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

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.

Lotus Lounge: Pan-Asian Dining in the Heart of Downtown

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, August 2019

By Gail G. Collins

Flagstaff has been a crossroads since its inception. It’s no wonder that offering a bed as well as food and drink emerged as its enduring trade. To meet the growing needs of travelers, Hotel Monte Vista was built, opening on New Year’s Day in 1927. Funded by prosperous area leaders, including author Zane Grey, the 73-room hotel was originally dubbed the Community Hotel before the longstanding name change to Monte Vista, meaning “mountain view.” As one of the oldest continually operated hotels in Flagstaff, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the current proprietor, Jimmy Craven, celebrated 25 years of ownership in May.

Included in this legacy property on the corner of San Francisco Street and Aspen Avenue are Rendezvous and Lotus Lounge, located in what was once the town’s third post office. Its evolution continues as a Pan-Asian restaurant and bar.

Genie Kuester enjoyed a longtime love of the hotel, blossoming into oversight as general manager for Lotus Lounge.

“It’s a great place to work, and I love the hotel’s history,” she said.

The feel is urban Asian with mod, fun accents like cheerful lanterns and maneki-neko figures, lucky Japanese waving cats. Contrasting a flat black backdrop with gleaming white tile accents, the second-level loft overlooks a U-shaped main bar with overall seating for 177 guests.

“Come in for a quick meal or drink stop or head upstairs for date night and stay awhile,” said Kuester. Twinkle lights lead the way. Curated local art revolves monthly for ongoing visual appeal.

Lotus Lounge opened late in 2017 and built a cohesive core of staff quickly. The hours expanded to lunch in April and can service a turnover crowd with bento box-style choices or linger over sashimi and wine. Weekly specials keep it fresh.

For lunch, a burger or salad is a staple. The Lotus Lunch Burger is made with Kobe Beef, miso mayo, cream cheese, tempura sweet potato, serrano peppers and butter lettuce on a toasted, buttery bun and served with steak fries or signature Hawaiian macaroni salad, rife with chopped veg. The good luck salad showcases chiffonade cabbage, zucchini, carrot, peppers and fennel with arugula and butter lettuce plus udon noodles. Tossed in tamarind-yuzu (Asian citrus) vinaigrette, the plate is scattered with wonton crisps and chicken or fried tofu. Bright flavors and textures earned the salad a promotion from menu special to standard.

Dietary options are indulged. In fact, the miso soup is vegetarian for simplicity, and rice noodles meet gluten-free needs.

“We have our finger on the vegetarian and vegan populace,” said Kuester. “We try hard to say, ‘Yes,’ to our guests.”

The overall menu covers Thai, Japanese and Chinese cuisine plus sushi. Honolulu Fish Company delivers fresh product twice weekly while Massachusetts’ Island Creek Oysters have been voted hands-down best by Lotus guests.

“There are no compromises on quality,” said Kuester.

Javier Cortes and his brother, Eddie, run the sushi program. The tiger roll is wildly popular with spicy tuna, avocado, cucumber and sprouts, topped with salmon, shaved lemon, red tobiko roe (flying fish), black sesame and tataki sauce—a sweet, soy, ginger, garlic blend. The roll zings with vibrant color and tartness. The chupacabra roll binds salmon, cucumber and avocado, topped with tuna, green onion, white and black sesame plus fragrant eel sauce.

The plate lunch specials mix it up, like beef stir-fry with gyoza (pork wontons), salad and house dessert, such as lively lychee sorbet.

As a sister to Rendezvous, Lotus Lounge builds on her reputation for classy cocktails and infused spirits while discovering new tastes. With 10 beers on tap and a full complement of Asian-branded liquors, it’s not just about sake. Try a flight of ½-ounce pours of gin, vodka, whisky or sake to explore high-end possibilities within an affordable price structure.

Among the rum-forward cocktails, try the subtly sweet Moonrise Mai Tai. Unique is the avocado smash, blended with Blanco tequila, avocado, lime, serrano and simple syrup for creamy, green refreshment in a tipsy glass.

Community is huge for Lotus Lounge, participating in many fundraising events, such as Wine & Dine in the Pines, Palette to Palate, Feast for Flagstaff and more with enduring devotion to Victim Witness Services.

In the end, Lotus Lounge delights in gaining new ground.  They are expanding into the previous Pato Thai space and growing team skills.

“We educate about our fish, liquor, wines and sushi to build confidence in staff to pass on to clients,” said Kuester. NAMLM

Café Daily Fare An Artistic Expression of Food

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, June 2019

Written by Gail G. Collins

When it comes to achieving a goal, the earnest will hustle in every way possible to make it happen. That’s how Nancy McCulla evolved from raffling off dinners to pay college tuition to owning her catering business, Simply Delicious, and then, running Café Daily Fare. At 13 years old, she worked in a kitchen in Illinois and under the tutelage of a master German baker. The competence and confidence gained propelled McCulla to continue cooking after earning a bachelor of arts in ceramics at Northern Arizona University. Following stints in local kitchens and prepping pastry for Grand Canyon Railway, the next step seemed inevitable.

“Café Daily Fare has an eclectic menu,” said McCulla. “We’re a chef-driven Mom and Pop—very aware of life in Flag, the venues and what people like to eat.” Her catering business is nearly 20 years strong, while the lunch spot, tucked up on the ridge above Route 66, celebrates a decade in business.

McCulla gathers international inspiration for cooking. Her Brazilian Fish Stew is an example of trial, tried and true. Though she had never visited Brazil, flavors leapt from the pages of recipe books, tempting her. The resulting stew of cod chunks, tomato, coconut milk, lime and smoked paprika ladles up alongside cilantro and cumin rice. It’s lively and savory in turns. “I play, make, tweak and look for new traditions,” she said. “Cuisine crosses lines globally.”

The point of conviction came when Brazilian travelers ordered the fish stew and proclaimed it an authentic success. “I don’t Americanize food—that’s not fun,” McCulla confessed.

The Chef’s Favorites on the menu are guest picks as well. McCulla wanted to serve duck, so created approachable (and irresistible) duck tacos. The blackberry-marinated fowl with habanero aioli, Fossil Creek goat cheese, arugula, jicama and toasted pepitas combine for a decadent handhold. The fish tacos are fabulous, too, so go ahead and order half and half. House salad and bread or black bean salad accompany the favorites.

The sandwich list is well-traveled. The hot Italian plumbs McCulla’s deli roots. It loads capicola (Corsican pork), Genoa salami, pickled red onion and tomato with Pecorino Romano for a sharp edge on ciabatta. A generous, well-dressed salad of greens, apple, avocado, jicama and pine nuts on the side builds a big lunch. Beans, greens, spices and other products are as organic and local as possible.

The Simply Delicious club layers turkey, capicola, Applewood smoked bacon, Swiss, Provolone, tomato and romaine with slathers of mayo and Dijon on sourdough. The hearty stack satisfies. The balsamic-glazed Portobello is upgraded with grilled eggplant, plus smoked onion, poblanos, roasted red pepper, pesto mayo and romaine on brioche. Boost the protein with a cup of soup, especially when the creamy quinoa—veg-filled tomato broth with garbanzo beans and pumpkin seeds—is on offer. Half sizes of sandwiches and salads are an option, and the extensive array of add-ons, ranging from cumin crusted chicken to balsamic glazed grilled steak, makes a meal of greens.

There are 60-plus years of experience cooking at Café Daily Fare, and it shows. What some may not know is the eatery has a secret menu on occasion.  Seasons stimulate the staff, especially as far as soups and stews, so ask. You might be rewarded with a fun and flavorful soup flight.

Community drives Flagstaff, and McCulla pitches in enthusiastically with other restaurateurs for events such as Arizona Breweries & Veterans, Arizona Cancer Society, United Way and more. Interestingly, McCulla’s caring cuisine has sparked generosity and legacy from guests in return. One sent jelly made from her Wisconsin garden. Others with no children have passed on treasured family recipes to the chef.

What began for McCulla as an avenue for funds grew into a passionate business nourishing her artistic expression through food. She reads her sauce book regularly, even taking it on vacation to browse yet again.  Still, cooking is about pleasing her guests.

“Our town has a great mix of people:  college students, cowboys and ranchers, locals and tourists,” McCulla said. “I love a newcomer in our café—I’m happy to serve them wonderful food.” NAMLM

Café Daily Fare is located at 408 W. Historic Route 66 and is open Monday-Saturday 11a.m.-4 p.m.

Pub Essentials Fine company, good grub, raising a glass

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, March 2019

Written by Gail G. Collins

When it comes St. Paddy’s Day, everyone claims a bit of Irish, even if it’s simply a wearing ‘o the green and a proper toast:  “May your right hand always be stretched out in friendship and never in want.” Filling your cup is truly a Gaelic matter though, so let’s travel a wee bit of Great Britain’s whiskey trail.

Scotch whiskey hails from five regions in Scotland and is aged a minimum of three years in oak barrels. Single malt is made solely from malted barley, while single grain adds another grain to the mash. Each is produced at a single distillery. Two or more single malts from different distilleries create a blended malt, and a similar ratio of grains designates a blended grain. A blended whiskey, however, mixes malts and grains, and constitutes the majority of such spirits. Scotch is distilled twice, while Irish whiskey is distilled thrice. Both make a worthy whiskey.

Uptown Pubhouse in downtown Flagstaff has long encouraged raising a glass of whiskey with friends. It opened in 1993 as Uptown Billiards with pool tables and an extensive beer selection. Later, it began serving spirits, especially whiskey.

Today, owner James Jay stands behind the copper-topped bar and offers suggestions. He prefers 10-year Ardbeg Uigeadail when it’s cold.

“It’s peatiness is like an earthworm crawling in the soil, loamy,” he said. “It’s especially good with our Guinness stew.” Sirloin ends are slowly simmered in broth and Guinness with onions, carrots, turnips, parsnips, and potatoes and served with dinner rolls to mop up every drop.

Jay’s 15-year vision was not merely a bar, but an Irish pub that “would offer food anyone can feel comfortable with while enjoying the social component—no need to bounce from spot to spot.” Nearly two years ago, Paddy’s Grill opened to fill the bill. Order at the window with pager alerts for pick-up. 

Chef Nick Clark launched the menu.

“It’s a simple pub with a little of everything for everybody,” he said. His aim includes quality fare in a tight turnaround for diners.

The true test of a pub is its fish and chips. Clark’s batter is lightened with Smithwick’s Irish ale and seasoned with garlic, ginger and onion. Four hearty hunks of haddock—a British standard—come with chips (fries) in a newsprint-lined red basket, reminiscent of British vendors, who serve the street food in a newspaper cornet. Douse liberally with malt vinegar, a spritz of lemon and tartar sauce.

Padddy’s Reuben stacks tender, shaved slices on toasted, farmhouse-thick, marbled rye. In preparation, the corned beef is marinated in Guinness and cured for up to two days with mustard, juniper, allspice and peppercorns. The choice of sandwich sides includes fries, tater tots or beer-battered onion rings.

Paddy’s popular appetizers are built on fries. The curried fries are slathered with classic, golden curry gravy plus a parsley sprinkle. Dig in. They’re also vegan, like the Impossible™ Burger, made with heme and utilizing fermentation to achieve a browned, ground-round effect. For a bigger bite, try the barbacoa, slow-cooked with orange juice, ancho chili paste, oregano and more. The shredded heaven is heaped on cheesy fries or tater tots and capped with sour cream, avocado, jalapeños and salsa verde.

For an ooey-gooey close, choose the deep dish, chocolate chip cookie, served in a skillet with ice cream and chocolate sauce. It’s enough for two.

This traditional pub offers authentic grub for St. Paddy’s Day, too. Corned beef and cabbage with potatoes and carrots are available while supplies last.

“It’s popular, and we sold out entirely last year,” said Clark.

An Irish pub is a connection spot, and Uptown creates opportunities to do just that. Sundays offer Celtic music jams, the Literary Society meets on Mondays with books to lend, and Wednesdays are Trivia Nights.

Six billiard tables form the pub’s central corridor with flags bearing coats of arms. It’s not fancy, but it promises fun, as if the memory of good times lingers in the air, beckoning. A handful of regulars recognized that a dozen years ago. A snowstorm had blown through, and they warmed themselves at the bar. Aloud they mused at the number of whiskeys behind the bar and how long it would take to taste them all.

“I guessed we had about 70,” said Jay, “and I began keeping track of their trials on napkins behind the bar.”

It’s still recorded on paper, but Uptown has over a thousand earnest sippers working their way through the bottles now. Upon completion, they will join honorees on Uptown’s Scotch Wall.

Clark’s favorite whiskey is Hell-Cat Maggie, an Irish spirit, of course, which also rotates as amongst the specials.

“Join me in a glass,” he suggested, “or better yet, buy me one.” Sláinte! NAMLM

Tradition & Elegance: Dining on the Rim

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, February 2019

Written by Gail G. Collins

The best things in life change little. They are honed by time and elements, yet their inherent value grows dearer. This is true of the Grand Canyon’s vistas and the fare served in El Tovar’s dining room, where the panorama from a coveted table may distract you from the favored French onion soup. The signature recipe has been served for nearly four decades. Though a typical room at the luxe lodge cost $4 per night when it opened in 1905, the standards have remained as high as the “perpendicular mile from rim to river,” as recorded in the primer on El Tovar in Princeton University Library’s Collection of Western Americana.

El Tovar captivates guests with a grand entry. Its dark timber, Native American rugs and art with an array of wildlife on display matches the natural grandeur of its perch on canyon’s edge.

“The Grand Canyon is the destination of a lifetime,” said executive chef Matthew McTigue. “El Tovar is on par with that.”

McTigue interned in the kitchen before graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in 1995, and the job hasn’t lost its allure. While it’s challenging to recruit to a remote locale, a dedicated staff has built a life there with careers clocking 20 to 40 years. Thomas Ratz has served guests for 38 years. His affection for the park extended to stenciling red deer on the dining room walls, redolent of pictographs on Bright Angel Trail, and collecting Fred Harvey memorabilia. Harvey, El Tovar’s founder, was a talented visionary, who fulfilled the need for quality hotels and service for weary travelers heading West.

“We are like a family,” McTigue said. “People have raised their kids here.” This tight community inhabits homes listed on the historic register and some walk to work.

The Grand Canyon attracts an international crowd, and El Tovar’s menu reflects a comparable Continental cuisine with a southwest streak. It is classic, yet seasoned.

Tamales are made in-house with tender, seasoned shreds of beef or pork chili and served with chipotle crema. Savory scallops float on mango puree with prickly pear syrup balancing a raw, lively pineapple-jicama slaw. Soup de jour invites ladling in the bacon-corn chowder, hearty with chunky potato and queso fresco or the heritage onion with sweet ribbons swimming in robust broth. “It is deceptively simple,” admitted McTigue. The recipe can even be found on tea towels for sale in the gift shop.

The crab stack is the chef’s creation piling lump meat with avocado and tomato plus cumin and cilantro olive oil and topped with hand battered onion rings. The house salad boasts shredded jicama, goat cheese, berries, tomatoes and pine nuts for a gorgeous beginning to any meal. Spinach salad with gorgonzola, bacon and fried shallots on a wheel of Granny Smith apples and endive leaves creates a complex flavor profile. Try the lively salmon tostado, layered with mixed greens, roasted corn salsa and crema with a side of black beans and rice.

The New York strip is Arizona grown and crusted in a coffee-cumin rub with a demi-glace crafted of New Belgium’s 1554 black lager and a side of pepper-jack potato wedges. The mixed grill includes filet mignon, semi-boneless quail and poached shrimp with brown butter mashed potatoes to fill a belly decadently. The seabass is moist with a roasted tomato and fennel sauce plus sprightly sweety drop peppers and bright snap peas. Cauliflower puree with saffron adds velvety appeal.

An extensive list of mostly domestic wines and some local brews are available to accompany the meal. To close, seriously sweet choices, such as fruit sabayon, a chocolate mousse taco, flourless chocolate cake with crème anglaise and strawberry sauce and seasonal crème brûlée, tempt diners.

“We want to serve people and make them happy,” said McTigue. “We are the entrance to the experience at the Grand Canyon.”

Like the eternal canyon, meals are served on timeless Mimbreño china. Crafted by architect Mary Colter with Native American-inspired images in black and grey, the china mimics that used on the Santa Fe Railway, which brought guests to El Tovar. On a busy day, the restaurant serves 500 guests, and it’s usually busy.

“The atmosphere at the Grand Canyon is something to admire every day,” said McTigue. “We see it fresh through others’ eyes.” That includes an impressive guest list, such as Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and celebrities, like Nicholas Cage, Al Pacino, Will Smith and Ron Howard. McTigue reminded, “Still, we are all made small by the Grand Canyon.”

The chef’s stellar advice:  After dinner, go out and look up at the night sky, where the stars seem brighter and closer than elsewhere. “It’s the best show on the planet.” NAMLM

Bona fide Butchery: Proper Meats + Provisions

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, January 2019

Written by Gail G. Collins

The Shambles is the oldest street in York. Its name descends from an archaic word meaning slaughterhouse. The market of butcher stalls is mentioned in The Domesday Book of William the Conqueror, an 11th-century grand survey of England. Soon after, the Butchers Guild, a professional organization, who held sway in matters of hygiene, weights and measures and so on, formed to oversee the trade.

Fast forward in history to 1865, when Chicago’s meatpacking industry utilized a vast network of railways, and few decades later, the advent of reliable refrigeration generated potential. In the 50s, neighborhood butchers promoted their offerings with recipe booklets, such as A Medley of Meat Recipes. In those days, a shopper popped into the green grocer for fresh produce and the fish monger for today’s catch, but the butcher often suggested supper. Cleaver in hand, he would point out specialty cuts and how to prepare them.

This golden period—captured in ambience and action—still exists at Proper Meats + Provisions, newly relocated on Route 66. Chunky, custom, butcher block tables meet leather benches with their backs fastened by leather pulls against rough paneled wainscoting. Chalkboards advertise the menu choices. Iron shelving contains practical goods for dining plus items for sale—olive oils, fresh pasta, cutting boards or cast iron pans. Kim Duncan Design fashioned the vintage air.

Behind a long glass case, filled with sausages, steaks and unique offerings, Joe Fiandach stands ready to provide advice on locally-sourced animals with a sure pedigree.

“The goal is to buy meat, like wine, from single farms,” said owner Paul Moir. “We have three sources in the case today:  Arizona Legacy from Humboldt, Pierre’s Prime from Rimrock and Creekstone Farms out of Kansas.”

Award-winning restaurateurs Paul and Laura Moir also founded Brix and Criollo Latin Kitchen in Flagstaff, and originally opened Proper Meats in Southside in 2014. Now occupying the former Grand Canyon Café space, the new location expanded the shop in multiple ways.

“It gave us opportunities to spread out the kitchen space for production and preparation and include a new seafood case with wider selections,” said Paul. “It also provided more space for retail and expanded hours.” Meal options, like a bucket of fried chicken, homemade stock or Bolognese, sausages or charcuterie and more, are prepackaged in a case for easy access. Even Fido can benefit from homemade dog food.

Proper Meats drives to Perkinsville to pick up animals each week. “There is no place that delivers whole animals to your door,” said Paul. Processing the whole animal from nose to tail yields by-products, such as lard, tallow, soup bones and organ meat. Nothing is wasted at Proper. Still, a pig only has two bellies, which doesn’t near the numbers needed for Saturday sales of bacon. Two briskets won’t fulfill a day’s order of sandwiches either, so certain cut are supplemented.

There is an educational component to shopping a neighborhood butcher like Proper Meats. Pierre’s Prime Beef is dry-aged for 25-30 days. The grass-fed and grain finished meat is darker with a gamier, concentrated flavor. Arizona Legacy Beef’s Criollo cattle are lean. Paul advises basting the ribeye with butter before cooking it in cast iron.  “It’s about keeping expectations in line with new products and techniques,” he said. Sausages blister on the grill and flame, so poach them first, then finish them off.

“The sandwiches are ridiculously big,” said Paul, “because that’s what I want to eat.” The fried chicken po’boy is piled high with house-made smoked andouille, slaw and spicy remoulade made with guajillo chili. It’s as good as it gets outside of New Orleans. Sweet and spicy wings on mizuna greens go Asian dressed with roasted garlic and toasted sesame. The PMP cheesesteak is shaved, tender roast beef with triple peppers, onions and provolone on a hoagie. The pastrami is the best-seller for a reason. It’s an eight-day process of brining, smoking and steaming the higher fat, flavorful briskets. A peppery stack of meat with Swiss on grilled bread makes for a melty meld with fries and a pickle spear.

The charcuterie board varies; this day with prosciutto, fennel salami, house capicola—a Corsican cold cut—three cheeses, including barely Buzzed coffee-rubbed cheese, sourdough toasts, pickled peppers and onions, honeyed apricots and figs plus wholegrain beer mustard. Toss back a local beer or sip an Arizona wine for the perfect indulgence.

 “Keep an open mind—try new cuts and take the butcher’s advice on how to cook an imaginative recipe with specialty cuts,” said Paul. Benefit from higher quality meats or learn about value cuts that aren’t available in supermarkets. Either way, a better dinner is served with choices from Proper Meats + Provisions. NAMLM

Proper Meat + Provisions, 110 E. Route 66, is open daily 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Che Ah Chi: Indigenous ingredients cultivate a distinctive seasonal menu

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, November 2018

Written by Gail G. Collins

When people talk of local sourcing and sustainable farming, the discussion usually centers on modern methods. What about the indigenous produce of Arizona? Foods, such as prickly pear, have been found in the wild and utilized for their abundance for more than 1,000 years before conventional agriculture became an important industry in the state. Native American tribes of the Southwest established traditional dry farming techniques, growing corn in an arid setting with minimal water.

Native cuisine focuses on foods yielded from what, at first glance, often seems an unforgiving landscape. Beans, corn and squash are considered the “three sisters” and used in numerous flavorful dishes. The list also includes cholla buds; mesquite pods, which can be milled into flour; chiltepin peppers to fire up salsa, and more. The high desert landscape boasts a nutritious and distinct terrain that can’t be replicated.

Executive chef Jose Martinez at Enchantment Resort in Sedona agreed, “Che Ah Chi is our signature restaurant as far as food and service, but our use of Native American ingredients sets it apart. The history of the canyon and use of tribal, locally grown and wild produce contributes to the majority of our seasonal menus.” An example is the golden gazpacho, which incorporates amaranth, an ancient grain that pops when exposed to heat.

Che Ah Chi is the Apache name for Boynton Canyon, where the ruddy, adobe resort nestles among the red rocks. The 70-acre terraced property hosts 218 guest rooms with private decks providing panoramic views. Outdoor pursuits are as boundless as the renowned backdrop, while world class spa Mii Amo—meaning “the path forward”—offers life affirming recovery and healthy indulgence. Three dining options are located in the central clubhouse. View 180offers drinks and light fare, Tii Gavo serves casual Southwest recipes, and Che Ah Chi delivers sophisticated dining for breakfast and dinner with an award-wining wine list of uncommon options.

Natural and native elements pervade the clubhouse in rustic planking, stone, plastered walls and brick. A wall of windows invites a timeless and seamless experience with the outdoors.

Chef Jose evolved from a food-centered family, whether it was catering cakes or working in his father’s celebrated Crab House, in his native Puerto Rico. He completed education at two culinary schools, landing in Florida. Martinez gained invaluable experience in his decade at PGA National Resort and Spa, mentoring the executive chef, whom he followed to the Arizona Biltmore.

“That’s where my love for Arizona developed and the job broadened my managerial experience.”

Continue reading “Che Ah Chi: Indigenous ingredients cultivate a distinctive seasonal menu”

Haunted History

Connecting with Jerome’s Rowdy Past

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, October 2018

Written by Gail G. Collins

As I climbed the steep, narrow, winding staircase of abandoned Mingus Union High School, a cool, but gentle, hand languidly brushed across my forehead. The hairs on my neck prickled, and my brows rose in wonder. I was not physically alone on the staircase, but neither was anyone within reach of me. The stairs brought me from the teachers’ dormitory to the main floor of the gymnasium where I stopped to consider what had just happened. The people ahead of me and behind continued upward without a care. Gooseflesh rose on my arms, as I recounted my ghostly encounter to the guide from Ghost Town Tours. Deadpan, he pointed out that the boys do love a pretty lady.

In the 1920s, the building was constructed to serve as Jerome’s new hospital, but it became the center for education for mining families. Today, the deserted property registers electromagnetic energy instead of students with activity spikes recorded in the boys’ shower and the whiff of cigarette smoke present in the girls’ area. My mind was open to things that defied explanation, but I wasn’t a ghost hunter.

A glance around present-day Jerome easily inspires imagination of the town it was during the mining boom of the early 20th century. Its history leaps from original buildings like the Jerome Grand Hotel, derelict mining sites or a worn, painted sign that reads House of Joy, reminiscent of a rampant prostitution business. With the season of spooks upon us, it’s easy to be carried off by ghostly tales. Still, there is a rich and ribald past, which is recorded or waiting to be explored on the zig-zagging streets of this precariously perched town. Does a residual of characters remain?

Mining History

Originally, the Verde Valley was farmed by the Hohokam people, but Jerome has long been a place of mining. Whether it was those early tribes in search of ore for pigments, the Spanish conquistadors seeking gold or the two veins of copper that earned Arizona its nickname, the Copper State, the site suggested shiny value.

In 1876, the first mining claims were staked on two mounds that later would be called Cleopatra Hill and Woodchute Mountain. The result of tectonic plates pushing an ancient, undersea volcanic caldera upwards revealed two of the wealthiest ore deposits ever found, worth more than $1 billion. The stakes were purchased a few years later and organized as the United Verde Copper Company and bankrolled by Eastern financiers, including Eugene Jerome. A small mining camp began on Cleopatra Hill and was dubbed Jerome to honor him. Eugene Jerome was a relative of Jennie Jerome, mother of Sir Winston Churchill.

A few years later, the mine closed and was purchased by William A. Clark, whose successes in Montana mining carried over to assemble a profitable business venture in Jerome. He enlarged the smelter and built a narrow gauge railway. The company expanded to become the leading copper producer in the Arizona Territory, extricating nearly 33 million tons of copper along with zinc, lead, silver and gold.

Continue reading “Haunted History”

Bandera Craft Tacos

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, October 2018

Written by Gail G. Collins

As drinkers down tequila, Mexico’s raises production, which is expected to reach 290 million liters this year. Agave syrup and a newfound embrace of mescal—on par with world-class scotch or cognac—have upped the demand for agave overall. This is a boon, but it is at odds with an artisanal product that takes long years to cultivate.

The demand is global and labor intensive legacy farming strains to respond. Outside corporate agronomics enters the market, disrupting village practices. Fast cash tempts farmers, too. Some harvest plants early and others overharvest and risk ongoing pollination by the long-nosed bat, while cloned plant farms are susceptible to disease. All of these unsustainable practices threaten a fragile ecosystem and the trade itself.

Is there an agave crisis? Organizations, like the Tequila Interchange Project, believe so and advocate the preservation of ecological, traditional and quality practices in the agave distilled spirits industry.

Continue reading “Bandera Craft Tacos”