Dahl & Di Luca Ristorante Italiano celebrates 25 years

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, January 2021

Written by Gail G. Collins

Champagne luxe satin chairs surround cozy tables set with crisp, fine linens and sparkling stemware. Rough stone arches and pillars frame the setting while dark wood, gilded accents and bejeweled lighting suggest the timeless ambiance of a Tuscan trattoria. The syncopated swing of a jazz trio swirls amid guests’ subtle conversations, and Lisa Dahl breathes a thankful sigh. She is proud that “her baby”—Dahl & Di Luca Ristorante Italiano—grew up to be as lovely as she had imagined it 25 years ago.

Remarking on the transformation over time, the chef-owner said, “We had absolutely zero budget, but every time there was a little extra money in the bank, we did something to bring more beauty to the restaurant and the cuisine’s flavors.”

Dahl had left the Bay Area and everything she loved before planting an Italian restaurant on a corner in Sedona across the street from another Italian place. Nothing like head-to-heart competition. But the self-taught chef had a secret weapon—moxie—exhibited as courage, spirit and heart.

“It had to be Italian for multiple reasons,” Dahl said. “It was the ‘90s, and Italian was trending in spots one, two and three, but it was always my plan. Now, we’ve arrived at our silver anniversary, and although many things are bittersweet this year, we’re still commemorating all of the hearts and palates we’ve touched over the years.”

Dahl & Di Luca pioneered Sedona’s fine-dining scene and is celebrating that silver lining. Now through Jan. 30, a four-course, prix-fixe menu, priced from $65 per person, honors some of the most popular dishes over the years. The menu features an antipasti of the Caprese d’ Amore and Arancini, a primi of Ravioli Romana, an entrée choice of Vitello Picatta or Prawns Fiorentina, capped with a dessert duet of tiramisu and baby cannoli.

For pure pleasure, the star-studded jazz trio of vocalist Vismaya Hagelberg, bassist Theodore Sistrunk and pianist Ioannis Goudelis will entertain from 7-10 p.m.

Dahl feels an unspoken higher purpose to dining which also translates as community goodwill. As a result, Dahl Restaurant Group will be donating a generous percentage of anniversary sales to the Children and Family Services Center Foundation.

From the beginning, Dahl envisioned her cuisine signaling a shift in her own style—healthy, with a lighter flair to the traditional approach with a comfortable elegance. The restaurant’s affectionate nickname, D & D, embodies that image.

Dahl has refined the art of delicate, yet sophisticated, dishes, utilizing the highest quality purveyors, organically grown produce and wild-caught seafood.

“From a robust red to delicate lemon to cream sauces with a hint of truffle, there is balance in the meats, sustainable seafood and colorful plates,” Dahl said. “We have the freedom to grow the menu and work with the chefs to be innovative, while revering the classics.”

The Arancini are handmade risotto balls. Sweep the crispy morsel with a molten center of baby peas, spicy peppers and mozzarella through the signature sauce and allow all the sensory elements to collide.

New menu items also emerged in the New Year. The Chilean seabass is pure white, pan sautéed, topped with Gulf Rock shrimp scampi and served over primavera vegetables tossed in an orzo pilaf. The calamari steak is sautéed dore style accompanied by jumbo seared scallops with a white wine garlic, parsley and lemon sauce on angel hair pasta—reminiscent of abalone. Another show stopper is aragosta fra diavolo with chunks of Canadian lobster swimming in spicy Vodka sauce over tubular garganelli.

Dahl is a James Beard-featured chef and was named Arizona Top Chef in 2018 from the Arizona Restaurant Association’s Foodist Awards. With a strong commitment to excellence, the team consistently retains TripAdvisor’s fine dining spot. An expansive wine list, cataloging more than 1,000 bottles, supports the Wine Spectator’s Award for Excellence for the past 15 years. Alongside D & D, other Dahl dining successes include Cucina Rustica, Pisa Lisa, Mariposa Latin Inspired Grill and Butterfly Burger.

The soul longs for whiff of gala, so D & D encourages guests to strut their stuff with resort casual dress guidelines. Or dine more casually al fresco, where wrought iron and pavers coupled with statuary and columns form a classy courtyard.

“Our signature style at D & D is that the place gets better with age,” Dahl said. “It doesn’t venture from consistent quality, delicious food and upscale service.”

Old World charm meets modern romance. Come and celebrate, and then, come again. NAMLM

If you go

Visit www.dahlanddiluca.com for location details and reserve a table by calling 282-5219 or visit www.opentable.com/dahl-and-diluca-ristorante-italiano


Flagstaff Station Market Café pays homage to history with convenient and tasty food

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, December 2020

Written by Gail G. Collins

Repurposing is the process by which something of value is transformed. That definition describes the quick and clever conversion of an historic 1962 gas station to a retail coffee pit stop to its current collaboration of local goods at Flagstaff Station Market Café—a place where people can gather and linger.

After Late for the Train relocated, the coffee spot was honed and expanded to serve tourists on their way to the Grand Canyon, skiers looking for a bite and a beer, or neighbors, who can swing in to collect eggs, milk and bread.

“On the road to Snowbowl, everyone going to ski goes past us,” co-owner Frank Garrison said. “We can fuel your day or power your hike.”

The Station opened on Sept. 11 after a lightning speed gut and earnest DIY upgrade.

“It took four weeks to transform the space with dawn to dusk effort,” partner Jenn Cohen said. “Neighbors watched, cheered and checked on the progress—a welcome addition to a longtime neighborhood.”

Previously, the couple owned the Butterfly Garden Inn along State Route 89A. With affection for Flagstaff’s favorable climate, they moved with a comparable business idea in mind.

A large parking lot with a sprawling patio and deck invite customers to dash in for coffee and a pastry or lounge through lunch with a panini. The Station is dog-friendly and resides within walking or biking distance of thousands of homes.

The Station has not forgotten its roots. Metal art and menu choices are a nod to its original purpose as a filling station. Now, it fills guests with food and drink.

“Old timers remember when it was a gas station, and it has long been referred to as Flag Station,” Cohen said. “It was the most natural thing in the world to come full circle.”

Breakfast paninis are named for landmarks, like the Humphreys—scrambled farm fresh eggs with smoked Gouda cheese and applewood smoked bacon—or the San Francisco—truffle goat cheese, scrambled eggs, roasted red bell peppers and arugula. Hot lunch sandwiches reference area roads, like Route 66—Black Forest ham, caramelized onion jam, Gruyère cheese and baby arugula.

Rough-hewn wood booths, tables, painted concrete flooring, retro lighting with steel and wire accents feel comfortable while pops of deep red in the ceiling and trim enliven the space. Many local products are for sale, bridging the gap between souvenirs and staples: artisan postcards, books, honey, goat milk beauty notions, beer, wine and more. Most are created within a mile of The Station.

Half of the beers for sale are from Flagstaff with must-haves from other small breweries filling the gaps, such as Walter Station, a Phoenix brewing company located in a former firehouse.

The bakers begin at 3 a.m. to supply a dozen different morning sweets by 6 a.m., always with a gluten-free option among them. The Danishes are a consistent hit as are the croissants—enormous, yet light. The cheddar and onion biscuits hide savory pockets in every bite. Nearby residents of The Peaks, A Senior Living Community  often come by for their favorites.

As the previous shop focused on coffee for more than three decades, expectations are high for The Station. Garrison has been involved with coffee since he was 15 years old and a partnership with Matador Coffee Roasting has produced a special blend, labeled and bagged for The Station. The Brazilian Sul de Minos and Tanzanian Peaberry combo crafts a full-bodied cup of joe. Whole leaf blended teas from Matador also fulfill caffeine cravings.

“The quality and consistency is spot on. Once people try us, they’re happy,” Cohen said. “Customers move us to tears with their compliments.”

As far as food, Cohen conjures ingredients, while Garrison tailors recipes. The couples’ 14-year-old daughters drove the need to fashion the perfect chai, mixing spices, concentrating the liquid and adding a splash of agave syrup. Served hot or cold, add a shot to make it dirty.

Last highpoints include the waffle, which is gluten-, dairy- and sugar-free, yet rests on its Belgian bonafides. Made with almond flour and coconut sugar, it is topped with maple syrup or handmade whipped cream with organic vanilla syrup. The 180 panini with pesto Genovese, fresh tomatoes, turkey and provolone is melty marvelous.

At The Station Market Café, everything comes together in a sweet locale that encourages pop-in traffic, a family stop with the dog in tow or that per-chance date night. Just say, “Meet me at The Station.” NMLM

If you go:

Flagstaff Station Market Café is located at 1800 N. Fort Valley Rd. Stop by any day of the week between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. Visit www.flagstaffstation.com for more information.


Fratelli Pizza: Best Pizza

Best of Flagstaff December 2020

Written by Gail G. Collins

From the beginning, brothers Brent and Pete Schepper were all in and motivated to succeed in the pizza business. In 2002, they opened Fratelli Pizza in a 500-square-foot space that seated four and focused on the grab-n-go lunch crowd. Two slices from a 20-inch pie—which is still cut into six substantial pieces today—plus a drink cost $4.25. At first it was mainly service industry folk, like bartenders, servers and cooks, bound for work who swung by. The brothers also strolled the streets, offering free slices and catering to small businesses with limited staff restricted from stepping out for a bite.

In 2004, Fratelli Pizza expanded and moved to the former location of a Pizza Hut—the first in Arizona—and again three years later, to their current downtown location. Add the Fourth Street space, and three years ago, the Fort Valley Road spot, and their feat is multiplied.

It’s no wonder the local pizza shop has garnered the Best Pizza award each year since they began.

Brent Schepper spoke for the brothers. “It’s let us know we’re keeping standards fair and continuing to be a strong part of the Flagstaff community.” 

Of course that doesn’t mean he’s letting his guard down anytime soon, hoping to keep the title for many more years. Fratelli attributes its favor to high end ingredients like Wisconsin whole-milk mozzarella, house made sauce and dough topped with quality, cured meats.

Even during the pandemic, when supply issues caused prices on cheese and fine meats to spike, Schepper said, “We always strove to get the best and ours cost more—we pay that.” As far as handcrafted pizza, he qualified, “We’re still competitive.”

Despite the crashing waves of 2020, Fratelli righted its ship quickly, according to Schepper. With the take-out business at the forefront, a loyal customer base supported them in tandem with longtime fundraising efforts for schools and charities.

Respect is universal at Fratelli Pizza. The business moved to a minimum $15 per hour wage before the law required it.

“Employees had paid vacations 15 years ago and health insurance 12 or 13 years ago—always ahead of the game on state initiatives,” Schepper said.

That is reciprocated by pizza makers, staff and managers, who strive to create the best product with attention to preparation, cooking and customer service. Partnering with Door Dash offered the latest delivery option.

Pete brought the pizza experience to the mix, crafting recipes and building the menu, and with a little “dough” from their parents, Schepper said, “We were all in.”

They had good credit, but sometimes, no cash in the till to make change. The razor thin margins were a proving ground. Daily, the shop did not close until the phone stopped ringing.

Fratelli’s lunch special is $10 today, but as plate-filling as ever. The traditional pizzas sell best, like the Works with red sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni, Italian sausage, mushrooms, olives, onion and bell pepper, or the Margherita with red sauce, Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses, basil pesto, Roma tomatoes and garlic.

The specialty pizzas at Fratelli are truly unique. The best seller Route 66 pizza honors the Mother Road with BBQ sauce, mozzarella and cheddar cheeses, bacon, roasted Hatch green chilies and red peppers, grilled chicken and red onion. The Pesto Cashew pizza layers basil pesto with mozzarella, grilled chicken, roasted cashews, red onion, mushrooms and blue cheese crumbles.

“This one stands out—roasted cashews on the baking pizza release oil from the nuts and a pop of salt,” Schepper said. “We don’t see anything like it at the pizza shows.”

Guests can also grab a salad to get their veg on. Whether it is the Anti-Pasta medley of mixed spring greens, topped with genoa salami, ham, pepperoni, mozzarella, banana peppers, green olives, artichoke hearts and grape tomatoes or a simple garden salad of fresh greens, cucumbers, black olives, shredded carrots and tomatoes,  it is the ranch dressing that maintains a fervent following. Guests come with mason jars to see them through until their next fix.

“Pizza is simple—crust, sauce and cheese made right, and it’s all good,” Schepper said. “We’re grateful for the continued support and will continue to provide the best.” BESTofFLAG2020


Josephine’s Modern American Bistro a Flagstaff icon

Best of Flagstaff December 2020:  Best Fine Dining

Written by Gail G. Collins

Josephine’s Modern American Bistro sits on the hill in a Craftsman bungalow just above downtown. It is an icon as far as the building’s historic stature—built in 1911 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places—as is the restaurant, which has striven to offer classy, classic fare since 2002. Such diligence and happy patronage has earned Josephine’s the Best Fine Dining award.

Owners Tony Cosentino and wife Marlene, who manages the operations, shared, “We are honored and proud for the award. What makes us stand out is that we are owner-run; it is not just about business for us. We are and have been a part of the community for decades. We love Flagstaff and want to put our contribution into making it a special place.”

As the bistro is chef-owned, the menu of comfort foods with a fancy twist is forefront. Cosentino is notable in his own right, gathering experience as Executive Chef at Forest Highlands and L’Auberge Restaurant in Sedona before founding Josephine’s. Still, Cosentino, a Chef of the Year recipient, gives enormous credit to his chefs, Manny Ramirez and Ivan Fuentes, who total 15 years’ combined experience at Josephine’s. Remaining teachable and humble are their team strengths.

“Often you meet chefs, or for that manner, people in many professions, who think they know all there is to know. We are not afraid to step back and learn something new,” Cosentino said. “That gives us the ability to continue to improve.”

Improving on gold standards keeps their menu lively and engaging—the kitchen has offered a fried green tomato dish each summer for years. This past season, the chefs varied the prep to create pepita cornmeal fried green tomatoes with grilled panela cheese, pepita pesto and pickled red onions.

“This is a good example of how we keep things fresh,” Cosentino said. “We aren’t afraid to take an old restaurant standard item and change it up to improve on it.”

Southwestern influences are natural, too, and expected by tourists and locals alike.

A headline choice is the osso buco, a traditional Italian dish of braised pork shanks. The bistro puts a twist on the herbs and spices to showcase an achiote demi-glace served with sweet, green chili polenta for regional flare and a side of sautéed baby vegetables. A Lapis Luna Zinfandel is suggested for pairing.

Alongside popular menu items, seasonal showstoppers arrive with the harvest produce. Menus regularly reflect updates on favorite dishes or innovative new ideas, sometimes found on a trip to Mexico or a cruise in French Polynesia. 

Overall, Josephine’s menu is comfort-food driven. Many people have mouth-watering memories of meals that tug at the heartstrings, especially in the winter months. Perhaps that is why entrees like Diablo Shrimp Macaroni and Cheese with its seashell pasta in smoked Gouda sauce, topped with sun-dried tomatoes and pickled red onions and wild Mexican shrimp retains firm footing with diners. Cosentino recommends sipping a St. Francis Chardonnay.

The menu gently guides diners to perfect pairings with the bistro’s creative cuisine, but an extensive wine list broadens the choices. It has been featured on the Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence for years running.

The casual and comfortable bistro is open for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. Two fireplaces chase away the chill of wintery weather and add romantic ambiance. On warm days, the landscaped patio beckons. That garden space is set for expansion with new decking, pavers and more umbrellas to make the most of our elevated summers.

“Food and service are crucial in the fine dining experience, but the whole package includes the atmosphere, and our patio rocks it,” Cosentino said.

As others in the industry coped, Josephine’s also met the pandemic challenges with safety protocols and procedures, and the patio afforded pleasant, outdoor seating options.

Like the heritage home on the hill, Josephine’s Modern American Bistro appreciates the classics, but focuses excitedly forward.

“Whether it is in the kitchen or the front of the house,” Cosentino said, “we keep on top of our game to provide the full experience for our guests. It truly is the people working on our team who make the difference.” BESTofFLAG2020


Aloha Hawaiian BBQ: Authentic island fare

Best of Flagstaff December 2020:  Best Hole in the Wall/Late Night Snack

Written by Gail G. Collins

Hawaiian barbecue traditionally consists of marinated meat, sticky rice and macaroni salad. Its history is one of simply necessity. In the late 1800s, Hawaiian plantation workers paired rice with any available meat. This grab-and-go meal evolved into a standard plate lunch served at roadside stands and hole-in-the-wall joints around the island.

Recognizing a good thing, Aloha Hawaiian BBQ’s fans voted them the Best Late Night Snack and Hole in the Wall Restaurant.

“It’s pretty cool to win,” said General Manager Irene Lepulu. “We all work hard here from open to close, including the owner, Ben Tang, every day. It’s nice to be acknowledged by our customers.”

Chicken katsu is a popular dish. Crispy, juicy fried chicken crosses every international boundary, and a cutlet crusted with panko crumbs is perfect pairing with a variety of sides from creamy macaroni salad to dumplings to deep-fried macaroni and cheese. Other options include traditional musubi, a block of rice covered with nori, often with meat or vegetables added. Go Hawaiian with SPAM musubi.

Aloha BBQ’s mixed plate is a round-up of chicken, beef and short ribs. All meat is hand-cut and marinated in a teriyaki blend before grilling. The barbecue sauces are scratch-made, and the recipes are personal with a sweet edge. Basic flavors include brown sugar, soy sauce, garlic, ginger and onion, but on the islands, every stand has its own secret blend, as unique as a fingerprint. The Asian influences in flavor profiles and sticky rice are natural complements.

When you step into Aloha BBQ, you may be greeted with lilting rhythms and ukulele. It doesn’t stop there. Lepulu is Samoan, and other islanders, who work alongside her, lend an honest, warm island welcome along with authentic tastes.

During the pandemic, Aloha BBQ closed to dine-in guests for a spell before reopening with uniform protocols alongside most eateries in Flagstaff. Their lapse in industry business caused a roll-down effect, but Aloha BBQ is open later than other restaurants steering existing traffic happily in their direction.

People come back again and again to what they enjoy Lepulu said, “because it’s so good, different—a fusion between island and Asian food.”

Food for thought, literally, here are few reasons to hit up Aloha BBQ: It’s the closest you’re likely to come to Hawaii this year; the food is cheap as eats go; the meal plates will fill you up, and there are plenty of standard and island burgers and fries to round things out.

Like the islands from which the street food originates, you’ll find the menu tangy and sweet, colorful and fresh, fried and finger-licking, tempting and satisfying. Regulars are prone to post with gusto on Facebook, “I love you and your macaroni salad!” Aloha Hawaiian BBQ says, “Mahahlo.” BESTofFLAG2020


Stop by Mama Burger for Flagstaff’s Best Burger

Best of Flagstaff December 2020

Written by Gail G. Collins

When we nurture things, they grow. So it has been for Mama Burger, even during these difficult days. After a decade, crafting vintage and trendy burgers has earned them the patronage of neighbors, schools and the medical community. With a win in 2019, they have doubled down as the Best Burger in Flagstaff.

“It’s a good feeling,” owner Bernadette Chavez said. “This time, it solidifies everything. It’s a boost of confidence for us and the business and validation for all the blood, sweat and tears.”

Co-owner and husband Pete Schepper agrees as their two daughters follow in their footsteps, supporting the family business. The couple chalks up their success to an amazing crew, who run the day-to-day show, developing customer relationships with guests, advising on community contributions to school events and more.

Mama Burger brought on a new general manager, Ryan Boser, who has delivered with creative problem-solving. The pandemic demanded it, and crises are when innovators shine. As staff numbers fell and rose again, Boser built a team, meshing former employees with a new crew.

“It’s been tough navigating the past seven months,” Schepper said, “but Ryan helped us think through problems as they arose and devise solutions.”

For example, when the delivery truck backed into their drive-through sign board and voice box, Mama Burger was caught short. Boser brainstormed an outdoor menu board, gathered materials from Home Depot and helped construct it.

“It’s easy to say something doesn’t work, but it’s rare when people come to you with solutions,” Chavez said.

Under COVID-19, Mama Burger changed their entire sales format, transitioning from a 90-percent dine-in model to 100-percent drive-through. 

“What had been an after-thought—our drive-through—was now our priority,” Schepper said. Mama Burger has continued that strategy to keep employees safe.

Running the drive-through presented a challenge to service as far as speed. With one grill and one cook, they worked to become more fast and efficient.

“We have no warmer, and food is cooked fresh to order, and that takes time,” Chavez said, “but those who wait are rewarded with a great product.”

The namesake burger is the most popular menu item by far. Made with house sauce, lettuce, tomato, grilled onions, American cheese and pickles, it accounts for three-quarters of orders.

“The Mama Burger is a traditional throwback to diner days,” Schepper said. “Fresh meat smashed on a flat-top griddle—there’s nothing better.”

According to Schepper, that sandwich epitomizes Mama Burger’s nostalgia, located in an old building, where time seems to have stood still.

The MOAB, or Mutha’ Of All Burgers, is the runner-up. Built on a foundation of two patties, French fries are packed on, adding tomato, lettuce, grilled onions, green chilies, bacon, cheddar cheese, house sauce, pickles and jalapeños. No need to put down that mammoth stack of meat to stuff fries in your mouth.

The burgers are a bargain as handcrafted goods, ranging from less than $5 to $7.50 for the MOAB. One can fashion a niche burger as well, adding patties or swapping cheeses and sauces, like ranch or A-1, extra toppings like red onions or jalapeños, plus primo toppers like green chilies, guacamole, mushrooms or pineapple. The world is your burger.

There is also a local, plant-based patty or gooey grilled cheese for those who might be giving beef a break. Extra deals include creating a combo with fries or tots and a drink or trading up for a milkshake.

As for adapting, Mama Burger was born of inspired ideas. Brothers Brent and Pete Schepper own Fratelli Pizza, another Best of Flagstaff winner. As the pizza place expanded and moved, they ended up with an empty lease spot. Pete pitched the idea of a burger joint, and his wife leapt at the notion. Mama Burger opened with a bang, outgrew the original location and moved to bigger digs and expanded the menu. 

Their drive-through lane often snakes into the neighborhood, but no one minds. They love Mama B, as she is known around town.

“I got her into this,” Schepper said, “and Bernadette has done a fantastic job of making it her own success.” BESTofFLAG2020


Pato Thai offers authentic and comforting meals as this year’s Best Thai Restaurant

Best of Flagstaff December 2020

Written by Gail G. Collins

Thai culture treats every meal as a social occasion. Generally, dishes are ordered and shared family style—colorful stir fries and fragrant curries eaten in happy company. The meal does not contain courses as much as choices from many categories arriving all at once. These include a variety of meat and fish dishes, served with rice and noodles, plus egg soup and simple fruit, such as pineapple or mango, for dessert. Within these dishes, a mix of sweet, salty, sour and spicy elements balances out a satisfying meal.

In Flagstaff, we are spoiled for choice with authentic restaurants owned by Thai people.

Such is the case at Pato Thai, where a strong clientele has been keeping its door swinging for years. Customer input has a great deal to do with their specific recipes. They strive for authenticity, but stress each restaurant in town meets their customers’ tastes. It has earned Pato Thai this year’s award for Best Thai Restaurant.

Pato’s veggie wraps are enticing and eaten like sushi rolls. The vegetable Panang curry is available with any meat, seafood or tofu and incorporates bell pepper, green beans, peas and carrots in thick gravy made of chili paste, peanut sauce and coconut milk. The tom ka soup, or chicken galangal soup, is a reddish coconut broth with two kinds of fresh mushroom, tomatoes, lemon grass, lime juice, cilantro and choice of meat or tofu—lively on the spoon. The papaya salad is large with zingy sweet and hot flavors in a crisp, shredded mix of vegetables and green papaya with a shrimp atop. A favorite among regulars is the pineapple fried rice, adding sharp and sweet to sticky comfort food.

The atmosphere at Pato gives the impression of eating in a roadside stand with a row of worn, pastel doors as a backdrop along the wall. Tight tables remind guests of busy Asian food halls, but with current safety guidelines in place as necessary. Dark wood, pale paint and chandelier sparkles contrast for casual glitz.

Asian philosophy centers around good luck, and Pato has channeled that local love. It has also enjoyed the serendipity. In August 2008, as Paul McCartney and his girlfriend Nancy Shevell, now his wife, traveled the storied Mother Road in a 1989 blue Ford Bronco, they stopped over in Flagstaff. Like past celebrities, McCartney booked into the historic Monte Vista Hotel. Craving a curry, the pair popped into Pato Thai for a late bite. The low-key couple sought no attention, but the doors were locked, and a private party ensued. Special vegetarian dishes were prepared, and Pato Thai guests enjoyed an unforgettable evening. A small photo of the staff and McCartney plus a signed menu remind guests that hospitality is always the best gift. BESTofFLAG2020


Best Brewery—Mother Road Brewing

Best of Flagstaff December 2020

Written by Gail G. Collins

“Finding joy in the adventure” is the creed and winning strategy for Mother Road Brewing Company as they clinch Flagstaff’s Best Brewery award.

“We take a lot of care to hire talented and passionate people with values in line with our mission,” said Oliver Adams, director of people and culture. “This allows us to do what we do.”

What they do at Mother Road is brew distinguished beers and build community one pint at a time. The main component for both is beer. The goal, of course, is to make beer people want to drink, especially Arizonans.

Resisting the urge to produce niche recipes, Adams said, “The main rule is to brew what Arizonans enjoy drinking most and tailor that, modifying and improving those beers over time.”

Standouts include Tower Station IPA. Tower Station opened in 1936 to impart hospitality to parched motorists on Route 66. The fluffy head on this copper-tinged, unfiltered India Pale Ale imparts aromas of tangerine and pineapple with paired pilsner and pale malts to balance hops-generated grapefruit peel and pine on the finish. Nielsen rated Tower Station IPA #1 in Arizona.

Conserve and Protect Golden Ale highlights the brewery’s partnership with Arizona Game and Fish Department, donating a portion of the proceeds to help with on-the-ground conservation of more than 800 wildlife species. Beyond raising money, they are raising awareness that this critical work is done without any general fund tax dollars. Beer drinkers do not need to hunt or fish to help preserve and sustain our wild spaces—just tip back a can of clean, crisp, refreshing golden ale.

The golden ale was a change to Mother Road’s line. It was formerly a hybrid Kölsch style—part of their constant tweaking to provide the right process and product.

“We felt golden ale was a better recognized ale and improved the recipe,” Adams said. “When the beer does better, Game and Fish can see more success as well.”

First and foremost, Mother Road is a manufacturer and distributor of beer across the state through Hensley Beverage Company. The outfit has two locations: one brews and distributes product and the other functions as a taproom and patio. That requires two main teams of more than 25 employees to operate in a united effort.

“The original tap room had space limitations,” Adams said, “so we utilized the spaces for their respective strengths.”

The brewery and tap room always functioned as a free-flowing space, merging tables as people met and struck up conversations. That has been curtailed somewhat, but the hospitality of the crew and customers has not lagged at all.

“The times have forced us to silo parties unless specifically requested, but community finds a way, and it’s still lively,” Adams said.

The good news is the revamping and modernizing of the downtown site to increase its seating capacity. Renovations are scheduled to finish in early 2021.

During the pandemic, predicting who would be open and when or for how long presented ongoing challenges to the manufacturing and distribution end of the business. As Adams pointed out, 30 percent of the industry’s restaurants and bars are not expected to survive.

Mother Road Brewing, however, is thriving. People, who identify with their mission, bring it to life each day. Every brewer follows a set of processes, designed to brew consistent beer. The brewers weigh in and factor in improving it. A robust quality program with various lab equipment and trained sensory panels analyze different control points on the beer through the two-week process. Consistency is key.

As the story goes, on a dark stretch of highway, the Marquess family pondered their creed. The result? Mother Road resides along a lost portion of Steinbeck’s storied Route 66, symbolizing the journey they have made in their passion for beer, motoring and history.

Adams added, despite a tough year, “We’re still here brewing beer and will continue to do what we love to do.” BESTofFLAG2020

Mother Road is always looking for talented people to join their team. If interested, email: info@motherroadbeer.com. Or partner with Arizona Game and Fish to contribute directly at: www.azwildlifehero.com/join


Best New Restaurant—Grand Canyon Distillery + Brewing

Best of Flagstaff December 2020

Written by Gail G. Collins

When John Peasley returned to Arizona following a four-year stint in Hawaii where he was stationed with the military, he chose to settle in Williams, his former vacation spot. 

In 2007, Peasley opened Grand Canyon Brewing Company in the historic downtown, behind Cruiser’s Café. With a decade of success brewing in his 15-barrel copper tanks, he moved the production a few doors down to expand.

There, Peasley created a complex, housing a production facility, company offices, vacation rental property, cold storage warehouse and a distinct building for barrel aging and wild fermentation. The result was a 27,000-square-foot 40-barrel four-vessel “rustic pub,” according to Peasley, with 16 tap handles and enough production space to double the beer volume, meeting keen demand in Arizona and Nevada, and allowing him to explore global markets. The goal was set to double the volume again by this year.

In 2017, GCBC opened a distillery. A 250-gallon pot still produces standard, prickly pear and orange blossom vodkas, rum and gin with bourbon, whiskey and a single-malt whiskey for upcoming release.

GCBC “came home to Flagstaff,” in August 2019, Peasley said. After attending Northern Arizona University, it was the next logical location. Taking over the previous Trail Crest Brewery spot in Greentree Plaza on Milton Road, Peasley upped his game with a new menu geared to burgers, sandwiches, salads and flat breads. Such boldness won Grand Canyon Brewing + Distillery the award for Best New Restaurant.

“It’s been a roller coaster year to claim the title,” General Manager Kristin VanPelt said. “The team was all in and worked hard to achieve it. We look forward to involvement in the community and contributing to the city’s growth.”

The 10-year resident with extended hospitality experience said the brew pub is popular with local families and tourists.

The menu is beer-centric ingredient-wise and ideal for partnering with a brew. Guests rave about the Bavarian pretzel, designed for sharing and dipping in beer cheese and whole grain mustard. The bone-in chicken wings are dry-rubbed with regional herbs and ancho chili, smoked and finished in the fryer. Served with bourbon BBQ, Korean, and buffalo honey and garlic sauces on the side, there is no need to choose. A range of international bruschetta flavors beckon.

As a main, there are flatbreads, like BBQ chicken featuring pickled red onion and house BBQ sauce or shrimp with bacon, pineapple salsa and smoked Gouda cheese. A root salad with roasted beets and sweet potato vie against the southwest salad, featuring avocado and cotija cheese with a charred jalapeño Caesar dressing.

Specials, like a hand-cut ribeye with mashed potatoes and asparagus, are the handiwork of kitchen manager Shawn Burns. This ribs are smoked in-house.

“Shawn cares so much and is directly responsible for our success,” VanPelt said.

Peasley embraced a more modern approach to address the college clientele and extend broader appeal. The pub offers 26 brews on tap, shared between GCBC’s brand and other local beers and ciders.

From the U.S. Beer Open Championship to the High Mountain Beer Fest, Can Can Festival and Brewers Bowl—to name only a few competitions—GCBC measures up. A team of managers, brewers and sales representatives keeps the brand expanding.

Medals have been awarded in Olympic fashion for White Water and Expeditions Wheats, Sunset Amber and Black IPA to niche categories for Winter Bourbon Barrel Brown and Coffee Bean Stout, people’s choice Hop Bomber plus a gold and best in show for Direwolf. That’s the short list.

Like the team at Grand Canyon Brewing Company, who thrill to the outdoors, they encourage their beer lovers to live curiously, seek adventure and discover a Grand Canyon State of Mind through the enjoyment of its handcrafted brews.

“We treat you as if we were inviting you into our home,” VanPelt assured. BESTofFLAG2020


Verde Canyon Railroad’s Copper Spike Café emphasizes farm-to-table offerings

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, November 2020

Written by Gail G. Collins

As the train pushed forward and chuffed, the children squealed with glee and waved to those on the platform. Riders from 2 to 92 years old who have never lost their wonder are bound on a Magical Christmas Journey with the man in red himself, traveling on Santa’s magical tracks to the North Pole in Verde Canyon. Specialty treats, like cotton candy, funnel cakes and sugared nuts, add to the joy.

Verde Canyon Railroad has a reputation for providing exceptional adventures in a classy fashion only a ride on the rails can provide. In less than four hours, travelers pass through 110 years of history on “Arizona’s longest-running nature show.” Take an excursion to enjoy the fall foliage or toast Ales on Rails with Arizona craft beers and brats, or break out the binoculars for the Wild Splendor and Eagle Watch. Onboard, choose any one of four classes of comfort in meticulously restored cars pulled by powerful FP7 locomotives built for the Alaska Railroad in 1953. These iron horses received an update last year and now display the American bald eagle with distinctive glory.

The train’s heritage is intertwined, like its iron links, joining the past and present. In 1912, as Arizona became a state, the railroad hauled mining materials, but by 1953, a diverse mix of products and people road the train. In fact, its celebrated history includes transporting concrete from Clarkdale to build Glen Canyon Dam. Dave Durbano bought the line in 1988, and after his first ride through unspoiled wilderness, he proclaimed it a treasure and began an excursion service a couple of years later. Since then, 30 million passengers have traveled the Verde Canyon Railroad.

Still, no rail journey is complete without stylish food and drink. The Copper Spike Café provides quality meals both at the depot and on the train. Southwest favorites, daily specials and seasonal goods in hot and cold entrees suited to travel for lighter or heartier appetites are available.

Kitchen Manager Bri Lawton, a Cottonwood gal born and bred, has established connections with local growers. With 16 years of food experience and a powerful passion for change, she has revamped and upgraded the menu choices and resources.

“I’m a strong believer in farm-to-table and fresh food,” Lawton said. “Just because we’re a quick-paced café, doesn’t mean that our food can’t be bursting with flavor, beautiful to look at and healthy.”

Blazin’ M Ranch, a dormant chuckwagon dinner and show venue, leases its riparian environment to produce quality produce. Luke Hammond runs Liquid Life Farms there growing tomatoes, watermelon, squash, corn, spring greens and seasonal vegetables. Working along the same riverbed as the railroad, his farm stands sells out daily. Eric Kostecki of Sweet Greens Arizona grows 50 types of micro greens. These sprouted seedlings provide dense nutrition through vitamins, phytonutrients, living enzymes and antioxidants.

“That extra step in picking and planning goes a long way, and people can tell the difference between food that’s made with love and thought, versus food that’s simply assembled,” Lawton said.

The Copper Spike Grilled Cheese is not your granny’s recipe. Made with Swiss cheese, bacon, jalapeno and house made jam on thick-cut sourdough, the result is smoky sweet and melty marvelous. The Switchmen Turkey Sandwich handcrafts turkey breast, Provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion on marbled rye. The Smokestack Pulled Pork employs pork smoked in banana leaves to retain moisture, tossed in vinegary barbecue sauce and served on a brioche bun with coleslaw. The Roundhouse Salad blends local lettuce, arugula, broccoli and basil with Parmesan cheese, olives, turkey and pumpkin seeds, dressed with ranch or balsamic vinaigrette.

The menu remixes for Christmas, offering such items as the Sleigh Bell Wings or Tenders, Scrooge Gourmet Grilled Cheese plus some seasonal additions—Mistletoe Cranberry Chicken Salad Sandwich, St. Nick Monte Cristo Sandwich and Bah Humbug Steak Sandwich.

Add a caboose to your meal with a cocoa brownie, rich in chocolate with a mousse quality and strawberry whip to dip. Everything is prepared on site for consumption, serving 150 meals daily at the cafe and 200 trays on the train.

Verde Canyon Railroad continually improves its grounds, experience, venues and more annually. From Arizona author Roger Naylor’s baritone narration sharing insights on the platform, storyboards describing area history, John Bell’s Museum filled with legacy items, increased patio and beers on tap, artisan wares in an eclectic gift shop or the Copper Spike Cafe’s sourcing and menu, it’s about pleasing people. That’s why employees always wave off the train. Verde Canyon Railroad reminds their guests in so many ways: It’s always a good day when you’re on a train. NAMLM

If you go:

The Verde Canyon Railroad is located at 300 N. Broadway in Clarkdale. Visit www.verdecanyonrr.com for more information.