Matters of Taste:  1899 Bar & Grill brings approachable fine dining

 Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, January 2022

Written by Gail G. Collins

On September 11, 1899, equipped with a couple of sheepskin volumes of Webster’s International Dictionary, Northern Arizona Normal School opened its doors to 23 students, who sought certification to teach in the Arizona Territory.

Today, Northern Arizona University counts 25,000 students on its rolls across its original campus, satellite sites and online learning, and its mission grows.

The university expanded its learning opportunities with the opening of 1899 Bar & Grill in 2011, named in honor of the school’s founding year. Housed in the historic North Union Hall, it enshrines a legacy of history and education within modern prospects.

With fitting execution, 1899 Bar & Grill has followed through on its motto, “high altitude, no attitude,” winning this year’s top spots as Best Overall Restaurant and Wait Staff in addition to placing for Best Wine List and Fine Dining. The full list of the 2021 Best of Flag winners will be released online and in the annual winner’s magazine on Sunday, Dec. 19. 

Those are high marks, worthy of the care, consideration and oversight that translate into delicious dining.

Utilizing international flair, the culinary crew at 1899 developed a menu promoting bold flavors in handcrafted dishes. The kitchen is scratch from the aioli to the ice cream to the sausage, and then, artistically plated.

But 1899 is more than an elegant, retail venue with global cuisine; it is an integrated product of NAU’s Hotel and Restaurant Management Program. While the staff is not comprised exclusively of program students, the living-learning lab offers business career experience with some yummy benefits, like a meal provided daily to each employee, regardless of how many days they work in a week. That hits the spot. Moreover, a position at the front or back of the house instills accountability, responsibility and hard work as the best training for life in general.

More than 500 students are employed across campus venues. Einstein’s Bagels, for example, provides quick grab meals and serves 1,500 to 1,800 customers daily. The demanding work provides practice and builds maturity.

Overall, 1899 provides, “a window into campus life,” according to Casey Fisher, director of planning and marketing campus dining. Situated at downtown’s boundary, 1899 is in, “a permeable position between the community and campus.” It also compliments the High County Conference Center and Drury Inn as far as services.

Despite winning the fine dining category, 1899’s team pushes back on the label.

“We’re fighting the fine dining aspect in favor of being approachable, palatable and value-priced,” Fisher explained.

The ambience at 1899 is stylish brick with wood accents and Mid-Century clean lines, notable in the various-sized drum shades. Enormous, metallic-hued banquettes proportionally anchor the high-rise space, and a wall of glass invites seasonal views and copious natural light. The showpiece, two-story copper fireplace is original to the historic dining hall. Logo wine casks, stamped with 1899, remind guests of their expansive wine list, buttressed by local taps and craft cocktails.

Try the bee’s knees as a winter warmer. The prohibition-era cocktail takes a whisky turn with herbal notes, lemon, honey and a ginger back. Or grab a brewski and a bowl of cheese curds — a Wisconsin phenom of fried, gooey, cheese tots tossed on a sea of smoked Pomodoro sauce — as this definitive duo gets classy.

“Inspiration for dishes comes not only from current global trends, but also local tastes and flavors,” executive chef and general manager Dennis Reuter said.

Sourcing is a combination of community and regional ingredients, emphasizing profiles unique to the region.

The top sirloin is tender amid a slick of spunky steak sauce and topped with a tangle of fried, matchstick carrots. Asparagus and a rough smash of potatoes with pesto accompany the sophisticated standard. The salmon salad presents as quite continental on a square of slate. Plenty of protein — smoked fish and hard-boiled egg plus scattered capers — is piled on mixed greens with roasted red pepper and shaved onion, dressed in mustard vinaigrette and served with charred bread triangles

The carne bowl is a sharable feast. Wholesome sweet potato or basic fries are covered in carne asada, black beans, smoked Gouda cream and roasted green chilies plus dollops of pico de gallo and guacamole.

Red pepper Gouda soup hits all the marks for dietary needs with flavor to spare. The puree of roasted peppers, sweet cheese and cream lends pert piquancy as a side.

For sweets, crème brulee tempts as a cloud of vanilla cream under a scorch of sugar with fresh fruit or indulge your inner child with chocolate peanut butter pie — a rich, creamy classic combo of flavors.

The staff holds themselves to a high culinary standard, not because they are in training for one of the most challenging careers in hospitality, but simply to delight Flagstaff locals and tourists alike. BestofFLG