Scottsdale has long been considered the “West’s Most Western Town,” and Troon North, situated in the foothills of Pinnacle Peak, is one of the most beautiful areas of the Sonoran Desert. I felt as if I were living my cowboy fantasy as I walked along sprawling pathways through towering saguaro cacti and adobe casitas. I made my way to a luxurious suite at the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North (10600 East Crescent Moon Dr. Tel: 480-515-5700. www.fourseasons.com) and had a little time to relax so I opened my doors, and heated up the iron to eliminate those airline creases and folds in my golf polo. I left the room for only a few moments and returned to find a half-a-dozen effervescent birds bouncing around my room. I watched in awe and felt like I was Cinderella of the desert as I shooed them out onto the patio with a handful of granola. That afternoon, rather than heading to The Pinnacle or The Monument with all the tourists, I set out on an offbeat desert adventure.
There’s no wrong way to experience Singh Farms (8900 E. Thomas Rd. Tel: 480-225-7199. www.facebook.com/singh-farms), but it’s recommended to enjoy a bit of the morning dew and beat the rush of families by arriving early and exploring the lush 20-acre utopia as if you’re the first to set foot in this exotic and unexpected paradise. Ken and Lee Singh oversee the expansive farm situated on Native land that’s part farmer’s market, part compost farm, juice bar, sanctuary, and romper room for the little ones. I channeled my inner-child the moment I spotted the towering white teepee creeping up from under the canopy that they constructed from their imagination. Ken then caught me in the act of taking a video selfie for my nephew, and watched as I re-recorded my cheesy greet- ing of the day. After I hit send, he escorted me past his hollyhocks, pomegranates, and heirloom tomatoes while philosophizing about how it’s possible to gradually increase the number of oasis destinations with Singh Farms as an impressive model.
Later that day, I visited the Musical Instrument Museum (4725 Mayo Blvd. Tel: 480-478-6000. www.mim.org), the first global museum devoted entirely to musical instruments. The MIM might have only opened four years ago, but this was already a repeat visit for me to fan out and explore the 6,000 instruments in their collection. The first time I came to the museum, I made the mistake of getting lost in just one of the wings. This time around I gave myself a hard time limit in each section and was able to get a comprehensive taste of the best beats from around the globe. Highlights I hadn’t experienced before included scenes from a Ukrainian wedding procession, a Beijing Opera, the piano John Lennon wrote “Imagine” on, and samples of beats from the infamous Recycled Orchestra. This time I made it through the museum, something that could easily take all day, in a matter of hours.
After I had my musical fix, I hit the bright and open Café Allegro (4725 E. Mayo Blvd. Tel: 480-478-6000. www.mim.org/visit/cafe-allegro) for a nosh of local Phoenix fare. Café Allegro is conveniently situated just off of the museum’s main lobby, featuring global cuisine, local and regional dishes, grilled specialities, freshly made soups like their vegetable gazpacho with confit rock shrimp, and craveable desserts like German double-chocolate-chip cookies made with Hayden Flour Mills products.
Back at the Four Seasons my feathered friends had retired for the night, and I was escorted to the Onyx Bar for a prickly pear margarita, the ultimate desert refreshment. After the stars came out, I went inside to experience the Chef for the Day cooking class with Executive Chef Mel Mecinas at Talavera (10600 E. Crescent Moon Dr. Tel: 480-515- 5700. www.talaverarestaurant.com). The unique “chef for a day” experience gives guests a fun behind-the-scenes culinary adventure with a hands-on afternoon with Chef Mel Mecinas and his team at Talavera. Guests can participate in the Chef for a Day program for $450 each, and it includes dinner for two, a personalized chef’s jacket with embroidered name, and a personalized signed menu from the chef. I put on my best Iron Chef poker face as I whipped up some mean gnocchi at this classic steakhouse while enjoying sweeping views of Pinnacle Peak. After the gnocchi was almost finished, Chef Mecinas introduced us to Executive Pastry Chef Lance Whipple, who taught us about the wild world of desserts. The experience of getting our hands covered in flour and sugar with these first-rate chefs and then sitting down to indulge in an elaborate dinner we helped assemble was both satisfying and memorable.
The next morning proved to be a bit challenging, with the fusion of prickly pear, tequila, and all that gnocchi still in my system. I knew an outdoor adventure was just what I needed. I met up with Annemarie Medrzycki and another guide from Arizona Outback Adventures (16447 N. 91st St. Ste. 101. Tel: 866-455-1601. www.aoa-adventures.com) at the base of the Lower Salt River in the Tonto National Forest. Arizona Outback Adventures has been leading single and multi-day adventure tours throughout Scottsdale, Phoenix, and the Southwest since 1991. Prices for their half-day rafting tour start at $125 per person, and I joined a small group of other rafting rookies. Once I pulled on my galoshes and climbed into the raft, I started making my way down the class-one section of the scenic river. The Tonto Forest is the fifth-largest forest in the United States, stretching from Phoenix to the Mogollon Rim and the San Carlos and Fort Apache Indian reservations. Annemarie stayed close to our group and advised us on how to navigate around obstacles and gave us tips for how to steer and make it down the river with ease. Along the way, I got a glimpse of wild horses, blue herons, and even a bald eagle.
After my day out in the wild, I was more than ready for dinner at Bryan’s Black Mountain Barbecue (6130 E. Cave Creek Rd. Tel: 480-575-7155. www.bryansbarbecue.com). My friends and I rubbed elbows with a pack of handsome cowboys who recommended the brisket. One was vegetarian and swore by the vegetarian “pulled” spaghetti squash sandwich (which we devoured), and another challenged us to try the frog legs. The restaurant, lit in “wagon-wheel lighting” and bright antique diner signs, also featured a local singer who brought down the house with a non-stop mix of country songs.
By the time we finished our sarsaparilla floats, Chef Bryan Dooley came out to meet us and brought with him a tray of ice cream sandwiches. Dooley was a student at the Culinary Institute of America and served as a chef at the local Scottsdale Princess resort for over a decade before opening up his BBQ restaurant. Business is so good that Bryan’s Black Mountain Barbecue is expanding next door with an additional 1,000 square feet and extra patio seating.
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