CVIndependent

Mon09162019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Jimmy Boegle

April is, in my mind, the weirdest month of the year in the Coachella Valley.

April is a series of contradictions. It’s the craziest month of the year in terms of visitors, thanks to Coachella, Stagecoach, The Dinah and the White Party … yet the snowbirds are starting to leave, and we know May will all of a sudden bring relative calm (and blazing heat). The hotels are all full … yet during Coachella, in the west valley, the nights are fairly quiet.

Here at the Independent, if it’s April, that means it’s time for our annual Music Issue, and that means Brian Blueskye has been crazy-busy working on all of our extra coverage. This year’s issue, however, is a little different from previous Music Issues: Rather than focusing exclusively on the two big festivals, Brian decided to tie things to the local music scene, including the increasing popularity of Latin music. Read all of Brian’s fantastic coverage in the print edition and/or here at CVIndependent.com in the upcoming days.

Our coverage, of course, isn’t all about music; as always, our great columns, news stories, food coverage and arts writing are here, too—and I’d like to draw your attention to one story in particular, because it’s near and dear to my heart.

A couple of weeks ago, we published a story from our partners at CALmatters about the mental-health crisis in California. At the heart of the story is the heartbreaking tale of Elizabeth Brown, a brilliant, gifted college student who killed herself last year. The piece, in gut-wrenching detail, illustrates how our medical system often fails to properly care for people dealing with mental illness, and examines (so far futile) efforts by the state government to fix the problem.

This story hits close to home for me, because I suffer from depression. (What I have to deal with, thank goodness, pales in comparison to the severe problems Elizabeth Brown had.) My life serves as a perfect example of the insidiousness of depression and other mental illnesses: On the outside, things are going well for me. I have an amazing husband, great friends, an exciting social life and a rewarding career with purpose. Yet there are days when it takes every ounce of willpower I have to get going.

I bring this all up not because of me—I am fine, thanks to an amazing support structure, the fact that my illness is not that severe, and access to medication if needed—but because of you: If you often feel down, or anxious, or if you tend to isolate yourself, please get help. Talk to someone. If things get really bad, please use the resources mentioned at the end of the aforementioned story.

If you don’t feel down or anxious … well, someone you love probably does feel that way. Make sure you’re there for your depressed friends and loved ones—and understand that depression often just happens, no matter how things seem to be going in a depressed person’s life. Like I said, mental illness really is insidious.

As always, thanks for reading the Coachella Valley Independent. Email me with any feedback you may have, and be sure to pick up the April print edition, hitting newsstands this week.

The gay circuit party that helped revitalize Palm Springs is celebrating a milestone.

The White Party will be marking its 30th anniversary this year when it returns to the Palm Springs Convention Center and—in a move away from its longtime host hotel, the Renaissance—arrives at the Palm Springs Hilton. The weekend of almost-nonstop parties kicks off at the Hilton pool at noon on Friday, April 26, and concludes the following Sunday night (actually, Monday morning) with the Papa Tribal party at the Convention Center.

However, the weekend’s big event is the White Party itself, taking place at the Convention Center Saturday night. This year’s theme is “House of Gods”—and a featured performer will be Beth Sacks.

If you like dance music, you’re familiar with Sacks’ songs—often with DJ Aron—such as her cover of “Voulez Vous” and their newest song, “Hey Hey Hey.” I recently had a chance to talk to Sacks about her music—and how she wound up becoming one of the most popular names on the gay pride/party circuit.

What can people expect from your White Party performance?

A good time! They’re going to want to sing along, because they’re familiar with all of our music that I’ve done with DJ Aron. It’s a good time—a lot of energy, and a lot of uplifting songs that will make you want to dance.

How did you become a gay dance great?

I started singing as a child, listening to disco music; Donna Summer was my idol along with Gloria Gaynor. Later, I got involved in musical theater. I did many Broadway musical productions, and I toured with Phantom of the Opera. I moved to New York to pursue Broadway; I studied opera as well. … However, back in the days of Limelight and Roxy, I discovered Peter Rauhofer and Junior Vasquez.

As a child, always wanted to make the sounds that Donna Summer was making. I’ve always had a love, behind the musical theater that I was doing, for dance music. It just always felt very healing and free. Watching my friends struggle through coming out—you didn’t come out when I was in high school. You didn’t do that. It was a secret. It was not as open as it is today, and I always felt like the music, especially in the gay community, was about celebrating positive messages.

I’ve just always had a love for that type of music, because it’s very uplifting. It gives you hope. … I have to sit back and be amazed at how blessed I feel. I’ve had the opportunity to meet people who were down on their luck or might have been going through something. … They tell us, “Your music gives me hope for another day.”

You’ve never been to Palm Springs?

No, this is my first time.

I have to ask: How can you be a circuit-party singer and never have been to Palm Springs?

(Laughs.) I remember when bringing a female singer (to a gay dance party) wasn’t always very popular. … It’s a boys’ night, if you will. But that’s changed. … Because of my work and because what (DJ Aron and I) have done together, I’ve been able to get recognized.

I’ve worked with (White Party promoter) Jeffrey Sanker before. … He invited me to come. I just said, “I will be there with bells on.”

What are expecting from your first time to Palm Springs?

I’m expecting it to be incredible. I’ve watched many videos from the party. I know it is the biggest party in the United States. So, I’m expecting a huge party—a huge turnout.

The White Party Palm Springs, part of White Party Weekend, takes place at 10 p.m., Saturday, April 27, at the Palm Springs Convention Center, 277 N. Avenida Caballeros, in Palm Springs. Tickets start at $150. For tickets or more information, visit www.jeffreysanker.com/white-party-palm-springs.

What: The famous truffle tots

Where: Heirloom Craft Kitchen, 49990 Jefferson St., No. 100, Indio

How much: $6; $4 when added to an entrée

Contact: 760-773-2233; heirloomcraftkitchen.com

Why: The crispiness, the seasoning and the sauces.

Andie Hubka is one of the valley’s most talented restaurateurs. More than six years ago, she opened the fun and stylish dinner restaurant Cork and Fork in La Quinta; then early last year, she opened Heirloom Craft Kitchen, a fast-casual joint serving brunch, lunch and dinner in Indio.

As justifiably acclaimed as Cork and Fork is, Hubka really outdid herself with Heirloom: It’s more accessible than Cork and Fork—and the food served there is every bit as delicious.

Heirloom offers “craft sandwiches,” “crafted salads,” starters, a handful of entrées, fun brunch items and an impressive selection of vegan offerings. Everything on the menu is thoughtful and unique—so much so that on a recent lunch visit, I had one hell of a time deciding which delicious-sounding thing to order. I finally decided on the shrimp and grits with andouille sausage ($14)—and because I have a policy of trying anything on a restaurant menu that includes the word “famous,” I added on the famous truffle tots as a side.

The shrimp and grits were excellent—elevated, surprisingly enough, by the inclusion of small pieces of pickled jalapeños, which added a much-needed brightness to the otherwise-earthy dish. However, the highlight of the meal was the add-on: The “famous” truffle tots were downright revelatory.

Truffle oil has become such a ubiquitous ingredient on menus that it’s received a not-entirely-unjustified bit of backlash from some chefs, but the way Hubka uses it here is a perfect illustration of why it became ubiquitous in the first place: The truffle flavor doesn’t overwhelm the tots, but instead just makes them more interesting. Then there are the sauces served with the tots: The fantastic homemade ketchup (lighter and fresher-tasting than the bottled stuff) and the dill aioli (which I apparently received by mistake) were perfect matches. (I got some of the sauce I was supposed to receive, too: a truffle aioli, and while it was decent, I preferred the other two.)

Heirloom Craft Kitchen is truly a special place. And the famous truffle tots are pretty special, too.

What: The Reuben

Where: Wexler’s Deli at Arrive Palm Springs, 1551 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $17

Contact: 760-507-1640; wexlersdeli.com/wexlers-arrive-palm-springs

Why: It’s a top-notch sandwich.

When it was announced that Wexler’s—a Jewish-style deli with three popular Los Angeles-area locations—would be taking over the main restaurant space at the Arrive Hotel, I was excited. After all, there’s a serious demand here for the type of food served at Wexler’s

“Have you ever tried to get a table at Sherman’s in Palm Springs at noon on a Saturday during season?” I wrote.

Since the fall 2018 opening, however, I have neither seen nor heard much about Wexler’s. Therefore, I decided to go in for lunch one recent day to check things out—and I found a restaurant that’s wasting a ton of potential.

The food at Wexler’s is not the problem—hence its inclusion in this column. While the menu is much more limited than what you’ll find at Sherman’s or Manhattan in the Desert, the Jewish-deli staples are all there, and the Reuben sandwich I had was excellent all around, from the delicious and thick slices of corned beef, to the perfectly toasted rye bread, to the tasty potato salad and pickles on the side.

However … the sandwich costs $17. That’s about what you’ll pay elsewhere in town—but elsewhere, you can get fries, whereas at Wexler’s, if you want fries instead of coleslaw or potato salad, you’ll have to get a side for $5. And strangely enough, the Wexler’s locations in L.A. charge $2 or $3 less for this Rueben.

Also: As I mentioned, I haven’t seen or heard much about Wexler’s since it opened, and it seems to be out of mind for many locals. Advertising and/or community involvement is needed here.

I say this, because despite a gorgeous space at Arrive, and despite great food, Wexler’s was basically dead during my weekday lunch visit. When I drove by Sherman’s on my way home—after the “lunch rush,” about 1:30 p.m.—there was a throng of people waiting outside.

I was dismayed by a recent post someone made in a local Facebook group. The gist of it was that this man was lonely and unable to find a partner, decent Chinese food and enough good friends in the cliquish town of Palm Springs—and he was debating moving somewhere else.

While I am complete agreement with him regarding the Chinese food, the rest of his post … well, it bummed me out and confused me.

First, my heart goes out to him; loneliness is one of the worst feelings a human can experience. Second … I’ve had the exact opposite experience in the Coachella Valley: This is one of the most wonderful, welcoming and exciting places in which I’ve lived.

Because I was partnered when I moved here, I can’t speak to the dating portion of his experience—but I have not found the Coachella Valley to be cliquish at all. A clique is defined as “a small group of people, with shared interests or other features in common, who spend time together and do not readily allow others to join them.” While there are, in fact, many small groups of people with shared or other features in common who spend time together here, I’ve been welcomed with open arms into numerous groups I’ve endeavored to join. I’ve forged lasting friendships through my softball league. I’ve made friends and contacts through the business groups I’ve joined. I’ve made countless buddies via my work, and the nonprofits I support, and simply by being an active member of this community.

I think the Independent adequately represents the vibe of the Coachella Valley—and I can’t imagine any reasonable person would fail to be charmed and welcomed by the community reflected within these pages, online and in print. Looking at recent coverage: From Anita Rufus’ “Know Your Neighbors” columns on a young writer who overcame a debilitating illness and a young radio host who says movies saved his life, to Robert Victor’s implorations in his astronomy column to join him and the other members of the Astronomical Society of the Desert, to Stephen Berger’s exploration of the community effort that led to Desert X, to Brian Blueskye’s ongoing coverage of the amazing talent within our local music community, to our food and drink writers’ continuous tough but fair coverage of our slowly growing culinary scene … considering all of this coverage, how could the Coachella Valley possibly be the closed-minded, unwelcoming place this person sees?

I hope this man finds happiness and companionship in his next place of residence—the kind of happiness and companionship the Coachella Valley has bestowed upon me.

Thanks, as always, for reading the Independent. Enjoy, and don’t hesitate to contact me if you have questions, criticisms, compliments or comments. Also, be sure to pick up the March 2019 print edition, hitting the streets this week.

The Palm Desert Food and Wine Fest Returns

It’s March in the Coachella Valley—and that means it is time for the ritziest, fanciest food fest the desert has to offer: The Palm Desert Food and Wine Festival will take place Friday through Sunday, March 22-24.

Actually, the classes, tastings and various events start several days before that, but the biggest event of them all is the Grand Tasting, which takes place at the Gardens on El Paseo, 73545 El Paseo, from noon to 3 p.m. on Saturday the 23rd. Tickets start at $100 and include tastes of food from 40 restaurants, as well as all sorts of wine and spirits samples. If you want to get in early for the VIP portion, or attend an exclusive chef demo even earlier than that, it’ll cost you a little bit more.

On Sunday, there’s another grand tasting, also from noon to 3 p.m.—this one called “North to South: Food of the Americas.” It promises “a menu of inspired dishes, influenced by the different spices and foods native to the Americas and infused with each participating chef’s signature style.” This tasting also starts at $100 and includes spirits, wine, craft beer and cocktails.

Beyond the tastings, there are a dozen or so other events featuring local talent, as well as celebrity chefs you’ve seen on TV. Best of all: The whole thing benefits FIND Food Bank and the James Beard Foundation. In other words, you can splurge and engage in a bit of high-brow gluttony with a completely clear conscience!

For tickets and more information, visit www.palmdesertfoodandwine.com.


In Brief

Coming soon to downtown Palm Springs’ La Plaza: French Miso Café, “A romantic and modern French café with wonderful Japanese influences,” according to the café’s Facebook page. It could open any day now, if it hasn’t already; look for French Miso Café on Facebook, and watch for updates. … Mark your calendars: On Saturday, April 6, La Quinta Brewing Co.’s Palm Desert location, at 77917 Wildcat Drive, will host the CountryFest 2019 parking-lot party. It’s a fundraiser for the Desert Cancer Foundation, and $15 gets you a souvenir party cup along with a day of beer, barbecue and country music from Rick Shelley and headliners Leaving Austin. The parking lot opens at 2 p.m., with Leaving Austin taking the stage at 6:30 p.m.; get tickets at the Palm Desert taproom or at lqbccountryfest2019.bpt.me. … Something very cool is coming to the city of Coachella: The Coachella Food Truck Park will set up shop at 1609 Fourth St., and is celebrating its grand opening on Saturday, March 16. The night before, Coachella Magazine will be hosting its Poets and Provocateurs party there; it’s an open-mic event featuring DJ Big Cali. Get more info and watch for updates at www.facebook.com/CVFoodTrucks. … Morongo Casino Resort, 49500 Seminole Drive, in Cabazon, will again be the spot for monthly live broadcasts of Chris Carter’s Breakfast With the Beatles radio show. The broadcasts take place along with a buffet on Sundays at the Cielo Steakhouse, located on the 27th floor of the resort. According to the news release, KLOS 95.5’s Breakfast With the Beatles is “a living encyclopedia of all things Beatles. Carter’s shows feature stories about the band, rare interview tracks with the boys, as well as loads of hit music, live performance recordings and deep tracks from the Beatles musical library.” Tickets for the 21-and-older broadcast and brunch are $45; get tickets and more info, including a schedule, at www.morongocasinoresort.com. … New to Palm Desert: Coachella Pho, serving Vietnamese food at 72286 Highway 111. More details at www.coachellapho.com. … Also new to Palm Desert: Solano’s Bar and Grill, at 37029 Cook St. It’s the sister restaurant to Solano’s Bistro in La Quinta; details at solanosbarandgrill.com. … Loco Charlie’s Mexican Grill, which has earned a lot of fans in Palm Springs at 1751 N. Sunrise Way, just opened a second location in Indio, at 42250 Jackson St. Get the scoop at www.facebook.com/lococharlies.

What: The French onion soup

Where: Bongo Johnny’s Patio Bar and Grill, 301 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Suite 200, Palm Springs

How much: $3.95 for a cup; $6.95 for a bowl

Contact: 760-318-3960; www.bongojohnnys.com

Why: It’s delicious, pure and simple.

Before I begin extolling the deliciousness of the French onion soup at Bongo Johnny’s, I should explain that this restaurant holds a special place in my heart.

You see, Bongo Johnny’s supports many of the same causes I do—the Desert AIDS Project, for example, via Dining Out for Life. It’s also an active member of the Desert Business Association (of which I am on the board) and even one of the primary sponsors of my softball team. (Go Palm Springs Heat!) Therefore, I was crushed when an early-morning kitchen fire on March 7 of last year shuttered the restaurant—and, due to a dispute with the landlord over the rebuild, forced it to move several blocks northwest, to the space most recently occupied by Café Europa/jusTapas.

In the nearly 10 months that Bongo Johnny’s was closed, I missed it … and I especially missed one menu item—the French onion soup.

Bongo Johnny’s isn’t known for fancy fare—it features the burgers, sandwiches and breakfast items one would expect from something called a “patio bar and grill”—but its kitchen also produces some items that go well beyond standard bar fare. For example, the macaroni-and-cheese options are among the town’s best … and then there’s the French onion soup. Served with melted cheese and a crostini, as it should, this soup is simply delicious. It’s rich, packed with fresh onions and perfectly seasoned.

On my first visit to the reopened Bongo Johnny’s—for a softball team meeting, actually—the first thing I ordered was the French onion soup. When it was brought to the table and placed in front of me, I couldn’t help but smile … because one of my favorites was back.

What: The mac and cheese egg rolls

Where: Bubba’s Bones and Brews, 68525 Ramon Road, No. A101, Cathedral City

How much: $7.95

Contact: 760-699-7231; bubbasbonesandbrews.com

Why: It’s decadent and delicious.

You know that feeling when you see something on a restaurant menu, and you think, “Holy hell, that sounds amazing, and I MUST have it!”?

Well, that’s how I felt when I saw the words “Mac and Cheese Egg Roll” on the menu at Bubba’s, the barbecue place—in a Cathedral City strip mall—that’s been winning over fans due to its delicious meats and impressive beer selection. It was my first visit to Bubba’s, and when I saw those words all together, it Just. Seemed. Right.

Not healthy, mind you … definitely not healthy. But right. And that was before I read the description and learned that these egg rolls also contained pulled pork!

Hell yeah!

Well, my friends, I am happy to report that these egg rolls did not disappoint: They were nothing but artery-clogging deliciousness.

I have but one quibble with these fried pieces of glory: They come drizzled with a delightful mango habanero sauce … and on certain bites, that was the only thing I could taste. Macaroni, cheese and pulled pork all have fantastic but somewhat subtle flavors, and those flavors were completely masked wherever the sauce was poured on heavy. My advice: When you go to Bubba’s and order these—and, really, you should go to Bubba’s and order these, as long as your cardiologist is looking the other way—get the mango habanero sauce on the side, and apply it, lightly, yourself.

This appetizer is not only splendid; it’s filling, and can stand as a meal if you’re just a party of one. I barely touched my main course (the two meat plate with two sides, $15.95; I got brisket and pulled pork, with fries and potato salad), as good as it was.

Egg rolls. With macaroni and cheese … and pork! God bless America.

A sold-out crowd of more than 100 people enjoyed nine fantastic cocktails—all made with Ketel One Botanical vodka—at the Third Annual Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Championship, held Wednesday, Jan. 30, at Moxie Palm Springs.

Carlos Argumedo, of Farm, was declared the champion of the event, earning an amazing 92 points (out of 100 possible) on the judges’ scoresheets. The tally was close—three points separated first place from fourth place. Argumedo follows in the footsteps of 2018 winner Hunter Broggi, of Lulu California Bistro (who also participated in this year’s event), and 2016 winner Sherman Chan, of Trio Restaurant.

Trio’s Garrett Spicher was the Audience Choice winner.

Nine bartenders competed in the event, which sold out for the first time in its three-year history. Each competitor made tastes of their drinks for each attendee, before making full drinks for the judges: Ketel One’s Leslie Barclay; Brad Fuhr, of media sponsors Gay Desert Guide and KGAY 106.5 FM; and representatives of Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Week’s beneficiaries: the Desert AIDS Project’s Darrell Tucci, and the LGBT Community Center of the Desert’s Alexis Ortega.

The championship is the highlight of Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Week, a production of the Coachella Valley Independent. During the week, which continues through Saturday, Feb. 2, participating restaurants create a special drink for the week, or highlight an existing drink from their menus, and donate at least $2 from each drink sold during the week to the Desert AIDS Project and the LGBT Community Center of the Desert. A complete list of drinks and participants can be found at PSCraftCocktails.com.

Below is a collection of photos from the event, taken by the Independent’s Kevin Fitzgerald.

A confession: I’ve been in a bit of a funk as of late.

I was dismayed by, among other things, the seemingly continually depressing news from the newspaper world. To the west, the once-mighty LA Weekly is in dire straits—with print editions down to 24 pages thanks to the ineptitude of new ownership. To the north, Oakland’s East Bay Express recently laid off the majority of its staff due to an employment-related legal decision that did not go its way. And here in the valley, the owner of The Desert Sun, Gannett, just laid off a bunch of reporters, and is in the midst of a takeover attempt by a hedge-fund-owned company known for gobbling up newspapers and making deep cuts to improve profitability.

Sigh.

Then I started to assemble our February print issue … and I started to feel a lot better about things.

Yeah, the state of the journalism world still stinks (although we’re doing OK here), but it was impossible not to be inspired by all of the great things happening in our community. The aforementioned February print edition is our Art Issue, thanks to the behemoth cultural events February brings—Modernism Week and Art Palm Springs. Beyond stories on those events, which will be posted next week, we have coverage of upcoming happenings ranging from a wine event benefiting the amazing Coachella Valley Volunteers in Medicine, to the Rancho Mirage Wine and Food Festival (more wine!), and from the classic 1960s group The Lettermen playing at the McCallum Theatre, to the traveling HUMP! porn short-film festival (yes, you read that correctly) coming to the Palm Springs Cultural Center.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our very own Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Week, which is an event I love (yes, I am biased, but I’d love it if I didn’t have anything to do with it), because it places a spotlight on amazing drinks created by the valley’s most talented bartenders—and does so while benefiting two great charities: Desert AIDS Project, and the LGBT Community Center of the Desert.

Thanks, as always, for reading the Independent—and be sure to pick up our February 2019 print edition, hitting streets this week. I hope our stories uplift you like they did me.