Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, July 24, 2021
Story and Photos by Gail G. Collins
Indian Gardens is an icon in Oak Creek. It is beloved for its garden setting, combination café and market ease, neighborly appeal and tourist trade. Passing on that heyday to a new owner is always the rub. But with earnest care and measured ambition, there is the happy possibility that it could be better than ever.
Nearly a decade ago, Daniel and Monica Garland embarked on a journey to revitalize the property as a gathering place to nourish neighbors and make Sedona a better place in their small way. And as they moved on to found FreeForm Coffee Roasters, they validated the next team, Caleb Schiff and James Worden, owners of Pizzicletta. The connection remains strong, and their coffee is served in the café.
“They had respect for how we’ve run our business,” said Schiff. “So many memories were made here. Unique experiences are always our goal, and we can deliver on that.”
Worden and Schiff are avid runners and cyclists and began their pizza venture as the Garlands relaunched Indian Gardens. It had been a deli, a gas station and more over the years — a constant in the community. The pizza duo loved the place, but never imagined they would go from regulars to operators.
Still, it was not an easy task. They expanded the gardens, built two water features, invested in a kitchen prep area to accommodate two trained pastry chefs, added merchandise and will rebrand the logo and expand the tight menu coming out of COVID.
Indian Gardens reopened in early February, producing the store standards guests had loved without any of the original kitchen team. And there were things beyond their control, such as a tree falling on a power line, which Worden said “typified the challenges,” snowstorms closing the road and fire danger barring access, all of which affected revenue.
They built a foundational team of competent, passionate people and celebrate those who can do things better than themselves.
“The key is stewardship, maintaining a strong sense of place and intentionality,” Worden said, “keeping the name and experience in the sense of the garden and menu offerings, but as elevated, healthy options. It’s not a choice between good and delicious.”
Five months in, they are striking that balance to keep it true as far as the menu and market aspects plus a stack of blankets to chase the chill or tote to the creek with grab-and-go picnic items. Sourcing, like Noble Bread, Apple Bob’s Juice and McClendon Farms keep goods local and fresh. New chef Max Motter works the myriad details.
The broccoli salad is perfect on warm days with layers of texture in the charred spears, spring greens, sprouted lentils, played up by the acidity of tahini-kraut vinaigrette and garnished with brewer’s yeast, pepitas and shaved watermelon radish.
The sandwiches are both standard and a step up. Hot turkey roulades are stacked on spicy mayo, tomato jam and Fontana while the veggie melt boasts seasonal grilled produce, aged cheddar, caramelized onion and dill pickle Béarnaise. Both are served on toasted focaccia with a choice of potato salad, greens or chips.
Choose the Yukon gold potato salad with cured egg yolk, house made pickle relish and chimayo chili dusting. It is one example of the intriguing ingredients in simple dishes. All sauces, dressings and spreads are scratch made, and toppers of dehydrated, powdered chilies and yeast, hibiscus-brined eggs, marinated and roasted seeds and even a pickle program go the extra mile.
Breakfast is served all day with choices like a signature burrito and avocado toast — smashed avo with fresh chimichurri, dried mushrooms and pepitas on sourdough. The brioche French toast is dipped in lemon custard and served with maple syrup whipped into crème fraiche with a dollop of local jam, such as apricot.
With 10 years of pizza experience, expanding hours to dinner for the first time at Indian Gardens demanded a sure thing.
“We focused on what we do well,” Caleb said of the trim pizza menu on Mondays.
The bianco tribute, honoring Chris Bianco and his Phoenix pizzeria, begins with mascarpone, adding parmesan, pickled onion, pistachio, rosemary and speck. It’s sweet, creamy and rich with surprises. The basic marinara and margherita, plus carne dolce with homemade ‘nduja — a spreadable, fermented pork salume — sage and honey provide sweet heat with add-ons, like roasted mushrooms, sun-dried tomato and soppressata.
Over time, further dinner options and egg dishes will be added, cider and local produce, plus more days open beyond Thursday to Monday. Worden and Schiff recognize they are the new kids on the block in Oak Creek and will extend their community interface with private events, a seminar series and more.
“We’re here for the long term,” Schiff said. “There’s a lot to learn, and we will. The goal is to refine that and grow with the community.” NAMLM
If you go…
Indian Gardens Café & Market is located at 3951 N. State Route 89A in Oak Creek, open Thursday to Monday from 8 a.m to 3 p.m. with pizzas served Monday from 4 to 8 p.m. Order online or call 928-282-7702 or visit indiangardens.com.