Brian Archibald Executive Chef Tapacubo, The Normal Diner Graduate Tempe graduatetempe.com/dining
With the arrival of the Graduate Tempe one of the prime properties around the Arizona State University campus will finally be used to its full potential. The new boutique hotel is one of the first to come from a new brand that's targeting city schools and their guests - potential students, alumni, visiting parents - by taking over older hotels and turning them into retro-chic accommodations. In this case, that means saying good-bye to the Twin Palms Hotel.
"It was in bad shape," says Graduate Tempe Executive Chef Brian Archibald. "The city was glad to have us take it over."
For Archibald, opening the hotel is also a sort of homecoming. The native Phoenician returned to the Valley about four months ago after spending a year living and working (and opening a different hotel) in Kansas City, Mo.
As the hotel's executive chef, Archibald oversees two dining outlets and a soon-to-open rooftop bar. In keeping with the company's community-focused theme, all three concepts play of ASU and Tempe history.
"There's just all these little things where it's not over the top Arizona State University or anything like that, it's more of the history," he says. "No flags or anything - there's plenty of that on Mill and that's not who we wanna be. But we want to have a distinct correlation to the school."
The Normal Diner, located on the east side of the hotel, was the first dining outlet to open earlier this year. In keeping with the building's past - until the Graduate took over it housed a 24-hour IHOP - the restaurant offers cuisine Archibald says is a mixture of East and West Coast diner fare.
The second restaurant, Tapacubo, opened recently too. With a name that means "hubcap," Tapacubo specializes in street food, as opposed to Mexican cuisine, according to the chef. For now, the menu is a concise selection of mostly Mexican-inspired eats, though Archibald says he'll be moving toward a more worldly menu as time goes on.
And since Tapacubo will also be serving poolside diners and the patrons of the third story bar, Archibald has come up with a unique way to do more volume: Tapacubo will host a schedule of guest food trucks through a specially-designed food truck window that opens directly into the dining room. Working with the Phoenix Street Food Coalition Archibald is working to host food trucks during peak hours several times a week.
Not only will this give Tapacubo diners more menu options, Archibald says, it will also help the restaurant accommodate even more guests.
As for the yet-to-be-named fourth floor bar, Archibald says the space will be a gathering place for hotel guests and neighborhood residents. There will be televisions to watch the game (if you're not going to Sun Devil Stadium) and great views of the campus and Tempe.
What are your favorite items on the menus?
I would say at The Normal my favorite item right now is probably actually the Green Bowl, which is our riff on acai puree. Basically we take fresh fruit - blueberries, acai puree berries that we bring in, a little bit of coconut water, honey, and cinnamon and then we puree that. And we do a little house-made flax seed granola and we put that over the top with some dried goji berries and shaved coconut. You know, really nice and healthy and clean. So that's actually what I probably eat the most here. And then if it was to tie anything else I'd say it'd probably be the hash that's on there. And unlike your usual shredded potato hash, we take Yukon potatoes, they're roasted and then it gets braised short rib -- cooked in guaijllo chile -- sauce. The short ribs, again, get like a one-day brine and then an eight hour braise process, and then nicely pulled. And there's rajas served with that, which is roasted poblano peppers, caramelize onions, a little but of bell pepper and the sauce is that guajillo chile sauce. And then you get eggs poached. So one day day its the green bowl for healthy and the next day its the hash to balance that out.
I would say next door it would probably be something like the ceviche that I showed you, the Hondurian ceviche. I just think that that take on ceviche, where generally people are thinking it's going to be almost like a cocktail of tomato sauce and spices, and taking something really refreshing again with the coconut, cilantro, serrano chile -- I love that. And then probably the arepas, which basically, it's almost like a griddled masa cake, if you will. So it has kind that texture of tamales by being firm and crispy and then we stuff em with wild mushrooms and then a little bit of queso fresco and it gets a roasted tomatillo sauce. And that, again, being a vegetarian dish, it blows me away how tasty it is. So those are probably my favorite right now but we have a couple more weeks and then the new winter menus come out so we'll see what inspires us then.
What are your favorite winter ingredients?
Well right now we're using, just even next door, we still got the tail end of pomegranates. We're playing around with some different butternut squash and acorn squash right now. I know we're kind of in the tail end of that - this is a weird time for us, when we hit this late in winter. And then things like rutabaga I think it's totally under utilized. I think most people are like, scared of turnips but my fridge is full of radishes right now. Either shaved raw or braised, they offer a lot of diversity.
What was the thing you missed the most about Phoenix?
I'd say there were two. One, was the outdoor activities that are available. I love hiking. I love being out there around the city and neighborhoods. I just really enjoy outdoor activities. And the second was I did miss the chef community and the food culture that we have here. You know, growing up and spending most of my working career here in the Valley I got close with a lot of these guys and girls throughout the Valley. So once I started in a new city, you kind of have to go through that again.. You know it's great when you're embraced and in the Midwest, it was amazing, I was actually embraced right away. But so many of these guys and girls I've just spent so many years in the kitchen together with I just did miss that.
What were the first three places you ate when you got back?
Southern Rail. Top of the Rock, over at the Buttes. Greg's a good friend of mine and I was excited to see all the progress they had. And then I did actually go to The Revival.
What was the best part about living in Kansas City?
Honestly, probably the best part about it was probably that Midwest vibe and just how friendly everybody was to somebody coming from outside the city and opening a new hotel and restaurant there. Honestly, the first week I was there people were like, "Hey have you been to the market yet? Ok, I'll come pick you up and take you." Just strangers. Just people who just totally embraced what we were doing and obviously, I'm pretty outgoing too. So that was great.
Who has been your biggest mentor in the kitchen and what was the most important thing you learned from that person?
I would say probably my biggest mentor, and probably the most difficult, was working at Restaurant Daniel and Bradley Thompson and Daniel Boulud, those two seeing their diverse styles and working together. Obviously, Daniel is a celebrity chef, over the top, barely wants to talk to you, but being in a kitchen like that and really just learning the respect of the products and the amount of work...that was really my first glance into a really top line kitchen where it's all about the experience. I mean, guests have waited the whole year to go to that restaurant, you know? And it's all about the experience. So that kind of intensity in the kitchen, I loved absorbing that and taking that into something as casual as the diner concept with the way that we treat food and the way that we treat the kitchen.
What is the hardest part about opening a new restaurant?
The hardest part is really that first few weeks and to know that ,even if you're busy, are you doing the right things. And that's why I love to take the feedback after the first month or so and we can adjust a few things here and there - not change directions, but adjust what we're doing to make sure our customers, it's what they want in their neighborhood. The demographic might change a little bit from what was originally around you, maybe it draws a difference crowd, but the most difficult thing is really just knowing that, you know, when you go home at night, that all the effort and work that you put into picking out the crazy wall paper or the hub cap chandelier, all that effort, did it have a purpose and did it make sense?
What is your culinary guilty pleasure?
Oh it's definitely going to be 2 a.m. taquitos at the closest, like, Rollberto location. I try to narrow that down to once a month but it happens.
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What is your drink of choice and favorite place to get to get that drink?
It's probably still craft beer. It's tied with that and Old Fashions. I've been on a whiskey, bourbon kick for a while now. My faovirte underrated bar, I think, is Lux. You know, going to Lux at nighttime I think they have some of the best bartenders in town.
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