CategoriesTastes

Maverick Coffee in Scottsdale – A Quick Review

maverick coffee
A look at the barista work area and menu.

When I was in Australia and New Zealand, I discovered flat whites and the joy of savory snacks along with coffee. Here in the U.S., flat whites are a rarity. And most of your coffeehouse snacks lean on the sweet side; the antipodean cafes, though, recognize the value of a spinach-mushroom-feta muffin.

If you live near the southeast corner of Shea Boulevard and Scottsdale Road, though, Maverick Coffee has you covered. You’ll get just-about-Australian coffee experience thanks to owners who are Australian. There are a few tweaks versus what I experienced (most notably, the cream and sugar are out for customers to use, where it seemed like all the Australian coffeehouses added them upon request).

maverick coffee
A look at some Maverick Coffee drinks.

Maverick Coffee serves flat whites, and also a super-nice drink called a piccolo. I guess a lot of shops would call it a cortado … but a lot of the different names are about splitting hairs, and there are fewer absolutes than anyone wants to admit. If you’re less into espresso drinks, Maverick Coffee also makes a terrific Chemex.

Now, about those Aussie meat pies on the menu – they’re delicious. The brownie is sludgy and moist, just the way I like a brownie. And even if you’re a coffee fan, trying the iced white tea sometime. Maverick Coffee also sells little bags of nuts called … Nut Sacks!

maverick coffee
“That’s right, Star … bucks. I AM dangerous.”

And parents, you’ll like this: There’s a room toward the back with a sliding wooden door. You’ll find games and books for them to enjoy (and there are books for regular ol’ grown-ups, too). This is a nice family-friendly feature.

The seating in the main part of Maverick Coffee is also comfortable, with couches, low tables and high tables, plus plenty of power outlets. The lighting is comfortably dim (and the fixtures are super cool and retro-industrial). I also like that the music isn’t overwhelmingly loud.

Mwpid-img_20150710_150850974.jpgaverick Coffee also keeps and icy jug of water for customers to chase the coffee – which is also very Australian. I didn’t see any restaurants in Australia or New Zealand that didn’t have a “serve yourself” water setup; I like that a lot better than A) waiting for a server to refill my water or B) servers filling my water when the level is down a half-inch.

Scottsdale, count yourself lucky to have Maverick Coffee.

CategoriesAdventuresTravel

Are These 5 Things Ruining Travel?

ruining travel
A selfie stick and a duck face, all in one photo! (Photo by Marco Verch)
Awhile back, "Ask The Pilot" writer Patrick Smith labeled the selfie stick the scourge of global travel. I get his point: hordes of people waving metal poles, so intent on showing people that they were There that they forget to enjoy Being There. I like a few self-produced travel memories, but I don’t want to document so much that I forget to do.

Patrick got made me think a bit about what I consider the scourges of travel. To be clear, they’re not ruining travel for me, but they could be screwing yours up. (If I’ve left something off the list, set me straight in the comments.)

Ridiculously Doctored Travel Photos

I’ve been to some photogenic places. I have some beautiful photos from travels hanging in super sizes on my walls. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen photos similar to mine processed beyond all reason into cartoonish facsimiles of themselves.

I’ve seen more than a few travelers post these photos and say "that’s where I’m going!" No – you’re going to a real place, not a rip in space and time where the scenery looks like it’s been abused by a cheesy photographer who plays with high dynamic range too much. These photos set up expectations that are hard to match.

ruining travel
I have almost no relevant art for this post – so enjoy this photo of kitties in South Korea.

Time for Some "Best" Control

Go to just about any travel discussion forum online. Count up the number of threads with the word "Best" in the title or subject line: "What’s the best food truck in San Francisco? What’s the best underrated cosplay-themed hotel in Belgrade? What’s the best miniature golf course in Sheboygan that caters to cross-dressing dwarves who work as assassins?" (Blame Bill Fitzhugh’s book Pest Control for that last one.)

Look, anyone with a functioning brainstem should know that nobody will ever agree on "the best" of anything. What’s wrong with asking for 5 of your favorite recommendations for -- well, whatever category you’re interested in?

Giving the Plot Away

ruining travel
I hope you like dogs, too.

When it comes to their entertainment, people are terrified of spoiler alerts. But when it comes to travel? It seems like people want to iron the surprises out, that anything not scheduled is ruining travel. Sure, a certain amount of research helps people get the most out of their travel – that’s the entire reason this blog exists! But do webcams, drone footage and virtual reality tours not suck the anticipation and surprise right out of the experience?

My advice: Do your homework, but leave room for spontaneity, for surprise.

Extreme Cheapskate Antics

I love a good deal. My specialty is scanning air travel routes and prices, mulling a huge list of variables (airline, alliance, aircraft type, schedule, reputation, etc.) and distilling that into a good deal. Not the cheapest, but a perfect intersection of value that fits my budget. It’s a beautiful thing. Sarah applies this same thinking when she digs for hotels and activities.

ruining travel
First cats, then a dog … now a baby. And yes, she likes to travel.

But when I see someone from a prosperous nation posting online for tips on free things to do in Mumbai, the blood vessels in my eyes feel like they’re about to burst. That’s another frequent topic – name the location, and people are looking for the cheapest, free-est things they can do; I half-expect someone to post about fun things they can get paid to do while traveling.

My friends, travel costs. Experiences cost. I have never regretted a penny I’ve spent on travel. I have, however, regretted money I didn’t spend. I have a list of things I should’ve done, but cheaped out on. That’s what I regret. And if you really, absolutely, positively must do something for free when traveling abroad -- simply walk around with your eyes open. I promise you’ll enjoy it.

Oh, and there’s a special hell reserved for travelers who pull all sorts of antics to save the equivalent of 25 cents when bargaining with someone who makes a 20th of their income. I’m not saying be a sucker – I’m saying “don’t be a cheapskate.”

Local Living

"How can I experience Place X like a local? How can I eat in Location Y like a local?" These are some of the silliest questions to ever take up 1s and 0s online.

You experience a place like a local by becoming one, or tagging along with one. And that last one is even questionable; your local will probably show you the cool stuff, not the routine places she actually frequents. Locals like to put their home’s best foot forward.

And here’s something else to remember: Locals eat at Applebee’s, too. They go to chain restaurants and drink over-roasted, over-sugared, vaguely coffee-flavored confections at Starbucks, too. That’s why there’s a ChipotleSmashPizza everywhere short of Olympus Mons.

Am I Just Getting Cranky?

I sound grumpy. Shit. I’m glad that people travel abroad at all. But it would be great if the people we send to each others’ countries might be more than walking travel cliches who exist to do something more than share their photos online.

Go forth and travel, people. But try to think about it a bit, eh?

CategoriesAccommodationsTastesTravel

San Diego: Beyond Mission Beach and the Usual Suspects

San Diego
San Diego Airport looks like an airport should.

So what do you do in San Diego when you’ve been to Horton Plaza, the Gaslamp District, Mission Beach, Sea World and all the other usual suspects?

Well. Let me tell you. We all packed up for three nights near San Diego, and we were determined to do a few things that were – while not exactly unknown – at least a bit different from the usual "Arizonans Go to San Diego" trip. Here’s a breakdown of our trip.

San Diego
The Coffee & Tea Collective is for people who like espresso in their espresso.

THURSDAY

We arrived into the shiny Terminal 2 at San Diego International Airport. It was a quick shuttle run over to the Avis counter, where we had a Subaru Legacy waiting for us. Car rental rates in San Diego are really reasonable – something like $115 for us to have the car until Sunday.

Soon, we were on our way north. Sarah had business in San Diego the next day, but all the downtown hotels were booked at absurd rates thanks to the Wookies, Hobbits, Minions and other creatures that were in town for Comicon. We checked into the Comfort Suites San Diego Miramar – just by sheer coincidence, it was across the parking lot from Shozen BBQ, a Korean BBQ restaurant. We ordered some bulgogi, and the friendly staff stuffed us with marinated, grilled-at-the-table meat and banchan (I believe Koreans are the Italians of Asia – the meal isn’t finished if you can walk away from the table unassisted).

Inside Ballast Point Brewing Company
Inside Ballast Point Brewing Company (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We had to walk a bit of the meal off, so we waddled further across the parking lot to San Diego Games and Comics. Sarah and I aren’t really much into that sort of thing, but I always find the staff and customers at gaming stores to be fun people. San Diego Games and Comics upheld that perception, and we walked out with a Firefly boardgame (Firefly is simply one of the best shows ever, and cursed be the Fox suits who canceled it).

Afterward, we felt like beer. Amazingly, the nearby tasting rooms close a bit early. That left us with Ballast Point Brewing Company – Miramar, which was just a few miles away. We arrived to a far larger and more elaborate building than we imagined; some of the fermenters looked as large as ICBMs! We ordered tasters of a bunch of their more interesting brews (consult my OnTappd profile for some highlights). We had a great server, and enjoyed the overall ambiance – energetic, but not too noisy for our little person -- who remained asleep the entire time.

On the way there, we also noticed the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum; I wanted to stop sometime, but we never got around to it this trip. But if you like aviation, it looks like a very fun place.

San Diego
The Ironsmith crew works it.

FRIDAY

Sarah’s business was Priority 1 for early Friday. We parked and parted ways – I loaded Tiny into her carriage and set off on-foot throughout downtown San Diego. We passed a coffee shop that was attached to a cat shelter (I didn’t drink the coffee since I just didn’t the feeling it would have very good coffee) and a who’s-who of comic/sci-fi characters: Sam & Frodo, Imperator Furiosa, many to-me-unknown anime characters, and so on.

San Diego
A sweet breakdown of espresso drinks.

My Find of the Morning, though, was definitely the Coffee & Tea Collective (East Village/Downtown). What a cool place! First-rate cappuccino; taps for cold-brew, kombucha and tea; an airy, open atmosphere; and a staff that I really liked. Now, I can imagine people who like coffee that tastes like ice cream will leave the Coffee & Tea Collective in a huff – they don’t sling syrupy, sugar-filled drinks. But if you know the difference between a cortado and a macchiato, this is your place.

A few hours later, Sarah was ready to head north. I got some time behind the Subaru Legacy’s wheel – both of us are Subaru owners, with both of ours being the 2006 vintage. We grew to appreciate the read-facing camera. The controls were all familiar enough, once we figured out the difference in the cruise control apparatus. I still am unclear on the paddles on either side of the steering wheel – and honestly, the brakes on both of are ours (Forester and Outback Sport) felt more progressive, and our acceleration feels less abrupt.

But enough of that. I felt like taking a little break before getting into Carlsbad, our final destination for the day. I made a guess on an exit; fortuitously, this exit dumped us out right in the middle of Encinitas. From there, we happened on three places the we really liked:

  • The delicious Ironsmith Coffee Roasters. Excellent cappuccino and tea – and they even have flat whites! Try a chocolate chip sea-salt cookie, too. Ironsmith caters to all sorts: You can get a lovingly crafted espresso drink, or a toothachingly sweet creation that more confection than coffee.
  • Ecotopiia, which sells some awesome goods made out of eco-friendly materials. Sarah picked up a few hemp-cotton dresses, and I got a few hemp-cotton t-shirts (I can never have enough of them). I’d love to have a store like Ecotopiia near me.
  • Sonima Wellness Center is a wellness center, so it has some tasty foods along with its fitness room. I’m still a little skeptical of a $9 smoothie – but the caramel-coconut brownie is the real deal. Dates are its main ingredient, and it’s one of the best vegan foods I’ve ever had. Plus Sonima Wellness Center is a nice place to sit down for a few moments.
San Diego
A nice place to get a great snack.

We were then on to La Quinta Inn & Suites San Diego Carlsbad. We took some time there for some exercise, plus watching the US National Team play in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Then we were out for dinner and brew. We had a hunger for seafood, which led us to Fish House Vera Cruz. I had a delicious grilled ono, and Sarah had a skewer with a good five different species represented – all were cooked just right. Fish House Vera Cruz could probably stand to update its list of early 1980s-style side dishes, but its seafood is pretty darn timeless.

san diego
How good does that sound?

We were in a beer quandary next: the boisterous, chaotic mess that is Pizza Port, or the more laid-back 83 Degrees? The latter’s list didn’t blow us away, so we wound up on the patio at Pizza Port – inside, it’s simply too cramped and loud to enjoy yourself at all. Sarah volunteered to get us some samplers. Moments after she sat down, the staff announced that they were closing the patio. So we didn’t get our usual leisurely time to linger over the beers, and that’s too bad. They were absolutely wonderful, and I would’ve liked some Untappd time with them. But no – the staff was too eager to herd everyone off the patio. We didn’t stick around for a second round, and just called it a night. Next time I go to a Pizza Port, it definitely won’t be this location.

SATURDAY

This was a beach day. Little Traveler got her first dip in an ocean, which wasn’t exactly her favorite thing ever. I’m sure she’ll grow to like it better as she gets older.

carlsbad beach
Baby’s first time at the beach!

After that, we were off to have a look at Oceanside. Honestly, Oceanside is nothing special. We talked around for awhile, had lunch at Bull Taco, and left. Bull Taco has other locations – go to one of them rather than Oceanside.You’ll like nearly any taco on the menu, and the huge selection of hot sauces will also help.

It was still early, so we picked a brewery tasting room. This time, it was Iron Fist Brewing Company. I didn’t love every beer, but some were outstanding (again, connect with my untappd account for the highlights). And the atmosphere and staff were everything you want in a brewery tasting room. Iron Fist Brewing also has food trucks to provide some solid food to accompany the craft beer.

san diego beer
Delicious samplers at Iron Fist.

We spent some time relaxing at the hotel before heading back to Encinitas for some walking around and the promise of dinner. Warning: Things in Encinitas – and all the other beach communities – close early. We didn’t really want pizza, but wound up having a perfectly nice pie at URBN Coal Fired Pizza.

Part of our nighttime experience was seeing these weird lights in the sky. Being the aviation aficionado that I am, I was still unable to identify what I was seeing. If you’re an Encinitas local, can you explain? They were visible from the time were arrived in Encinitas (around 9:15) until we left (past 11). My best guess is drones or some sort of tethered balloons with lights on them.

San Diego Beer.
Hanging out at Culture Brewing Company.

SUNDAY

Well, we just reprised a few stops in Encinitas before pulling over near Solana Beach for a few moments. The highlight there is Culture Brewing Co; I had tasters of a nice IPA made with Nelson Sauvin hops and a sweet, roasty stout. You’ll also find food trucks at Culture. I wish I’d found them a few days earlier, but they never appeared on my brewery searches.

We ran out of time for the Flying Leathernecks Museum, but that just gives us a to-do for the next time we’re near San Diego. I hope you’ll borrow a few of these ideas for your own future trip to San Diego.

 

CategoriesTravel

True or False: Europhobia in America

There’s an interesting thread on Quora right now. Someone asked "Is it true that Americans don’t travel to Europe because there is Europhobia in America?"

The answers add up to a definite "no." There’s a great synopsis that brings up the main points of why it might seem that way:

*Europe is far away, and expensive to take a family to

* America is huge, with many sites to see within driving distance

* Europeans speak many languages which may deter many Americans from visiting.

* Some Americans are afraid to fly long distances

* Americans get less vacation than Europeans; given the travel time, a trip to Europe would be effectively “too short” to reap the benefits.

Let’s take a look at these reasons and their effect on the perception of Europhobia.

Europhobia
I don’t have much art for this post, so you get this ludicrous dog I saw at a cafe in Vietnam.

*Europe is far away, and expensive to take a family to.

This isn’t a reason. It’s an excuse. Compare nine days in Europe next to nine days in Orlando drifting from theme park to theme park. It costs more to get to Europe because of airfare. But factor in daily park admissions and jacked-up meal prices, and I think you’ll be in for surprise: This site quotes a Disney vacation, for example, at about $3,485 (four people, 7 nights) not including the cost to get there. If you’re a good shopper, it is possible to get to Europe for nearly the same price – possibly even less if you head to Eastern Europe.

Another thought: Americans find it in their budget to throw down for all sorts of meaningless, forgettable extravagances – smartphones that will be obsolete before they’re out of warranty, needlessly luxurious cars, enormous cable and satellite television packages, just to name a few. These suck money out of our budgets that could just as easily go toward enriching, memorable trips abroad.

Where do Americans go instead of Europe? Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, to family reunions and to theme parks I mentioned earlier. Those who venture abroad go to England. It’s the top destination.

* America is huge, with many sites to see within driving distance

So, let’s see if I have this straight: Driving eight hours is fine, but flying eight hours is just too far. Eight hours is eight hours, regardless of the vehicle. Yet there’s a perception that eight hours in the air is somehow more exhausting and stressful.

Let’s keep in mind, the point of travel isn’t just to see things. It’s also to learn and to add to your perspective of the world.

I am adamant that, to be a truly educated person, you have to see how people in other cultures live. You have to see it first-hand, not through the media. So while you can drive to all sorts of interesting places in the U.S., you’re missing a chance to see other cultures and people. This reason might not by Europhobia, but it definitely seems like BS.

Europhobia
The VR train is a nice way to get around Finland. And it’s not even the country’s fastest.

Many people in the U.S., especially those who do not travel, have an illusion that they have a degree of freedom and standard of living unparalleled in the world. I suppose this depends on how we define freedom. For some, I guess owning whatever sort of firearms they please and being able to drive enormous gas-guzzlers equals freedom to some. But can you really consider yourself free if you’re one medical problem away from bankruptcy, and you’re too afraid to go on vacation because you’re worried you might not have a job when you come back?

So travel isn’t just about seeing things. It’s about figuring out where you and what you believe fit among the world.

* Europeans speak many languages which may deter many Americans from visiting.

This is a point of insecurity with Americans. I’m miserable at foreign languages. But I pick up at least a few phrases everywhere I travel (and can sometimes pass myself off as a local for a few sentences anywhere outside of Asia).

best passenger planes
Get onboard one of these and go abroad.

But Americans may be forgetting about this place called England. Where they speak English. That’s really close to continental Europe. Which is part of the reason so many Europeans speak -- English.

It’s completely possible – even easy – to get around in Europe if you only speak English. On another note, the U.S. seems to have a huge problem effectively teaching foreign languages. This is a problem schools in continental Europe don’t have. And another missed opportunity to look to other nations, learn from them and better ourselves through their example.

Again, this doesn’t seem like Europhobia. But it’s a fear of our own shortcomings.

* Some Americans are afraid to fly long distances

This misses the mark somewhat. Americans know that flying is safer than driving. Their fear isn’t in the flying – it’s in being uncomfortable. Somehow, we morphed from people that headed west in Conestoga wagons into people who can’t fathom the notion of being less-than perfectly comfortable on a 14-hour flight to Australia.

Europhobia
And I’m out of relevant art, so you get a horse in Iceland. I assure you the horse does not have Europhobia.

That’s a weak, pathetic state of affairs. I’m a 6’2, 205-pound guy whose flown hundreds of thousands of coach-class miles. I’ve emerged physically and emotionally unscathed. I turn on my Kindle or use the on-demand in-seat entertainment and let the miles roll 38,000 feet below me as I enjoy being able to take a safe, affordable journey that spans timezones, cultures, ethnicities, languages, cuisines and landscapes.

* Americans get less vacation than Europeans, and given the travel time, a trip to Europe would be effectively  “too short” to reap the benefits of taking a holiday at all.

This is somewhat legit. The U.S. is far behind the industrialized world in vacation time. As a society, we’ve allowed modern-day robber barons to convince us that we live to work instead of work to live -- yet that our country is somehow also the forefront of personal freedom while we watch our personal time shrink.

europhobia
Americans are reluctant to go abroad, but many of them are happy to overspend on a sanitized, ersatz facsimile of the world. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Left to their own choices, employers will never change this. They will never voluntarily bring the U.S. level with the other industrialized nations of the world. It will be down to a next generation of lawmakers who choose to represent their electorate and say "this will not stand." The recent increases in minimum wage and healthcare coverage at least give me some hope that the U.S. could be on the way toward a turning point.

Also, discouraging travel abroad is a great way to preserve the venomous notion of American exceptionalism. Just imagine the impact on the status quo if Americans head abroad en masse, witness first-hand European quality of life and start asking uncomfortable questions like “Where’s our work-life balance? Tell me again what’s so much better about U.S. healthcare? Why is high-speed rail so bad? Hey, what’s your beef with free childcare and guaranteed vacation time and a higher minimum wage?” If we collectively start asking questions like this, things change. And there is a tiny, tiny minority of deep-pocketed people who simply don’t want that.

“But wait!” you might say, “What about all the countries out there with a lower standard of living?” Well, maybe those countries should make us appreciate what we do have. But is being better than some what you want the U.S. to be for future generations?

Do Americans Have Europhobia?

So, my European friends, Americans as a whole aren’t plagued by Europhobia. They have some barriers that prevent them from visiting you in your own countries. Some of the barriers are real, but most are imagined or self-imposed through their own poor choices.