Alibi V.19 No.50 • Dec 16-22, 2010 

Mina's Dish

X Marks the Spot

Oddball landmarks lead to good eats

“Cruising San Mateo” by Barbara Grygutis (1991)
“Cruising San Mateo” by Barbara Grygutis (1991)
Mina Yamashita
[click to enlarge]

Maybe it was a premonition of things to come that big, weird landmarks were a happy part of my childhood. At 25-feet high, the Michigan Stove Company’s giant stove marked the entrance to the Belle Isle Bridge on Detroit’s riverfront. The monument was built in 1893 for Chicago’s Columbian Exposition and was moved to celebrate a merger with Detroit Stove Works in 1927. To me it represented family picnics at Belle Isle—food!

Fast forward to Albuquerque where big, weird and food seem to coincide with some frequency.

“Cruising San Mateo” is the given name of the blue-tiled phenomenon known to most local folks as Chevy-on-a-Stick. The sculpture was created in 1991 by artist Barbara Grygutis as part of a street-widening project on Gibson Boulevard. In fact, our Chevy is not on a stick, but firmly planted on a massive archway. (Oddly enough, a car dealership in Springfield, Ill. mounted a ’55 Chevy on a three-story pole that same year: bit.ly/55ChevyStick.) The controversy over cost and debate over aesthetics eventually died down and Grygutis' installation at the corner of Gibson and San Mateo remains. And when you find the Chevy, you will also find the savory fare of Pupuseria y Restaurant Salvadoreño (reviewed by Ari LeVaux in 2009: bit.ly/Pupuseria).

The muffler man and the arrow
The muffler man and the arrow
Mina Yamashita
[click to enlarge]

Have you seen the Muffler Man? You certainly have, if you’ve seen Paul Bunyan with his ax looming over Albuquerque’s May Café. There are still hundreds of these broad-shouldered characters guarding roadsides across the country. Created by International Fiberglass beginning in the ’60s, they towered up to 25-feet over businesses, clothed as lumberjacks, cowboys and other icons. Their hands are typically positioned to hold a muffler, one of the mainstays of the original designs, thus giving way to the generic term “muffler man.” The Paul Bunyan at Louisiana Boulevard just south of Central originally marked the spot of a lumberyard. Lucky for us, it marks the location of one of the Duke City’s best Vietnamese eateries. (For more info on muffler men: bit.ly/MufflerMen)

The red arrow nose-diving into the stonework pedestal at Indian School and Carlisle is so big it looks like a map marker grown crazily out of scale. The 20-foot tall landmark has been there for decades, part of the original landscaping of the Indian Plaza Shopping Center and Altura Village development. There are similar arrows in Arizona, Texas and Michigan. Indian School Plaza has been redesigned, but the arrow has withstood politics and bureaucracy to hold its ground. Now it points the way to Whole Foods Market and a cornucopia of fresh and natural products. I often indulge in a hot bowl of oatmeal with all the trimmings, a take-out lunch of just-made sushi, and deli trays of grilled meats and veggies. I fault Whole Foods for loading its shelves with mousses, cakes and muffins I can’t resist.

As businesses come and go, and city ordinances restrict heights for new signage, we lose many of these idiosyncratic treasures. But there are resourceful folks who record their existence for posterity. If you’d like to see the Giant Stove, big arrows and more big stuff: bit.ly/BigAndWeird.

Send your restaurant tips, food events and other delicious tidbits to food@alibi.com