DASH INN, TEMPE, ARIZONA
DASH INN, TEMPE
to Memoirs and Essays Page
Mariposa Hall, formerly the
Simply Jumping—Hash Nelson—Prepping the
Meat—Enchilada Sauce—Green Burro—Creamed Grass
Clippings—Icky Sauce in a Metate Bowl—I Get a Job at
Dash Inn!—$1.65 an Hour—Mamacita—The Cook Marries a
Floozy—Litrachoor—Naiveté—I was a Latch Key Kid—Gay
Friend Falls for Tall Gal—Happy and Gay—Unwise Use
of Plastic Buckets—Sadistic Dentist—Dinner for Two—I
Storm out in a Snit!—¿Qué Pasa?—Facebook Fans
Dash Inn was the only
restaurant I ever gave a damn about and I still mourn
its passing. The place got its name from its owners
Hash and Dee Nelson, who combined their first names to
come up with "Dash" and then added "Inn."
Dash Inn was a local favorite
restaurant in Tempe for better than twenty-five years.
Everyone who was anybody went there.
There were a number of reasons why
Dash Inn had a loyal following. For one thing, it was
right next to the campus, so it got a solid college
clientele. But its locale was hardly the only reason
for its success. In fact, the location was a loser for
most other restaurants. Right across the street was a
swath of land that had served as home to a number of
different eateries, every one of which went bust in
very short order. And even the franchise "Hobo Joe's"
next door, seemed slow to dead while Dash Inn was
simply jumping with action twenty feet away.
Dash Inn was a hip joint, and you
could see that just by walking in. Hash didn't give
long-haired waiters a hard time when they applied for
work; he hired them and just made them wear a pony
tail the way the waitresses did. This gave the
personnel and restaurant a look that attracted the
counter culture while its traditional Mexican
restaurant format brought in everyone else. Dash Inn's
ambiance was definitely a key factor in its success,
and so was its food.
Nobody frequents a place just for
the vibes; Dash Inn had a number of dishes that kept
people coming back. The restaurant's slogan: "Not
Fancy; Just Good" described them perfectly. Many of
the items on the menu revolved around a salty and
spicy ground beef that went in the tacos and burros
and enchiladas. The cooks came in to prep at 8:00 AM
every day to get that oily meat ready for the steam
cabinets from which it would be dolloped out, and, of
course, to prep the enchiladas and all the rest of the
food that needed to be made ready.
The enchilada sauce was a miracle.
At first taste, it seemed vulgar and poorly conceived
in the culinary sense. But if you ate an
enchilada-style beef burro, you'd be tasting that
sauce for the rest of the day in an eructive series of
pleasures that let you know that you'd be back
The green burro was much the same.
Smooth and savory, it grew on your mind the next day
and made you want another—the way you watch a movie
like Amadeus, say "Eh, well maybe," and the next day
just have to see it again. I always fancied I could
detect in the green burro a hint of cinnamon, which I
didn't otherwise much like and which wasn't in the
recipe. Perhaps it was the slightly toasted area of
the flour tortilla that made it smell that way. In any
case, the flavor of the green burro was so delicate
that I never ordered one enchilada style, although
lots of other people did.
The guacamole was described by my
brother as "creamed grass clippings," a portrayal that
sounds depreciative, but wasn't meant that way.
Indeed, his words describe the perfect guacamole: what
should guac be, after all, but cool and green, and
creamy with the flavor of your family memories steeped
in the scent of Bermuda grass? Yes, people came to
Dash Inn just for the guac the way the musically deaf
bought Rubber Soul just for the one song "Run for Your
One of the finest culinary
creations of all time was the Dash Inn Mexican pizza.
It was nothing more than a corn tostado shell with
that ground meat piled on it and topped with grated
longhorn. It was heated in the oven and garnished with
diced tomatoes and canned green Anaheims. The Mexican
pizza and the green burro turned casual diners into
I was, and still am today, an
aficionado of the hot sauce made for the table in
Mexican restaurants. I don't care much for the
salsa-type sauces, the cold squashed tomato stuff with
some chopped onion and a sprinkle of cilantro—you
know, the sauces they serve up at a tooth-cracking
temperature in a metate-like bowl made of fake black
basalt. They're cold and stale and, frankly, I'm
always afraid they're being recycled to other
customers after you leave. Those ingredients ain't
cheap, after all. The good table sauces are the ones
in the squirt bottle. They're creatively spiced with
anything from oregano to winter savory, and they're
often cooked, so they will suddenly "turn" and become
real sauce. Sure, sure, they get recycled, but they're
safe in the sanitary bottle and no one is going to be
dipping their chips and greasy fingers into them and
re-dipping and slobbering in the bottle or dropping in
cigarette ashes. I don't eat anything that I know has
been lying out in the open where every bum who walks
by can breathe his cigar smoke and halitosis on it.
The table sauce at Dash Inn was the good kind, and in
addition it was unquestionably the perfect match for
the rest of the cuisine. Hash didn't even fool with
making any of that cold, unsanitary salsa at all. He
knew what was what.
Dash Inn became a way of life.
After my family completed any fun activity, the next
destination was Dash Inn. Often we went bird watching
before going there. We would drive to Headlight Pond
or the Verde River and bird until early afternoon.
Then we would toast our adventure over a pitcher of
beer and the food at Dash Inn. That dining would end
the day's productivity as everyone would fall asleep
when we got home at around 3:00 PM.
For years, going to Dash Inn was
the source of great happiness for everyone I knew. You
could relax there and have fun. You knew the
waitresses. The place had a beer and wine license. You
could run into people there. It was as though you
lived in a New York borough where everyone knew
everyone else, and there was a sense of community.
In 1973, I graduated from college
unskilled and with no ideas for the future. I returned
to Tempe, got up my courage, and asked a waitress if
she could put in a good word for me with Hash. I felt
great when I saw how happy she seemed to be. She
rushed over and talked to him, and I had a job—just as
a dishwasher—but I was in and officially a part of it
I worked from 8:00 to 5:00 and at
the end of the second week Andy, the manager came up
and gave me my check. He said, "You'll see I gave you
$1.65 an hour instead of just $1.60 because you didn't
goof off." That was $13.20 a day. I discussed the pay
with the guys in the kitchen and we all concluded that
it wasn't much, but you could live on it.
Business was good. I once overheard
Hash saying, I thought it was slow last night, but we
brought in $300.
Dash Inn didn't open until 11:00
AM, so at 8:00 I had no dishes to wash. Thus, I did
prep work before the customers came. One job was
grating the cheese. There was a back room with a big
steel cheese grater and I had to stuff chunks of
longhorn cheddar into it and fill white plastic
buckets. The work had absolutely no entertainment
value. I had to cut up the tortillas for the chips as
I worked with Mamacita, the main
daytime cook. Her real name was Hortencia Ferdugo. She
had been there forever and told me that she had to go
home and cook for her "sans" after she finished at
Dash Inn. Everyone loved her. One waiter told me that
Mamacita told him she only read the National Inquirer
because "The other newspapers do not tell you the
She helped me with my Spanish and
would always say, "No me molestes, mosquito." if she
were annoyed with me. It was a line from a Mexican
song. I remember her saying to me once, "I tell you
Tomás, this Dash Inn. Year after year. It's the same
goddamn shit." It's funny how after 34 years I'm am
sure that this is a direct quote. She also once said
these exact words: "You all need a place where you can
drink and smoke and cuss."
That place was the unused apartment
that was attached to the back of the building. I
thought it was strange that the nice apartment lay
unoccupied back there. When I climbed the ladder and
became a waiter, I was glad after a hard night to be
able to have a place to drink with the waitresses and
There were other characters there
that I remember with the same recollection of
conversation as clear as if the words had been spoken
yesterday. One guy was a blond shag-cut cook named
Doug. He was skinny and his legs seemed somewhat
misaligned as though he had had polio. He was also a
drummer in a local band. I asked him if he ever ate
the food and he said, "No, I don't eat this dog food,"
as he covered an enchilada with sauce on a plate that
he put in the oven. He slammed the oven door. "It's
He often liked to say, "I'll make
someone a good husband—or a good wife." He made a lot
of gay references because he was what people would
later call a flamer. Curiously, he suddenly married
one of the waitresses, a rather rough around the edges
broad who always had a cigarette going. It wasn't long
before he was confiding in me, "Tom, the other day she
says to me, 'I want to go out with other guys!' I say,
'Honey, we're married.' So she brings this clown
His wry, sour way of telling
stories was really funny.
Lloyd Thomas was the one I saw
consoling him when she ran off with another man.
"As far as I'm concerned, we're
divorced!" Doug complained.
"Well, relax. Stay cool. Drink your
beer..." said Lloyd.
I remember more of Lloyd’s words.
He was crazy about big Russian novels. Someone came by
and gave him a hardback by Someski about a foot thick,
and he said, "Oh, thank you! This is going to be
suuuuuuch a pleasure." I make fun, but I rather
admired him for reading such big books.
Once when I told him I had written
a science fiction novel, he replied in the most softly
pensive and serious way, "I tried to write a novel
once. But I had to stop. I found... I found that it
interfered with...with the ... the poetic techniques
that I've developed... over the years."
My brother was there when he said
this, and we both agreed that on this one he was
pretty much full of it.
My good friend Brian became a
waiter as I did and when he came on, he met Donna, a
tall, dark-haired waitress that he instantly fell head
over heels for. I was kicking myself for not
foreseeing this. I asked myself why I hadn't told him
beforehand that he was going to meet this terrific
girl as though anyone could foretell who would fall
for whom. She was all right and a bit of a free
spirit. I went to her house, and I remember that there
was a huge picture of her topless above the piano. I
think it was a piano. It was just an artsy photo.
Nothing dirty, though it seemed a bit bold to me.
I look back on my thinking then and
wonder about myself. Why would I have imagined that I
could foretell my friend's attraction to
her—especially when I knew full well that he didn't
even like girls? Or did I really even know that?
Naiveté. That was what defined me at the time and when
I think of Dash Inn, that's what I often remember.
Years before, when Goldfinger was
released, the producers were able to have a character
named Pussy Galore not because the times were modern
or that mores were changing, but because of naiveté.
People would hear the name and say, "Well, come on.
They can't mean that!" That's how they got away with
Such was my naiveté. When I quit
Dash Inn, I had saved a ton of money and went to
Europe. I remember walking in a red light district of
Munich and seeing these painted ladies in windows
along the street. I said to myself, "Jesus Christ,
what slutty-looking women. If I didn't know better, I
would swear they were prostitutes!"
How could this be? I was a latch
key kid. My parents were quite worldly atheists at a
time when just saying the word would get you fired. My
mother was special kind of rebel, a no-nonsense former
WWII fighter pilot in the WASPS, who had absolutely no
hang-ups. She had a wonderfully tolerant and
progressive viewpoint and her politics were slightly
to the left of Leon Trotsky. She wanted to make sure
that I was never frustrated or inhibited. We were
unconventional, and quite wholesome, mostly. Just the
same, while other teenagers worried about sneaking
girls into the house, I was encouraged to do so. I had
no rules imposed on me, I hung out with the wilder
crowd, and was the object of what my sisters now call
benign neglect. So how could I have been so
We had a company party at Dash Inn,
which was really happily anticipated because we got to
close the restaurant and had the whole place to
ourselves. Brian had had a falling out with Donna, and
there was a dishwasher about our age named Carlos. He
was a Yaqui.
The Dash Inn party took up most of
the afternoon. When it was time to leave, I went into
the kitchen to get Brian and found him smooching with
"Let's go," I said.
Brian tore himself away from
Carlos, and we walked back to my house, where my
mother asked Brian, "Well, was the party happy and
Brian smiled and said exuberantly,
"It was both happy AND gay!"
I wasn't just naive about my
friend's sexual orientation. I was naive about
everything. Take the plastic buckets in the
restaurant. I was naive about them too. I studied the
system of food preparation at Dash Inn and noticed
that it revolved around the use of these buckets. Some
had holes cut in them and were used as colanders and
set inside other buckets that caught the water that
drained from the washed lettuce. Others were used for
multi-gallon batches of hot sauce and still others to
store the unfinished food in the refrigerator for the
next day. I had a keen eye for business practicality
and prudent practices. I felt that such dependence on
these buckets was unwise. What if something happened
to the buckets? A theft. A fire. What would you do
then? It would take you forever to scare up a new set
of these buckets. Obviously they had once been used to
hold lard or some other product. How long would it
take you to use up enough lard to have a complete set
of buckets again? Answer me that! Oh, they were living
right on the edge with this ill-advised bucket
dependency. By God, the fools had put the whole
goddamned business at risk. It never occurred to me
that such buckets might be manufactured and sold
separately—without any lard in them at all. It never
crossed my mind that whenever he felt like it, Hash
could drive down to some depot somewhere and buy as
many of these stupid buckets as he wanted.
Naive? I could tell you stories!
When I was a child, my sisters must
have known what a sucker I was. They told me of a
magical place where I was going to go. It was filled
with extraordinary marvels and all kinds of wondrous
things to see and do. "AND," they said, "The FISH jump
up and give you balloons!" I couldn't wait. They
didn't tell me I was going to the dentist or that the
dentist's name was Pat LeDan and that he didn't have
any Novocain and that the sound of his drill alone
could make people rise clean out of the chair and that
he drilled holes to fill imaginary cavities in your
baby teeth. I had to get into that dentist's chair on
numerous occasions afterwards—but only after the
adults were able to pry me out from under the table in
the waiting room.
Yet even after Pat LeDan, I
My father and I went to Dash Inn
sometime in the mid seventies, and Hash greeted us. He
said, "I'm opening a new restaurant in Glendale. It's
called ¿Qué Pasa?" He got out a piece of paper and
wrote on it, "Dinner for Two" and signed it "Hash
Nelson." My dad put it in his wallet, but we never
drove out there. Glendale was much too far away.
The years passed, and Hash sold the
restaurant, but the place kept the same recipes. Lloyd
Thomas and some of the others I knew worked there for
a decade more.
One day I went in and found that
the place had changed owners again and that the
bastards had scrapped the menu. I was enraged. "We
have a pretty respectable taco," the waiter told me. I
gave him a ferocious glare. I hated him, and I got up
and stormed out in a snit. I never came back. Later
the university got its talons on the property and they
bulldozed the building.
Twenty-five years passed, and I
often thought of the restaurant in Glendale. I
constantly longed for Dash Inn food and finally one
day, it came to me on a flaming pie that it might just
be possible to drive over there and eat. It was a
crazy idea, but I somehow I thought it just might
I got up one Saturday morning in
2000 and drove all of the way to Glendale to dine at
¿Qué Pasa?, and I loved the place. They had a more
polished steel look than the old Dash Inn, but the
decor was unlike any other place: there was lavender
everywhere and the furniture had a sturdy fifties
retro shape and form that I had seen nowhere else. The
dark ceiling was covered with tiny lights to give the
impression of being under the stars. I swear they had
the same beat-up white porcelain plates. And the food
was exactly the same. The only casualty was the
creamed lawn clippings. I grieved for the departed
guacamole, but I was grateful for the miracle that the
rest of the entrees yet lived.
A couple of years later, I was
attending a conference at AGSIM, the American Graduate
School of International Management. It was right next
to ¿Qué Pasa?, so I got my co-workers to come with me
for lunch there.
Only we couldn't find it. It was
gone. The building was empty. We wound up eating at
some lousy chicken place.
I spend time occasionally now
googling Dash Inn and ¿Qué Pasa? hoping to find that
someone has opened a restaurant to bring those magical
dishes back to life. But all I find is the defunct
phone number of the Glendale restaurant and a
reference made by some other old-time diner who speaks
of Dash Inn in his blog. I emailed him and he didn’t
do a careful job of reading apparently, for he quoted
me as saying, "A cyber friend tells me that Hash is
still doing great and runs a restaurant to this day in
Glendale with the same tasty dishes!"
I ignore his error and google Dash
Inn. Defunct 20 years, the restaurant has more than
1,800 Facebook fans.