Featured

Valley of the Vine

The Business of Grapes from Ground to Glass

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, August 2017

Written by Gail Collins

Sitting in a trattoria in Tuscany, we ordered the local red wine, served in carafes. Such stuff never leaves the country, and it was the perfect complement to the boar stew. Terroir and taste—as local as it gets.

Over several years, the locavore trend has gained momentum growing farmer’s markets, restaurant offerings and Arizona’s Verde Valley Wine Trail. Cultivating its success was a team effort.

Eric Glomski, owner and director of winegrowing for Page Spring Cellars and Arizona Stronghold, has been in the wine business for two decades. He shunned becoming “just another winery in California,” where costs are prohibitive, and he undertook a statewide search of Arizona before calling Cornville home. His criteria for making wine were climate, soil, water supply, population proximity and demographics. The rural spot was ideal for raising a family, too. That was 14 years ago, and Glomski has learned a great deal and taught it to others, who possess the same passion.

“Since 2004, Page Spring Cellars (PSC) has become the father and mother of products personally and for others,” said Glomski, who helped birth Burning Tree, Carlson Creek, Painted Lady, Gallifant Cellars and more. Winemaking expanded in the region, so he moved Arizona Stronghold to a bigger facility to become “a home for start-ups, an incubator” for making contract, custom brands.

Glomski studied the subtleties of the land and helped define the crops, such as French-American hybrids over pinot noir. Educating the public built loyalty, the industry and recognition. PSC earned 90+ points on Wine Spectator’s scale, yet the bestowing of two Jefferson Cups in 2010 by the country’s top officials marked a turning point. “Arizona is not imitating others—we are confident winemakers in the Arizona marketplace and beyond,” Glomski said.

Winning teams comprise dedicated players, who work together. When Casey Rooney, economic development director for the City of Cottonwood, arrived 10 years ago, he recognized the potential for the wine game. “I’m a cog in the development of Cottonwood,” Rooney said. Old town was underutilized and devoid of businesses then. The mission:  To bring private business to the table to advise city planning.

In 2008, with other power players, such as police-chief-turned-city-manager Doug Bartosh, the wine industry became the focus. It would act as the driver for tourist dollars. As five-year plans were enacted, ancillary business alliances exploded in old town. “We were a sleeping giant with excitement to grow,” Rooney said. “We still feel the times are supercharged.” Wineries, such as Javelina Leap and Alcantara Vineyards, popped up in the countryside, and a tour of Napa and Sonoma confirmed, “We could do this.” Rooney called it “economic gardening,” growing from within to stay local and smart. Seeking solutions to problems benefitted all entrepreneurs, and in 2014, Cottonwood rebranded as the Heart of Arizona Wine Country.

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SPIRIT OF THE OLD WEST

Mormon Lake Lodge Steakhouse

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, June 2018

Written by Gail G. Collins

When Mormon Lake Lodge invited the families of local ranchers and loggers to enjoy a steak and some lively music on a Saturday night, the owners likely never dreamed of its lasting impact. Originally dubbed Tombler’s Lodge in 1924, the name later changed to honor Mormon dairy farmers, who settled the area in the 1870s. The rustic outpost was remote enough to embrace local, calloused hands, yet enticing enough to draw guests from Flagstaff, and perhaps, further afield. The lodge still serves all of those purposes. The loyalty of rural residents remains strong and the pull for traditional steak, cooked over an open fire, lures travelers from Phoenix. Executive chef Dylan Gold, who plays with fire at the steakhouse, summed it up best, “Mormon Lake Lodge is a time capsule for the area.”

Mormon Lake Lodge has long been a statewide gathering point for rodeo events. In fact, the world’s largest jackpot team roping contest, is held there annually. Such devotion is longstanding and the reason the lodge is literally standing today. During the July 4th weekend events in 1974, a faulty heater caused a fire that burnt the lodge to the ground. True to the grit and determination it takes to rope and ride, the cowboys vowed to rebuild before the next event, Labor Day weekend. Volunteer labor coordinated and executed the timely construction project, and as protection, ranchers burned their brands into the walls. “People regularly come in and search for their family’s brand,” Chef Dylan said.

One thing survived the blaze—The Pit. As one of the state’s last open-pit barbecues, its name is hung alongside a pair of longhorns high above its leaping flames. The Pit produces grilled steak, chicken and ribs for 500 guests over busy holiday weekends. Mesquite chips lend the local smoke to meat that needs little else as far as seasoning. “We don’t muddy the quality flavor,” Dylan said. “Simplicity built the restaurant’s fame, and that means doing steak really well.”  Continue reading “SPIRIT OF THE OLD WEST”

Old School to Inventive

Jitters Lunchbox satisfies with wholesome meals

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, May 2018

Written by Gail Collins

Life can feel too busy to stop and eat a wholesome lunch. That’s bologna! In fact, stopping to eat a bologna sandwich can improve the rest of the day. A midday meal creates better mental and physical health. Pushing back from tasks with a change of venue is a necessary, nourishing break—the chance both to de-stress and raise blood sugar.

Stress steps up the flow of cortisol, which can lead to fat accumulation if elevated for long periods. This same function occurs from the physical stress of going long periods without eating. So, don’t even think about skipping lunch on a daily basis for weight control. Consistent fuel keeps the metabolism active.

Lunch re-energizes us and is especially important for children, who need calories to power through until dinner. Nutritionists recommend combining complex carbohydrates with lean protein for a concentrated, long-lasting burn. Lean turkey on wholegrain bread, cottage cheese with fruit or beef and vegetable soup with wild rice are great choices.

Jitters Lunchbox has been satisfying Flagstaff’s needs for flavor and fuel for decades.

Owners Sharlene and Reggie Fouser first opened Jitters Gourmet Coffee and Café on the east side in 1995 serving, healthy food, retail teas, beans and coffees. In 2000, they also launched Confetti’s Gifts and Party next door, but later, decided to operate only the party store.

“We missed feeding folks though; our customers were our friends,” Sharlene said.

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Barbecue & Beyond

Bigfoot makes a might mark in catering

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, April 2018

Written by Gail Collins

There are many reasons to hire a caterer for an event. For personal or professional gatherings, the benefits of leaving the prep to experts are as numerous as the guests. And the bottom line:  Caterers work hard to produce an effortless event, so hosts and guests can simply enjoy it.

The first step is hiring the right caterer, so pick up the promotional cards of creative crews at successful parties. Food is the overall factor, and the type of gathering determines the method and measure. If it’s a boxed lunch, a couple of options work well. For a cocktail a party, plan on 10 to 15 appetizers per person. A sit-down dinner requires more staffing, but people eat less than at buffets, where lines develop and stations require constant attention.

Defining a party timeline keeps it lively and curbs costs. Consider a cocktail party with staffed stations for building tacos or beef sliders to circulate guests. Cut bar bills by showcasing a specialty drink and use one glass for all beverages to reduce rentals. Skip the filet mignon and focus on trends, like ethnic stews or braised meats. In the end, a capable caterer can make your event unique, memorable and affordable.

Bigfoot BBQ earned a reliable reputation with Kim Duncan of Kim Duncan Designs for their fresh take and no boundaries approach to catering. Despite their legendary smoked meat, “We had the courage and confidence to branch out,” said J. Carnes, who partnered with Bigfoot in 2008, and now, concentrates on catering. A mac ‘n cheese bar, baked potato bar and calabacitas enchiladas offered unexpected options at a wedding reception for a vegetarian family.

The rustic joint in the basement of Old Town Shops celebrated 15 years in 2017 and finds its strength in a partnership that also includes Colby Ramsey, kitchen operations manager, and John Van Landingham, the business guru. In a setting of reclaimed barn wood, checked tablecloths and downhome charm, Bigfoot has flourished. With South Carolina and Kansas style barbecue backgrounds, diners have it all—rubbed, sauced, pulled or sliced.

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Cedar House Coffee Shop

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, March 2018

Written by Gail Collins

Women have an innate ability to juggle multiple tasks. Whether it’s prepping dinner with a baby on a hip or making a business call from the soccer practice sidelines, the balls stay mostly in the air. Perhaps, that is why women are natural entrepreneurs, where owners need to manage all facets of a business.

Diving into business is as earnest a commitment as caring for those we love. It also affords the same combination of challenges and rewards. Channeling realistic fear into motivation, expectations into short and long term goals and family support into a community network is a women’s typical to-do list, and it becomes profitable as a business venture. Confidence and competence are gained in the process.

“As a mother, I’m comfortable wearing many hats,” said Wendy Kuek, owner of Cedar House Coffee Shop in Flagstaff. She enjoys the stimulation her family business brings.

Kuek has lived and worked throughout the world from her native Asia to England and the U.S. “Each move built experience, cultural education and opportunities,” she said. And when the family moved to Flagstaff in 2016, the home educator and architect wanted to build community.

“In each locale, we extended ourselves, so the coffee shop is another example of that.”

Growing up in Singapore, food is a significant part of large, family events. Inspired later by Britain’s foodie networks, Wendy and her husband acted as bakers and cooks, aiming to recreate cuisine from their travels. Having a child with health concerns, it also was important to Kuek to make clean, quality food with known sources. She found Flagstaff is well suited for that despite its small town size.

“Food is nourishment and medicine in Asia,” Kuek said, “and Grandma would always ask, ‘What are you eating?’”

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Veg Out!

Finding great flavor in meatless dishes around town

Written by Gail Collins

Striving for healthful, responsible eating means including more veggies, fruits, whole grains, legumes and nuts. Vegetarian dishes often invoke creativity and color urging cuisine in flavorful directions with earthy lentils, creamy cheeses, garden produce, aromatic spices and satiating sauces. Flagstaff has an abundance of such choices on the menus of our ratcheted-up restaurant scene. Here is overview of vegetarian dishes from some innovative kitchens.

Sosoba

This nonstop noodle shop is not just ramen, but a full-service restaurant incorporating authentic dishes with farmers market finds. The starters boast unique concepts:  balls of fire mac ‘n cheese; flash-fried cauliflower with madras curry aioli and scallions; steamed edamame dusted with zippy togarashi and more. The salads add inventive goods, like rice noodles, shaved veggies, nuts and seeds plus citrus-soy dressing. But who are we kidding? We’re here for the noodles. The SUV—So, You’re Vegan—piles noodles with roasted veggies, sautéed greens, squash and rayu’s chili-sesame spice for a Japanese curry. The Mothra bowl layers broccoli, peas, cabbage, herbs, sriracha, fried garlic and marinated tofu over the noodles. And Yakisoba is stir-fried carrots, onion, celery, garlic, scallions and herbs in a Thai peanut sriracha sauce. This noodle house is hot on a winter’s day. 12 E. Route 66, Suite 104

Root Public House

This rooftop bar and grill offer peaks views and comfort cooking. Chef and owner David Smith draws on a southern background for inspiration. Root changes up the menu weekly according to fresh accessible ingredients, but vegetarian dishes are always available. One option is the cold, roasted vegetable salad contains seasonal garden goodies tossed in cream cheese vinaigrette with a scattering of fermented black garlic. Of course, there are salads, like the baby greens topped with tempting bee pollen, feta, candied walnuts and carrot vinaigrette. For a savory main, try the ricotta gnocchi with seasonal vegetables, olive, lemon, Black Mesa Ranch goat cheese, plus pecans. 101 S. San Francisco St.

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Best Bakery

Tourist Home All Day Café

Written by Gail Collins

Donut mountains, bagged sugar cookies, pumpkin cheesecake rolls … the tempting pastry posts of #katthebaker to the Facebook page of Tourist Home All Day Café are continuous. It’s enough to cause a change in the morning’s plans to include a quick stop for sweet treats. That certainly seems to be the case—the pastry case, that is—as the numbers of folks picking up pastries has expanded like a warmed bowl of yeast dough.

Pastry Chef Kat Biemann has had her hands in the flour at Tourist Home for more than two years. In that time, batches of donuts readied for the fryer have literally risen from eight to 80. Three assistants have joined the bakery team to help knead, shape and prep.

Saturday is Donut Day, and with 300 freshly glazed circles of happiness on display, there is still no time to dawdle. “We are more popular because we carry more variety than other shops,” Kat said. Keep it quiet, but there are alternate venues for baked goods. The kitchen also supplies pastries to Rendezvous and macarons to Steep Tea Lounge, as well as the menu of desserts for Tourist Home’s related eateries, Tinderbox Kitchen and Annex Cocktail Lounge.

Other days of note for Tourist Home are Pretzel Fridays and Cinnamon Roll and Sticky Bun Sundays. We knew you had a need to know.

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LEGACY restaurant preserves its Italian tradition

Mamma Luisa Italian Restaurante

Written by Gail Collins

When you put your heart and soul into something, it becomes more than a business. To Tony Martinez, his restaurant became his love. Wife Lisa smiled and said simply, “Mamma Luisa’s was his pride and passion.” After a good night, Tony might say of their maturing business, “‘She’s so beautiful—let’s buy her a gift,’” Lisa mused.

The man in the double-breasted chef’s jacket with a toque smashed over a bush of curls died his unexpectedly in June. “Honoring Tony and continuing his legacy in operating the restaurant is important,” Lisa said, her voice catching. “The community support, sharing memories and celebrating Tony, has been inspiring.”

Tony had presided over the kitchen since 1984. The original owner, Ernesto, built his menu on his Italian mother Luisa’s cooking, and Tony employed the same craft. There are no microwaves, food warmers or vats of sauce, other than the long-simmered spaghetti standard used in a variety of ways. All dishes are made fresh to order, like the renowned stracciatella, a Roman egg-drop soup, and the bread is baked daily.

The guest book contains a long list of regulars known by their first names. “We’ve seen people get engaged, have children, and grow families of their own,” Lisa said. Day-trippers and annual trekkers on cross-country ventures plan a Flagstaff stop to dine. The experienced wait staff has logged nearly a decade on the floor and includes extended family. The kitchen crew apprenticed under Tony and carries his legacy forward.

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Triple Crown: Campus Restaurant Takes Three Firsts

1899 Bar & Grill | 307 W. Dupont Ave.

Written by Gail Collins

Going home is often touted as a better ideal than idea, but when 1899 Bar & Grill harkened back to its roots, alumni and students, as well as the casual traveler or local, garnered more than they imagined. So named for the school’s founding year, 1899 acknowledges both its past and its march forward. Situated on Northern Arizona University’s North Campus, the building started out as a dining hall. Old grads, who stop in for a drink now, hardly recognize it, although the copper fireplace commanding the room is a clue and proper touchstone.

The modern sleekness of wood flooring and paneling blend with historic elements, plus texture and color, while the soaring ceiling and glass offer an airy space with an indoor-outdoor experience. Enjoy the roomy patio, seating 70 guests, and commune with the sweeping expanse of green and backdrop of mature pines. The red stone buildings and trademark conical towers are both fresh and timeless in turns. A pergola, allowing sun or shade, plus heaters for cool nights, create al fresco at its best.

1899 is the kind of place where friends can meet for a drink and stay for an upscale meal. Happy Hours are an everyday occurrence with typical libations and nosh, such as BBQ beef tips and mash, pork belly tacos or a mini Caesar salad. Every Sunday, 1899 showcases live entertainment.

Executive Chef Dennis Reuter pulls in regional foods as possible, but the menu aims for a global arc. Standout entrees include the Southwest brined pork loin, house-smoked with papaya barbecue sauce and served with warm potato salad and veg. The coffee and chili-rubbed hanger steak boasts sweet potato friends and creamed spinach.

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Crema in Cottonwood

Enticing stop for coffee, drinks, all-day brunch

Written by Gail Collins

Destination weddings have become more routine, but the experience is anything, but predictable. Especially when it comes to a world class destination, like Northern Arizona, with its rusty red rock backdrops, San Francisco Peaks majesty, or small towns charms, like Cottonwood.

The city has put itself back on the map with a determined decade’s thrust via the wine industry. Supporting businesses sealed the deal, creating a main street flanked with eateries, artisan shopping, tasting rooms and an upscale hotel. Such a destination can provide an enchanting spot to tie the knot or any other romantic reason.

The Tavern Hotel, built as a grocery 1925, was renovated in 2011 and opened 30 new luxury rooms last fall. With spa facilities and elegance in mind, the boutique hotel aims for an unforgettable experience. Try one of their special getaway packages, such as the Sip & Stay; Date Night in Old Town with champagne, chocolates and roses; or the splendor of a rail excursion through the Verde Canyon. The property is one of several owned by the Haunted Group, which focuses mainly on food in Jerome and Cottonwood.

Crema Craft Kitchen + Bar feeds Tavern Hotel guests and a growing throng, who know a good nosh. With its quirky container bar and shaded patio, plus nonstop brunch, it’s an enticing and solid choice.

“We offer fresh, wholesome cooking,” said Michelle Jurisin, executive chef and owner with husband Eric. “We’ve introduced Cottonwood to the best, where food is as beautiful to cook as it to see as it is to taste.” Organic choices, healthy oils and sustainable products are the norm. Tanner Wakefield, an Arizona Culinary Institute grad, runs the kitchen, focusing on low salt and food’s full flavors.

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Holiday Favorite

Tradition reigns supreme at Little America Hotel

Written by Gail Collins

At the flick of a switch, one million lights flash and glow against fir branches, reflected in the glistening snow. This elicits a collective whoop of joy. It is the official kick off to the Christmas season at Little America in Flagstaff where holiday happiness reigns supreme.

At Christmas, we embrace the simple delights. From glittering lights to sweet smells from the oven, a child’s eye offers the gladdest view. Little America caters to the child in all of us a this time of year.

Beyond decorations and lights, guests can be whisked 3,794 miles to the North Pole to meet Santa and his elves. Riding a trolley through a magic portal, they are transported to the busy enterprise of toy-making and reindeer training. There is private time with bearded man himself to make special requests plus a photo and a chance to help the elves before sipping hot cocoa by a roaring fire. This is the North Pole Experience.

Since 2009, thousands of families have visited Santa this way each year. Little America brought the North Pole Experience to Flagstaff in 2012. The all-inclusive, 90-minute adventure is a multi-generational memory maker—a Norman Rockwell moment we can all live.

Holiday customs have long been the backbone of Little America, and their legacy diners crowd family tables. “We harken back to home and everything wonderful,” said food and beverage manager Sally Maroney.  But it’s done in a bigger way, like the giant, hand-decorated, yard-square gingerbread house.

In 2016, Silver Pine Restaurant received an upgrade. Improvements on the hotel are due to be completed in summer 2018. The result of merging the previous coffee shop with separate fine dining, Silver Pine delivers casual elegance. Colors of sky and stone are echoed in texture like pale wood and denim booths. A vaulted roofline with soaring glass floods the room with light, and during warm weather, the long-overdue patio carries the dining into the garden.  Black and white photographs evoke the area’s history.

Tradition is a sacred thing, and General Manager Fred Reese acknowledged this when the restaurant revamp extended to the menu. “It was anarchy, and we quickly reinstated 85% of the diners’ beloved dishes,” said Reese, “like the decades-old roll recipe—the perfect accompaniment to any meal.”

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