Food and Fun in Prescott, Arizona

Article & Photos by Noreen Kompanik

Old town charm has given Prescott, located in North Central Arizona the designation of “Everyone’s Home Town.” After spending an unforgettable weekend here, we understand why. Prescott was settled shortly after gold was discovered in 1863. The city, carved out of the wilderness was Arizona’s first territorial capital. It attracted adventures, gold prospectors, farmers, and ranchers seeking a new beginning.

In its early years, Prescott was a typical western frontier town with its share of crime, rowdiness, and occasional gunfights along its infamous Whiskey Row. Despite major fires, mine closures, and the Great Depression, Prescott always continued to thrive. The prosperous 1980s brought significant growth which continues today. The town, however, retains its Old West heritage synonymous with notable figures that passed through here like Doc Holiday, his mistress, Big Nose Kate, and the Earp brothers. The family of Barry Goldwater, a five-term U.S. senator has a long history here as successful merchants.
Prescott touts over 800 structures listed on the

National Registry of Historic Places, more than any other Arizona town. It proudly retains the Old West Victorian image of yesterday right up into modern times.

Its central location, mile-plus high elevation (5,400 feet), unique varied terrain, and historic preservation are a draw. Adding a mild climate with average temperatures of 70 degrees, four seasons, and breathtaking landscapes makes Prescott one incredible and memorable place to visit.

What to See in Prescott
Courthouse Square
Set in the center of Courthouse Plaza, the Yavapai County Courthouse building dates back to 1916. The grandeur of the granite-stoned property is impressive, signifying Prescott’s importance as Arizona’s first territorial seat. And a walk around the property with its historic statues is a must. On weekends, the grounds are filled with local farmers and craftsmen selling their wares and many art festivals are held here.

Whiskey Row
Shortly after Prescott’s founding in 1864, an area near the center of town was filled with saloons and other “entertainment” venues. Known as Whiskey Row, it is not only Prescott’s, but Arizona’s most famous street. At

one time more than 40 saloons welcomed cowboys and outlaws here on a regular basis.

In 1900, a great fire ravaged the city of Prescott. 11 blocks of the town either burned or were dynamited to slow the speed of the fire. Saloons set up shop under tents on the Courthouse grounds until Whiskey Row could quickly be rebuilt. Today, the street is lined with famous bars, eateries, boutique shops, and art galleries.

first schoolhouse are located here. Every other weekend, reenactors dressed as judges, doctors, blacksmiths, and mercantile owners walk visitors through life on the frontier from the late-1800s to mid-1900s.

Hassayampa Inn
The Spanish Colonial Revival often called “Prescott’s Grand Hotel” opened its doors in 1927. The Indian name means “River that flows upside down” referring to a nearby river that Indians say disappears beneath the earth’s surface at intervals only to re-appear in a completely different location.

The stately hotel once described as the “most beautiful hotel in the Southwest” has retained its western elegance with embossed copper panels and warm-hued plaster walls embellished with colorful scrollwork, and its massive chandeliers. Just stepping into the lobby with the fireplace a-glow; we felt history surrounding us like a warm blanket.

Exploring the Great Outdoors
Prescott’s selection as the “Best Destination in Arizona for Nature Lovers” by several travel publications is more than well-deserved. Thousands of acres of public land surrounding the area provide some of our nation’s most beautiful nature areas. The Prescott National Forest with the world’s largest stand of Ponderosa Pines covers 1.2 million acres and is used for horseback riding, boating, fishing, hiking or cycling.

Lakes for Kayaking
Prescott’s natural beauty is reflected in a number of small lakes (Watson, Willow, Lynx and Goldwater) but our favorite for its pristine calm waters surrounded by majestic and fascinating rock formations is Watson
Lake.

The crystalline bright blue lake is surrounded by colorful striated granite boulders creating a stunning contrast between the azure water and the rock formations.


Though swimming is prohibited, the lake is popular with hikers and fishermen. Granite Dells for Exploring A fascinating geological region just north of Prescott called The Granite Dells with its rugged, dramatic rock formations is another must-see. The Dells sport a truly iconic setting of the Old West. Consisting of exposed bedrock and large boulders of granite dating back 1.4 million years, this unique geologic feature has eroded into an unusual lumpy, rippled appearance.

Visitors can drive through and stop at pull-outs or hike the 1.8-mile moderately easy loop. But guaranteed, each twist or bend leads to even more spectacular views.

Where to Eat in Prescott
The Palace Restaurant and Saloon
History, cowboys, cowgirls and Palace belles all combine to offer visitors the ultimate Old West dining experience at Prescott’s famous, or infamous Palace Restaurant and Saloon.

by saloon patrons. Legend has it, not a drop of precious whiskey was spilled during the rescue.

By 1901, the most popular frontier bar on Whiskey Row was back in business. The famous bar was frequented by the Earp Brothers and Doc Holiday long before they headed to Tombstone. The Palace was well-renowned throughout its history for its gambling, entertainment and prostitution. During the Prohibition Era, a speak easy operated in its basement.

Today, a group of men and women known as the “Whiskey Row Renegades” dress in period costumes and serve as the official welcoming party outside the Palace. The fabled property has undergone extensive restoration to bring it back to its glory days. Hardwood floors, swinging saloon doors, oak wainscoting, lead glass windows–are all preserved parts of its storied past. Co owner  Scott Stanford, a serious history buff, took us on a tour of the Palace proudly highlighting its enduring legacy in the heyday of the Wild West.

He and the other owners set out to improve the restaurant menu. And they did. The place is packed and for good reason. Patrons and visitors come in for more than just a piece of history; they’re coming for the food and drinks.

A full bar menu includes libations with perfectly apropos names like Scorpion’s Tale and Miner’s Mule. We followed our server’s suggestion and ordered the Ponderosa Prime Melt with shaved prime rib, mushrooms, onions and Swiss served open-face on thick sourdough. It was melt- in-your- mouth incredible.

My spouse’s Palace Campfire Burger, another jackpot winner featured a half-pound Angus beef patty with onions, mushrooms, Cheddar and Jack cheeses packing heat from green chiles and chipotle pepper.

Fabulous food, fascinating history and cowboy fun all made for an unforgettable dining experience.

Papa’s Uptown Italian Restaurant

One wouldn’t think that coming to a historic Old West town like Prescott you’d have your first dinner in an Italian restaurant. But, you have to!

Short of physically dining in Southern Italy, everything else at Papa’s Italian Restaurant is as authentic as it gets. And we know this because we lived in Southern Italy. The restaurant has been a family-owned operation for over 25 years using the same recipes that Mama Donna, the proud owner learned from her Grandma Benedetto. The moment you enter the restaurant and are greeted by Donna’s daughter Andrea, you are not a guest, you are family. The charming eatery filled with happy patrons has Old World Tuscan décor and hand painted chairs. The walls are covered with some of Momma Donna’s own artwork and creations by local artists.

We were fortunate to be seated at “Mama Donna’s” table, set into a private corner with a large mural of the Amalfi Coast in the background. The enticing scents of garlic, tomato, and Italian spices waft through the air. Mama shows up in a few minutes with a big smile and two steaming bowls of Minestrone she makes daily. So hearty and flavorful, it will now be impossible to be order it anywhere else. Mama says she comes in early

and cooks all day so she can spend time with her loyal patrons in the evening.

Superb wine pairings were served along with our incredible dinner which began with a delightful shared classic Caprese. Not only does the menu, a total immersion in classic Italian culture, make it difficult to choose, daily specials make it near impossible. While discussing our choices, Mama insists we try some of her homemade meatballs. If you think you’ve had good meatballs before, this changes everything.

We settle on a Seafood Medley Fra Diavolo (spicy tomato sauce) and made- in-house Ossa Bucco Ravioli. Both entrees were perfectly seasoned and prepared, and delectably delicious. Certain we couldn’t possibly
eat another bite, our server insisted we look at the dessert menu appropriately titled “Save Room for Dessert.”

Finishing off with a traditional family Tiramisu called Tuscan Truffle and a Lemon and Blood Orange Sorbet combo made for the perfect Italian dining experience. The large mural of Mona Lisa on the back wall of the restaurant seemed to sport a somewhat bigger smile than da Vinci’s original. “I know why” said my husband. “It has to be the food.”

 

Noreen L. Kompanik is a Registered Nurse and published freelance travel writer and photographer based in San Diego, California. Traveling with her husband, children and grandchildren is her absolute favorite pastime. Her articles include inspirational writing, sustainable, healthy living, family travel, history, wine and food. She is a member of the International Travel Writers and Photographer’s Association and International Food and Wine Travel Writers Association. She maintains a Facebook page What’s In Your Suitcase? where
readers can find her published articles.

 

 

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