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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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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Best Chinese Food: Golden Dragon

Best of Flag, December 2021

Written by Gail G. Collins

Diners voted Golden Dragon as the Best Chinese Restaurant, so you can trust the reviews:  “This is what Chinese food is supposed to taste like;” “pure taste, comfortable environment;” and the capper, “generous as well as delicious,” from a mother with seven boys who dined there and will be back.

The raves are constant for the hot and sour and egg drop soups, so you know where to begin when ordering. But other bestselling appetizers include the crab puffs, which according to general manager Kinson Li are, “crisp, full of goodies and cream cheese,” in a mouth-popping size.

Three partners share in the ownership of Golden Dragon:  Jimmy Liang, Randy Lee and Winnie Cheng. Liang is from Toisan in the Guangdong region, while chef Sun Chung is Cantonese with an extensive cooking background.

As Li puts it regarding the recipes, “They each have their own ways and focus on fresh food made with quality ingredients to stay on point. The heart of it is in return customers, so we work for that ‘wow factor.’”

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Best Tacos: Tacos Los Altos

Best of FLAG, December 2021

Written by Gail G. Collins

When a business treats its customer as king, the effects are positive. That claim propelled Tacos Los Altos de Jalisco to uphold its status as Best Tacos in Flagstaff for the second year running.

“We appreciate our loyal customers,” said Jose Flores. “A couple of them stop by daily, and by the time they park and come in, their order is ready.”

Flores is the son of one partner with the same name, who is better known as Chepe. Alongside partners Jose Rodriquez, or Pepe, and Saul Rodriquez, they work together in the family-owned shop serving traditional recipes adapted from their hometown in Villahildago, Mexico. In fact, no less than 15 family members support the thriving enterprise.

The family hails from Jalisco, where they owned a restaurant, forming their foundation in the food industry. In the 90s, they moved to the U.S. and further honed their culinary skills. The big opportunity came in 2006, when the partners took over the former Tacos los Altos on Route 66.

“We have worked hard to maintain the previous business’ customer base,” says Flores, “but we moved around about 65-percent of the menu.”

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The ultimate cup: Macy’s European Coffee House and Bakery celebrates 40 years in Flagstaff

FlagLIVE! February 20, 2020

Photos and Story by Gail G. Collins

Our inclination toward a good thing is to enjoy and preserve it. For four decades, that’s been the case as coffee lovers consistently crowd Macy’s European Coffee House and Bakery, south of the tracks in downtown Flagstaff. The town’s first roaster and coffee house opened in 1980, and many who came to love it as students at Northern Arizona University are happy to see it just as they remember it all those years ago.

Owner Tim Macy, who prefers the term caretaker, feels that timelessness is part of the coffee shop’s intrinsic charm.

“Everyone is welcome in a spirit of unity—treated with respect and love,” he says. “Macy’s is a microcosm of what the world will be one day.”

With an easy smile, he then quips, “I got lucky—people loved Macy’s.”

It was more than luck; it was knowledge, determination and firm principles that propelled Macy’s idea to open a coffee house. It was also a man named Carl Diedrich, a German who had—after fighting at the Battle of the Bulge, marrying into a family coffee, tea and cocoa business, studying the coffee industry in Naples, Italy, and purchasing a coffee plantation in Guatemala—built a retail coffee business from his garage with a hand-fabricated roaster. Macy was inspired to learn from the innovator and self-taught man but initially struggled to reach him. Finally, he convinced Diedrich to teach him the trade when he showed up at his strip mall shop in Costa Mesa, California.

“Once a week, I would buy a pound of the best coffee I’d ever had in my life and hang around to learn the business,” Macy says.

Following what became a three-year mentorship, Macy chose to open his own shop in Flagstaff because of its college setting and great potential. He bought equipment and rented the space where Middle Earth Bakery had been. His first roaster, hand-built by Diedrich’s son, took center stage in the front window. In February 1980, with little more than a penny left to his name, Macy opened his doors.

At this point, Macy needed to educate the public about coffee. At the time, 99 percent of the best coffee was imported to Europe with a paltry amount making its way to the U.S. Macy would change that by serving 50-cent espressos and classy cappuccinos. People were captivated by the aroma of coffee roasting. It even caused a stir with the local fire department.

“For the first year, every few weeks, the fire department showed up, thinking there was a problem,” Macy recalls.

Diedrich supplied the coffeehouse with beans for 10 years before Macy began an alliance with Erna Knutsen. The “godmother of specialty coffee,” as she was known, traveled the world, reinvesting locally and promoting growers’ schools long before the advent of the fair-trade trend. Knutsen won the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991, and was again honored as a founder of the specialty coffee industry in 2014. Today, Macy works with small-source farms, paying above fair-trade prices.

For all those reasons, Macy assures, “Now in Flagstaff, we have the best coffee in the world. You can find a similar product, but nothing better.”

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Macy’s has long thrived on rare relationships. Early on, a gal applied for work at the coffee shop. As incentive, the budding artist flashed a sketch of a person, soaking in a cup of coffee bliss, drawn on a napkin. The student had limited availability so couldn’t be hired, but Macy paid her for the sketch, dubbed “the ultimate cup,” which became the shop’s logo. 

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Criollo Latin Kitchen stands out with happy hour menu, fresh ingredients

Written by Gail G. Collins

On a trip to Uruguay, I strolled the streets of Montevideo and followed my nose to a late dinner. Through the glass of a classy restaurant, their parrilla tempted other passers-by. Flames licked up the oven’s sides, with wood piled nearby to feed a bank of glowing coals. Racks of ribs, chorizo, chicken, and of course, beef slowly cooked on the enormous grill. The server suggested a local bottle of Tanat to accompany a sample platter of meats. Grass-fed beef, never touched by fire, is uniquely flavorful. Even in this fine setting, barbecue, or asado, is the choice of discerning diners.

Latin America stretches from Mexico’s northern border to Argentina, where the gaucho grill originated. Hospitality and warmth are the peoples’ hallmark and extend to their sensual dancing and zesty cuisine. Drawing on European influences from Spain and Portugal, and infused with wider inspiration, diverse and colorful recipes emerged. Bright, bold tastes result from fresh ingredients, like cilantro, lime, poblano peppers, and sazón, a traditional seasoning of annatto, garlic, cumin, coriander, black pepper and oregano. In 2017, Technomic’s Flavor report found that 68 percent of American diners rate Mexican food as their second favorite cuisine. The versatility of flavors satisfies the adventurous with empanadas, ceviche and tamales.

Such experiences drove owners Paul and Laura Moir to open Criollo in 2009. “We loved Latin food,” he said. “Laura had broadly traveled Latin America, and our family regularly went to Guadalajara. Criollo was unique for Flagstaff at the time.”

The menu began with tapas, but evolved following customer tastes. The dishes change seasonally, but items, like bacon nachos and taco plates, are firmly fixed per customer feedback. The couple even courted over nachos, confessed Moir, making them a staple in which the owners enjoy seeing other people indulge.

The Happy Hour menu has expanded to 15-20 choices, offering quality food at bargain prices. Six street tacos top the list. The fish taco—beer-battered catfish with a zippy ancho crema and cabbage— leads, but order a sampler to include the al pastor—slow-cooked pork shoulder with pineapple guajillo, clove and cinnamon, plus cilantro crema—and a chorizo cauliflower taco with pickled red onion, aioli and guacamole. Queso? Of courso. Especially delicious is the fundido with Oaxacan and jack cheeses layered with caramelized onion and poblano pepper, garlic confit and black beans. The hour is happier with a classic margarita or a choice of revolving flavors, like prickly pear or guava. Think tropical with a Pineapple Express, mixing mescal with juice, green chartreuse, lime, blood orange bitters and agave—summertime, anytime.

To reassess their aims, Moir and staff recently explored anew what “criollo” means. Literally, it refers to a person of true Spanish descent from Central America. For Moir, it extends to the pride and far reach of influences, such as the Caribbean or Peru’s Asian impacts, through migration.

Executive chef Jay Felton increased the vegetable dishes on the menu—for example, snap peas and soy flavors are pulled from Peru. He runs a scratch kitchen of sauces, dressings, chorizo and more. Tortillas are local as is the produce from McClendon Farms. The protein is supplied via Moir’s butchery, Proper Meats + Provisions, which aims to act as a wholesale supplier, giving diners all the more reason to try the steak plate.

The skirt steak is charred and tender atop smoked potatoes with a chimichurri sauce of garlic, oregano and cilantro, plus roasted corn salad and blistered shishito peppers for hearty plate of tastes. No less indulgent is the barbacoa flauta, stuffed with chuck beef braised with onion, oregano and apple cider vinegar with potato, fresh aioli coleslaw and smashed avocado.

Close out the meal with a Basque-style churro, sandwiching horchata ice cream and rolled in cocoa nibs for a creamy, passionate, Latin nibble.

Keeping things lively for chefs and clients this year, Moir introduced the Burger Battle. For eight Sundays, two chefs went head-to-head, crafting their best burgers. Guests voted for their favorite and raised money for a charity of the winner’s choosing.

“Everyone in the industry is so busy running around with their hair on fire,” said Moir. “This presented a great opportunity and a good cause for them.”

In the end, diner loyalty builds successes, like Criollo.

“We are downtown, urban, local and casual fun in the center of it all,” said Moir. “We’re 10 years in, and we keep getting better.” NAMLM

https://azdailysun.com/lifestyles/food-and-cooking/criollo-latin-kitchen-stands-out-with-happy-hour-menu-fresh/article_06ac478b-1e40-5525-986e-c1edceea25db.html?fbclid=IwAR2YP8KKnA1skIwQqOrsHWXavTQ1Hm_qM7OfT7UvBDK9VY47jdizQXjdscc

Stay Awhile for Breakfast, Barbecue and Bourbon at Colt 804 Grill

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, September 2019

Written by Gail G. Collins

In the last dozen years, Old Town Cottonwood has moved in a pointed direction with economic development. Branding itself as the Heart of Arizona Wine Country in 2014, a revitalized Main Street boasts tasting rooms, supporting nearly 25 wineries along the Verde Valley Wine Trail. The riparian environment and climate of mild winters, low humidity and limited annual rainfall provide the perfect place for grape growing. But one cannot survive on wine alone—even award-winning bottles. Ancillary business boomed alongside this to provide hotel rooms, gift shops, tours, and of course, eateries.

In January 2017, amidst a rare snowstorm, Colt 804 Grill warmly opened its doors and welcomed guests with Southern hospitality and platters of smoked meats, guaranteed to melt any reticence of desire for lip-smacking barbecue on Main Street.

 “We moved to Cottonwood to be near family and created a restaurant that treats clients like friends in a homey atmosphere,” explained owner Brenda Clouston. “We kept it casual with a walk-up concept to offer better pricing on a quality meal.”

Colt is a family affair with staff that builds relationships, working as a team with minimal turnover. The ambience is cowboy chic, borrowing from Brenda’s professional interior design skills. She created the spotted cattle hide pub stools and husband Bob with son Carson, a welder by trade, built the double-wide smoker. Bob’s father crafted the bar, with inlays of walnut, alder and rosewood.

Large portions of good food at affordable prices spurred steady growth for Colt over the years. Additionally, the smokehouse caters three or four events a week. Simply choose from the a la carte menu.

“Everything can be customized and beautifully packaged for pick-up or delivery for groups,” said Carson, who manages Colt. He added with a wink, “They’re large portions—we tend to overcook.”

It’s definitely a custom kitchen, too. “Everything, except the onion rings, sweet potato fries and buns, are scratch made—the rubs, the sauces, you name it.”

Nothing is ever frozen, and the beef is ground fresh daily, mixed with pork belly for a juicy burger.

“It’s a taste explosion,” said Brenda. The price for an 8-ounce single patty is $5.95, which is served on an eggy Brioche bun with salad toppings, a fat, homemade pickle and a slather of zippy Colt sauce.

The turkey sandwich features a thick, smoked slice of breast with hearty Applewood bacon, lettuce, tomato, pickle and a swipe of fresh mayo. Tacos of smoked chicken are served on fresh, double corn tortillas with cheese, avocado, Baja sauce and fresh pico de gallo—messy goodness.

All meats are slow-smoked over white oak for a clean taste. The enormous smoker, which weighs nearly 3,000 pounds, turns out 200 pounds of brisket, 12 racks of ribs, 20 chickens and six turkey breasts daily. That, in addition to 10 trays of bacon and four gallons of beans, while smoking enormous pans of cornbread plus macaroni and cheese alongside any bar additives, such as oranges.

After more than 10 hours, the brisket is fork tender. An order of baby-back ribs counts a full dozen, and the turkey sausage is lean and crumbly with the bite of fennel. Can’t decide on what to try first? Order the platter with a sampling of ribs, pulled pork, brisket, smoked turkey and brat sausage. Douse the meats in any of seven house-made sauces available. They range from subtly sweet Kansas City to Desert Heat with jalapeno and molasses to Maui Wowie with sweet onion, tequila and bacon.

Sometimes, customers proffer advice. A customer passed on his grandmother’s handwritten list of 14 ingredients for the mac ‘n cheese. The kitchen added further magic to hone a mature, complex, smoky pasta dish. It exudes a richness that might add a notch to your belt. For the final frontier, enjoy a simple cookie, big enough to share, bulging with goodies like oats and chocolate chips.

Stop in for a hearty start to your day. The eggs Benedict come in various forms, including the Black Angus with a slab of brisket and spicy Santa Fe sauce. The Vaquero omelet is stuffed with brisket and grilled poblano and red peppers, onions and pepper jack cheese. Both come with a steer-load of brisket hash.

Still, what’s a grill without a bar? Colt serves a bevy of bourbons, educational whiskey flights and craft cocktails to a host of regulars.

“It’ a wonderful element, pulling world-renowned bottles plus new and interesting small-batch products,” said Carson.

Pull up a stool and stay awhile. NAMLM

Located:  804 N. Main St., Cottonwood. Hours: Breakfast Thursday-Mondays from 8 -10. 30 a.m. and daily for dining from 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

https://azdailysun.com/entertainment/dining/stay-awhile-for-breakfast-barbecue-and-bourbon-at-colt-grill/article_d97cd770-3e27-510e-a9a3-7d08f02ccc07.html

La Fonda Two bests for legacy eatery with 60 years

Best of Flagstaff 2018

Written by Gail G. Collins

Motivation can come from many sources, even frustration. With hard work, the Garcia family turned frustration and a desire for entrepreneurship into a legacy business model for three generations of continued success. In 1957, three brothers—Sylvester, Frank Sr. and Albert Garcia—borrowed against everything they owned, including a beloved piano, to found the first La Fonda restaurant in Frank’s Sunnyside home on Center Street. It seated 30 guests, and their reputation for delicious meals soon outgrew their capacity. A warehouse on the corner of Second Street and Second Avenue was renovated and tables filled up with customers ordering homemade tamales and enchiladas cooked by the wives on Center Street. Their children raced to the restaurant with the food.

It’s always been a family affair at La Fonda, and several members went on to found six restaurants in Flagstaff, Kingman and the Phoenix area. Sylvester and his son, Marty, consistently pushed La Fonda in Flagstaff forward, and in 2018, celebrated 60 years in business. At 93 years old now, Sylvester was always humble, but grandson and general manager Brandon, said, “He comes in, he cooks and makes every big decision. My father, Marty, is the president—el jefe—and sister, Stephanie, and cousin, Ruben, are managers.”

The team believes showing up is 90 percent of it. Four generations have proven it. “Every Garcia born to us has worked, cooking on the line, washing dishes, whatever—it’s expected,” said Brandon.

The low, stucco building with arches is quintessential Mom and Pop Mexican, standing the test of time and tacos. The menu also has changed little by design and guest demands. Memorabilia menus confirm only slight alterations. Fajitas were added 20 years ago, and carnitas made an appearance a decade later. The most popular request remains the #2 Combination:  cheese enchilada, tamale, shredded beef taco, tostado, rice and beans.

“It’s not fancy, just good, old fashioned Mexican food.” The house margarita sells by the gallons—60 to 70 gallons on average each weekend. Local drafts and Mexican beers fill the gap.

La Fonda supports the community, and the athletic programs of Coconino, Flagstaff, Chinle, Tuba City and more high schools regularly unload busses of hungry athletes to refuel. “We clear the tables to feed everyone and help anyone that calls,” said Brandon.

Long-term commitment goes both ways at La Fonda. Juan has cooked for 30 years, and his assistants, Pedro and Fausto, have logged nearly 20 each. Employees have met and married there. Customers span generations, celebrations are commonplace, and cherished souls have ordered last meals from La Fonda to be delivered to hospice.

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Delhi Palace Cuisine of India A hidden gem in Hilltop Shops

Best of Flagstaff 2018

Written by Gail G. Collins

One of the seven wonders of the world stands in brilliant marble in Agra, India. The Taj Mahal is an UNESCO world heritage site, which took more than two decades to build. It hosts several million visitors annually, and a practicing mosque onsite is closed on Fridays.

Delhi Palace Cuisine of India, on the other hand, has been described as a “hidden gem” and is open seven days a week. The restaurant, tucked in its new, roomier location in the Hilltop Shops at Woodlands Village, closed for only a few days to make its move. The back wall boasts a spectacular painting of the Taj Mahal with linear perspective beckoning diners to enter. That is, if the scent of spices hadn’t drawn you in first. Either way, guests will explore a heady feast at Delhi Palace.

Northern Indian food is on the menu. A plethora of vegetables, fruits, grains and spices makes the cuisine vibrant and flavorful. Relative to southern dishes, the recipes are richer, with gravies made with ghee (clarified butter) or steeped in cream. Many dishes take hours to prepare. The spices used to create the staple garam masala, meaning warm mixture, are robust and earthy. Crushing and blending cumin, cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns and more create pungent plates of curry begging to be mopped up with warm naan bread. 

Classic curries are popular. Lamb korma features marinated, boneless lamb, cooked in yogurt with cashews and delicate herbs and spices. Chicken tikka masala smothers boneless tandoori chicken in tomato and butter sauce. The tandoori is a clay vessel, heated with mesquite charcoal to 360 to 400 degrees for cooking anything from shrimp to mixed grill and even paneer, a fresh cheese. Think of it as ancient, aromatic barbecue.

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