Hap’s Pit Barbecue – Phoenix, Arizona

Hap's Pit Barbecue

Hap's Pit Barbecue

Good barbecue in Arizona? You’d better believe it! Hap’s Pit Barbecue is one happening barbecue joint, one that its proponents believe its name is short for “happiness because that’s what it elicits from its diners–that and audible exclamations of “wow” and “yum.”

Hap’s is a perennial listing on Phoenix magazine’s coveted best restaurant list and the only Phoenix barbecue establishment to earn a five star designation from the Arizona Republic newspaper. If you’re looking for national credentials, it’s been raved about on USA Today.

Despite those impressive plaudits and accolades, what it took to get me to Hap’s was a recommendation by my great friend and fellow barbecue aficionado Dianna Peoples. I’d been fooled before by the magazine rants of critics who obviously didn’t know what they were talking about. This time those critics were spot on!

Hap’s captures you before the door with the wafting olfactory pleasing aroma of smoked meats that smell as if they’ve just come out of a real barbecue pit. You’re greeted by a staff obviously proud of their product–and for good reason. Unfortunately during my first visit, I couldn’t sample all of those good reasons, but what I did sample were some of the best hand-rubbed pork ribs I’ve had in many a year. They were meaty and succulent, absolutely finger-licking delicious.

The interior at Hap's

The interior at Hap's

If you’re famished, the perfect cure for hunger is Hap’s meat sampler which features ribs and chicken along with three meats of your choosing. My choices have been pulled pork, ham, lamb and links all of which bordered on barbecue perfection. The lamb was ameliorated by Hap’s own mint sauce which was thinner than most but an excellent flavor complement to a lamb that had very little gaminess.

Also outstanding are the Old Settler beans which are an amalgam of different beans and bacon. The cornbread is true to its Southern heritage, an excellent complement for the ribs and beans. The ham, pulled pork and links are also superb.

Hap’s could compete in the Texas barbecue arena and that’s a huge compliment.

Photos courtesy of Bill “Roastmaster” Resnik.

Hap’s Pit Barbecue
4801 East Washington
Phoenix, Arizona
(602) 267-0181

LATEST VISIT: 28 April 2004
COST: $$
BEST BET: Pork Ribs, Old Settler Beans, Ham, Lamb, Chicken

Pinnacle Peak Patio – Scottsdale, Arizona

To a lexicologist like me, the word pinnacle has connotations of “the highest point of development or achievement.” In other words, it’s synonymous with ultimate, apogee, culmination, peak, summit, zenith, climax or apex…and those are just the synonyms (a word along with Thesaurus for which there are no synonyms) off the top of my head.

At 3100 feet in elevation, Pinnacle Peak itself is one of the more prominent landmarks in North Scottsdale. Whether seen under a star filled night time canopy or beneath a cerulean summer sky, its weathered boulders, craggy spires and desert vegetation make it one of the more spectacular vistas in the area. Spectacular is certainly not a word you would use to describe the Pinnacle Peak Patio, a gawdy Western facade which has grown into the world’s largest western steakhouse with seating for 1800 people inside and outside for 2000.

Launched in 1957, it has achieved worldwide notoriety as a fun family dining destination–one with a strict “no necktie” policy as enforced by the cutting and stapling to the rafters of over one million cravats over the past 46 years. Ever the cynic, I would have dismissed it entirely as a tourist trap had the world’s preeminent grill chef Bobby Flay not painted it in such a favorable light on one of his Food Network specials.

Additional confirmation from a New York Times critic hailing Pinnacle Peak Patio as serving the “best cowboy steak” only steeled our determination to dine there. By the time we found it (more than an hour after we set off), we were famished and ready to partake of an Adkins dieter’s dream–the 32 ounce Porterhouse called “the Cowboy” on the menu.

Order your mesquite grilled steak “well done” and you’ll be served a charred cowboy boot. Dinner entrees also include a tossed green salad with creamy Italian or ranch dressing, cowboy beans and thick-cut whole wheat bread with butter. It became painfully obvious with each bite we took of our meals that this sprawling restaurant’s name had little to do with the quality of the victuals. The steak was tough and fatty, eliciting a classic epigram from my companion Bill Resnik as to the whip marks on the steak being from where the jockey hit it.

Development of the Pinnacle Peak area has been done with obvious respect for the natural beauty of the area. Spectacular multi-million dollar residences are relatively obfuscated so as to preserve the desert ecology. Amidst God’s natural creations, there, too, is a place for grandiose Western steakhouses such as the Pinnacle Peak Patio. It’s just not a place to which I’ll return.

Pinnacle Peak Patio
10426 East Jomax Road
Scottsdale, AZ
(480) 585-1599

LATEST VISIT: 27 April 2004
BEST BET: Ambience

Buckhorn Saloon – Pinos Altos, New Mexico

The Buckhorn Saloon

In 1859, 49ers returning home from California discovered gold 7000 feet above sea level among the tall pines (Pinos Altos) north of Silver City. Rampant lawlessness, an anything goes attitude in the pursuit of gold and frequent raids by marauding Apaches made prospectors lives exciting to say the least.

The Buckhorn Saloon, circa 1985, offered respite and sustenance in the form of alcohol, entertainment and food, three things still available in this true Old West town. Walk into the saloon and you’re magically transported almost 150 years back in time.

The ambience remains seemingly unchanged as reflected in dim lighting, velvet curtains, wood beamed ceilings and other accoutrements of the day. The menu is more contemporary, featuring seafood, USDA choice steaks and salads, soups and homemade desserts. Libations include Sioux City sarsaparilla, one of the creamiest root beer drinks available anywhere.

To remain consistent with our Old West surroundings, Kim and I both had steaks. The Porterhouse steak is easily an inch and a half thick and prepared with salt, pepper and garlic. It was juicy and succulent with just a hint of pink when ordered medium. At medium well the New York steak isn’t nearly as juicy, but is still highly flavorable. The warm bread has a hint of honey and is served in small loaves.

Order your salad with the ranch dressing and you’ll be asking the wait staff why they haven’t bottled and sold it. It’s rich, creamy and tastier than commercial offerings. Also quite good is the chicken noodle soup which is made with thick egg noodles and white chicken with a broth so savory, it would be criminal to add crackers. The menu includes several homemade desserts but unless you have two stomachs, you probably won’t have room for them.

When done with your meal, stagger on over to the adjacent Old Opera Melodrama playhouse for a raucous evening of revelry and fun. The Opera’s Western plays are bawdy and bodacious with just enough double-entendre to make them more appropriate for adults than children. Pinos Altos has other attractions which make it a must stop in the Land of Enchantment’s wild and history laden Southwest quadrant.

Buckhorn Saloon
Main Street
Pinos Altos, NM

LATEST VISIT: 17 April 2004
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Porterhouse Steak, New York Steak, Sarsaparilla

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