NiMarco’s proves itself to be a true hometown pizzeria

Story and Photos by Gail G. Collins

In 2022, NiMarco’s celebrated 42 years in business. Making good pizza wouldn’t grow the venture; making the best pizza was the only option. Fresh, not frozen, dough, cheese grated daily, scratch sauce and of course, quality, creative toppings build their premium pizzas.

Their winning objective: To provide a great product with a smile and do so in a timely fashion.

Dough is critical to a good pie, and NiMarco’s makes it “Flagstaff-style,” a term coined to describe the thickness and texture that doesn’t easily fall into Italian regional categories. Daily, dough is mixed and kneaded.

NiMarco’s is particularly picky about cheese, sourcing an aged product and grating it fresh. “I’m paying someone hours each day to grate cheese,” says co-ower Dave Ledbetter, “but it makes all the difference—creamier, melts better and tastes best.”

The sauces are house-made from quality tomato products. In fact, Ledbetter visited the Modesto, California farms to see where his tomatoes are grown and packed.

Hands down, the most popular pie is the pepperoni pizza. The Popeye, jam-packed with a garlic butter base, piled high with spinach, Roma tomatoes, red onion, bacon and mozzarella is a top seller as well. South of the Border begins with green chili sauce, topped with jack, cheddar and mozz cheeses, jalapeños, black beans and fresh tomatoes to bridge the choice between Mexican and Italian for dinner. Monster meat is billed for the carnivore, loaded with the usual suspects plus handmade Italian sausage and ham. The homage pie, Gary’s Special, shoots the works with pepperoni, sausage, olives, onions, mushrooms and bell peppers.

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Satchmo’s struts their stuff winning Best BBQ and Catering

Best of Flagstaff 2022

Written by Gail G. Collins

Everyone knows what great barbecue tastes like, but only devoted pitmasters understand the balance of fuel, fire, fastidious poking and flavor that is required to elevate it. It also takes rubs, char, smoke, method and a little madness to craft meat that melts in your mouth.

A smoker is a delicate environment, affected by variables, such as humidity and temperatures. Critically, smoke is an ingredient, not a method of cooking where spice is crucial. And pros will tell you, it’s not in the numbers on a thermometer, but in the nudge and jiggle that define when the meat is just right.

From the dedication and skill required, it’s clear, barbecue is serious stuff.

“Aside from the coals, achieving the perfect smoke ring is affected by weather, humidity and more,” says Jamie Thousand, pitmaster and owner of Satchmo’s, winner of Best BBQ and Catering. Thousand is self-taught—and education earned in a fervent, backyard relationship with meat and grill. This led to competitions, pulling a trailer on the Phoenix BBQ circuit where he honed his smoke skills before opening Satchmo’s in 2009.

There is a whole Creole side to Satchmo’s as one might guess from the name attributed to the King of the Trumpet. The décor, from instruments and paintings, mounted on Mardi Gras-colored walls in deeper shades of mustard and plum, gives more than a nod to New Orleans jazz. Recipes honor the Holy Trinity—onions, bell peppers and celery—with a personal, style-enhancing gumbo, jambalaya and catfish.

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Meat that matters: Proper Meats + Provisions serves up award-winning deli sandwiches

Best of Flagstaff 2022

Story and Photo by Gail G. Collins

From a market of butcher stalls in the 11th century to the meat-packing industry in the late 1800s to the apron-clad neighborhood butcher, armed with a cleaver and advice on supper, meat has mattered. In the past, sourcing, sustenance and sustainability were not always considered, but together, they yield superior protein and products.

Such are the aims of Proper Meats + Provisions on Route 66 in making one heck of an award-winning deli sandwich.

“The sandwiches are ridiculously big,” says owner Paul Moir, “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 signature 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 sandwich list is long, including Ahi tuna salad, a daily sausage special and classics like a turkey club, Reuben and roast beef. Other options include a layered Cobb salad or loaded fries, BBQ chips or wings to nosh with a local brew.

The artful butcher offers specialty cuts of meat which can be traced back to the source and curated products not commonly found in big box stores.

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The Annex Cocktail Lounge pushes the envelope with their high-end drinks and unpretentious atmosphere

Best of Flagstaff 2022

Written by Gail G. Collins

The classic cocktail resurgence has been blooming like the floral note in Earl Gray-infused gin for the past 20 years. A stylish spirit with a dash of bitters and a twist, served in a sparkling glass is elegant and as attractive as the barkeep who suggested it.

As history repeats itself, gin is the rage again. And why not? There is no spirit with as storied a history.

Keeping it classy, James Bond drank a gin martini, while Gatsby, Bogart, FDR, WC Fields and Hemingway routinely turned to gin. Even the drinker’s rallying cry, “It’s five o’clock somewhere,” refers to gin.

Other elements add dimension to a drink, harmonizing flavors. Bitters, a blend of herbs and roots distilled in alcohol, perk up champagne cocktails, Manhattans, rum punches and more. Smoke, infusions, aging, fruit and heightened creativity all contribute to decoctions that harken back while pushing the envelope.

Looking for such “art in a glass?” Try Annex, winner of the Best Cocktail. Established in 2010, the playground has evolved into Northern Arizona’s premier cocktail lounge. Its speakeasy vibes are echoed in the smartly-attired bartender, tasking bottles from iron shelving and pouring behind a steel bar. Brick banquettes butting wood tables afford groups a place to gather. And parties can spill onto the enormous patio.

“We serve high-end cocktails in an unpretentious atmosphere.” Simply put, general manager Ryan Bailey says, “Annex is a neighborhood bar with the best cocktails in the state.”

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Atria’s open kitchen offers a new perspective on fine dining

Best of Flagstaff 2022

Story and Photos by Gail G. Collins

Our generation was raised on the interplay between TV celebrity chefs and the home-cooking experience. These chefs would enter our homes and, each night, demonstrate their culinary skills to us and millions of other viewers around the nation, and as a result, our kitchens occupy an important space in our homes. It’s no wonder that open restaurant kitchens would magnify this appeal. The chance to sit next to a kitchen of busy cooks, to see a meal flambé, to hear the sizzle of a hot pan and feel the dynamism of a team in action. We lean in. It lures us. They are on stage, and we are the engaged audience.

It was actually this camaraderie and energy that first attracted Rochelle Daniel to cooking at age 15. 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 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 last December.

“I swore I would never do an open kitchen,” says Chef Daniel. “The loud intensity of the kitchen should be hidden.” And of course, Atria hosts a grand bar, Chef’s Counter, which corners its open kitchen. With a laugh, she adds, “This kitchen can give guests a show without disturbing them—our staff is on stage.”

The vicarious chef reminds staff not to hustle too much—even as they keep preparation on track—because guests pick up on the anxiety and will feel the need to move on. Her focus for them is to “embrace and enjoy the moment.”

Daniel reflects, “We offer guests a little bit of grace and inspire them with attention to detail as they celebrate important moments in their lives.”

General manager Darva Fields, with a similar resume as Daniel, aims to elevate the service at Atria. Chef Maribel Silva, who attended school with Daniel and a team player since, and Chef Anthony Suazo comprise core staff and know how Daniel needs things done.

It’s all paid off with Best of Flagstaff wins for Best Fine Dining and Best New Restaurant for Atria.

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Main Street Catering fulfills the most challenging event needs

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, December 2022

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.

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Best of Flagstaff 2023

Rooted in resilience: Warner’s Nursery & Landscape perseveres in Best of Flag and in business

Written by Gail G. Collins

Digging in the dirt. The benefits and joys of putting plants into the ground are multi-fold. We exercise, we commune with nature, we nurture, we provide food for ourselves, birds or insects, we de-stress, and we grow personally.  Overall, gardening is a rejuvenating act.

Warner’s Nursery has been supplying quality plants to satisfy gardening dreams since 1970. “We’ve always been mostly a retail garden center,” said Misti Warner-Andersen. “In the beginning, my dad helped my grandma take over the nursery after he returned from Vietnam.”

The original nursery location in Page, run by Dorothy and Bill Warner, then moved to a spot on Highway 89A. When Butler Avenue was commercialized, Warner’s relocated to its current setting. Brothers Dugan and Fred Warner made a great team during the transitions, according to Misti, and still do, though they concentrate on residential and commercial landscape construction now.

When it came to building the Butler Avenue nursery, the brothers rejected the idea of a standard greenhouse. Instead, they focused on creating a unique backdrop, reminiscent of garden centers in England. Working with Nexus, they spearheaded production of the first airy, custom-built garden center in the U.S., a concept which was replicated many times over on the East Coast.

Of course, it is what you fill your garden center with that keeps customers coming. “I am tenacious about finding a good selection of hardy, quality plants especially for harsher environments, like Northern Arizona,” Misti said. And since the Crash of 2008, that has been difficult as many growers went out of business.  Despite this, she stressed, “We sell with integrity and good info. The most important thing is the right plant for the right homeowner—what will grow. We’re open about that—our reputation is important to us.”

Since the pandemic, the desire for plant types has shifted. Customers are more eager for perennials, vegetables, trees and shrubs, some of which are trickier to source. As a private garden center, Warner’s would be pushed to compete on price points with corporate box stores, yet they can impress homeowners with explicit knowledge of area growing conditions and can pass on their plant wisdom.

Warner’s staff are passionate plant people, brought under the wing by senior members, teaching one another what works best where. This makes growing a garden in a challenging environment more effective and enjoyable.

Resources are available as well. Misti, a third-generation operator, mom, businesswoman and outdoor enthusiast, writes a blog, called Planting it Forward, to help gardeners make the most of their efforts. Classes are also an option. The Houseplant Club offers classes, some with small fees to cover materials, but spotting guests a 20-percent plant discount. On Warner’s website, Gardening Week by Week suggests jobs to do around the yard, while gardening seminars and guides, such as Best Plants for Bees, round out topics of interest.

Warner’s is big on community. They contribute to local causes, like Climb for Cancer, Camp Colton and local schools, and they offer gratis hosting to non-profits for fundraising events, such as Big Brothers and Sisters. Outreach can be fun, too, especially when Warner’s sponsors a free Easter egg hunt or Fall Festival.

Family works well together at Warner’s and always has. A bit of trivia, Dot’s café is named for Misti’s grandmother, who launched the nursery.

For all of these reasons, Warner customers voted them Best Nursery and Garden Center. Misti said, “We’re really excited about winning Best Nursery. I’m so pleased with the team I have—their hard work day in and day out—and thankful to the community.” Regardless of a crash or COVID, business acumen and public support build success that never wavers, Misti offered gratefully. BofFLG