This was not my typical birthday dinner. Normally I pick something slightly upscale, where wine and a beautiful plate of well-prepared fish and beautiful bright veggies prevail. And fancy, decadent desserts, but of course! After all, a birthday is still a special occasion, and although they're coming along faster and faster these days, it can be fun to dress up a little (very rare for us) and toast to making it through another year of life!
But this year would be a little different.
I'd been having a hankering for some very traditional Kansas City barbeque. We'd been wanting to try Oklahoma Joe's for some time, hearing and reading that it was possibly the best in KC. And though there are three locations, the original locale in Kansas City, Kansas was the one we really wanted to check out since it's uniquely located in a gas station, of all places. Quirky and, to me, fun! So, on my 53rd birthday, this is exactly where we went.
This photo is borrowed from the Oklahoma Joe's website -- there was too much street traffic to get a good wide view of our own.
And yes, this is a working gas station -- you can fill up the car before or after eating some excellent 'cue!
I'd read on Tripadvisor that there were often long lines, but this was a Monday night so wasn't too bad. And we went early to avoid lines, just in case. There was still a good crowd, but the line moved pretty fast, and we had no problem finding a table. You get in line, look at the menu on this huge chalkboard, and order right from the guys who are preparing your feast. Easy peasy!
We had cheated and looked at the menu online beforehand, so we already knew what we wanted. I ordered the Open-Faced Lean and Mean, smoked turkey on Texas toast, topped with spicy slaw. Barry went for the Carolina Pork Sandwich ("pulled pork served on a toasted bun, topped with spicy cole slaw and our Bubba's sauce". It's always good to see North Carolina get a mention, because we all know NC is the actual 'cue capital of the world, right?! We also ordered a pint of BBQ beans to share.
Here's a close-up of Barry's sammich:
We got a Heineken (for me) and a Corona (for Barry) to accompany our 'cue fest, but of course, being in Kansas, these were the 3.2% version of these brews dictated by law here. This seems to be at least part of the reason that the majority of restaurants in KC are over the state line in Missouri, where the alcohol laws are less restrictive. But, there are no Oklahoma Joe's there.
The food was great! We should have gotten an extra order of spicy slaw on the side as there wasn't a whole lot on the sandwiches, but the meat was great, the pickles a nice touch, and the various sauces were hot and spicy. The beans were spicy too -- no additional saucing needed. Our mouths were on fire -- thus, the beer. Water just doesn't cut it with spicy foods, though we drank a large glass apiece of that too!
They sell a boatload of sauces in the gas station portion of the building, along with Oklahoma Joe's t-shirts, caps, and so forth. We have plenty of BBQ sauces in the fridge, though, so no need to spend much time browsing these.
Interestingly, Oklahoma Joe's doesn't serve a single dessert, though you can purchase various ice cream products to go in the gas station. But that got me thinking about ice cream! I'm sure if we'd ordered huge BBQ platters instead of just sandwiches, we wouldn't have been able to think about dessert, which is probably why they don't bother. But as it was, a birthday just doesn't seem complete without something sweet to close out the meal, so we pointed the car towards Sheridan's, another place we'd never tried.
We used to love the "Carolina Concretes" served by Goodberry's near our house when we lived in Cary, NC, so a concrete from Sheridan's seemed like it would fill the bill just fine, and it certainly did. Too bad it wasn't a warmer night, but that didn't stop us from enjoying it, just not outside.
Here's what I got, the Chocolate Voodoo Pothole. Woah. It was every bit as decadently delicious as it sounded. This was a true chocolate-lover's delight, seriously rich and creamy and very dense.
I guess in the interest of full disclosure, I should also mention the birthday breakfast Barry lovingly prepared before our bike ride. These pancakes with fruit, blackberry syrup, and granola on top were amazing!
I'm not sure we'll be able to top this birthday next year. It was an excellent one, and I surely felt like queen for a day, despite eating dinner in a gas station!
Patagonia, Arizona attracts bird lovers from all over the state of Arizona and beyond to see the large variety of birds that are either year-round residents or that migrate through this area rich in riparian habitat. There are some species that venture only as far north in the United States as the Sonoran desert, like the Gray Hawk, which is known to nest in Patagonia. Other species only found in the very far south of Arizona in the US are the Violet-Crowned Hummingbird and Elegant Trogan. So, unless you plan to travel south of the border, Patagonia is a perfect place to see these special birds.
Spending the month of March in town, we were on the early side for peak northward migration, but there was certainly some spring migration occurring. We visited the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve a couple of times and Paton's Hummingbird Haven several times, as it was just a short walk down the road from where we were staying. We discussed both these lovely places in a previous blog post, so I won't repeat the details here. We also saw birds around town, at the Patagonia Lake State Park, on the Train Track Trail, and on our many bike rides.
We gathered most of the bird photos Barry took over the course of the month in this post. So without further ado, here are some of our best bird sightings in Patagonia. Wish we could have gotten photos of every species we saw, but that's always an impossibility!
A very LARGE flock of Black Vultures came to roost nightly in the Cottonwood trees along Sonoita Creek back behind the house we were staying in towards the end of our visit. Although vultures are certainly not pretty nor my favorite birds, it was quite a dramatic sight to see them all come in for their nightly roost, high in the treetops.
Barry got so many great shots of the lovely jewel-toned Broad-Billed Hummingbirds that I had to include an assortment; it was impossible to select just one. I especially love the action shots!
And yes, just in case you were wondering, we did get to see the famed Gray Hawk -- more than once! What a regal creature it is, and worthy of more than one photo for sure.
We were fortunate enough to see another of the birds very rarely seen in the US as Violet-crowned Hummingbirds only venture into the southernmost part of Arizona. We saw these beauties on our first visit to Paton's Hummingbird Heaven, but not on subsequent visits. We were so very lucky!
Note that Barry's photo of the Violet-Crowned Hummingbird in flight (below) was chosen by Tripadvisor to be used as the photo for Paton's Hummingbird Haven, as there was only a generic image up on the site. I wrote a review of Paton's and uploaded several photos Barry had taken there along with it, and a week or so later got a notice that the photo below was chosen to represent Paton's. Certainly nothing we expected but is now Barry's claim to fame!
And last but not least, one of our favorite "yellow birds" we saw so frequently in Belize...
But alas, we never did see an Elegant Trogan. We will have to look for that on a future visit or south of the US border.
Eating Out in Patagonia, AZ
Although we cooked and ate at "home" (well, in our VRBO rental) most meals while spending the month of March in Patagonia, Arizona, we did venture out for a few meals at local eateries. There aren't any chains in this small village (gotta love that!) and only a handful of restaurants. But those that we sampled all served tasty fare. An added bonus is that we could walk everywhere in town. We just love being able to walk to go out to eat!
We first thought that the name of this small place referred to the car of the same name, but once we entered the doors and discovered that it was a mom-and-pop Mexican restaurant, we realized it must be a family name instead. This unassuming little restaurant on the main street through town (Naugle Avenue) serves straightforward, simple Mexican food, and entrees are reasonably priced. There isn't any atmosphere to speak of, but the waitress is sweet, and her dad makes the salsa served with the complimentary chips himself.
We went two Thursday nights in a row. On our first visit, we were the only people there, and the second time, there was just one other table of four retirees. Patagonia gets a lot of day trippers from Tucson and beyond and pretty much clears out and rolls up the sidewalks at night, so this wasn't too surprising. We often saw people eating lunch there (outside) when we took our daily bike rides.
On our first visit, I ordered the Chile Rellenos, which tasted good but were a bit soggy. The beans and rice sides were good as was the Mexican beer (hard to mess that up!) Barry got chicken enchiladas, which he must have liked pretty well since he got them again the second time. I tried chicken soft tacos on our second visit and liked them better than the rellenos.
This combination coffee shop, bakery, ice cream shop, and restaurant is the most popular place to eat in Patagonia, and with good reason -- it's great! They only serve breakfast and lunch so get plenty of day visitors to town as well as cyclists riding on some of the supported bike tours we saw going through town. Locals like it as well -- always a good sign. We normally enjoy a bowl of oatmeal with lots of healthy fixings for breakfast pretty much every day, but we did finally get over to Gathering Grounds for one very hearty breakfast.
I ordered an absolutely delicious breakfast sandwich on sourdough with green chiles, tomato, and avocado; and Barry raved about his breakfast burrito with vegetables and fresh homemade salsa.
On the way out we just had to buy a few bakery items to take back to the house. To protect the guilty, no photos were taken!
This eclectic place has been in business in Patagonia for a long time and rightfully so. The quirky menu of salads, pizzas, calzones, and pasta offers a large variety of healthy, interesting choices. We never ate in but ordered takeout pizzas twice, and they came with whole wheat crust -- without asking for it! It was good crust, too. And the toppings included things like feta, fresh spinach and herbs, sundried tomatoes, roasted chicken, and thin prosciutto slices. The large pizzas weren't inexpensive at $24-26 each, but were a perfect foodie indulgence!
Although we never ate in the restaurant, it always smelled delicious when I went in to pick up pizzas. I suspect the pastas and everything else are just as amazing and creative as the pizzas. Velvet Elvis has a very attractive website if you'd like to learn more about this interesting place and its colorful owner and executive chef, Cecelia, who hails from Quito, Ecuador.
Emily & Barry
We're a long-married, early-retired couple who are currently traveling as nomads with no fixed home base. After years of living in North Carolina (Emily's home state), we spent 18 months living oceanfront on Ambergris Caye, Belize, a year road-tripping the US in a Honda CR-V, a year in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and are now roaming North America in our 32' motorhome, Pearl, following warm weather whenever possible.
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