Spring Training eating, 2014
With Cactus League games about to commence, I’d expect a few Reds fans from outside of greater Phoenix or Goodyear, Ariz., to be in the area to take in some games. As I’ve done the past couple of years, I’ve put together some ideas for places to eat and see while you’re visiting.
Last year in the polite and soothing manner that are hallmarks of his personality, Marty Brennaman let me know that I should leave the food critic work to the professionals. He might be right, but I figured that an out-of-towner being armed with a little extra information to improve their experience can’t hurt. Besides, Marty could very well be visiting a few of these places himself.
I’m generally not a fan of high-falootin’ restaurants with pricey menus and four-hour waits. I like going to regular places and being casual. As a parent, I also try to notice if there are kids’ menus or if the place is at least kid friendly. And even though I’m eating on the company dime out here, I try to look for value whenever possible. I don’t mind spending a lot if I get a lot though.
There won’t be any mentions of national chain restaurants that can be found in or around Cincinnati. There are some chains in this group, but I believe most of them are regional or at least not at home. You’re going to notice after reading this that I like to eat pizza, a lot. That’s definitely a weakness that I fully embrace. I also don’t like sushi or any seafood, sorry.
Without further adieu, here is the 2014 list:
Culinary Dropout at the Yard – Phoenix: American comfort food of higher quality — fried chicken, meatloaf, mashed potatoes, sandwiches, craft beers and more. Get the fresh pretzel balls with melted cheese as an appetizer, too. What makes this place more special is the large outdoor patio complete with sofas, fire pits and a games area for cornhole, ping pong and fooseball. There is also the original Scottsdale location with the same menu but it lacks the outdoor space of the newer spot.
Federal Pizza – Phoenix: Wood-fired pizza restaurant in a location that once housed a 1960′s era bank building. It’s got good pizza, good craft beers, good music in the background and a hipster vibe going. You can eat inside or outside and there is even a drive-thru. This was a new find this year and I will be back.
Dillon’s BBQ, Peoria: Located 15-20 minutes north of Goodyear, but with multiple locations, this is a solid Kansas City style barbeque place. Bring an appetite. They offer giant plates with several varieties of meats, sauces and side dishes. Get the onion rings, too.
Raul and Theresa’s: One of the best Mexican restaurants I’ve ever been to it now has two locations in Greater Goodyear — both are about 10 minutes from the complex. The prices are very reasonable and it’s pretty authentic.
In-N-Out Burger: It’s all about fresh burgers and fries, nothing else. Go to Google for the web site’s secret menu and you can order items not listed, like “animal style” burgers, neopolitan shakes and grilled cheese.
Grimaldi’s: Thin crust “gourmet” pizza made in a coal fired oven. The sauce is on the sweet side but very pleasant. This is actually a chain but it’s not in Cincinnati. I’ve been to the locations in Glendale and Scottsdale and have never been disappointed.
Taste of Italy: A one-minute drive from the Reds’ complex, they do New York-style pizza by the slice and it’s also good. And cheap. Two slices and a soda for $5.
Oregano’s – multiple locations: Deep dish and thin crust pizzas are served here but the sandwiches are more memorable. A meatball hero is the size of Popeye’s forearm. Get the cookie pizza for dessert if you have room.
La Piazza – downtown Glendale: Good Italian food and wine. Solid all around.
Majerle’s Sports Grill: There are a few locations, including one in Goodyear. The food is solid but the number of flat screens make it a top sports bar, especially when the NCAA Tournament gets going.
Pizzeria Bianco, downtown Phoenix: It’s wood-fired individual pizzas and very good. It can be hard to get a table but they have expanded their downtown Phoenix location and added a second location in the city limits.
The Tee Pee — two locations: Very good Mexican food and funky atmosphere with kitschy items spread around. There is one in downtown Phoenix but I’ve been to the one on 42nd Ave and Indian School Rd.
Black Bear Diner, Goodyear Nothing overly special here but good, basic but good meals for all ages. You want breakfast for dinner, aka “brinner?” Go for it. Get a shake while you’re at it.
Roman’s Oasis, Goodyear It’s a dive with plenty of character to visit after a night game, but don’t even think of bringing the kids. This is a locals bar for beer drinking, but they do have decent food and a fish fry each Friday. There is also live country music on the weekends.
Rokerij, Phoenix: A very nice, but not kid friendly, restaurant. It is a great “date night” kind of place but be prepared for a wait. It’s a unique combination of Dutch-Southwestern smokehouse food.
Saddle Ranch Chop House: Also located in Westgate and Scottsdale, the food is not the main attraction. To me, it’s the mechanical bull. Perhaps Ol’ Marty might give it a spin?
Don and Charlie’s, Scottsdale: I’m honestly not going to gush over food. On that front, it’s not my favorite. What I do enjoy is numerous and unique sports memorabilia, namely baseball. Players, coaches, broadcasters and writers often come here. A reservation is a must. Do not order the Ned Colleti Chicken Schnitzel under any circumstances.
Joe’s Farm Grill, Gilbert: If you like seeing places featured on Diners, Drive-in’s and Dives, you might think it’s worth the trip. When traffic is bad, it’s over an hour from Goodyear on the complete opposte end Greater Phoenix. It’s a very kid friendly place where you can eat inside or outside near a working farm. They feature burgers, fries, chicken fingers, shakes, onion rings and more. You can walk around a near farm field to work off what you ate.
Here are recreational places in the area:
Piestewa Peak: Also known as Squaw Peak, it’s the area’s second highest mountain peak in the area behind Camelback Mountain. It’s a little shorter and less steep of a climb than Camelback as well. But the views are still very stunning, especially on a clear day.
Camelback Mountain: An even larger, steeper hiking spot with multiple trails. The Diamondbacks pitchers and catchers recently did conditioning by hiking it. It can be treacherous in spots and bring plenty of water.
White Tank Mountain Regional Park A variety of trails from easy to difficult. I brought my family here last year and my oldest son enjoyed climbing the rocks near a waterfall.
Phoenix Zoo: I’ve taken my family here twice and they really enjoyed it. A great place to spend a day, especially before it gets hot.
Westgate — Glendale: It’s a large entertainment and restaurant spot and features Jobing.com Arena, the home of Phoenix Coyotes NHL hockey and concerts. University of Phoenix, home of the NFL’s Cardinals, is also here and hosts events. There is an outlet mall that opened last year with plenty of top-of-the-line shops. This is where national chain restuarants thrive, including the Yard House, a new Buffalo Wild Wings, Margaritaville and Chipotle.
Estrella Mountain Regional Park — Goodyear: Only about 10 minutes from the complex. They have good playsets for the kids but also a bunch of hiking trails. It’s a pretty remote place and definitely desert terrain.
Sedona: It’s two hours away but certainly worth the drive. Don’t forget to bring a camera. The mountain peak views and red rocks are simply spectacular.
Grand Canyon: It’s probably a four-hour drive and I hope to go for the first time this spring when the family visits.