A couple of weeks ago, I was backtracking some of my old Judas Priest albums just for the hell of it, and, sure enough, I found a message. When I played "Pain and Pleasure" from Screaming for Vengeance in reverse, the lyrics, "The way you're treating me, I feel I'll have ta go/I've heard the rumours and it seems they're comin true" sounded a lot like: "T-t-try the f-f-ood in G-glo-obe/it's rilly p-pretty g-g-good"!
The dolphinlike voice delivering this message was high and kind of spooky, but very emphatic. Obviously, whoever implanted this message meant it.
Of course, even before I pulled my old albums off the shelf I'll admit I'd been thinking a lot about making a trip to the Globe-Miami area. Lately, it seems not a day passes when someone doesn't recommend the Mexican food up there. First some friends of mine. Then a few other people. Finally, the president of New Times corners me for my opinion on enchiladas Miami-style. But it was that fateful late-night listen to Judas Priest that clinched it. After giving an ear to Rob Halford and his pals for a half-dozen spins or so, I knew it was time to head for the hills. Something inside my head chanted, "Go for it, go for it."
Before I make the big drive, pragmatist that I am, I opt to check out mountain Mexican food closer to home. The same friends who raved about Globe and Miami turned me on to Casa Reynoso. This Tempe restaurant claims to cook with family recipes from Globe-Miami. It's been around a while, but somehow I never managed to stop in during the three years I resided in College Town.
I'm very sorry I missed out.
Casa Reynoso is an attractive, old-style Mexican restaurant filled with artifacts like grinding stones, copper and earthenware pots and authentic Spanish-style saddles. White archways and black grillwork give it a hacienda look. And the food is kind of different, but just how, I'm still struggling to put into words. Give me a minute.
Our waitress tells us the Gollo burro is named after a certain cousin Gregory from the Globe area whose name in Spanish is "Gollo." Constructed with whole pintos, green chili, cheese and onions wrapped in a buttered flour tortilla, this eponymous burro was first assembled by Gollo himself. I say doff your baseball cap if you run into him up there. This burro is pure genius. In fact, I like almost everything sampled during my trial run at Casa Reynoso: the smoky-flavored refrieds, the subtly coated chile relleno, the ample green chili enchilada. The only item I'm less than satisfied with is the red beef tamale, which is purely a matter of taste. Antonio and Roberta Reynoso make their tamales fluffy; I prefer them dense.
By the time the check comes, I'm both hooked and tantalized. I must know more. I must know what makes Globe-Miami Mexican food different. Pretty soon I find myself pulling my suitcase from the top of the closet. Before you can say "Hellion," I'm packed and ready to hit the road.
But not before I call our utmost authority on Globe, Arizona. That's right, the following morning I call Governor Rose Mofford to see if she can describe her hometown's Mexican food any better than I. Vada Manager, the governor's press secretary, acts as my intermediary. "Simply excellent," says Manager, quoting the governor. Of El Rey Cafe, one of the restaurants I plan to visit, Rose is said to have said, "I've particularly enjoyed food there in the past."
I thank Manager, hang up the phone and carry my suitcase out to the car. It is clear that if anyone's going to solve this mystery, it's going to be me. My culinary investigation of Miami and Globe has commenced.
Two Big Gulps and one winding trip through Devil's Canyon later, a friend and I pull up to the Cloud Nine Motel in Globe. This AAA, three-diamond motel is to be our base of operations while we're in the area. It has everything we need: pool, cable, ice machine. We stow our gear, make sure the TV works and set out to fill our stomachs.
Minutes later, we're cruising back through town on the lookout for the classic green and pink neon sign atop the El Rey Cafe. Outside, the parking lot is full. Inside, it's a Globe Saturday night. The place is packed with wall-to-wall humanity. The hostess gives us a nod, surveys the small wood-paneled restaurant and tells us we'll have a booth in a minute. We stand and wait by the door. We count beer signs on the walls to pass the time.
Once settled in our brown vinyl booth, we order ourselves some Superior beer and chips while we study the menu. Yep, no gratis chips here; they cost $1.25 a bowl--very steep by Phoenix standards. Then again, these aren't ordinary chips. At El Rey Cafe, your fried corn tortilla strips are served drenched with butter. I've never had anything like them before. They taste like popcorn. The table hot sauce is fiery, not sweet, and heavy on the oregano.
We eat chips and salsa till butter drips down our arms. Then we wait a very long time for the rest of our meal. We entertain ourselves by watching this microcosm of the town in action. Everybody knows each other. No one leaves the restaurant without stopping by two or three tables. It gives me a good feeling: Here it is Saturday night and families are out together, even the older kids. Kinda reminds me of the small town I grew up in. Sniff.
We notice a lot of folks at the tables around us eating cheese crisps instead of chips. As we blot our hands on several napkins, my accomplice and I begin to suspect that maybe there's a reason.
Finally our dinners arrive. They are served on doubled plates, one stacked under the other--to avoid burns, I presume. Chimichangas are very popular at the El Rey. Now I know why. Our chimi has a flaky, light crust and is filled with tender beef and green chile strips.
Other standouts include a chicken enchilada stuffed with succulent white meat and onions, a dense but amply sized red beef tamale, wonderful pork-flavored creamy beans and another fabulous chile relleno which tastes of roasted longhorn cheddar. On the negative side of the ledger, add in some very watery Mexican rice and a pan-fried shredded beef taco which is strictly ordinary.
Still, on the whole, I'd say the El Rey serves up a meal worth a drive to Globe any day.
Back at the Cloud Nine, we watch the miserable Casualties of War on cable. My mind wanders. I am still trying to define Miami-Globe Mexican food. It isn't enough to say it's plainer or simpler than standard Sonoran fare. The enchilada sauce seems lighter in color and weight, less red, than what I'm used to. Everything seems less gloppy. Also, there is a noticeable absence of cilantro. Exhausted, I fall asleep pondering pools of butter.
The next day we drive into Miami for lunch at La Paloma Cafe. We pull up just as it opens. We seat ourselves and within five minutes, six of the other beige booths are filled. By 11:45 a.m., every table is occupied. In contrast to El Rey, the wood-paneled walls of this comfy cafe are unadorned with brewers' brand names. It's Soda Only at La Paloma.
Again, we notice that everyone knows each other here. Not only that, the customers are so regular that the waitresses ask them if they need menus. Many say no. I'm impressed.
As at El Rey, La Paloma charges for chips. We contemplate ordering a cheese crisp, but I must know if last night's buttery corn strips are the exception or the rule. We order chips. They are awful: stale, hard to chew and oversalted. I vow not to make the same mistake again.
But that's just about the only disappointment at La Paloma. The green chili, especially, is superb. Strips of green chile and tender cubed beef are combined in a mild mixture that really pleases my palate. A flour tortilla that comes with it is hot, already buttered and as good as any I've scarfed down at Carolina's in South Phoenix.
Speaking of green chiles, cooks from Miami-Globe know how to make chile rellenos just the way I like 'em. La Paloma's have a fluffy, noneggy coating and are nicely compact and warm.
I also like a red beef tamale that is dense and moist but has plate height. It's stuffed with tender shredded beef and topped with enchilada sauce that is as thin as El Rey's, but redder.
Service at La Paloma Cafe is fast and efficient. The food is less expensive than El Rey and portions seem a little smaller, but maybe that's only my perception because I feel like I could eat a lot more. It's that good.
After an educational jaunt to Besh-Ba-Gowah, the local Salado Indian pueblo, we return to our home base for some rest and relaxation. It's Sunday afternoon and there's not much on TV. I watch a PBS show on Robert Frost and allow my lunch to digest. Stranded without my Judas Priest records for guidance, I am hoping tonight's dinner at La Casita Cafe will make things clearer.
We leave the Cloud Nine at dusk and roll through Globe's deserted downtown unaccosted. Of the three restaurants we've visited here, La Casita is the least crowded. It is also the fanciest. The spacious dining room has high molded-tin ceilings, heavy Spanish-style chairs and real wood paneling. The waitresses wear black and white.
I am hedging my bets tonight. We order chips and a cheese crisp. We also ask for a dish of the "extra hot sauce" listed on the menu for $1.50. At first our waitress tells us they're out of it, then brings us a dish. She warns us to be careful. "I can hardly eat it," she admits. "My aunt and mom grow their own chiles. That's why it's so hot." It is as fiery as an inferno blast, but I love it. They could sell this stuff as essence of chile. My accomplice, a.k.a. "Mr. Jalapeno," even seems to be affected: he's poured and drunk several glasses of water in quick succession.
Again the chips let us down. They're buttered and hard. A cheese crisp is definitely the way to go. It's greasy and crunchy, but topped with loads of jack-longhorn cheese.
The rest of our order is out soon, delivered on a tiered metal cart. A Navajo taco is really a taco salad in a fry bread shell. I'm disappointed. However, a cheese enchilada is great: low to the plate and tasting of roasted cheese and white onion.
I'm not enthusiastic about a red beef tamale. It's airy and heavy on the beef, but I should have known. Josie Cuca, who owns La Casita, is related to the owners of Casa Reynoso. The two recipes are obviously derived from the same source.
A half-and-half plate of red chili and refrieds is pretty good. Our waitress urges me to "get right over it" while I'm eating. It's good advice. An excellent buttered flour tortilla helps me in my effort. The chili is full flavored but mild, and full of small cubes of beef. A nice pinto-bean flavor swirls through the creamy refrieds.
La Paloma is a hard act to follow. We leave more food behind at La Casita than anywhere else we've eaten. Of the four restaurants we've visited, I'd rank it fourth.
We return to the Cloud Nine and watch Lethal Weapon 2. Uggh. As we head back to Phoenix the next day, I try to summarize what I've learned about about Globe-Miami-style Mexican food. Butter seems to be a key ingredient--it's everywhere. Green chiles are beloved and cooked with respect. On the whole, the food seems to be plainer, the sauces simpler and thinner. The chips are awful. Everything is served on doubled plates.
Beyond these basic observations, I confess I'm still trying to dope out what it is that makes mountain-style Mexican food so good. In the words of Judas Priest, "you've got another thing comin'" if you think this case is closed. I plan to work on this one for oh, say, five more pounds. I think there might be subliminals punched into the cymbal crashes on "Bloodstone."
Casa Reynoso, 3138 South Mill, Tempe, 966-0776. Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday; noon to 8 p.m., Sunday.
La Paloma Cafe, 722 Sullivan Street, Miami, 473-9910. Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. Closed Monday and Tuesday.
El Rey Cafe, 999 North Broad Street, Globe, 425-6601. Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. Closed Monday and Tuesday.
La Casita Cafe, 470 North Broad Street, Globe, 425-8462. Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday. Closed Tuesday.
The following morning I call Governor Rose Mofford to see if she can describe her hometown's Mexican food. El Rey Cafe
Here it is Saturday night and families are out together, even the older kids. Kinda reminds me of the small town I grew up in. Sniff.
Stranded without my Judas Priest records for guidance, I am hoping tonight's dinner will make things clearer.
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