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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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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Matters of Taste:  Cornish Pasty Co.

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, December 2021

Photos and Story by Gail G. Collins

Mining is a risky and challenging occupation. It also becomes the lifeblood of towns or regions creating legacy employment. In the 1200s, Cornwall England’s men mined tin, and their wives and mothers fed them well. They packed lunchboxes with a meat and vegetable pastry — called a pasty (pah-stee) — crimping the edges to seal it. The nourishing handholds contained a savory and sweet filling on either end with an initial to mark the difference. The miners were covered in arsenic, so the crimped edge provided a safe handle and was discarded afterward, but not wasted. Those edges kept the “knockers” or ghosts of the mines away.

Growing up in Saltash Cornwall, Dean Thomas consumed pasties five days a week, and on Fridays, his Nan (grandmother) indulged him. Pasties are filling and portable, so have retained their appeal. That said, some things can be improved upon, and Thomas set about doing so in 2005.

With formal culinary training and a decade of U.S. experience, he opened the Cornish Pasty Co. in 2005. Showcasing the classic pasty, the Oggie, he found success from the start. Thomas grew the menu for choice-loving Americans, expanding the brand with five Phoenix-area locations along with restaurants in Flagstaff, Las Vegas and Boston.

The brand champions consistent, superior ingredients and employee-to-partnership careers. Ryan Hays is the Flagstaff example. With an industry background, he began working for Thomas 11 years ago, advancing from server to manager to owner. Workers learn the ropes, respect the brand and are rewarded with company investment.

“Longtime employees keep up the pride and values in prepping the food, and that quality translates to customers,” said Hays of the Flagstaff shop, which opened in 2017.

Word-of-mouth advertising garners local trust and regulars, who Hays credits with keeping the lights on. Name recognition aids the tourist trade and a good measure of hospitality industry referrals.

The scratch kitchen makes dressings, soups, gravies, pastry and bread daily. Meats are roasted in-house.

“The only things in our freezer are ice cream and peas,” Hays joked.

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Matter of Taste: Forêt FLG brings easy French to Flagstaff

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, November 2021

Written by Gail G. Collins

Consider French cuisine — rich butter and cream seduces us. 

Yet, one can’t help but admire the trim figures of the fashionable French, who dine on it. It might seem contradictory until we examine their habits.

First, there is the lack of snacks. Grazing like un lapin (a rabbit) is discouraged, even for children, and eating while moving — grabbing a burger at a drive-through and the theatrics to pull off the consumption — is strictly non non. Also, though flaky croissants beckon, they are not a daily indulgence.

The larger meal is lunch, enjoyed at a leisurely pace, balanced with a light, late supper. Occasional fine dining is savored in courses with companionable lingering, and portions are half of America’s platters. Desserts contain has less sugar — perhaps even yogurt or cheese — but fats fulfill the satiation factor and flavor. So, while the French invented culinary techniques, such as poaching, flambéing, and braising, their appreciative habits are as understated and tailored as the Dior label.

Such are the aims of Forêt FLG’s owner-chef, Sam Greenhalgh. Free-range eggs, European butter and 18-month-cured jambon are the French framework of his recipes.

“There is room in this town to offer a healthy, fresh, bright breakfast,” he said, adding, “Diners can finish their portion and feel satisfied, not need a nap.”

His business partner and mother, Natasha Greenhalgh, always knew they would open something together. Located in the former Stronghold Coffee Café just off Beaver Street, the space caters to breakfast and lunch. Greenhalgh was welcomed by the neighborly competition, who appreciate another choice for eggs and coffee.

Refreshing the café in the historic Anderson Feed Building was a family affair. Greenhalgh’s uncle and father contributed long days, muscle and woodshop skills for a soft opening in early August. Preserving the character with painted concrete flooring, butcher block counters, art and greenery provide a pared back, light-filled locale. Smooth, upbeat vocals welcome guests.

“We don’t compromise on quality, but we won’t outprice locals,” Greenhalgh said. “A college student can come in a get a burrito and coffee without breaking the bank.”

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Matters of Taste: Aspen Deli a casual downtown favorite

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, October 2021

Photos and Story by Gail G. Collins

A sandwich — it’s a simple, portable handhold with all the necessary ingredients for a meal buttressed by bread. In other words, it’s the perfect luncheon invention. In fact, it was the brainchild of John Montagu, the 4th Ear of Sandwich, who crafted the phenomenon in order to eat and remain at the gaming table. The splendid creation bears his title.

There is an art to assembling this veritable feast between crusts. Bread is the canvas. It is also where art becomes architecture. Whether one prefers rustic ciabatta or a granary slice, the bread should be substantial, not sloppy — a foundation upon which to build. Spreading a condiment provides a barrier to mushiness or adds moisture. Next, cheese imparts strength as well as sharp, nutty or velvety appeal. Meat often showcases, and greens cap it off. The British Sandwich Association — now, there’s an organization worth its salt and pepper — actually crowns champion sandwich makers annually at the Sammies Awards.

Premium ingredients differentiate and drive customers to their favorite deli for the real deal. Aspen Deli utilizes Boar’s Head meats and cheeses to handcraft sandwiches on Village Baker breads, kitted out with homemade sides. Situated across from city hall in downtown Flagstaff, they draw a steady fan base with a casual approach and novel options.

“We mix it up to keep regulars coming in,” said co-owner Carlos Turrieta. His goals are, “Making people happy—their smiles—and exceeding their expectations.”

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Matters of Taste:  Red Curry Vegan Kitchen

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, September 2021

Story and photos by Gail G. Collins

In Thai culture, meals are a social occasion, and dishes are enjoyed family style — the more, the merrier. There aren’t courses, but choices from many categories served together. These include a variety of colorful stir-fries and fragrant curries, plus soup and pineapple or mango for dessert. A mix of sweet, salty, sour and spicy elements creates a satisfying supper.

Each October in Thailand, a vegetarian festival takes place over 10 days in tribute to Taoist belief barring meat consumption or harming animals in order to refine minds and bodies. The event fosters rich traditions and spiritual practices, but also challenges celebrants, clad in white for purity, to free the soul of wrong and cleanse the body as acts of devotion.

Memory of this joyful celebration pushed Chada Tirakul to fulfill her dream and open Red Curry Vegan Kitchen, her second Thai restaurant in Flagstaff.

“This was a beautiful time in Phuket, and personally, I eat vegan two to three times a week, but in September and October, I am a solid vegan,” she said.

The earnest business graduate grew up cooking with her father for family gatherings and worked as a student in a Thai restaurant, knowing down deep that one day she would open a restaurant of her own.

Tirakul ran herself ragged in the early years to make a success of Dara Thai before she trained up the next generation to take over the reins. After ventures in Taos and Santa Fe, her committed partner, Sasiya Stoneburger, joined her in launching Red Curry in early 2014, the first vegan eatery in Flagstaff. The aim of bringing authentic Thai food as vibrant, vegan fare “… whisk(s) you away to the streets and markets of Phuket,” just as Tirakul hoped.

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