By Roger Naylor While not wishing to sound boastful, I will state simply that I am a genius.
My claim to such lofty title? I single-handedly hatched the following brilliant scheme: Each year on our wedding anniversary—other husbands should write this down—I take my wife out for a really nice dinner. This scheme received a warmer reception than my previous idea to order a pizza while she models lingerie. Genius takes time to ripen.
Where I took her for dinner only cemented my standing among intellectual giants. We drove to the Asylum in Jerome.
Jerome may be the most shape-shifting of Arizona cities, transforming from a notorious mining camp to a creaky ghost town to a flourishing artist community into its latest incarnation, a haven for chowhounds. Housed in the Jerome Grand Hotel, the Asylum leads the way as a quirky beacon of fine dining. A menu comprised of seafood flown in fresh daily, locally grown produce and mind-bending sauces is enhanced by a wine list so extensive it reads more like a wine tome.
They serve a roasted butternut squash soup that combines absolutely nothing I like. I sneer at soup, a thin wet snack, and regard squash as a failed vegetable, decorative but not flavorful, a rutabaga with dreams. Yet my taste buds do cartwheels when the Asylum’s staggeringly delicious concoction sloshes across my tongue.
While the Asylum became our anniversary tradition, other culinary gems are tucked midst the shops and galleries. Going to Jerome and not eating on the deck of the Jerome Palace is like going to the Grand Canyon and never looking down. They have a complete menu but anyone who can saunter into a place best known as the Haunted Hamburger and not order a burger possesses either an abundance of willpower or a lack of common sense.
Expect a generous slab of beef cradled on a cushiony bun baked fresh on the premises. They even provide a full topping bar so you can heap on the fixings. Trusting fools. My creation always soars so high I need Sherpas to hoist the pickles.
Better than food of the gods, pizza is the food of youth, the meal that defines the most carefree years of our lives. Of those I’ve sampled through the decades, the tangy beast served at Belgian Jennie’s Bordello Bistro & Pizzeria is my absolute favorite. Lift a slice and admire the soft sag of handmade crust. Fresh ground herbs sideswipe the snappy sauce and creamy, dreamy mozzarella. Two kinds of asiago cheese add a rich nuttiness to the doughy edges. The toppings have never seen the inside of a freezer. So old-school authentic you expect Sinatra to lean over from the next table asking to borrow the peppers, pallie.
Specializing in classic Italian cuisine, Belgian Jennie’s, named for a famous Jerome madam, dishes up lavish pastas, heavenly scampi and perfectly matched wines. It easily wears the mantle of a fine dining establishment but to me it will always be a pizza joint. High praise indeed.
Buildings carved out of the mountainside means space comes at a premium, so calling a place cozy in Jerome doesn’t exactly set it apart. But the Flatiron Café out cozies them all. Utilizing a phone booth-sized kitchen they concoct an array of artful combinations, such as crunchily fresh salads, regal sandwiches that are daring mosaics and soups as seductive as they are startling. I know, I know. Even my anti-soup stance wavers at a whiff of green chili and avocado or lemon mango or spicy African peanut. Don’t think about ordering a shot of espresso unless you’re prepared to have your eyes popped wide. This java is the real deal, lovingly prepared on an old style manual machine.
Grab a seat by the window at the Mile High Grill & Inn so you can enjoy the view. Of course, once the food arrives you’ll have eyes for nothing else. Hearty breakfasts, a full slate of salads and sandwiches, plus hand-patted Angus burgers made from meat so tender you wonder how it ever kept a cow upright in the first place. You can make an unforgettable meal just by pairing up appetizers. Don’t miss the mac and cheese triangles, comfort food with a twist.
No matter what you have, try to save room for dessert. Mile High’s decadent bread pudding, a sinfully rich cinnamon and raisin version, is the stuff of legend.
No need to worry about overindulgence. That’s why belts have notches and Jerome has hills. Spend a few hours traversing the tilted landscape, prowling the dozens of original galleries and shops—the buildings where food smells aren’t wafting out—and you’ll burn off plenty of calories. A day in Jerome is practically a diet plan.
If you happen to be in Jerome on certain day in October, stop by the Asylum. I’ll be the genius loudly railing against soup, too runny to be a meal, too pretentious to be a drink, all the while licking the last trace of butternut squash from my bowl. And no, I’m not celebrating my anniversary alone. My wife just prefers to hide in the bathroom until the soup course is finished.
She’s a bit of a genius herself. I think she caught it from me.