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|Road Trip Food: Crowbar Café and Saloon, Shoshone, California|
|Written by Rich Truesdell|
|Friday, 10 July 2009 15:43|
Automotive Traveler's eccentric yet hospitable editor tells of his favorite place to eat after a long day's spy shooting and extends an invitation for two test engineers to share dinner with him next Wednesday evening.
Where does one eat after spending all day in 120-degree temperatures testing (or if you're a spy photographer or shooting) test mules and prototypes in the California desert. If you're base of operations is in Death Valley National Park itself, you'll probably head over to Furnace Creek Ranch and choose from the three restaurants located there and sit down to chow down. While the food there is OK, it's nothing special, and because of the number of non-tipping foreigners who frequent Death Valley in the summertime, a 15% service charge is tacked on to your bill, so beware and don't inadvertently tip twice. You can head over to Beatty, Nevada about an hour away or Ridgecrest, 90 minutes southwest but your choices won't be much better than fast food. But if you're willing to drive about an hour, down California 127 to Shoshone, I've got just the place for you, the Crowbar Saloon. Trust me it's worth it!
First it's hot, very hot. In the summertime peak in August, I've been there when the thermometer has hit 128F. That will tax any car's mechanicals, especially its cooling system and associated air conditioning components. The second reason is simple, logistics. Death Valley National Park is close to civilization, less than two hours to Las Vegas and less than five hours from Los Angeles, where most manufacturers have established bases of operations. And most of all there's the highway, CA-190 going west out of Stovepipe Wells where the topography runs from 200 feet below sea level to almost 5,000 feet above sea level in just 16 miles. To my knowledge it is just about the only place in the world where engineers can torture a car under these extreme high-heat conditions, primarily by pulling overloaded trailers up the 16-mile grade, and where gasoline is readily available, albeit about a dollar a gallon more expensive than it would be elsewhere in California.
Personally, I have the utmost respect for the engineers who endure these conditions. They spend their summers in Death Valley to insure that all of the cars we buy--from a $10,000 economy car to a hyper expensive exotic--are as bulletproof as man and machines can make them. These conditions tax man and machine to the extreme and I generally try to stay out of their way; if I get too close, like when trying to get the prized interior shot, if asked to back off, I will. When they threaten me in a physical way, I like to remind them that they are in a US national park; these are public lands and that I have just as might right to be there as they do. They have a job to do and I try to let them do it, with as little interference from my end as possible. It is as I have said something of a game of cat and mouse, and as I've been doing this informally for the last 10 years, I hope that they realize this.
But I digress. This started out as a restaurant review let me get back to the task at hand. On Wednesday, after I finished shooting and headed south, I took the shortest route home according to my GPS unit, which from Furnace Creek Ranch, at the park's center was east on CA-190 to CA-127 south, which would bring me through the town of Shoshone, population 82. I've been to Shoshone many times as it was the first of three locations where I recovered remains of crashed SR-71 Blackbirds (it crashed just north of town, at the intersection of CA-178 and CA-127 on 18 December 1969 and very small pieces of the plane still can be found at the location). Two weeks ago, when I caught the 2011 BMW 550 sedan just before BMW pealed off the body cladding as seen from this week's shots from Europe, I stopped at the Crowbar for their T & T sandwich which consists of roast beef and turkey with Swiss and cheddar cheese on a French roll and wonderful French fries. After sweating all day if was good to relax a bit, downloading the day's photos to my laptop while reading my latest copy of Car magazine that I picked up the day before.
Since I had a great sandwich on my last visit, but wanting to get in and out quickly, I decided to try their beef noodle soup and a piece of prime rib, thinking both wouldn't take long to serve. Mistake number one as it took forever it seemed--actually it was almost 30 minutes--for my soup to come out, but oh man, was it worth the wait. Rich and hardy, it was the perfect start to what would turn out to be a truly memorable meal. Next was a fresh salad and it too was perfect, very crisp with just a tad of dressing and some lemons squeezed over the top, just the way I like it.
Finally the prime rib arrived. It was at least an inch thick, pink in the center and I could have cut with a fork as it seemed as tender as a filet mignon. Lightly seasoned, slow cooked, it couldn't have been better. As I ate the last piece I asked to speak to the chef, Jeremy Galland, who originally hailed from Victorville. I told him that I've eaten prime rib in all of the 50 states in my travels and that his was among the very best I'd ever tasted. He smiled as it seemed that my gushing about the food, right down to the crispy French fries, was in some way unwarranted. But it was. In spite of the fact that the meal took about an hour longer than anticipated, it was well worth the extra time although I felt it after midnight when I found myself still editing the images to send to Car magazine's editors in the UK, who were just coming into work on Thursday morning and who posted my spy shots of the MINI 4X4 crossover on their website on Friday morning.
Here's a deal and fair warning for any of those engineers up in Death Valley reading this. I'm coming back up next Wednesday. And I will be eating at the Crowbar on my way back. The first two of you that arrive after 8 PM, I'll buy you dinner. I promise to not ask you what you're testing--but do come in a car cloaked in cladding--as we'll talk "car guy" things over a great dinner, just three guys (or gals if you're an engineer of the female gender) swapping tales of the great cars we've owned, and why Death Valley is the automotive test epicenter each and every summer. How ill you know me? I'll be the only person there seated at a table with a laptop open, editing the photos taken that day.
One final thing if you're traveling Interstate 15 coming or going to Las Vegas. There are virtually no truly great places to eat. If you can factor in a detour of an hour north of the world's tallest thermometer in Baker, you can get a exceptional meal for what will seem like a bargain, even after you factor in the added time and gas. Just tell Jeremy that Automotive Traveler sent you.