Camacho’s Place – El Centro, CA

•April 19, 2011 • Leave a Comment

On a recent family trip to San Diego, we passed through El Centro, California.  Normally our I-8 run to the beach is in the morning and not during the dinner hour.  However, this time Sherri and I picked the kids up from school and left Phoenix in the afternoon.  I had done some serious research on the internet for a fun place to take the family for dinner.  El Centro has a few average taco shops and a bunch of serious junk food restaurants near the highway.  My search exposed the little known, yet legendary, Camacho’s Place.  As the dunes West of Yuma faded in the rear view mirror, I began to prep the family for Camacho’s.  Mind you this place is way outside El Centro.  In fact it is about half way between El Centro and the Mexican border, in the middle of some serious farm fields.  As we pulled off I-8, I quickly entered 796 W. Wahl Road, El Centro, CA,  92243 into the car’s G.P.S. The kids were not amused.  Sherri, much to my surprise, was ready for the adventure and convinced the kids to go along with the wild goose chase as we headed South down some very dark and narrow farm roads.  All reports on the internet said this place was very hard to find, it was.  You will not find this place without G.P.S., a map, or a local in your car.  After a ten minute drive we turned down a dirt two-track road that eventually took us, the back way, into Camacho’s Place.  The restaurant is in the front of  a few classic farm houses and out buildings.  The entire compound is surrounded by Salt Cedar trees.  As far as you can see it is dark, flat farm fields.  The lights of Mexico to the South and El Centro in the distance to the North.  The buildings are covered with corrugated metal.  There is one amber street light outside. Dogs roam the yard, the place is silent.  A few neon signs surround the door.  There are beer signs and hand drawn posters around the entrance.  An old 7UP sign sits out front.  This place has history.

Camachos Place sits in the middle of farm fields.

 As we walked in the door, a group of family owners greeted us.  The place was empty, no customers.  The walls were covered with tons, I mean tons of military posters, photos and squadron memorabilia.  There were signed personalized posters from numerous past Presidents of the United States.  Long tables filled the two dinning rooms.  Camacho’s has been in business for over 65 years.  It is run by the same family and it shows.  At first we felt like outsiders, then after a few minutes of personalized service and friendly smiles we felt at home.  Shortly after we arrived groups of people began to filter in.  Soon the place had lots of happy customers.  It was 8:00pm.  A group of guys from the El Centro Navy Airfield a few miles away told the owner that “everybody on base loves the place and that the Special Quesadillas where the talk of the base”.   We ordered a Special Quesadilla, the flat enchilada and some tacos.  Everything was very, very good.  However, I did make a huge mistake.  The Carne Asada Special Quesadilla is the only way to go, I did not order it, I wish I had, and I dream about it all of the time.  The Special Quesadilla is an El Centro dish that has never made out of the Imperial Valley.  It is a calzone looking piece of puffed pastry filled with delicious white cheese and deep-fried.  This is not a flat cheese crisp or regular folded quesadilla.  Recently, on his way to our big 600 person BBQ in Yuma for the US Marines,  my cousin Andy decided to stop in for a Special Quesadilla.  Andy is a well-respected chef and knows good food.  The next day, after the bbq he went back to Camacho’s ( twice in 20 hours) and had another Quesadilla along with an Enchilada, Chili Relleno and more.  After the meal he proudly proclaimed “Best Mexican Food I have ever had”,  I have to be honest, due to its bizzare, out-of-the-way location, strong military connection, long, rich history and great food, I agree with Andy.  Best ever!  Go there, and take me with you.

No pig jokes here.

•January 26, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Just telling people you catered at “The GRPSTC”, pronounced “Gripstick”, the Glendale Regional Public Safety Training Center is cool.  Having my seven your old and most trusted pit drain  its load of jet black melted pork fat grease on the front door step of the a $45 million, state-of-the-art public safety training facility located in Glendale, not so cool.  Slow smoking over 500 pounds of bone in pork shoulders produces a good amount of this black nasty fluid that stains most things.   As the weather warmed up during the New Years Day Tostitos Fiesta Bowl game at the Cardinals stadium the cold brass  valve under the pit warmed up just enough to melt the fat plug and release the warm liquid onto Glendale’s decorative, and aparently prized, concrete parade deck.  Ok, I will take the blame, I left the valve in the open position. 

Seabrisket takes a dump at the GRPSTC

My son Luke and I manned the primary, and significantly busier feeding point for all of the stadium cops and fire personnel.  We parked “Coyote 1”  in our designated spots on the West side of the WestGate City Center near the Cardinals stadium.   We set up and served just outside the vacant retail space used to feed and rehab the 500 person army of public safety personal assigned to every aspect of the Fiesta Bowl.   Luke and I met and served some super hero looking SWAT Team studs, some rather shady looking under cover detectives, Napoleonic and semi attitudinal motorcycle cops, cops on horseback, FBI agents and hundreds of regular officers in their tactical black uniforms. 

During the event I was notified that “Seabrisket”  had “taken a dump”.   I knew I had a problem.  Glendale P.D. sent a small army to mop up the spill, I laughed and told them it would not make a dent in the fat caused stain.  Make a long blog shorter,  The next day I rented a large steam power washer and spent an hour, under the watchful eye of numerous public safety officials, cleaning up the mess.  In the end, and much to my surprise, the oil spill was gone.  This made the cops happy,  and we all got ready to do it again for the bigger BCS game.  That time I decided to close the valve.  All told over 1,000 large meals served and a safe bowl season.

Free Willie!

•January 16, 2011 • Leave a Comment

“Don’t take shit from anybody!”  That’s what I told Willie Nelson while meeting him after his recent concert at the Child Help/ Berrett Jackson fund raiser.  As you might have learned, Willie was recently arrested in Texas, of all places,  after a Boarder Patrol agent stopped Willies tour  bus and detected the smell of pot.  Oh really, did they expect to smell anything else but pot on his bus?  A small time,  sheriff in a small Texas county has been quoted as saying he is “going to throw Willie into jail”  over the incident.  I actually got a ridiculous speeding ticket in that same lame county in South West Texas.   Willie Nelson, Mr. Texas, and all around hippy actually smoked pot on the roof of the White House in 1975 after performing for President Carter.  Story goes, the President asked Willie to sleep over at the White House.  Wanting to get high, he was escorted to the roof.  Under the watchful eyes of the Secret Service, Willie fired up a “fat Austin torpedo”.  

 Why is some pencil neck, small time cop up in Willies business over his recreational weed?  

Willie put on a hell of a good show at WestWorld,  I would encourage everybody to step out and see him live.  If you do, tell him El Toro says hello!

Message in a bottle.

•December 14, 2010 • Leave a Comment

In 310 BC an ancient Greek philosopher used a message in a bottle to prove that the Mediterranean sea was fed by the Atlantic Ocean.  Since that time there have been thousands of recorded cases of messages being recovered from bottles.  Many of those cases involve people in distress or urgently seeking to pass along an important message. 

As person obsessed with cruising the seven seas, I decided, years ago, to pen and release my own messages in a veiled attempt to gather oceanography data and conduct a simple social experiment.  

My first release 2001:  On a Western Caribbean cruise on board the motor vessel (M/V) Century, I wrote a quick note with some simple instructions, rolled up the paper and tossed the bottle into the sea while transiting the coastal waters off of the South Eastern tip of Cuba.  The sun had just set and the ocean was in a calm state.  I watched as the champagne bottle bobbed up and down until we had sailed out of sight.  I figured it would never be found, little did I know, not only would it be found,  it would be found just a few hours after I tossed it over the rail by a Cuban fisherman 12 miles out into the sea from his small fishing named Moa on the Eastern coast of Cuba.  A week after our cruise I was asleep at home when the phone rang.  It was a collect call from Cuba, not thinking my bottle had been found, I refused the call.  The next day another call came from Cuba, this time I accepted and had my first conversation, in Spanish, with the man who plucked my bottle from the sea.  To keep this blog from getting too long, I will tell you that Alfredo and I still write each other and have exchanged photos and small sundry items.  It turns out that Alfredo, in addition to being a fisherman, is also a baker in his village.  He promises to make me a cake when I visit him in Moa.  Additionally, he and his family strongly believe that god had a large roll in his finding my bottle and our ongoing friendship. 

Alfredo and his family in Moa Cuba

The next release was a little more scientific in nature.   I placed a detailed ocean current chart, cover letter and contact information along with the release point GPS coordinates, sea state and weather conditions into three different 14″ section of PVC pipe and secured it with two caps.  The system was water proof.  The tubes were painted day glow orange to improve the visibility.  While transiting off the coast of Baja Mexico on the M/V World,  I took my GPS readings, secured the paperwork in a plastic bag and then tossed the three capsules over the side 20 miles from one another.   Based on my calculations, those bright orange “pipe bomb” looking tubes are still marinating nicely in the Pacific current on their way to Asia.  Those messages were released in 2004.  At the time of this blog, I have not been contacted by anybody regarding those messages. 

Also in 2004, during transit off of Virginia on the M/V Seven Seas Navigator,  I released a Patron tequila bottle containing a cover letter and sheet requesting information about the location and condition of bottle at the time of recovery.  31 days after release, I was contacted by a husband and wife team that found the bottle on the beach one mile South of Atlantic City New Jersey.  They emailed  me to tell me the bottle had been recovered and the message and bottle were in “fine condition”.

During a transit off of Baja Mexico in 2005 on the M/V Elation I launched a wine bottle containing release point data and cover letter.  That bottle was recovered by some people near Rosarito Beach  Mexico.  Little information was provided by the people who found the bottle other than the message and bottle were found in “great condition”.

I currently have the following messages in bottles soaking around the world: 

2 – Wine bottles launched in the Mediterranean Sea –                                              M/V   Norwegian  Gem

2 – Wine bottles launched off of Hawaii –                                                                   M/V Pride of Aloha

3 – Wine & spirit bottles launched off of Oregon –                                                   M/V Coral Princess

2 – Wine bottles launched in the “inside passage” British Columbia (presumed lost due to rocky coast line and remote location)  M/V  Sapphire  Princess.

A day in the life of El Toro BBQ

•November 8, 2010 • Leave a Comment

http://phoenixbites.com/2010/11/08/a-day-in-the-life-of-el-toro-bbq/

Attached is the link to “A day in the life of El Toro BBQ” by Phoenix Bites.  Recently Amy, the editor of Phoenix Bites, helped us serve the DBacks.  Take a look at the review and visit Phoenixbites.com for quality food reviews.

A few words about Arizona foodways?

•October 25, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Barbeque as we know it comes from every corner of the planet.   Today, barbeque style is a hot topic in this country as states and  cities try to define and defend their particular style.  We all know that in the South pork and vinegar sauce are king, in Kansas City rich tomato based sauce with lots of sweet molasses and sugar rule the barbeque joints.  Texas is all about the beef.  Seattle is known for its alder smoked salmon and California is best known for the accidentally created Santa Maria grilled tri tip beef.  But what are the classic foodways of Arizona?  Although this is open to  interpretation, a few things are obvious.  First,  Arizona’s proximity to Old Mexico means chili peppers and a strong Mexican food influence.  One of Arizona’s five “C’s” stands for cattle.  Beef has been big in Arizona for three main reasons: weather, grass and Vernon avenue in Los Angeles.  At the turn of the century L.A. had numerous large slaughter houses that processed a huge amount of cattle, most were located on Vernon avenue. 

Hogs have had a very limited role in Arizona due to the heat and regulations.  Arizona style barbeque is closely aligned to that of Texas, mostly beef, usually just salt and pepper, sometimes a dry rub and hints of chili powder.  Notable restaurants like Bill Johnson’s Big Apple, Monte’s, Durants,  The Other Place and the Stockyards all served big beef cuts cooked on a grill. 

 Indigenous woods of each region also help define style.  The lack of oak, pecan, hickory and other fruit woods in Arizona force mesquite to rise to the top as the leading cooking wood.  With that said, most of the commercial cooking wood used  in Arizona restaurants comes from Mexico, and is trucked North between bundles of pot, coke and people.  Carne Asada, grilled marinated skirt steak, cooked directly over open mesquite flames and served with pinto beans continues to be a main stay with the Latino population in Arizona.  Tucson, despite being smaller than Phoenix, is credited with creating more Arizona foodways dishes than any other city in the state.  It is widely held that the Chimichanga was created at El Charro in the Old Pueblo.  Today, the Sonoran dog, a hot dog wrapped in bacon and dressed with mayo and a jalapeno sauce is growing in popularity due to establishments like El Guero Canelo’s. 

Sonoran dog

Arizona’s style of classic Mexican food is also aligned closely with  Tex-Mex food.  Rich red chili sauce,  tortillas, onion, tomatoes and lettuce make their way into numerous classic Mexican food dishes. 

So what is Arizona foodways?  The food found in Arizona is melting pot of cultures from the people who moved here.  You can find almost any type of American and international food in the state.  However,  in the end, it is a beef based, mesquite grilled, meal with a strong Mexican influence that best defines Arizona’s infant barbeque style.

     Click here for a Arizona Foodways video on YouTube.

Everybody has been asking to see the 1st place grill.

•October 16, 2010 • Leave a Comment

After working behind the scenes creating tacos at the Arizona Taco Festival I realized a few things.  First, our team was like a fish out of water, we do not own or work at a Mexican food restaurant or taco shop.  Second,  we did not have some huge gas-powered grill or flat top for making tacos.  Third, we drank more tequila and beer than any other team.  Each of our taco meats were cooked a different way.  The chicken tacos that won the first place prize were cooked on this old rust and paint over-sprayed Weber.  I found/stole this gem at some garage sale many moons ago.  This little baby can cook!