Fly & Dine: Cal-Nev-Ari Casino and Restaurant at Kidwell Airport (1L4)

The desert landscape south of Las Vegas can be a desolate, harsh and foreboding place. The clear skies and diverging lines of US 95 (Veterans Memorial Highway) and US 93 will lull an aviator into a sense of complacency. Reach for the Phoenix sectional, grab a sip of water or even blink at an inopportune time and you’ll miss the town of Cal-Nev-Ari, Nevada and Kidwell Airport (1L4).

Kidwell Airport is just one of the hard packed, dirt airstrips flanking US 95 south of Boulder City. From the air you’ll see the Cal-Nev-Ari water tank. Look further south and a large painted KIDWELL will appear on the roof of one of the town’s out buildings. The tattered and faded orange windsocks gently swaying in the breeze will lead you to the approach end of Runway 33.

Cal-Nev-Ari is what happens when dreams meet hard work. In the early 1960s, pilots Nancy Kidwell and her late husband Slim wanted to run their own airport. Slim noticed an abandoned military training base (Stage Field) approximately 70 miles south of Las Vegas. After acquiring the land for free under the federal Pittman Land Act, and proving they could find sufficient water, Cal-Nev-Ari was born. “Population 4 - Watch Us Grow” (Nancy, Slim, their dog and cat). Everette G. “Slim” Kidwell died in the 1980s after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. Years later Ace, Slim’s son from another marriage, married Nancy and they grew this serene little place to more than 300 residents. Verne William “Ace” Kidwell passed in early 2011 and now Nancy just can’t take care of her town any more.

Sound quirky, picturesque and intriguing? It's for sale. Nancy, now 73-years-old, listed the whole kit-and-caboodle for a mere $17 million. Write a check and become the proud owner of just over 600 acres of dirt. The deal includes the three deep-water wells, sewer system, utility company, voluntary fire department, market, mobile home and RV park, the airport and the casino and restaurant.

Cal-Nev-Ari Casino and Restaurant, the Kidwell’s dessert culinary oasis, is a cross between a truck stop, a greasy spoon and a seedy little off-strip Vegas casino. It certainly has charm. The parking lot is a snapshot of small town America. Several pick-up trucks towing weekend fishing boats mingle with compact rent-a-wrecks, extra wide RVs and the occasional semi-tractor trailer. A friendly wave and a “hello” will great you almost the minute your mains touchdown. The peaceful exterior masks the heart and communal gathering place of the town. There’s a steady flow of highway travelers, aged aviators and local retirees expressing opinions about politics and picking-up food to go.

After sliding into a booth, you’ll barely have time to add cream to your coffee before the food comes flying out of the kitchen. I’m not sure if Jim, the short order cook, has become fast by repetition or if he was trying to keep up with the reverberating beat of the Who song wafting from the kitchen’s boom box.

First up was the The Flyer’s Breakfast ($5.75-$7.50). The well-worn china overflows with two eggs, a slightly charred thick-cut slice of country ham and a fluffy house made biscuit smothered in rib-sticking sausage gravy. When one thinks of truck stops, hash comes to mind. Classically, hash is a dish of leftovers that is simply cooked together. Corned beef hash is one of those "thrown together" dishes that at its best, rises to a level that a meager beef brisket only dreams of. Even though they use canned coned beef, the kitchen does it right. Two poached eggs rest comfortably atop a mound of moist, roughly chopped pink meat, crisp and tender potatoes, all spiked with onion and herbs ($7.25).

Lunch is passable with a decent selection of burgers and sandwiches with a few daily specials thrown in. Grilled cow on either a plate or a bun seems to rule the day. Besides the fair to average burgers ($4.75-$7.50), decent hot sandwiches of roast beef ($5.95), meat loaf ($5.95) and an 8oz center-cut New York Strip ($9.95) are just the beginning of this restaurants love affair with beef. The 16oz Charbroiled T-Bone ($16.50) or the equally massive Top Sirloin Steak ($15.50) with a heaping round scoop of freshly made mashed potatoes will make you loosen your belt and move the seat back for the flight home.

The plot twist of this adventure was the baby beef liver with caramelized onions and crisp bacon ($9.50). Baby beef liver is stronger and more flavorful than its calf cousin. Nancy knows her audience. Just as many vitamin and nutrient packed delicacies were wrappedup to go to the surrounding airpark homes as eagerly landed on adjacent tables. The perfect accompaniment, especially if visiting on an atypical chilly Friday, is a cup of Jim’s creamy, vegetable spiked New England style clam chowder ($3.75).

Even with a few homeruns, the kitchen could use a quick refresher course on cooking techniques along with an introduction to the art of seasoning. Surprisingly, it didn’t hurt the experience. The friendly patrons and residents, the extremely welcoming staff and the rural quaintness certainly compensates for any culinary shortcomings. By the time you leave, everyone will know more than just your name. Besides, where else will a desert iguana escort you to the tie-down area?

Kidwell Airport (1L4)
Elevation: 2,605 ft / 794 m (estimated)
Variation: 14E
Time zone: UTC -7 (UTC -8 Standard Time)
Zip code: 89039
Sectional chart: Phoenix
Control tower: No
ARTCC: Los Angeles Center
Pattern altitude: 3,405 ft MSL with standard left hand traffic
Runways: 15/33 4,140 ft x 65 ft – dirt in fair condition
Wind indicator: unlit
Lights: Dusk till Dawn
WX AWOS-3 at Laughlin/Bullhead International Airport (KIFP 18 nm SE): 119.825 (928-754-4462)

Note: There are no instrument approach procedures and no aviation services on the field. Additionally, watch for automobile traffic around the runway and taxiways.

Cal-Nev-Ari Casino and Restaurant
1 Piute Valley Drive
Cal-Nev-Ari, NV 89039-9800
Phone: (702) 297-1118
Restaurant Hours:
Everyday, 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Casino Hours:
24 hours / 7 days a week

The above airport information is not for navigational purposes. Please obtain up-to-date airport information from the FAA before flight.


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