Bite Me: What's it like to drive in the car around town with him?
Lisa: Okay, well you know those "oh, Jesus" bars in the car? I hold onto them.
Ed: I don't drive fast.
Bite Me: Do you get a lot of speeding tickets? You must be hard to insure.
Ed: I haven't had a speeding ticket in, like, two years.
Bite Me: What do you proclaim as your occupation? Like, I bet insurance companies avoid you like the plague.
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Ed: I tell them I'm self-employed.
Bite Me: Clever. So, what did you eat?
Ed: Huevos rancheros. It was good; I'm full.
Bite Me: I bet you are.