For Whom the Bell Tolls: The trip back from northern Arizona to the Valley along I-17 may satisfy your longings for scenery, but it doesn't offer much hope for tamping down hunger pangs.
There's the wonderful Rock Springs Cafe, at exit 242 by Black Canyon City. But by that point, I'm so close to the barn that I usually don't feel like stopping.
But folks in need of nourishment have another alternative. Get off about 20 miles north of Rock Springs, at Cordes Junction, exit 262, and follow the signs to Arcosanti, about five miles away down a dirt road.
Yes, most people come to this experimental settlement to check out architect and visionary Paolo Soleri's emerging urban desert community, and maybe hear a concert, see a light show or buy tee shirts and wind chimes.
Not me. I head for the cafe, which offers a small selection of tasty homemade soups, salads and sandwiches. You can also visit the Arcosanti bakery, which puts out a revivifying selection of cookies, muffins and pies. This fueling stop should make the rest of the journey home a lot more pleasant.
One drawback: You better be in the Cordes Junction neighborhood between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., because those are the cafe's hours.
Wines and Roses: How does a good sommelier work? Check out the treatment we recently received from Dean Williams at the Palm Court, the gourmet dining room at Scottsdale Conference Resort.
After a celebratory anniversary dinner, I was in the mood for an after-dinner drink. But a little too much champagne had dulled my decision-making abilities. (The Palm Court offers the excellent Veuve Cliquot by the glass.) I just stared at the dessert wine list, unable to make a choice.
Sensing my dilemma, the sommelier trotted off to the wine cellar and brought over two ports for me to taste, pouring a small glass of each. Gratis.
What a nice touch. His recommendation was on the mark, too, a luscious 20-year-old Taylor Fladgate tawny. The next day I went out and bought a bottle.
There's more to being a sommelier than knowing vintage years and the list of Burgundy Grands Crus. Ordering wine in a restaurant should be fun, not agonizing or intimidating. Williams seems to have learned that, too.
Grill Talk: I hadn't been back to Pion Grill since it shuffled chefs a while back. I'm happy to report that the fare is just as reliable as ever.
There's still the killer green chile corn bread, which my wife always smuggles out so she can have it for breakfast the next morning.
And there's still the inventive Southwestern fare. The traditional shrimp cocktail appetizer is punched up by blackening the shrimp and pairing it with a prickly pear dipping sauce. The shredded pork smoked corn tamale also makes a fragrant starter.
A beautiful veal chop, in a wild mushroom-, guajillo chile-sage sauce, is a carnivore's delight. And fish fans will enjoy the pepper-crusted swordfish moistened with an habanero beurre blanc.
Pion Grill is at Regal McCormick Ranch, 7401 North Scottsdale Road.
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