Category Archives: Arizona

A Beautiful Day in the “Agri-Hood”

Phoenix suburbs may conjure up images of golf courses and swimming pools. But at Agritopia in Gilbert, southeast of Phoenix, it’s all about gardens and front porches.

Agritopia is a suburban development built around a citrus grove and urban farm. The  neighborhoods foster a strong sense of community. –7,000 square-foot houses next to 1,800-square-foot ones. Most are built in craftsmen style so you barely see the difference in size.

American flags and welcome signs abound.

Plus, there’s a farm-to-table restaurant that’s been featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, family garden plots, a tractor shed turned into a coffee shop, a farm store with payment on the honor system, a Christian school, retirement home, a dog park, a winery.

The aptly-named development is a version of “utopia” created by Joe Johnston, whose family bought the land and began farming cotton and wheat there in 1960. The farm is in Gilbert, a suburb east of Phoenix once known as the “hay capital of the world.”

The restaurant, Joe’s Farm Grill, was originally the Johnston’s family home. Built in 1967, the restaurant serves burgers and other casual fare in a diner-style interior with plenty of shaded picnic-style seating outside. Trees look like they would be great for climbing until you see the “risk of scorpion stings” sign. I got a tasty gouda bacon cheeseburger with a milkshake made with Medjool dates grown in the area. The soft drink options weren’t Coke or Pepsi but drinks from the upstart Tractor Soda from Idaho.

Joe's Farm Grill
Joe’s Farm Grill has been featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives

I’ve read that Joe Johnston is often seen tooling around the 166-acre Agritopia on his Vespa motor scooter.

No Johnston or Vespas were seen on the day I was there. But it was fun strolling across the street from the grill and along the  grapevine-covered Agritopia Community Garden Trail to the community garden area. Families pay $250 a year, which gets you a 20×20 plot, access to water and compost. I saw everything from sugar cane to sugar snap peas with each plot decorated to reflect the personality of the owners. More acreage is devoted to Agritopia’s certified organic garden, which supplies Joe’s Farm Grill.

Grapevines drape the trail to the community garden area.

The Johnston family has an intriguing past. Joe Johnston’s great-grandfather was an engineer with Hobart Manufacturing, which developed the early-stage Kitchen-Aid food processor. The ingenuity continues at Agritopia. A converted Quonset hut houses several crafts including a brewery, letterpress print shop and Johnston’s own company that prototypes new cooking tools.

Agritopia has been listed as one of the top “agrihoods” in the country. It’s also part of Arizona’s Fresh Foodie Trail, a collection of agriculture and food manufacturing ventures in the Phoenix-Mesa-Gilbert area.




I’m Taking a Hike on Strenuous Hiking Adventures

I like a long bicycle ride while on vacation, but I’m slow to embrace hiking.

For starters, you just can’t cover as much ground. On a bicycle, I can ride at a leisurely 10 miles per hour and soak up a lot of scenery. At best, I can only cover three miles per hour hiking. Two miles is more realistic; one mile or less if it’s rough or steep terrain. Hiking places such as Louisiana’s Mt. Driskill is about all I’m good for.

But if I want to vacation with my twentysomething daughters, I must be a good sport and lace up the hiking boots, fill the water bottles and forge ahead.

It usually goes somewhat like a recent trip to Sedona, Arizona, where we tackled the Cathedral Rock Trail, only a one-mile trail labeled “moderate.”

The first few steps were easy enough, but then it was more scrambling up steep red rocks and then trying to keep my balance on slick sandstone spots where the well-worn Brooks Ravenna running shoes I was wearing didn’t provide enough traction.

I bailed out. Actually Hubby gave up 30 yards before I did. Daughter Mary Grace went on to the top, and I remained at my stopping point for 45 minutes or so until she came back down. I could see Hubby just a little bit below but didn’t want to risk sliding down to join him.

What a sight we were.

At one point, I took a small rock and started rubbing it on the soles of my shoes to roughen them up—my own version of Castaway as Millennials, some even wearing flip flops, passed me on the way up.

I’m sure the mountaintop view was spectacular, but it wasn’t bad from my vantage point.

Cathedral Rock Trail
Cathedral Rock Trail in Sedona, Arizona

Any time my daughter suggests hiking a trail I suspect to be strenuous, I head to the internet to research how strenuous it is. We were in Sedona partly because I had nixed a trip up popular Camelback Mountain near where we were staying in Phoenix.

—108 degrees in Phoenix the day before

–winds of 20-30 mph with occasional gusts of 50 possible for that day

–at least 13 species of rattlesnakes emerging from hibernation

–parking lots often congested as early as 6:15 am, and most importantly

–7 fall or heat-related deaths on Camelback Mountain in two years, more than the knife-edge cliff of Angel’s Landing in Utah’s Zion National Park.

Call me Debbie Downer, but that’s enough for me to pause and ponder my limitations.

Angel's Landing
Angel’s Landing-No Way Am I Doing This

I got out of hiking Angel’s Landing two years ago, because there was a steady rain the day we were there. Last fall, I was a good sport and agreed to the Shi Shi Trail leading to the rugged Pacific coast on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. I even was willing to grab a rope and scale down a 200-foot bluff to get to the beach at the end. However,  after slogging through this muddy trail for 90 minutes, I demanded we call it quits before we got to the beach.

Shi Shi Beach
Shi Shi Beach trail. Would you continue down this path?

I have concluded I can best experience places such as the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails watching other people like Reese Witherspoon (Wild) and Robert Redford (A Walk in the Woods) tackle the challenge.

At the movies.



Saturday Morning at Phoenix Public Market

Even though I can’t usually load up on fruits and vegetables, I like to visit farmers markets while traveling to experience the local flavor and check out the booths and creative vendor names.

On a recent Saturday, I went to the Phoenix Public Market on the edge of downtown Phoenix.

Local tomatoes, organic herbs and oranges (orange trees are on residential lawns everywhere in Phoenix) were abundant. However, the best thing I ate came from Jerusalem Bakery. I got two outstanding borekas, sesame seed-topped phyllo dough with different fillings inside. One borek a was stuffed with feta cheese and kalamata olives and other with mushrooms, cheese and onions.

Although not a food booth, my favorite name was a shaving kit booth run by an Army veteran: “Shaving Private Ryan.”


Taco Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Etc. in Phoenix

Tuesday was the only day of the week that I wasn’t in Phoenix during a recent trip so I just had to declare every day a taco day. This is what I had.

La Santisima Gourmet Taco Shop  This was the only place that I researched ahead of time. The long line at counter and poster of Diners, Drive-ins & Dives Guy Fieri gave me some assurance that this was a good pick. I’d say it qualified as a dive, a tiny spot in a Latino neighborhood. I passed on the house specialty dogfish shark taco (not an appetizing name) and went for the shrimp and marinated Arrachera steak versions. But, La Santisima must be the place for these tacos. The restaurant comes up 2nd on a Google search for dogfish shark tacos, only behind a National Public Radio story on how Europeans, yet few Americans, are eating this plentiful seafood from the U.S. East Coast.

My tacos were good, not outstanding. A favorite part of the meal was the salsa bar with a dozen or so varieties freshly made every day.

Seeing a poster of Guy Fieri–a good sign when trying a new restaurant.

Joyride Taco HouseThis was, hands down, my favorite restaurant experience of the trip and probably one of my Top 10 vacation meal experiences ever. Seasonally cooler temperatures (following two consecutive triple digit days) made dining on the patio pleasant. It’s a fun atmosphere with bright yellow industrial bistro chairs, white lights and a stone fireplace. Joyride is in the middle of a five-restaurant neighborhood, all owned by the same company, Upward Projects, which restores classic buildings into restaurants with lots of al fresco dining and trendy vibes. I should have saved room for the dessert – there was a line of 20 people or so waiting at Churn, the ice cream concept across the street.

Back to the food at Joyride. The tacos were great, especially the crispy fish one. Guacamole was good, and I especially liked that it was topped with roasted corn. Another favorite was a refreshing cucumber and orange salad.

Joyride’s cool patio

Rubio’sIt helps with the budget to include a fast food chain every so often, and I look for something we don’t have at home. Rubio’s is a fast-casual Mexican chain with 200 locations (in the West and in Florida) specializing in coastal-inspired cuisine. The founder, Ralph Rubio, is often credited with popularizing fish tacos. He started in 1983 in San Diego with a crispy beer-battered and fried wild Alaskan pollock. That’s still on the menu today along with tilapia, salmon, mahi mahi, ono and various shrimp taco options—grilled, blackened or fried and served with tangy white sauce.

I would probably eat there often, alternating with Chipotle, which seem to be as plentiful as McDonald’s and Starbucks in Phoenix.

No dogfish shark tacos yet but maybe that’s the next item to be added.

La Santisima Gourmet Tacos. We ate at 1919 W. 16th St. There’s another location in Glendale.

Joyride Taco House. We ate at 5202 N. Central Ave. There’s another one in Gilbert.

Rubio’s . We ate at 4340 E. Indian School Road. Multiple locations in California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and Florida.