Matters of Taste: Josephine’s Modern American Bistro celebrates their 20th anniversary

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, July 2022

Written by Gail G. Collins

An anniversary is meant to be celebrated. Doing so demonstrates the event was significant. It also gives us the chance to reflect and push forward. Importantly, an anniversary nudges us away from our daily work to honor and rejoice in its results.

For Josephine’s Modern American Bistro, twenty years of business has added up to some well-deserved praise. Diligent and happy patronage voted it Best Fine Dining this past year, and chef-owner Tony Consentino earned the title, Chef of the Year.

Alongside his wife Marlene, Consentino said, “We’re present on the premises every day with administration and cooking. Marlene takes care of the intangibles—hugs and behind the scenes help, adding warmth.” He attributes Josephine’s appeal to, “the atmosphere and consistency of customer service and food.”

Like the landmark it is, sitting above downtown Flagstaff, the bistro exemplifies a relational tie to the historic home in which it resides. The Craftsman home was once owned by John Milton and other noteworthy figures. Built in 1911 and faced with native, volcanic malpais, it is listed on the Register of Historic Places. Like the home, Josephine’s has stood the test of time as a treasure in the neighborhood.

“We haven’t sat on our heels,” said Consentino.

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Atria has entered the building: Long-awaited fine dining spot opens in Flagstaff

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, May 2022

Story and Photos by Gail G. Collins

Al fresco dining layers in sensual aspects, buoying our mood while lowering our stress. Atria, the newest gastronomy venture in downtown Flagstaff, transcends the garden party. Subtle shades of blossom and sage reflect the expectancy of spring. The theme of flourishing and floral carries forward in wallpaper, pale wood with cream leather chairs and a wall of stacked, snowy rock, studded with succulents. Booths of velveteen and textured cotton wrap around pebble inlay tables mingling with intimate, candlelit seating for two. It’s a pastel, playful, yet elegant, jardin serving farm-fresh, modern fare.

The long, taupe, stone bar solicits patrons to sip a glass of rosé or splash out on bubbly. Or catch a quick, interactive bite at a barstool cornering the open kitchen. It all leans French and begs brasserie. It also delivers as the latest conception from award-winning chef and partner Rochelle Daniel.

The Phoenix native made her mark at Scottsdale’s Fat Ox. She was a finalist on Food Network’s Chopped Grill Masters; touted as one of the Valley’s “Top 5 Sous Chefs” by the Arizona Republic and “Best Sous Chef” by AZCentral before her induction into the Arizona Culinary Hall of Fame in 2017.

Daniel began cooking at the age of 15. While employed at a country club, she peered into the kitchen and longed for the camaraderie there, so offered herself as a cook. Despite lacking any skills, she was hired for her interest and honesty. It was a pattern that would grow her proficiency.

Post-high school, Daniel entered Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Scottsdale. The career-focused school prepared her technically, but multiple part-time cooking positions reinforced capabilities. Catering challenged her, but trailing at Zinc Bistro presented the biggest kick in the pants and reward.

In trailing, chefs work for free on a short-term basis in exchange for experience.

“I was kicked off the line on my first day, but quietly stuck around in the background listening,” she remembers.

The big guys in the kitchen had hazed Daniel, but her perseverance impressed them, and she started work the next day, her birthday. She became the first female chef at Zinc.

Daniel took her cred to L’Auberge de Sedona to revamp and rebrand the property’s restaurants. There, she fell for Northern Arizona, and a partnership with Karan and Kunal Patel plus Barry Levitan created Atria. The hyper-seasonal spot opened in December.

The menu aims are, “Whatever looks beautiful and tastes good—this makes us happy,” Daniel explains.

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Eating on a corner in Winslow, Arizona: Flatbed Ford Café serves up classic home-cooked fare

99 Things To Do in Northern Arizona

Story and photos by Gail G. Collins

When Route 66 vanished from road atlases, it was the second blow to small towns like Winslow. Its heyday sparked in the 1880s as a railroad town, but by 1960, engines stopped rolling down the rails. Then, the completion of Interstate Highway 40 in 1977 also sidelined communities, threatening livelihoods. Could an idea and action put that famous road and its historic towns back on the map?

The Mother Road had sidled past pine forests, volcanoes, painted deserts and more as it crossed Arizona, and in 1985, a guardian angel began to organize towns to invite folks to visit. Angel Delgadillo, a barber, is credited with reviving the spirit and nostalgia of road trips and Americana to Route 66. Still, it took dedicated groups in these small towns to clean up and restore their main streets.

Then in 1972, the Eagles sang about “standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona” and a flatbed Ford. It was a throwaway line from Take it Easy, but it became an invitation to the town. Build on it.

That’s exactly what Sonia and husband Gary Ybarra did alongside her father Ray and his wife Kelli Martinez. Before Sonia retired from her career in healthcare, she began part-time work on Main Street as a distraction while Gary was away on construction jobs. The bustle of tourists surprised her, and the state of buildings on cross streets in the historic center bothered her.

She thought, “Maybe, I’ll open a little café down there some day…”

When the building became available, the thought became action. They could create a bed and breakfast above to provide income to renovate the downstairs. In the fall of 2019, the Flatbed Ford B & B opened, inviting guests to “sleep on the corner.” Then, a year of hard work began below. Both families, including children, and an uncle in the plumbing business, gutted the place and refaced it.

“It’s been a labor of love and a good bonding thing with my father. Always far away on business, I’ve seen more of him in the past year than in the past 50,” Sonia joked.

The building has its own story, of course. Built in 1908, proprietor J. W. Marley ran the City Meat Market with choice steaks selling for 25 cents per pound. The Bow family from China ran it as a grocery until 1976 and raised five children. The apartment provided rent, operated as a medical clinic and the Union Fuel and Transfer Office.

Flatbed Ford Café straightened its red-checked curtains and opened its doors in August 2021. Route 66 signs and memorabilia punctuate the place, plus hand-glazed tables and wood rescued from fencing on Martinez’s property.

“I wanted a nice restaurant, where everyone can come in, eat, drink coffee, be happy and feel at home,” Sonia said. “I wanted to accommodate the local community, win them over. Tourists are a benefit.”

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Matters of Taste: NiMarco’s Pizza

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, April 2022

Story and Photos by Gail G. Collins

Integrity is infectious. Personally, living with integrity can make life much simpler, but that is not to say, easier. It is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching, and especially when nothing can be gained.

Related to business, it keeps a shop in compliance. It honors commitments and permeates the culture of a workplace. It is accountable to employees and customers. Further, transparency in mistakes builds trust.

That attitude creates an unstoppable force. As a radio personality, speaker and author Earl Nightingale shared: Integrity is the seed for achievement; it is the principle that never fails.

Integrity becomes the culture via leadership. Dave Ledbetter experienced that nearly three decades ago, when he and his wife, Angie, entered Northern Arizona University and needed work. Gary and Karyn Reid were the second owners of NiMarco’s Pizza and gave them jobs. The families maintained a good relationship going forward.

“I have nothing, but admiration and respect for Gary,” said Ledbetter, the current owner NiMarco’s. “He is the epitome of integrity and taught me what it means.”

As NiMarco’s celebrated 40 years in 2019, perhaps a recap of events is worthwhile. The original location in downtown is unassuming and off the beaten track. Reid bought the shop and ran it for about 13 years as Ledbetter honed his entrepreneurial skills in the industry.

Then, Ledbetter said to Reid, “I’d love to buy that business and own my own place one of these days.”

Six months later, Reid sold to Ledbetter. Over 10 years, he built the brand and expanded with the Milton Road location. In 2019, the Eastside spot opened. A recession and a pandemic proved training grounds for performance under pressure, while aims to refine the processes and create a consistent product carried NiMarco’s forward.

That, and putting paint brushes in employees’ hands if that’s what it took to keep staff working through the pandemic. Frescos by Mural Mice cover walls of the Eastside shop, honoring the great outdoors, family fun and the Reids. A revamp of the original location added a retro Beaver Street scene.

Ledbetter would tell you, “The pizza business isn’t glamorous; we don’t do rocket science.”

Still, coming up through the ranks can build a business head. Two couples now run the daily tasks that keep three NiMarco’s Pizza joints humming. Tommy Glynn worked as general manager before becoming a partner with wife, Danny.

“Tommy has done wonders contributing to progress,” Ledbetter shared. “He finds new and improved ways of doing things efficiently and cares about staff — we love on our people.”

They live the mantra: Happy staff and the rest falls into place.

“Arguably, the longest-standing owner in NiMarco’s history—over 22 years—we are hands-on operators,” he said.

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Matters of Taste:  Evans’ Fish and Chips

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, March 2022

Story and Photos by Gail G. Collins

Fish and chips have been a grab and go British classic for nearly 200 years. The earliest references are found in Charles Dickens’ novels, Oliver Twist and Tale of Two Cities, while the original recipe for batter-fried fish was printed in an 1845 cookbook by Victorian chef Alexis Soyer.

Still, the origins are actually even a couple of centuries older. The chips, or fries, are actually from Belgium, and the fried fish arrived with Jewish immigrants from Spain and Portugal. London’s first fish and chips shop opened in the 1860s. Chippies, as the shops are affectionately called, began as the working man’s grub, but crossed all class barriers in time.

During World War II, Winston Churchill referred to fish and chips as “good companions,” and recognizing the role the dish played in morale, did not ration it. As a capper, when the Brits landed on D-Day, they called out, “fish,” to which the response was, “chips,” as means of identifying an ally. It is a worthy legacy for the humble fish and chips.

The combo has staying power and created some iconic sway with Doug Evans. Owner of Jitters Lunchbox, which Evans feels simply fell into his lap, the longtime chef had set his mind set on opening a chippy. Evans’ partner and wife Melodie Platt is Welsh, and her appreciation of the dish and its practical place in a community were instilled by her father.

Evans Fish and Chips opened in late October, but word-of-mouth praise and pics on social media keep the bell on the red shop door dinging with new customers daily.

“I’ve been pleased with the reception of the community,” Evans said. “Everyone has been super kind, and we’re doing more business than I anticipated.”

Located south of the tracks in downtown Flagstaff in Primo Deli’s old spot, the shotgun space mimics a traditional British chippy. The efficient footprint is a bit cramped for seating beyond a short, L-shaped bar, but appeals to take-out customers. Patio seating is in the works. Decked in simple white and steel with sea blue accents and painted board menu with boat cleats, the idea is straightforward—choose from basic items or grab something from the display case and get back to other work at hand.

Like its UK counterparts, the shop also serves late night, post-pint clientele. Close to campus, it is also a growing destination for the college crowd.

This was a new angle for our mountain town, and Evans understood that. 

“This is unfamiliar cuisine,” he said, “so I approached it with a bunch of research, trials and taste-testing with people who know.”

Expats emerged and have stopped in regularly to commend the authenticity.

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Matters of Taste: ShiftFLG Kitchen + Bar encourages culinary exploration

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, February 2022

Story and Photos by Gail G. Collins

Behavioral experiments have shown people who share a meal trust one another more and work together more effectively. An informal survey of 2,000 people in the United Kingdom, revealed those who eat together socially more often, have larger circles of friends and higher satisfaction in their lives. So, there you have it—all the excuses you need to meet a friend and share a meal.

ShiftFLG Kitchen + Bar was consciously developed with these aims.

“We wanted to change the food scene in Flagstaff from meat and potatoes to a big city touch,” chef-owner Dara Wong explained, reiterating the appeal of her neighborhood bistro. “Come in—even if you’re on your own—and sit at the bar, watch the action in the open kitchen and enjoy some small plates.”

The smaller-sized portions encourage exploration, and the constantly changing menu gives diners a reason to stop in again and again.

Shift maintains a philosophy of local sourcing with an emphasis on quality. Executive chef Christian Lowe is especially keen to highlight those wares, whether it is Arizona-grown corn for the polenta or microgreens. Raised on a farm in Virginia, Lowe holds degrees in culinary arts and restaurant management with world-class experience gained at luxury resort Amangiri. Moreover, she embraces Arizona’s beauty and indigenous cuisine.

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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.

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Best Overall Restaurant, Wait Staff, Wine List, Fine Dining: 1899 Bar & Grill

Best of Flag, December 2021

Written by Gail G. Collins

Following through on the motto, “high altitude, no attitude,” with proper execution, 1899 Bar and Grill won top spots as Best Overall Restaurant, Wait Staff, Wine List and Fine Dining. Those are high marks, worthy of the care, consideration and oversight that translate into delicious dining.

But 1899 is more than a lovely venue with global cuisine; it is an integrated product of Northern Arizona University’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.

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Best Bar Food, Best Brewery—Lumberyard Brewing Company

Best of Flag, December 2021

Written by Gail G. Collins

They say luck resides at the intersection between hard work and opportunity. That sums up the success of Lumberyard Brewing Company, which attracted voters with their benchmark bar food and veteran brewing skills.

Three decades ago, if you had asked founding owners Winnie and Even Hanseth if they would be brewing beer, they might have seen themselves seated at the table instead of waiting on it. The same goes for head brewer Gary Blazevich with an environmental sciences degree, who enjoyed tipping them back in Issaquah, Washington. Director of brewing operations Gene Almquist fell headlong for brewing after his first effort. At Lumberyard, great ideas and talent triumphed.

Lumberyard has garnered a consistent list of awards over the years at acclaimed national beer competitions, such as the Great American Beer Festival, where Pumpkin Porter won hearts. In fact, the combined slate of ribbons for Beaver Street and Lumberyard breweries totaled 13. Trends also encourage variety, like New England-styled Hazy Angel, a light lager and promising hit.

“It’s an easy-going IPA that’s hop forward,” according to owner Kelly Hanseth, next generation in the family business. The aim is, “brewing true-to-style,” and she added, “The Flagstaff IPA is the most popular canned beer — the number one distributed seller.”

The other standard that beer drinkers order is Railhead Red, an amber and my favorite.

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Best New Restaurant: Tiki Grill

Best of Flag, December 2021

Written by Gail G. Collins

Everyone appreciates a special meal — tables laid with white cloths, china and fussy food once in a while. But where we hang out with friends in flip flops to shoot the breeze, tip one back and eat what makes us grin is what makes it all worthwhile.

Perhaps that propelled Scott McClelland to turn from the chic settings that upheld his culinary experience to open Tiki Grill and offer guests a place on the sand where he had found happiness. 

“The aim is attentive, caring service, good tunes and cocktails,” McClelland said.

Sounds like a winner – Best New Restaurant, to be exact.

He added, “It’s a chill vibe in a cool setting with the same high caliber of food, served in paper boats with flip flops and board shorts.”

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