At the Rusty Spur Saloon on Scottsdale’s Main Street, the walls are lined with old license plates, the heads of game once hunted down, and in late November thousands of dollar bills donated by diners, which go to charity shortly after Christmas. Live music is played here throughout the day, and a large and funky character wearing something like a yellow snuggie is sitting at the bar. Modern day Pony Express riders head here after the completion of an annual 200 mile ride. While the red brick building once held a bank, a real estate agency and other businesses for the majority of its history, it feels like an ancient saloon.
And the burgers served here are traditional and rich – – the stuff of old time Western cuisine, which is why it is the first stop on an Arizona Food Tours “A Taste of Old Scottsdale” walk and visits to six different dining establishments.
I’ve been to Scottsdale a dozen times and never before had the chance to see Old Town. Don’t make that mistake, because it’s a highlight of a visit to the Valley of the Sun. It’s a place I’d take my wife on a visit to Scottsdale, and if I came with a group of friends I’d insist it be a part of the itinerary. And the Food Tour is a great way to sample this part of town.
As we wore our smart-looking Official Golf Road Warriors Antigua golf shirts, our personable guide, Zach, intermingled a narrative on the history of Scottsdale with the development of its food culture. And, with more than 600 restaurants – – more per capita than Manhattan, he contends – – the fare is varied and increasingly unusual.
After visiting the old saloon we headed straight for a “modern” saloon, which actually started business in the mid-1980s. With glass walls and high ceilings, AZ 88 could be a plain old restaurant, but is actually noted for its innovative cocktails. And the food: The plate of bacon-wrapped water chestnuts is one of its signature dishes, as well a spicy “Hell’s Fire Chips,” which are sprinkled with bleu cheese and hot sauce.
We then visited a newer establishment, Outrageous Olive Oils & Vinegars, where the proprietor gave an instructive presentation on the merits of quality balsamic and how extra virgin olive oil is good, and good for you. The tour ended at a restaurant made popular the last time the Super Bowl was held here, an eclectic place called Cowboy Ciao. On the Tour our sample dish was the “Stetson Chopped Salad,” which had about a dozen ingredients.
On the menu was the most intriguing dish I’ve seen in years: Chicken-Fried Trout, which is marinated in buttermilk and served with a Thai chile/mint slaw. This is not something you’d find in Tombstone back in the 1880s, and yet it’s the kind of dish you learn about on a food tour with A Taste of Old Town Scottsdale.
Now on the second day of our exploration of this city, it seems as if the Golf Road Warriors are concentrating more on food than golf, although we have played the Phoenician’s courses twice. Tomorrow, however, will bring a full 18 holes and also a visit to Cool Clubs, an up and coming club-fitting company. The weather is perfect. And so is our memory of a walk through the past of the town founded by Winfield Scott, a Civil War chaplain who bought much of the land around Old Town for $2.50 an acre, but doubtfully ever enjoyed Chicken-Fried Trout.