Slabs of meat, prepared the cowboy way, are a staple at AJ Spurs.
Thursday, August 9, 2001
People I know and love have been telling me about AJ Spurs for a while. Larry, of Three Stooges fame, is a regular diner there. Apparently, her young nephew is a huge fan. My boss (at the day job) also takes his family there. Sling Blade, his 12-year old son, loves the soup (I''ll explain later). Boss Hogg says it''s a great place to bring the Little League team. Plus, I had been there once for drinks and apps on the night Sweet Thing treated me to an overnight at Marina Dunes, the resort that shares this pretty portion of Marina with the restaurant. So it was a forgone conclusion that AJ Spurs was gonna be on the agenda.
We hit the place about 8:30 on a Friday night with an 8:35 reservation. They had a table for us, but we wanted to wait for a booth so we siddled up to the bar for some pre-game libation. A martini is the perfect tool for beginning the unwinding process after a day''s work and, sure enough, mine was doing its job. Sweet Thing, not that good with spirits (except for the ethereal kind) had a glass of Monterra Chardonnay. After a short time of recapping the day interspersed with jovial interaction with the outgoing bartender, we were brought to our booth.
The booths are roomy here. Spartan, rough metal tables continue the theme of Western paraphernalia that hangs and stands everywhere. Billed as a place that "welcomes you and your family to dine in the flavor of the old West," AJ Spurs promises to "satisfy even the heartiest of appetites." We were about to find out exactly what they meant by that last statement.
To the table comes a cast iron kettle of soup. Apparently this is what Sling Blade is so thrilled with. The hearty beef and vegetable soup was warming and quite flavorful, and we were both almost full before we even got started. I thought it rather odd that here we were, two simple American humans, being given a mini-caldron of rich, satisfying soup that too many other humans throughout the world might never even see in a lifetime. Thoughts like that can spoil a self-centered eating adventure, but even professional restaurant dogs like myself can occasionally see the obvious. In fact, the amount of wasted food that gets thrown out in restaurants everywhere could probably solve the hunger problems of the world. But I digress.
Fearful of just how we would be able to actually eat the meal ahead, Sweet Thing and I opened the menu, which is printed in a four-page, old-time newspaper style. Let me say that this restaurant is not for the faint-hearted, anorexics, dieters or really socially conscious ex-hippies from Santa Cruz. It is, however, for those Americans who flock to restaurants that provide larger-than-life portions of food. Perhaps it''s a genetically imprinted memory from our ancestors'' trauma during the Depression.
To quote the menu: "All dinners include, AJ''s hearty vaquero soup, salsa, tequila beans, rice pilaf, garden salad, AJ spuds, sourdough garlic bread, an old-fashioned root beer float or after dinner liqueur." Call me kooky, but that sounds like quite a meal right there. The next thing you do is choose one of the enormous entrees to go along with all that stuff.
I decided to pass on AJ''s Gambler, which is 35 ounces (2.19 POUNDS!) "cut from the most tender and flavorful cut of top sirloin. Ya eat it all, half price! No cheatin''. No extra plates, please." I wonder, does it come with a free visit to a gastroenterologist? I opted instead for the BBQ spare ribs. Sweet Thing decided on the smaller of two bacon-wrapped filet mignons offered, the eight-ounce size (the other is 12-ounce). Both entrees are cooked on the much-touted oak BBQ pit.
First came the salads. Of all the food offerings here, the salad is the least impressive. I guess real cowboy cooks didn''t prepare much salad out in the chuck wagon. Perhaps this course should be something like sliced pineapple or something that contains natural digestive enzymes to help with the onslaught of the main course.
Out came our wisp of a waitress (she was an attractive young woman, built like the modern young woman: slender as possible) teetering under the weight of our two entrees plus the various side plates. I wondered if she was required, as part of the training, to sit and actually consume a full meal here. The plates...more like platters...contained our meat, the tequila beans (very tasty), the rice pilaf (rice pilaf), and the salsa (salsa). The AJ spuds, which are slices of potato and onions that seem to be pan roasted or baked, came in a separate little pan. They were actually quite good, especially the onions. I ordered a baked potato instead, which was right on.
As for the meat, the filet was perfectly cooked... exceptionally tender and very flavorful. It was a good steak. My plate contained enough ribs to make Adam reconsider biting the apple. They were indeed meaty, tender and quite tasty. I think I managed to eat about four of them.
When the waitress came over to ask if we''d like a box (a very regular occurrence here), I said, "yes, a coffin." The real icing on the cake (or straw on the camel''s back) is when they ask if you''d like a root beer float or a liqueur. I didn''t want to ask if I could come back the next day for my float so we just passed on both.
The funny thing about the whole experience is that even though I disagree with the concept of gigantic portions, most of the rest of the world digs it. The place cranks. I kind of expected that I wouldn''t like it here and that the food would be weak, but that wasn''t the case. AJ Spurs has a comfortable, friendly atmosphere and good tasting cowboy-style food with an emphasis on oak-barbecued meats. And plenty of it.
--Banter with Ray (email@example.com)