Fairway to Heaven
A golf fanatic with a passion for great food finds nirvana in Phoenix and Scottsdale
This scene took place outside Boston five, maybe six, years ago. My golfing partner and I had skipped breakfast en route to the first tee, so after nine holes we were famished. At the snack shack, he devoured a hot dog in four bites. "That," he said, "was a good meal."
Funny thing is, he wasn't kidding. Especially back then, the food near most golf courses was a joke, largely because serious golfers care about one thing--golf--to the exclusion of all else. The logic: when nothing matters but the game, a hot dog is a good meal.
But not in Phoenix and its neighbor Scottsdale, where I recently explored some extraordinary restaurants near golf courses and encountered not a single hot dog. Credit a course-building boom as well as a vibrant food scene inside and outside the big resorts. Read on for six of the best places to eat, each paired with a great golf course.
Scene Tucked into the Sonoran Desert foothills north of Scottsdale, The Boulders resort, home to The Latilla, takes its name from the rounded rock formations that dominate the landscape. There's an otherworldly New Age quality about the place--I half expected to run into Yanni or Enya.
Food Mary Nearn's eclectic American cooking is elegant but not fussy in the least--witness seared Chilean sea bass with shrimp pot stickers and crisp chicken in a spicy crayfish broth.
Golf The Boulders' treacherous North Course boasts long par fours on its back nine. The twilight desert view from the South Course's 16th tee will make your jaw drop. Look for coyotes!
Details 34631 N. Tom Darlington Dr., Carefree; 800-553-1717.
Scene Wright's is part of The Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, a 1929 landmark. With its Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired architecture and storied guest registry (Clark Gable, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Julia Child), The Biltmore has inspired more superlatives than Tiger Woods.
Food Joanne Bondy prepares American cuisine with an Asian influence. I loved the rich, smoky tomato bisque with crab risotto--as close to comfort food as you'll get in such a refined place--and the salmon with Champagne-ginger sauce.
Golf The nearby Adobe Course, a neat little layout, has been played by every president since Eisenhower. I was also impressed by Glenn Campbell's rococo mini-mansion, which stands behind the sixth green.
Details 24th St. and Missouri, Phoenix; 800-950-0086.
Windows on the Green
Scene The decadent Eighties live on at the opulent Phoenician resort and its Windows on the Green restaurant. The clientele wears Gucci; women favor serious jewelry, men cologne.
Food Michael Snoke can flat out cook. A T-bone smothered in sautéed Portobello mushrooms turned out to be one of the most perfect steaks I've ever had. Grilled sea bass on a bed of bok choy and pickled potatoes, mangoes and red peppers was a great Asian-fusion dish.
Golf Short, tricky and meticulously maintained, the course at The Phoenician gives resort golf a good name.
Details 6000 E. Camelback Rd., Scottsdale; 800-888-8234.
Scene T. Cook's at The Royal Palms Hotel and Casitas seems to be half a Mediterranean villa, half a rain-forest lodge: two massive palms push right through the ceiling. The hotel, built as a private home in 1929, recently underwent a $28 million renovation.
Food Michael Hoobler won me over with his mussels in a sublime Chardonnay-thyme broth and his sliced loin of lamb with braised endive in a balsamic reduction as black as ink.
Golf The Royal Palms doesn't have its own course, but it does have a special relationship with the sensational new Raven Golf Club in Phoenix, which means guests get prime tee times.
Details 5200 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix; 800-672-6011.
Scene All exposed brick, rough-hewn wood and wrought iron, Roaring Fork brings to mind a hunting lodge, with a clientele that runs the gamut from hipsters to oldsters. Ex-Phoenician chef Robert McGrath, a barrel-chested Texan, is a charmer who works the dining room as well as the kitchen.
Food I wouldn't put it past the inventive McGrath to dream up some dish with hot dogs, but so far he hasn't. Instead, there's arugula salad with lemonade vinaigrette and chunks of smoked trout, tortilla soup with shredded barbecued beef, and duck breast cured in sugar and chile on a bed of green-chile macaroni. "Good ol' western cooking," McGrath described it, emerging from the kitchen in jeans and cowboy boots.
Golf McGrath's food emboldened me to make the 35-mile drive to the Monument Course at Troon North, rated the premier public golf course in Arizona. The layout is astonishingly beautiful, with wide fairways winding through the rocky desert.
Details 7243 E. Camelback Rd., Scottsdale; 602-947-0795.
Coup des Tartes
Scene The 10-table Coup des Tartes, with walls the color of nutmeg and paprika, has a bistro atmosphere worthy of New York City's SoHo.
Food Natascha Ovando spikes bitter and sweet greens with Roquefort and roasted figs and rubs pork tenderloin with cinnamon and cloves. Her tarts--banana brûlée, double-chocolate brownie cheesecake--are stars.
Golf Coup des Tartes is a five-iron drive away from the North Course at Talking Stick. With its deep bunkers and subtle elevation changes, the course looks almost like a Scottish one--impressive since it was fashioned out of land that's as flat as focaccia.
Details 4626 N. 16th St., Phoenix; 602-212-1082.
Joe Bargmann has written about golf for Esquire, GQ and Men's Journal.