Matters of Taste:  Brekkie phenomenon Over Easy serves up protein-packed power meals

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, January 2023

Written by Gail G. Collins

Any time is the right time for breakfast. Whether it’s in the wee hours of the morning with Greek yogurt and anti-oxidizing berries or a brunchy feast with protein-packed steak and eggs, our body eagerly awaits the energy to power us forward. Eating kick-starts our metabolism from snoozy to food-fueled thermogenesis to burn the food we consume. One small bite increases rhythmic contractions and gastric juices in the digestive tract, and it all happens involuntarily. Still, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t engage our brains to make the meal count. New Year, new you. Start with a wholesome breakfast.

In 2008, celebrated Chef Aaron May and Plated Project partners created a restaurant where they wanted to eat. “Nothing gimmicky,” May says. “I was craving good, old fashioned, scratch cooking.”

Over Easy opened in a repurposed Arcadia Taco Bell, and the fulfillment of breakfast-brunch fantasies took flight. The menu wowed Phoenix critics, and Food Network’s Guy Fieri of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives soon crowded the kitchen to learn May’s secret to red-eye gravy. The rest is an expanding story of outstanding eats and added locations.

The licensed franchise is an Arizona concept with 11 sites throughout the Valley with new spots in Gilbert, Mesa and Queen Creek plus four metro stops to come. Fortunately, Flagstaff made the list four years ago.

The brekkie phenom caught the attention of Food & Wine, Condé Nast Traveler, Sunset and USA Today with stints on foodie shows, such as Cooking Channel’s “Food Paradise” and Learning Channel’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate”.

According to partner Ryan Field, “Over Easy makes a bigger splash in smaller markets.” The secret? “We endeavor to create great experiences.”

With yolk yellow and aqua contrasting colors, it’s a light, bright space. A long bar with 50s-style barstools and a wall of windows welcomes guests—Good morning, Sunshine!

The idea is a Chicago diner-driven neighborhood place. “We wanted to duplicate the old school, hand-sliced bacon, crack-every-egg, creative, lively concept,” Field says, “a place where we would want to go.”

Continue readingMatters of Taste:  Brekkie phenomenon Over Easy serves up protein-packed power meals

Main Street Catering fulfills the most challenging event needs

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, December 20224

Story and Photos by Gail G. Collins

Why cater an event when so many restaurants offer meal services? Foremost, the adaptability of a full-service caterer is prepared for the inevitable challenges that arise. Their staff is experienced in the nuances of synchronizing guests’ needs as well as refilling the chafers. A comprehensive caterer also provides all that is needed for an event from the menu and the equipment to cook and serve food to all the dishes, linens, utensils and decorations. And lastly, they aren’t limited to a restaurant’s fare, but can address a variety of cuisines, settings and personal preferences.

Since 1988, Main Street Catering has been fulfilling event needs, ranging from family barbecues to whimsical weddings with gracious service and a down-to-earth take on formal dining. Their abilities extend to gourmet dinners for 20 to receptions for 300. Whether it’s buffet lines, food stations or butler-passed plates, their crew can bartend and provide the amenities that create effortless events.

On a fall day, a van arrived, loaded with storage tubs, milk crates, racks of glassware, water pitchers, coffee pumps, bread baskets, heating trays and lamps, vast groceries and much more in addition to all the elegant touches necessary for a impressive wedding day. Main Street Catering is on the scene, literally doing all the heavy lifting, set-up, cooking, serving and clean-up.

The owners are siblings with complementary skills. Partners Alexis Holle and Jyllian McIntire have worked alongside Stewart Holle to cater 100 events this year, where weddings built the bulk of business after COVID had put life on hold. In early 2021, the sisters took over the business from Dave McGraff, for whom they had worked over the years, so they were intimately familiar with the operations. In fact, it was one of Jyll’s first jobs.

“Dave gave us a great foundation to start with,” says Alexis. “We worked out the kinks and found room to grow.”

The gals enjoy the learning curve of stimulating activities, where a party is still a party, but no two are identical. At times, they stage away from kitchens and civilization, such as the Grand Canyon’s edge.

Continue readingMain Street Catering fulfills the most challenging event needs

Easy as pie: Flagstaff’s Pie Guy dishes up tips, tricks and sweet confections

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, November 2022

Story and photos by Gail G. Collins

Life is full of contradictions, but much less flush with splendid pies. Take the refrain “as American as apple pie;” it belies the pastry’s primitive, roaming roots. The Egyptians began pie craft, but it was the Romans, who penned the first recipe for rye-crusted goat cheese and honey pie.

Originally, pies were savory, often made of fowl with legs hanging over the edge for use as handles. By the 14th century, “pye” was a popular word in Europe.

Fruit tarts or pies eventually made the pages of cookbooks in England in the 1500s as Queen Elizabeth I happily tucked into an inaugural cherry pie. The English settlers then imported pie to America, but notably, these early crusts served merely as vessels. Made in rectangular forms, they were known as “coffyns”—divulging their desiccated function over flavor.

As the American Revolution cut ties with Britain, a more perfect union of states was formed alongside the desire for a more perfect crust.

Any pie worth its filling is fashioned within an alliance of a tender and flaky shell. Delicate, yet strong, the crust restrains the goodness, yet yields to the fork. Hands down today, the most popular pie is apple, so coming full circle, perhaps, the phrase rings true: As American as apple pie.

In 2019, more than 50 million Americans bought frozen pie crusts, and more than 40 million opted for the refrigerated product. The legacy of handcrafted pies is seriously at risk.

Continue readingEasy as pie: Flagstaff’s Pie Guy dishes up tips, tricks and sweet confections

SaltRock Southwest Kitchen Cocktail Pairing

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, October 2022

Story and Photos by Gail G. Collins

Cocktails have made a comeback in all the best ways, not serving merely as an aperatif or digestif. Today, there is no need to order wine with a meal when a classy cocktail pairs perfectly.

“Cocktails are complementary to cuisine,” agrees Ardi Dulaku, assistant director of food and beverage at SaltRock Southwest Kitchen. Cultivating locally inspired fresh ingredients, he adds, “Cocktails are a really good dance partner.”

Harmonizing flavor profiles is key with the choice to match or compliment qualities in a dish. Acidity in a drink can slice through fattiness while a beverage’s floral or herbaceous aspects can emphasize the savory or vegetal elements of food.

Also, consider crafting a cocktail around a base spirit the way a smoky mezcal embraces chocolate.

“In the Oaxacan Negroni, the mezcal is infused with cocoa nibs, which releases fat for a silky mouth feel, like mole,” Dulaku said.

Or focus on reinforcing an ingredient, such as apple. SaltRock juices a green apple over a guest’s selection of spirit with lemon oil on ice as a cool concept. “A green apple has the perfect structure of acid, sweet and fruitiness to balance any spirit,” Dulaku suggests.

Finally, stacking cuisine and cocktails ethnically also heightens the senses as a margarita echoes the generous squeeze of lime on tacos.

SaltRock Southwest Kitchen is the signature restaurant for Amara Resort and Spa in Sedona. Tucked along the banks of Oak Creek Canyon, the resort offers Southwest sophistication instilled within a modern interpretation of Sedona’s Native American heritage, embodied in its services, amenities and aesthetics. Consistently named one of the U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Hotels,” Amara offers 100 spacious guestrooms and suites that blend unique design elements with the landscape.

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A healthy getaway: The Hyatt Place Page/Lake Powell offers guests an active and delicious retreat from everyday life

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, September 2022

Story and photos by Gail G. Collins

Page is a humble place, which belies its centrality to desirable destinations. Despite its openhearted residents and vast, surreal beauty of Lake Powell, Page can be overlooked, even by Arizonans, who don’t boat. That’s a mistake.

An adventure in its own right for hiking and kayaking, touring an otherworldly slot canyon or simply taking in a fiery Arizona sunset, Page also famously claims the title, “Heart of the Grand Circle of National Parks.”

The Grand Circle includes Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Arches, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Mesa Verde, Petrified Forest, and Grand Canyon National Parks, covering the states of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. Two weeks minimum is recommended to appreciate them at one go. Camp in them, or better, seek upscale accommodation at Hyatt Place Page/Lake Powell as base camp. Seven of these parks are within two-plus hours’ drive.

Hyatt Place opened in 2018, thoughtfully evolving its distinctive brand there. Unlike other business-centric properties, this hybrid Hyatt caters to sightseers from California first, then locally and globally. In fact, an enormous, unexpected uptick of foreign guests booked a stay this summer. Typical of travelers, a Belgian guest ticked off his favorite sights over three days:  Horseshoe Bend, Glen Canyon Dam—intriguing his electrical background and touring Lake Powell by boat. Like most, next, he is off to Grand Canyon. His family enjoyed the warmth and accessibility Hyatt Place promotes.

The airy hotel is classy and modern in clean lines, stacked stone, black iron, dark neutral tones, chic patterns, thoughtful ornamentation with art highlighting the area’s attractions. Despite the two-story grand space, it is welcoming, drawing guests past a wall of windows to a grander view of the horizon. Intimate spaces allow privacy, while endless clutches of couches, dining tables and outdoor seating invite one to linger longer. And they do. Above the patio and lounge areas, flanked with cozy fire pits, a heated pool awaits a dip.

Hyatt Place contains 102 rooms over three floors, some with suite arrangements to seamlessly transition from work to play to rest. A meeting room presents a party space or place to host National Parks’ annual meeting. The Fitness Center will get your steps up. Better yet, get outdoors.

There are nearby family hikes to Hanging Gardens or Potato Hill. General Manager Nadia Santacruz says, “No need to drive, grab some water and go.”

Continue readingA healthy getaway: The Hyatt Place Page/Lake Powell offers guests an active and delicious retreat from everyday life

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.

Continue reading “Atria has entered the building: Long-awaited fine dining spot opens in Flagstaff”

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.

Continue reading “Matters of Taste: NiMarco’s Pizza”

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.

Continue reading “Matters of Taste: ShiftFLG Kitchen + Bar encourages culinary exploration”