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NJ Hound Needs Advice For Phoenix/Scottsdale Trip

Hello Folks - I was wondering if you can provide me with a little advice. The wife and I are planning a trip to your beautiful part of the country in November (celebrating our wedding anniversary). We are looking at staying at either the Royal Palms, the Phoenician or the Four Seasons for 3 nights. Any recommendations for dining? From my research online, I'm considering the following: Binkley's, Dish, and Sea Saw. I just started doing research today so please be kind. Any advice including don't misses would be appreciated. BTW, is it worth it to check out a Cardinals game while in town? Thanks for your help.

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  1. personally i'd say skip dish - i know other people might disagree but to me its a big food court, albeit upscale.

    sea saw and binkley's to be sure are excellent choices!! i'd also say rancho pinot, one of my fav spots in town.

    t cooks at the royal palms is great. the sunday brunch at the phoenician is stellar. haven't been to the 4 seasons here, altho if you stay there you won't be far from lon's at the hermosa inn, which is a board favorite.

    i love cowboy ciao, and would also recommend durants, which is a great 50's mobster hangout steak house, its a local classic and i haven't been disappointed in 15 years.

    hows that for a start? :)

    and happy anniversary!!

    5 Replies
    1. re: winedubar

      Great Start winedubar. Thanks for your advice. I'm looking up your recommendations now. It looks like we are staying at the Phoenician (and will probably do the Sunday brunch) as the Palms is booked and the 4 Seasons will be doing renovations. Much appreciated.

      1. re: bgut1

        Wow ... Cowboy Ciao is exactly the type of place we are looking for ... fun, whimsical, and a very interesting menu. Now, I know this may sound crazy, but can I do both Cowboy Ciao and Sea Saw on the same trip?

        1. re: bgut1

          you'll love cowboy ciao, and they also own sea saw.

          which both on the same trip were you concerned about??

          be sure and have drinks at the thirsty camel bar at the phoenician - its got a fantastic view of the valley, which is especially beautiful at night.

          1. re: winedubar

            Thanks again winedubar. I was concerned about going to both Cowboy Ciao and Sea Saw as they were owned by the same company. Even though not the same type of food, I wanted to make sure I wasn't limiting myself.

            1. re: bgut1

              not in the least, they are very different places. the chef at sea saw just won a james beard award!! be forwarned tho - its very expensive..

    2. My current favorites near the Phoenician:

      T. Cook's -- the restaurant at the Royal Palms. It's worthwhile to eat there once even if you are staying at the Phoenician

      Tarbell's -- Mark Tarbell and his colleagues will be on Iron Chef September 16. This place has been consistently excellent for over a decade.

      Delux -- A more casual choice for lunch or late-night dining. Burgers, panini, salads, etc. all nicely done

      Pita Jungle (Arcadia location) -- Middle Eastern influenced eats in a funky atmosphere. Healthful food and generous portions.

      Union Wine Bar and Grill -- small plates for sharing in Old Town Scottsdale

      -----
      Delux
      3146 E Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016

      Pita Jungle
      4340 E Indian School Rd Ste 17, Phoenix, AZ 85018

      Tarbell's
      3213 E. Camelback Road, Phoenix, AZ 85018

      Union Wine Bar and Grill
      3815 N Brown Ave, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

      T Cooks At the Royal Palms
      5200 East Camelback Road, Phoenix, AZ 85018

      1. just something to throw out there, but while you surely want really GOOD food, i'd also think you'd want a uniquely arizona experience. binkley's is fabulous, as is see saw, that said, I know you can get great french food and sushi in your town.

        i wonder if perhaps vincents (which has two menus, classic french and a nouveau french-southwest) would be nice. certainly the atmosphere is up there. (and i'm aware there have been one or two poor reviews lately, but I was there very recently and had a fabulous experience indicative of every other time I've been).

        I'm sure there are other suggestions that honor the idea of something uniquely arizona and yet very high end.

        11 Replies
        1. re: hzp

          I looked at the menu at both Tardell's and T Cooks and to be honest neither "do it" for me. With regard to Tardell's, what's with the "Tar's" this and "Mark's" that before every dish name. Sounds like this guy may be a little full of himself. So far it looks like Cowboy Ciao, See Saw and Binkley's for my three nights. As far as Binkley's, while the sample menu looks pretty tame, various reviews note frog legs, sweetbreads and veal brains. For me this is not such a problem but for my picky wife, the menu may turn her stomach. Does he often place those items on the menu and if so are there usually other "safer" items available for those with less "adventurous" palates?

          1. re: bgut1

            you should be fine - the tasting menu's don't usually go overboard with alot of challenging options.

            his menu's change weekly, so by the time you're here he'll have gone thru several rotations.

            its not food related but i do recommend the heard musuem, desert botanical garden, and taliesin west while you're out here. give 'em a google ;)

            1. re: winedubar

              winedubar - Thanks for the tourist info .... something I was also looking for from this board:) I'm also considering a day trip to Sedona.

              1. re: bgut1

                np - glad to help :)

                sedona is beautiful, you'll enjoy it!!

            2. re: bgut1

              You're the second person in as many months to reject a T. Cook's recommendation based on a view of the menu. I'm curious as to what is unappealing about T. Cook's. Please understand that I'm not trying start a debate about the merits of T. Cook's or questioning your taste. I ask just because I am curious as to why a place I like as much as T. Cook's doesn't always draw an enthusiastic response when recommended. Perhaps I can avoid recommending it inappropriately if I better understand its lack of appeal to some visitors. As for Tarbell's, I've met Mark Tarbell and have found him to be very unfull of himself.

              1. re: silverbear

                I thought the comment about Tarbell's menu and (imagined) ego came out of left field. To me it doesn't seem at all odd that a relative handful of dishes (9 total across all menus) feature the name of the chef and/or the restaurant, especially given the type of establishment it is. To my mind, this serves to alert the attentive patron to the fact that the dish might differ from the typical or traditional version.

                *shrug*

                1. re: hohokam

                  Whatever you think of Mark (and I know and like him very much) the food is good. The menu is very traditional, but it is that kind of restaraunt with a comfort menu flair. I recommend it.

                  I'd also try Roaring Fork on Scottsdale Road, great Western food with lots of fish and chops on the menu. Try the green chili mac and cheese.

                  The board favorite hasn't come up yet so I'll say it. Richardson's. Try it you'll like it! www.burningembersphoenix.com

                  For something quaint and feminine try Arcadia Farms for lunch in Old Town Scottsdale. great salads and sandwiches. Your wife will love it as it is the kind of place every woman wants to go to for lunch with her girlfriends. (please pardon the brash over generalization)

                  1. re: hohokam

                    To both silverbear and hohokam - I'm sorry to have elicited such responses. My apologies. I was just giving my general impressions from visiting both websites. As far as Tarbell's website, naming one or two dishes as your signature item is fine, but nine is a little crazy. The Mark versus Tar thing also came across as a bit hokey. This combined with the silly picture of the three chefs on the home page really turned me off on this place. I will check out the Iron Chef episode and see if that changes my opinion. As far as T Cooks, none of the items on the menu jumps out at me save maybe the scallops entree. Lobster bisque, pate, charcuterie, paella just didn't excite me. Obviously as one of the top rated restaurants in Arizona , I'm willing to give the place the benefit of the doubt. On the other hand I was enthralled by the menu at Cowboy Ciao. Again, just an outsiders initial observations. BTW, the dining room does look quite nice.

                    1. re: bgut1

                      I can totally see why a menu featuring the chef's name over and over would be found offputting. Those of us in the know, who have read his weekly newspaper column for a while, get the impression that the guy's got very little ego. He usually reviews a bunch of wine, but there's never anything hard to find in the list. He'll assess a Pabst Blue Ribbon or a Fetzer riesling with the same gravitas as a Silver Oak Cab. He has an exceptional palate but seems to have neglected to amp up his snobbishness accordingly.

                      Plus, his restaurant has been right on point for ten years, while many places have come and gone.

                      Enjoy your stay, bgut1, I think you'll really like Cowboy Ciao and Sea Saw. They're my two favorite restaurants in town.

                      1. re: themis

                        Thanks themis. Tarbell does sound like a down to earth guy and his longevity and popularity speaks volumes. I'm sure the restaurant is great, I did however want to give my impressions as an "outsider" viewing his website for the first time. Thanks again.

                      2. re: bgut1

                        I did get to see Tarbell on Iron Chef tonight and I agree that he does come across as being down to earth. Although it looked like Cat Cora shot herself in the foot with her dishes, I was impressed with Tarbell's cooking (especially the scallop tamale). I may need to stop by. Thanks everybody.

              2. I am surprised nobody has mentioned Kai. It has been raved about on this board for food, drinks, atmosphere, and service - 5 star across the board. Plus the cuisine is likely something extremely unique to Phoenix. Do a search for the excellent reviews and check out the menus online. It is at the Wild Horse Pass resort, a medium drive from Scottsdale, but it is all freeway.

                -----
                Kai
                5594 W. Wildhorse Pass Blvd, Chandler, AZ 85226

                28 Replies
                1. re: Sacto_Damkier

                  hi sacto,

                  thats the thing - there's so many great restaurants out here, whether they are fancy and 5 star like kai or a 2 dollar green chile burrito at ritos, we're really lucky to have so much good food. no matter what you suggest, 3 days simply isn't enough time to hit all the good spots, and many places will be left off the list.

                  1. re: winedubar

                    winedubar - Your correct. So much eating to do and so little time. It is inevitable that due to my time constraints that I'm going to miss some really good restaurants. I'm just hoping I picked the best or most representative three. Again, much thanks to all of you for the recommendations. I will be sure to post with my impressions.

                    1. re: bgut1

                      no matter what you are in for some good dining :) keep in mind on the kai vs binkleys decision you're talking apples and oranges.

                      kevin binkley studied under thomas keller at french laundry, so you are going to get a keller inspired tasting menu. its an independantly owned restaurant in cave creek, a quaint albeit rapidly developing desert town.

                      kai is a restaurant at a 5 diamond resort. great chefs, great food, in a sheraton hotel. albeit a fancy native american inspired resort, but it is a hotel restaurant. that is important for some people.

                      either way - you could do alot worse than having to pick between binkley's and kai ;) its your anniversary, go where you want!!!

                  2. re: Sacto_Damkier

                    Sacto - In my research, I did read about Kai. I'll take a look at the menu online and let you know what I think. If I did choose Kai, I would probably have to bump Binkley's. Which one would you choose?

                    1. re: bgut1

                      I have not been to Kai (yet), but the core Southwest hounds have posted extensive positive reviews on the restaurant, including this one which sums up the experience nicely:

                      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/393933

                      The menu looks outstanding and the setting is very unique. Unfortunately my next trip to Phoenix is booked on Friday & Saturday nights, and Kai is only open Tues - Sat dinner. I grew up near the resort (long ago) and can attest to the beauty of the surroundings. Binkley's looks good, but Kai may be a once-in-a-lifetime Southwestern/Native American culinary treat.

                      1. re: Sacto_Damkier

                        I'm surprised nobody has mentioned Pizzeria Bianco for another James Beard award winning chef/restaurant or his sandwich shop in central Phoenix, Pane Bianco. I have been to Sea Saw and felt it was extremely expensive but definitely an interesting meal. If you want real traditionl places you have to venture into central phoenix. Los Dos Molinos in south Phoenix is probably the most authentic mexican restaurant in Phoenix. Great Margaritas also for that casual dining. But I wouldn't miss Chris Biancos pizza place or sandwich shop if I was traveling to Phoenix.

                        1. re: mcastle

                          i agree with you about pizzeria bianco and pane bianco. but give the guy a break, he only has 3 days ;)

                          but los dos molino's? that's where we'll disagree. to me it's one of the most touristy and least 'authentic' mexican places around. i think it was better a couple of years ago. my neighbors are big fans but i must confess my last four visits *yup 4* were terrible - the service suffered, the food wasn't great, and we waited for about 90 minutes. now, waiting for a good meal doesn't really bother me so much if there are cocktails to be had but i've given up on los dos.

                          1. re: mcastle

                            Just a quick clarification: Los Dos Molinos is a New Mexican restaurant, rather than a Mexican restaurant. It may be authentic in serving the cuisine of the next state to the east of Arizona, but I would not think of it as serving authentic cuisine from the country south of Arizona.

                            1. re: silverbear

                              true - i still wouldn't consider them authenic new mexican either

                              1. re: winedubar

                                I apologize, for new mexcian cuisine I would go with Richardson's. I suppose authentic Arizona would be the Fry bread House. Haven't been but know people that love it.

                                1. re: mcastle

                                  Personally, I'd take FBH over either Los Dos or Richardson's any day. For the OP -- The Fry Bread House is a good choice for a casual lunch and combines well with a trip to either the Heard Museum or the Phoenix Art Museum. It's not really an option for a full-fledged dinner, though, due to an early closing time and not having a liquor license.

                                  -----
                                  Fry Bread House
                                  4140 N 7th Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85013

                                  Richardson's Cuisine of New Mexico
                                  1582 E. Bethany Home Rd., Phoenix, AZ 85016

                                  Los Dos Molinos
                                  8646 S Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85042

                                  1. re: silverbear

                                    Love all of the ideas, living and working in Central Phoenix I am comletely addicted to Pane Biancos, roasted lamb paninni, or his version of a bacon sandwich, traveled all over and have never had a better sandwich. Still wondering why the sandwich shop gets no attention in comparison to the Pizza place that obviously gets national recognition

                                    1. re: mcastle

                                      im iwth you on both sandwiches. in the winter when he does the pulled pork? omg with a coffee from lux next door i do think its a perfect lunch.

                                      it gets attention, maybe not as much as the pizza place. its always on top 5 lists for sandwiches and down town lunches.

                                      1. re: winedubar

                                        That pretty much makes a perfect day. Recently he had a roasted eggplant that now made my top 5 sandwiches from his restaurant. For now I will be happy that it has not rcvd national attention. Waiting to eat for apx 3 hours at the Pizzeria makes not always a good idea for dinner.

                                        1. re: mcastle

                                          Thanks for the additional recommendations. I had read about Pizzeria Bianco and was hoping to fit it in for lunch one day but alas they open at 5 PM. Maybe next time. As for Kai, all I can say is wow. When I heard it being described as Native American food, I wasn't too interested. But, after looking over the menu and reading Seth Chadwick's review and pictures, I'm blown away. What a perfect way to experience Phoenix. It looks like we are going to substitute Kai for Binkley's. As someone noted above, Binkley's is cut from the same cloth as Thomas Keller and since I've dined before at TFL, I shouldn't be missing too much. Who knew Phoenix had so much to offer?

                                          1. re: bgut1

                                            Phoenix is often overlooked because people can't fathom that this huge metropolis in the middle of the hot desert could produce great food. There are some exceptionally good restaurants here and Kai is one of them. We also have Binkley's, Bianco's, Mary Elaine's, and a host of others, plus a treasure trove of mom & pop places that serve great ethnic eats.

                                            Although your trip is in November, please report back and let us know how things turned out.

                                            1. re: Seth Chadwick

                                              I'm rethinkg Sea Saw for either Binkley's or Pizzeria Bianco but .... is any restaurant open on Sunday (or Monday for that matter)? Other than Cowboy Ciao, I can't find any .... at least those I want to go to. Very disappointing. Don't you people in PHX go out to dinner on Sunday? :) I wanted to try Ciao on my first night on Friday but now may have to move it to Sunday since its the only one open that night. Any other ideas? Thanks.

                                              1. re: bgut1

                                                Here is an idea - hit Sea Saw, Cowboy Ciao in one night. I have done this before with success.

                                                It does involve not doing the omakase w/pairing @ Sea Saw...but you could go in, let Nobu know that you want to try a few of the menu highlights - whatever he recommends. The food (at least the dishes I have tried) are light enough and you could share each one you do get. Instead of a bottle of wine or the pairings, perhaps get a half bottle or split glasses of wine.

                                                Then, head over to Cowboy Ciao. (Literally 20 feet away) Perhaps relax at the bar and have a wine flight or a cocktail to allow your stomach to rest, then eat there - perhaps splitting some menu items.

                                                Then, that still leaves a night for Kai and then you'll have to decide between Pizzeria Bianco and Binkley's. Honestly, PB is great - but as I am sure you have read, the wait is killer (2-3 hours) unless you have a reservation (groups of 6-10 only) or enjoy line jockeying at 4:30 in the afternoon. The adjacent bar is fun and relaxing, but I personally get very hungry and grouchy after about an hour of drinking and relaxing...

                                                Perhaps your wife is totally cool with it, but for me for a romantic trip - I would prefer Binkley's.

                                                Maybe next trip with a group or business associates, try PB?

                                                Just my thoughts! Enjoy the trip!

                                                1. re: HomeCookKirsten

                                                  Thanks HomeCookKirsten - What a great idea! That settles it. Binkley's on Friday, Kai on Saturday and Ciao/Sea Saw on Sunday. Thanks guys. I'll report back in two months. If any of you need any NY/NJ Chow advice I would hope you would allow me to reciprocate. Be well.

                                                  1. re: bgut1

                                                    Wow. Can I come? That is a great itinerary. Cannot fault it at all.

                                                    Depending on how much you like Japanese food though (which Sea Saw only partially is) and how much you want to spend, it if was an option, the Uber Omakase is unbelievable. http://seasaw.net/ and then click events. If you were not going to go Uber Omakase though, the Sea Saw/Cowbow Ciao combo sounds great.

                                                    1. re: ccl1111

                                                      No problem ccl1111. Your welcome to come along. :) Do I also need to get you a ticket to the Cardinals/Lions game? I just picked up a pair and look forward to seeing that architectural marvel.

                                                      1. re: bgut1

                                                        I just saw Kevin Binkley on my local PBS on an episode of Endless Feast shot in Phoenix. He seems like a great guy and a talented chef. I can't wait to dine at his restaurant. BTW, Chrysa Kaufman from Rancho Pinot was the other chef in the episode.

                                                        1. re: bgut1

                                                          Hi....I've been reading with great interest about your proposed dining experiences in Phoenix this coming November. I am a snowbird resident from the NYC area and generally agree with all of the recs made. However, my experience over 10 years on the scene leads me to recommend Binkleys over Cowboy Ciao. Ciao has a very interesting menu and an incredible 100+page wine list, but the food is no where comparable to Binkleys preperations and quality.

                                                          1. re: butch14

                                                            Hi butch. Thanks for the interest in my trip (which is fast approaching). Please know that I am not choosing one over the other as I intend to try both. Having read the many reviews online I do understand that they offer two completely different levels of food and have adjusted my expectations accordingly. Further, I am in fact looking for a casual restaurant like CC as a change in pace to the more formal dining we have planned for the trip (Kai and Binkley's in PHX and L'Atelier and Guy Savoy in LV). Thanks for advice.

                                                          2. re: bgut1

                                                            awesome!!! rancho pinot is one of my fav spots in town. love the food there !!

                                                    2. re: HomeCookKirsten

                                                      A variation on this would be to do lunch at Ciao. It's my absolute favorite lunch place.

                                                      Another suggestion is Atlas Bistro. Its French-influenced southwest, BYOB (with a great wine store next door), and not nearly the long drive that Kai or Binkley's will be.

                                                      Another local favorite is Quiessence, which uses a lot of local meat, vegetables, and cheese.

                                                      1. re: firecooked

                                                        Thanks firecooked - I might take your advice with regard to lunch at Ciao. However, with regard to the others I'm pretty "locked in" on those. Your right however about the drives. I've been playing with my GPS and while Kai looks somewhat manageable, the trip to Cave Creek (about an hour) was more than I anticipated.

                                                        1. re: bgut1

                                                          Phoenix is MUCH larger than most people think. The metropolitan area is about 30 miles north-south and 50 miles east-west - about the size of Rhode Island - and mostly suburban sprawl. I moved away 10 years ago, but still have family and friends there, so I have seen it explode. Driving long distances is a way of life in the Valley with all the good restaurants scattered all over the place - Downtown Phoenix, North Scottsdale, Chandler, Cave Creek. Fortunately, there are plenty of excellent restaurants worth the drive. Make sure to wave to the speed cameras on the 101 & 202!

                        2. Happy anniversary! We are celebrating our anniversary in AZ (Nov 7) and will be there for a week. We're staying at the Hyatt. The suggestions are great - I was online looking for places to eat. All the places sound and look great but I am wondering about more casual places for lunches, etc. Hope you don't mind me hopping onto your string. We're from Chicago, currently live in Portland and miss the food was back east quite a bit. I guess that's why our upcoming trip is, of course, focused on food (and our anniversary of course). Thanks to all for the great suggestions already posted!

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: ord2pdx

                            Which Hyatt? Downtown, Gainey Ranch?

                            1. re: ord2pdx

                              Which Hyatt? Downtown? Gainey? If you're downtown, there are a ton of options. If you're at Gainey, less but it's close to us so have some ideas.

                              1. re: ccl1111

                                Gainey Ranch. Thanks in advance!

                                1. re: ord2pdx

                                  Casual places for lunch near Gainey Ranch. For a week of lunches near the Gainey..

                                  I'd say two places that are pretty much CH loved are:
                                  Andreoli (great sandwiches, deli, appetizers & specials)
                                  Sabuddy (great falafel, tabouli, baba ghanoush, CHOC MOUSSE, etc.)

                                  Some other decent ones that are near:
                                  Dish Marketplace (can get a very good sandwich made to order, lots of semi-fancy prepared foods)
                                  Galileo (great sandwiches - make their own bread)
                                  Pita Jungle (local chain that is well liked by CHers)
                                  Gyros Express (great greasy gyros)
                                  Swadee Thai (good Thai)
                                  News Cafe (on Via De Ventura - as is Gianey - haven't eaten since moved to this location but it was decent in the old spot)

                                  -----
                                  Pita Jungle
                                  7366 E Shea Blvd, Scottsdale, AZ 85260

                                  Sabuddy
                                  6949 E Shea Blvd, Scottsdale, AZ 85254

                                  Swaddee Thai Cuisine
                                  8989 E Via Linda Ste 101, Scottsdale, AZ 85258

                                  Andreoli Italian Grocer
                                  8880 E Via Linda, Scottsdale, AZ 85258

                                  Gyros Express
                                  7132 E Becker Ln, Scottsdale, AZ 85254

                                  Dish
                                  8977 N Scottsdale Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85253

                                  Galileo Bread Co
                                  9619 N Hayden Rd # 108, Scottsdale, AZ

                              2. re: ord2pdx

                                Happy anniversary to you too. Maybe we will run in to you at one of the restaurants :)

                                1. re: bgut1

                                  If it wasn't for the long flight, I would seriously consider buying a second home in your beautiful city. Seriously, nothing prepared for how breathtaking the scenery was. Come on I thought, its only a desert - right? Oh how wrong I was. From the mountains ( I actually climbed Camelback) to the cactus. I was truly floored. Now to the food. Coming from NYC its easy to think we are the "food universe" however I was blown away how great the food was. In fact, I probably had the best meal of my life (and that's saying a lot having dined at many of the "best") at Binkley's. Every dish from the ten amuse bouches to the six other courses to the magnificent wine parings were pure genius. I had an opportunity to meet Chef Kevin after the meal and implored him to move to NYC. Regretably, he has in the past turned down many offers to do so. While Binkley's was pure perfection, Kai was a major disappointment. No offense to Seth Chadwick and the other posters who recommended this restaurant, I just didn't see it. The service as well as the concept was forced and too over the top. I felt they tried too hard. From the native language greeting to the 5 minute explanation about the artwork on the menu, it was contrived and too much. The food also didn't save the meal. After coming from Binkley's the night before I wasn't impressed at all about this meal. The rest of the meals in Phoenix were however very good. We had lunch at both Delux (great burgers, fries, and beet salad) and Le Grande Orange (if Bianco's Pizza is any better I would be surprised and fantastic gelato at Arcchelino next door). We also had a few courses at Sea Saw before dinner at Cowboy Ciao. While Ciao was good (the Stetson Salad made the meal as our mains were just okay - my short tibs were too fatty while the polenta was under seasoned), I would have rather dined the entire meal at Sea Saw. The three items we tried at SS were fabulous. If I recall correctly we had the seared tuna a top beet puree, tako with tomato and mozzarella and another I can't seem to recall although excellent. What made the trip so memorable however was the contrast with the food and feel of Las Vegas several days preceding my trip. Although not appropriate for this thread, my meals at Guy Savoy (several small bites and dessert at the Bubbles Bar) and L'Atelier were just plain bad. Next time I will come back just to Phoenix if nothing only to come back to Binkley's. Thanks all for your recommendations. You served your city well. I hope to return the favor if any of you plan on venturing to my neck of the woods. Be well.