Newsletter Archive: Monti’s Steak-O-Gram Celebrating Your Carnivorous Patriarch / June 2010
Hello to our many guests, friends and staff ‘alumni’! Here is yet another unpredictable, irregular installment of the Monti’s La Casa Vieja Steak-O-Gram.
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As usual, my purpose is to regale you with fascinating tales of ancient exploits, whilst deviously planting a burning subconscious porterhouse desire porterhouse to porterhouse rush porterhouse down porterhouse here grey goose and eat. Let me know if I succeed!
Recently, I was invited to speak to the Kiwanis Club of Tempe (KCOT) about the history of Monti’s. That’s a rare treat for me. You see, I can inflate my own establishment with hot air pretty much at will–barging in at banquets, wandering up to random tables to inflict rambling stories upon innocent couples out on their first date. But to be invited to someone else’s place to expound at length, well, just doesn’t happen all that often. So thanks to Lawn Griffiths and Corey Woods for having me over to Shalimar, where the Kiwanis Club meets each week. It must have been a bit like inadvertantly calling in an air strike on your own position.
Now, this KCOT gig posed a small conundrum for me: with so many long-time denizens of Tempe and pillars of the Tempe establishment in the crowd, I couldn’t just peddle the tired old (but true and entertaining, if I do say so myself) tripe that I usually dish up to out-of-towners. Many present in that crowd are well acquainted with C.T. Hayden’s arrival at the Salt River in 1866 with his team of mules yada yada yada… So instead I dug through my archives and put together a little slide show to focus on some of the events and characters from the less well-known period of the 1930s to the present.
What does all of this have to do with Fathers Day? Keep your hat on! I’m getting there. Eventually.
Much of the material I prepared for the audience at KCOT was derived from encounters I have had with old-timers who once lived in my building or frequented La Casa Vieja back before my father prefixed that sobriquet with his surname. It probably doesn’t make much marketing sense in today’s short-attention-span world to have a business name that is in itself a longish sentence, in full: Monti’s La Casa Vieja Steakhouse. And that is why this ties in with the upcoming holiday.
Leonard F. Monti was a first-generation American who spoke Italian at home before learning English when he began grade school. He grew up poor. He was never able to pursue a college degree. Yet, he always loved history and was an avid reader. As soon as he had the means, he began to travel the World, and began a tradition of visiting cousins in Italy every year.
As a youth I was privileged to go along to Italy many times, and I have fond memories of following my father through miles of crumbling ruins, moldering museums and cavernous cathedrals. This was a man who relished tradition, and when the opportunity arose to get his hands on the oldest continuously-occupied structure in the Valley of the Sun, he seized it. (That story, of the fateful card game, has been told in my newsletter before, as some of you will remember. As an aside, my father always said he first grasped the historical significance of La Casa Vieja long before he owned the place, while recovering from back problems he happened to listen to a radio program by the legendary Arizona journalist and historian Bert Fireman.)
Once Dad (Leonard) became the owner of this old pile of mud, he had to decide what to call his restaurant. It was clear to him, though, that the phrase ‘La Casa Vieja’ was anchored to the building, having been know as such by travellers from all around the State since the days of Hayden’s Ferry. So he simply dubbed it “Monti’s La Casa Vieja”–an Italian surname, a Spanish phrase, and a menu featuring steak and American cuisine. Each year during tourist season there are customers who beat a path to our door in search of chimichangas, only to be turned away in despair.
So I spoke to the Kiwanis about, and displayed photos of, some of the people who ran the business at La Casa Vieja, or lived in the building from time to time: The wartime characters and British RAF pilots served here by Eugene and Lucille Payne, the prickly Alaskans Fred and Ruth Brechan and their nephew Vern Spicer (who I had the privilege of becoming acquainted with a couple of years ago). There was also the late Louis Neeb, who lived in the building as a student and helped his roommates paint the Mural of cliff dwellings in our waiting room. If you haven’t seen it, please make a point of looking for it.
Imagine, then, my delight yesterday, when KCOT member Mike Jennings, owner of the Campus Corner on College Avenue, sent me an email containing a scan from an Arizona State College (pre-ASU) Yearbook depicting La Casa Vieja as it was in the 1950s, with “Mexican Food” promised proudly on signage outside the building, along with an inset line drawing of homecoming king ‘Sparky’ and his
queen, captioned “Campus Royalty”. The photo also offers a glimpse of the old river-rock wall that encircled Tempe Beach Park as well as a bit of our building’s once-open inner court yard that was filled in in the 1950s. Even my experienced managers, on seeing this photo during yesterday’s weekly meeting, were scratching their heads and trying to figure out just where a tree towering from the courtyard once stood in relation to our present-day floorplan. Luckily, I was gifted with another photo earlier of a man working diligently to chop down said tree to accomodate a new kitchen at the time. And so, having cast my historic bread upon the waters at the Kiwanis meeting, I was kindly rewarded with a heretofor unknown (to me) nugget of gold; another piece for the timeless history puzzle that my Dad started to assemble and that I have carried on since 1993. Thanks, Mike. campuscorneraz.com
And now, please peruse the announcements below about Father’s Day, Independence Day and sundry other matters:
Father’s Day Specials
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Take Dad To Dinner! Father’s Day Special: 14 Oz. Rib-Eye With Shrimp Skewer Served With Twice Baked Potato & Seasonal Vegetable Garnish For 25.95 Plus Tax & Gratuity.
We are offering a variety of bottled beers on special for $3.00. Reservations (480) 967-7594 or online at montis.com (with OpenTable.com)
4th of July / Independence Day
Business hours: Due to extensive block party setup work in Downtown, we will not open for business until 4 p.m. (Hours 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.)
½ Rack of Ribs with Cowboy Baked Beans & Potato Salad then completed with Peach Cobbler for $17.95
Full Monti Burger with Cowboy Baked Beans & Potato Salad then completed with Peach Cobbler for $15.95
After the fireworks, come in and let the family cool off with a treat while the traffic dissipates: A free scoop of ice cream for children 10 and under with the purchase of any dinner entrée. (One entree gets you a scoop for each of your kids. No fair rounding up strangers’ kids just to get more ice cream. Also, the authorities frown on that.)
Patio fireworks viewing available $10.00 cover charge – space is limited
Blue Moon and Miller Light on draft along with Cruz tequila specials will be the order of the day on the patio. Patio open at 5:30, wrist bands and hand stamps for paid entrance ($10 cover). There will be a Cruz Tequila Garden On our Patio from 6:30pm – 10pm; Great specials on Cruz Tequila Margaritas $5.00 each – get a sample of Cruz Tequila with purchase of any margarita or take advantage of our beer garden and get an ice cold draft beer for $3.00 Fireworks begin at 9:15. Your local party headquarters for the best view of 4th of July Fireworks in Tempe.
On Sunday, June 13th, we celebrated the careers of three dedicated men. Ed Wong has retired after thirty years. Pio Robles, recently challenged by illness, has been with us for 41 years; and Roger Bradford is going strong at Monti’s after 30 years as well. Please take a look at our photos from the party:
Photo Album: http://tinyurl.com/233awdl
Finally, thanks to those of you who participated in the Tempe Diablos Casino Capers event that I mentioned in the last Steak-O-Gram. It was a great success. Here is a little video to show you what it was like (1970s theme–watch for some outlandish outfits!) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2c0Xv0eN8ws
With that, please accept my sincere thanks for your loyalty to Monti’s. I look forward to Father’s Day, not only to celebrate my Dad’s memory, but to be grateful yet again to be a father myself, as this will be my baby boy Luca’s first time with us for this holiday. I hope it will be an equally special day for your family, too.
Thanks for reading, and have a great summer!
Michael Monti, family & staff
Foursquare– check in at Monti’s for something special–and remember that the ‘Mayor’ gets a 20% discount.
Monti’s on FaceBook (Fan page–make reservations through OpenTable here, too!)
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Monti’s La Casa Vieja Restaurant & Catering
100 South Mill Avenue
Tempe AZ 85281