Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Off the Map: Fire Up the Sticky Buns

Sticky Buns -- El Chorro Lodge, Paradise Valley, AZ
El Chorro Lodge

Sorry Bobby Flay, but Beau MacMillan knows better sticky buns than you do.
And/Or Bobby Just Hasn't Been to Arizona Yet
As our last stop on our whirlwind Phoenix tour o' food, we wind up at El Chorro Lodge in Paradise Valley, known especially for their first-rate sticky buns which are served free with every meal (a la BLT Steak popovers).
Stick to Our Thighs, Please
The ambiance of El Chorro Lodge is like none we have encountered so far in Arizona, and we are instantly in love with the outdoor fireplaces and twinkling Christmas lights.
"We Need to Get Close to the Fire, Like in Little House on the Prairie."
Trust Us When We Say It Was More Appealing in Person
Well, Vodka is in love -- Ginger, she of poor cold tolerance, wants to sit inside.

Once again, Ginger's opinion on the seating matter abates when she is promised a table close to the fire and outdoor heating lamps, though it is all she can do to not drag the portable heater from the hostess area with her as well.  When we reach our table, Ginger cozies up to the fireplace while Vodka begins removing layers of clothing, menopause-style.
Better To Heat Your Sticky Buns With, My Dear
We get down to the business of placing our drink orders and are, in true Arizona form, carded ("We have been carded by every place in this state").  As Vodka fishes for her ID, she sends our waiter on an exploratory mission to find out what kind of flavored vodkas El Chorro Lodge offers for her new favorite cocktail, vodka soda.
It's Like Drinking Water. Delicious, Alcoholic Water
Settling on the raspberry vodka, and Ginger on wine (served in such a sturdy wine glass that we're convinced they knew her clumsy arms were coming), we toast a successful trip to the west.
Glasses Built for Street-Toughs
And this is all before the arrival of the sainted sticky buns.
Now THAT Is Some Goo Worth Getting Sticky Over
Prior to us trying Beau MacMillan's chosen Best Thing I Ever Ate BANG FOR THE BUCK dish, our friend has decided to go to battle with the waiter over our entree choices.  Wishing to order the buffalo burger but not wanting to eat yet another round of French fries, she would like a substitute side.  The waiter says this is not possible, until our friend bullies him into serving her scalloped potatoes instead.  We observe this proceeding with shock, both because we think the non-substitution rule is standard practice, and because if anyone is supposed to be causing issues at this table, it is us.
We're Not Used to Being Considered the Non-Problematic Side of the Table
When El Chorro Lodge extends an olive branch in the form of the basket of sticky buns, we can barely get a hold of ourselves in an effort to stuff dozens of them in our mouths.
Feel Free to Send Over Twelve More Baskets, Thanks in Advance
In comparison to Flour Bakery's massive, nutty, and dry variety, El Chorro's buns are small and sweet.  Neither chewy nor yeasty, the dough is tender, and the whole thing tastes more like a lip-smacking cinnamon bun.  The cores of the buns are especially flavorful, and unlike at Flour, the goo has seeped all the way through the entire cake.  These bite-size buns could turn into an addiction quickly, and it is probably for the best that we live across the country from their place of creation.
The Heart of the Matter
Surprisingly, though the concept of a dessert-like appetizer does not appeal to us in theory, these sticky buns are not so overtly sweet that they turn us off from the platter of grilled cheese that follows them.  Featuring three varieties of goopy and fried mini-sandwiches, the grilled cheese is nearly as enjoyable as the sticky buns. 
And Also Pre-Divided, Which Is Especially Useful for Our Lack of Knife Skills
For our "dinner", we split the buffalo burger (WITH French fries - we are of the persuasion that one can never have too many fries) and the chicken enchiladas.  When she sees the platters arriving, Ginger begins frantically clearing her place at the table with the announcement "Food's here!" (said as if we have not been eating non-stop for two days straight).  This comment sends Vodka into an inexplicable burst of giggles as she pictures us assembling at the pig trough for "feeding time."  Said giggles last so long that Vodka's eyes begin seeping with tears, and this is even before she sees what Ginger has done to our burger plate.
It seems that, in her excitement to eat yet again, Ginger has forgotten the picture-policy concerning our food and has taken her knife to the burger, cutting it in two before Vodka has had a chance to photograph it.
Grounds for Blog Excommunication
"Really?!" Vodka, finally snapped out of her private giggle fest, says in her most accusatory tone.  "After all this time, how could you?!"

The burger itself is juicy and pleasing, if served on a bit unwieldy of a bun (and while the French fries are good as well, our friend is especially taken with her substitute scalloped potatoes).
The Non-Problem Child Side of the Table
Ginger, who is seemingly obsessed with dividing all of our items in two, places a half of a pickle on Vodka's sticky bun plate but does not notice whether or not Vodka consumes it.

"Did you take your pickle?" Ginger asks in a panic many minutes later.

"I ate it," Vodka answers.

"Good.  I was afraid I did," Ginger confesses, flashes of McClure Pickle jars flashing through her head.
Perhaps We Should've Asked El Chorro to Pre-Divide ALL of Our Food
Similar to the burger, the chicken enchiladas are also quite good, even if they are slightly spicy for our weak palates.
Mexican Food in Arizona: Check
Smothered in cheese and topped with slivers of tortilla chips, they prove to be one of our favorite dishes of the night.
Well, Our Favorite Non-Free Dish
By the time we cap off our time in Arizona with a visit to the Phoenician rooftop bar, we are extremely full but apparently not satiated.  When Vodka spots sushi being consumed a table away, she comments that it looks appealing.

"I never want to eat again," our friend says, looking at the sushi with disgust.

"It's not that I want to eat it," Vodka explains.  "It's that if someone stuck it in my mouth, I would probably chew."

And this philosophy, ladies and gentlemen, is how the west was truly won.

El Chorro Lodge's Sticky Buns: 5 stars*

*Certifiable Best Thing I Ever Ate

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