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.”

Other comfort classics include shepherd’s pie, French onion soup and a burger with jalapeños and tomato-bacon jam.  The use of Arizona honey and produce, tempeh and Tortilla Lady offerings keep the love local.

Four times a year—Easter, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas—a holiday champagne brunch is served for more than 800 people. Live music, crepes to order, a chocolate fountain, prime rib carving station, crab, free-flowing bubbly and more round out the festive ballroom event.

When it comes to a prime rib or turkey dinner, executive chef Eduardo Mata and executive sous chef Matt Ronspies roast beef and birds daily. They step it up for the holidays preparing 50 20-pound turkeys. Made from scratch sides include:   hearty spuds, cornbread stuffing, seasonal veg, cream gravy and ruby cranberry sauce. The plate is perfect, like Grandma’s. California’s Harris Ranch prime rib is roasted overnight with house blended seasoning. Massive and marbled, the slab is served au jus with horseradish, asparagus and a fluffy, loaded potato.

With five fish dishes, it’s great choice. The jumbo shrimp is lively with pesto and a smoky, spicy cocktail sauce presented on a berm of avocado and lettuce with matchstick radishes.

Like the gingerbread masterpiece, built by pastry chef Vanessa Ronspies, Silver Pine’s desserts tap timeless treats. The three-layer chocolate mousse cake, wrapped in printed ganache, is palatably pretty, and the Toll House pie is a gooey cookie in pastry, served with the chef’s award-winning ice creams. The bread pudding combines cinnamon rolls with custard for indulgence.

No holiday is complete without libations, and the bar tailors them seasonally. Warm spices, cider and eggnog are incorporated with twists on standards, like the hot toddy with cinnamon apple whiskey and brûléed lemon. A merry mule is an aromatic vodka and ginger beer with cranberry lime served in an Arizona copper mug with a rosemary sprig. The pear sidecar conjures up pie aromas in a delicate, spice-rimmed glass with a citrus curl. Go for the happiest hours—3 to 6 p.m. six days a week and every hour on NFL Sundays—for craft brews and wine sips plus specialty cocktails at soft price points.

Like its holiday traditions of lights and a turkey dinner, Little America Hotel respects its loyal following. Showcasing 500 acres of serenity amongst Northern Arizona’s sky, pines and peaks, this icon celebrates 44 years for all the best reasons this season. NAMLM

Visit www.flagstaff.littleamerica.com

 

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