Bat Cave Cafe
One of the things I knew I wanted to do after my husband and I decided that we would be traveling to Phoenix during our short Christmas break, was to go down to Southern Arizona and visit Kartchner Caverns State Park. I have previously visited the caverns on two other occasions, but my husband had never been before. The place is so absolutely magical that I felt it important to take my husband so that he could see how amazing it is. I’ve been to Carlsbad Caverns before, but, for me, Carlsbad can’t even hold a candle to Kartchner because Kartchner is still a living cave that has some rare formations that just can’t be seen at any other cave in the world. During the winter months, guests have the option of 2 different guided tours which can be taken; the Rotunda/Throne Room Tour or the Big Room Tour. During the summer months, the Big Room is used as by bats as a maternity cave, and since bats are sensitive to noise and human presence, tours are not given so as to minimize any disturbance to the bats. Additionally, in order to lessen the human impact on the living cave, the state park limits the number of visitors allowed inside the cave to only 500 per day. Tickets for the cave tours are sold on a first-come, first-serve basis. As the demand for tickets are so high, the park asks that you arrive at the caves 1 hour prior to your scheduled tour time. Due to a lack of attention to detail on our part, instead of arriving to Kartchner 1 hour prior to our first scheduled tour, we actually arrived about 1.5 hours ahead of our schedule time. Oops! I guess this just gave us more time to explore the Discovery Center, and shop in the gift shop. While we were checking out at the gift shop, there was a notice on the desk about the special pie of the day made by a local named Shirlene that sounded different and unique and included ingredients that I thought my husband might like. The store clerk saw me looking at the sign and told me that even though she wasn’t a pie person, she had sampled this particular pie and absolutely loved it. I told my husband that during the one-hour break we had in between our first and second tour, we’d stop and get some lunch at the cafe.
The Bat Cave Cafe, as it’s known, takes its name from the bats that come back year after year during the summer time to give birth to their babies in the Big Room of Kartchner Caverns. It was also these bats that helped the original discoverers of Kartchner Caverns back in 1974 find their way to the caves only entrance through a tiny sinkhole on the side of the hill. Located next door to the Visitor’s Center at the park, the outside of the cafe is unassuming. But don’t let that fool you as the food inside was delicious.
The cafe offers visitors to the park a number of familiar dishes, such as sandwiches, hot dogs and pizzas. All items are made fresh and using local grown ingredients, when possible.
However, the cafe also offers a variety of daily specials that change constantly depending upon the ingredients available and the seasons of the year.
I know this is Arizona, where the desert landscape is filled with cacti, but coming from California, seeing a drink such as the prickly pear lemonade sitting out on the counter gives you a bit of a kick! Locally grown prickly pear is cooked down into a syrup and then added to old-fashioned lemonade to make this tart and refreshing drink.
While I didn’t try the prickly pear lemonade, I did order Ginny’s vanilla ice coffee. It was made-to-order, nice and light without too much syrup or sweetness to it, which was perfect. And, I must say, quite refreshing, even though the temperature outside was only in the 50s.
My husband chose, for his lunch, the daily special ham, pear and brie wrap. He chose a flour tortilla, but also had the option of either the spinach or sundried tomato tortilla. When the wrap came to the table, my husband, who said he wasn’t that hungry, took one bite, and then decided to devour the whole thing. That’s how good this simple, but good, wrap was. The brie was perfectly melted and a little nutty in flavor to mix with the soft and warm deli ham and a very light grilled and slightly sweet pear. Mix that with some mixed greens and a raspberry chipotle sauce on the tortilla, this wrap was the perfect combination of melty brie, salty ham, sweet grilled pear and tangy raspberry chipotle sauce. Within minutes, this giant tortilla wrapped sandwich was gone off the plate. And a huge smile on my husband’s face due to how good it was.
I chose for my lunch one of the fresh, made-from-scratch daily soups. My husband will tell you that chicken tortilla soup is something I have a hard time passing up. After seeing the soup on the menu and reading the ingredients, I knew I needed to give it a try. Fresh, made-from-scratch soup which contains mesquite grilled chicken, onions, mild green chilies, cilantro, cumin, corn and tomatoes mixed with chicken stock. The soup came to the table piping hot, and oh so good! It was mild and light in flavor. The addition of corn, which I don’t see a lot in chicken tortilla soup was fantastic. There were some whole tortilla chips dunked in the soup and that provided a nice, salty crunch. The broth was light and delicious and so full of fresh ingredients. You could taste the hominess in it and the fresh quality of it.
Finally, it was time for dessert. My husband did end up ordering a slice of the pie recommended to us in the gift shot, a blueberry and goat cheese pie. Blueberries are my husband’s favorite fruit, and in fact, one of his favorite foods. I wasn’t sure what he would think about the addition of goat cheese into his pie, but the lady had told us it was out of this world. She said that the goat cheese really became more like cream cheese, so it was like you were eating a blueberry cream pie. It was a lucky thing that we got to the cafe when we did, because we ordered a slice of the pie, the next group came in, were told there was only one slice left, which they ordered and now there was no pie left. The homemade pie came served with 2 scoops of vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. The pie had a buttery, flaky and crispy crust. And perfectly cooked and crispy crumble on top. My husband said the blueberry and goat cheese combination was delicious and amazing. My husband is not a pie lover at all, but he absolutely loved this pie. He said that the goat cheese really did melt into the blueberries and made it creamy and delicious. It must have been good, he ate the whole thing.
Finally, to finish off the meal, we were given a treat that is the Arizona version of a traditional fortune cookie. We were told that these baked treats were made locally with local spices, and like a fortune cookie, it contains a saying inside the treat. But, instead of a fortune, it’s printed with local sayings.
The treat was thin, but crispy, and tasting of warm spices. A great treat to end a good lunch that was completely unexpected from this unassuming cafe at a park that is a complete gem, but little known outside of locals and word-of-mouth recommendations from others who have been here. My husband and I both walked away from our lunch meal full and happy and ready for our 2 hour tour of the Big Room and all the amazing treasures that Kartchner Caverns had to offer.