There's been UFO activity in Cave Creek and Carefree, Arizona. About a half hour's drive or so north of metro Phoenix, the quiet, side-by-side towns, with barely five thousand souls between their combined borders, are becoming known for some Unusual Fiery Objects -- Southwestern gourmet goodies. The concentration of entrepreneurial energy is extraordinary, almost eerie.
Granted there's a slew of cities across the country credited with Southwestern food products, even other Arizona cities -- Phoenix, Scottsdale, Glendale, Tucson. So why is the Cave Creek/Carefree area a vortex of spicy products? Could it be the water? The air? The dirt? And, perhaps extraterrestrial activity shouldn't be ruled out. Agents Scully and Mulder might even find this desert domain worth an X-File chapter.
Fiery Fire Water
Water, good and pure, definitely figures into Crazy Ed's Cave Creek Chili Beer. There is actually a Crazy Ed. Crazy Ed Chilleen. He was tagged with the title because folks thought he was crazy for starting up a restaurant thirty years ago in a desolate part of north Phoenix, which he sold a few years later for some bucks. Ed then built another eatery in Phoenix, sold it, move to Cave Creek and open Crazy Ed's Satisfied Frog & Brewery in the early 1980s. Crazy? Yeah, right, with cash from crazy ideas like his newest, stuffing a serrano chile into a bottle of beer.
As the story goes, Crazy Ed and Mrs. Crazy Ed, Maria, were so impressed with the beer from the Arnold Brewery in Lauf on a sojourn to Germany in 1987, they had a brewery designed, built and shipped to Cave Creek which would produce beer equal in quality and taste. Black Mountain Brewing Company made its debut in 1989.
The Chili Beer thing came about later when Ed was asked to make a spicy beer for a California guy and his string of restaurants. Now if you're thinking about that worm in the tequila bottle, you're years too late. That's where Ed got the idea. Since the first serrano was popped by hand into a bottle of Black Mountain pilsner in the spring of 1990, sales of Crazy Ed's Cave Creek Chili Beer have exploded to over 250 thousand cases in 1994. A million cases is the expected goal for 1996. That's a lot of beer and a lot of chilies, which incidentally grow outside of Cave Creek in prime dirt. (Some are grown in Texas, too.) And get this, almost half of the sales of Chili Beer in 1994 came from Japan. They may not buy our autos, but Chili Beer sales are hot. Maybe a couple of cases in the trunk would be incentive.
Though strange and wonderful things happen in Cave Creek, producing a million cases of beer out the small Black Mountain Brewery is not one of them. Crazy as it seems, Ed has a brewery in Minnesota under contract to produce the beer destined for Japan. And it seems Europeans and those who call the United Kingdom home can't get enough of the chile-charge malt beverage. So a brewery in the U.K. is under contract to produce the sizzling suds for that corner of the world. Also, a brewery in Vietnam is in the works to service southeast Asia.
Black Mountain Brewery has an 800 number and according to Dick Chilleen, Ed's brother and partner, "We get calls every day. Some people scream they hate it and some people scream they love it and what a great idea. A lot of people want to know if we have a catalogue of T-shirts, which we do." If you want a catalogue of T-shirts, mugs, hats and other Chili Beer paraphernalia give Ed or Dick a holler at 800-228-9742. What's on tap next? Ed's Chili Beer Salsa. Though most is going to be shipped overseas, a limited supply will find its way to shelves in the States.
Yeah, But It's A Dry Heat
There's also a water connection with the inception of Mad Coyote Spice Company, which produces dry mix seasonings. The water in this case was in the form of consumed spirited beverages according to the company's creator, Mad Coyote Joe (a.k.a. Joe Daigneault).
It all started about a decade ago when just-plain Joe, then a foreman for a steel company, and some buddies going to business school "got quite drunk" and talked guy stuff, like the venture capitol market. That led to a discussion about products and what would sell. "I decided that this being the Southwest what we ought to come up with is a salsa," he recalls.
Drinks later... "We came up with the name mad dog salsa. We thought that the name really ought to have something to it that suggested bite, suggested aggressiveness. Then I said mad dog wouldn't be good enough, not regional enough. Let's call it Mad Coyote. We all really laughed about that, Mad Coyote Salsa."
Seems one of the guys had some T-shirts made up with a rough Mad Coyote Salsa logo and gave them to the others. That prompted still-just-plain Joe to create the salsa recipe. The thick and thin of it is, all of the recipe versions started with a base of dry spices -- a salsa mix is born.
Joe then mixed up batches and doled out samples to try. "I would give some to my friends and say, 'Add some tomato sauce and tomato and put a little onion in it, you'll love it.' I'd tell them it was that Mad Coyote Salsa. It was just a joke." Soon folks were asking for it, which was great timing.
After realizing when you work for someone else you can be "tossed like an old tool," which he was, Joe went into the salsa business. He formed a corporation, registered the trademark and became Mad Coyote Joe. That was 1987. Now eight years later, Mad Coyote Joe works for himself and ships his products worldwide. He's taken a bite out of the dry-mix market with: Mad Coyote Enchilada Sauce Mix, The Chili From Hell, Mad Coyote BBQ Dust, Lime Fajita Marinade Sauce Mix and, of course Mad Coyote Salsa. T-Shirts? You bet, Mad Coyote Salsa and Chili From Hell.
Mad Coyote Joe also writes, edits and publishes Mad Coyote Chile World News about four times a year. Get a catalogue by writing to Mad Coyote Spice Co., P.O. Box 1647, Cave Creek, AZ, 85331. Send along a buck and get yourself a copy of Mad Coyote Chile World News.
Trip The Fry Bread Fantastic!
Recently, Indian fry bread was designated the state dish of Arizona, and wouldn't you know it, one of the best spots around for fry bread is at the Indian Village, in (you guessed it) Cave Creek. Stop in the store and say howdy to owners Ron and Marianne, Bart and Jennifer Krasson.
I popped in on Bart one afternoon just before he dashed out the door for an "important" golf game. He said he was just about ready to chow down a hot dog, but ordered a couple of his special combo fry breads instead. After a swirl in the fryer, each golden and puffed disk was ladled with a shredded-beef-laced red chile sauce on one side, the remaining half drizzled with honey. Unusual but definitely tasty. I'm told in some parts the concoction is known as Navajo nachos. At the Indian Village it's not even on the menu, but if you want one ask for the Bart Special.
Or make your own. Mix up a package of Indian Village's Squaw Kitchen Indian Fry Bread Mix, fry the rounds and top with a salsa (try Mad Coyote Salsa) or hot sauce of your choosing and folks will no doubt come a runnin'. Drop in or drop Bart a line to get your hands on packages of Squaw Kitchen Indian Fry Bread. Indian Village, 6746 E. Cave Creek Road., P.O. Box 1781, Cave Creek, AZ, 85331. 602-488-2827.
Oh, The Pastabilities
DeCio Pasta, yep, in Cave Creek, has impressed the likes of USA Today and Food & Wine with its handmade flavored pastas. I've tried pots o'plenty of flavored pastas and these noodles are notable. Too often the pastas wilt and become dull and boring after cooking. Not so, DeCio. The flavor's intact and it needs only a light sauce or a little olive oil and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Strands and shapes come in a rainbow of colors and the sky's the limit for flavors. Twirl some Chili-Cilantro or the prized Szechuan Orange Spice. Or load up spoonfuls of Jalapeno Rotini. DeCio Pastas can be found at better gourmet stores and specialty shops. Or call 800-397-0770 for the nearest location.
Each business is racking up some pretty impressive, almost "out of this world" sales. So it seems life in Cave Creek is carefree. Wait a minute, that can't be. Cave Creek is not carefree, Carefree is just across the road. Hmmm.
Carefree is an idyllic hamlet where folks with lots of dollars live in houses that cost lots of bucks. It's the only spot around where you can glide down thoroughfares named Easy Street, Ho Road and Hum Road, Celestial Street, Leisure Lane or Tranquil Trail. Besides its carefree names and lifestyle, the town boasts claim to The Boulders resort, a four-star, five-diamond luxurious secluded getaway owned by Carefree Resorts.
Noted and awarded for its blending into the natural desert setting, The Boulders is a culinary hot spot. The stoves are under the command of Charles Wiley, executive chef for Carefree Resorts. Wiley and the competent cooks at The Boulders have created Carefree Resorts High Sonoran Salsa, a prized concoction befitting the premier hideaway's exacting standards (read good stuff). Sporting bits of crunchy onions and peppers, salsa aficionados will surely appreciate the mildly tangy sweet finish. If you're in the neighborhood, an eight-ounce jar will cost you somewhere in the neighborhood of four bucks at The Boulders' gift shop. If your home is in the hinterlands, the gift shop can be persuaded to ship it. Punch in 602-488-9009 to speak with an actual human, then ask for the gift shop.
I would venture the entrepreneurial efforts found in Cave Creek and Carefree to be more a coincidental gathering of talent rather than anything to do with the water or soil or, say, something extraterrestrial. Visitors to the area tend to be more of the down-to-earth variety.
Directions: From Phoenix take I-17 north to the Carefree Highway, east to Cave Creek Road, then head north. From Scottsdale, take either Scottsdale Road or Pima Road north to Cave Creek Road, then go west.
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