Chef Andrew Nienke of Cafe Monarch on His Field of Dreams and What The Phoenix Food Scene Is Still Missing
Chef Andrew Nienke of Cafe Monarch
Courtesy of Christian Lewkowicz
This is part two of our interview with chef Andrew Nienke of Café Monarch in Scottsdale. Yesterday he dished about his belief in "no bullshit" food and today we discuss what will change and what will stay the same at the restaurant this year.
Cafe Monarch will re-open for the fall on October 4th and if you want to be there you better act fast because reservations are stacking up. It will be the first night the restaurant is open under new owner Christian Lewkowicz, who took over earlier this summer when former chef and owner Christopher Van Arsdale left after six years. If you missed part one of the interview, in which Lewkowicz and Nienke discussed their passion for carrying on Van Arsdale's legacy, you can read it here.
The courtyard at Cafe Monarch
Now that he's at Café Monarch Nienke says he's excited to be able to "actually give people the best dining experience possible" -- not to say that he wasn't always trying to do that in the past. It's just that here he'll know that he's directly responsible for every dish that goes out to each guest. He's excited to be able to "really nourish people."
"This is a dream restaurant for a chef," he says.
But if you ask either Nienke or owner Christian Lewkowicz they'll both tell you the idea behind Café Monarch isn't to be just another great restaurant; It's to make their place not feel like a restaurant at all.
Lewkowicz says he expects to be able to accommodate between 80 and 110 people during a typical weekend dinner service. Some will be seated in the small, bright front dining room that also houses the kitchen. Others will be able to sit on the lovely outdoor patio that features candlelight tables, rustic chandeliers and vine-covered walls.
With such limited seating and menu options, they "highly encourage" reservations though for the first time ever they won't be required. Allowing walk-ins (albeit a very limited number) is one of just three changes that have been made since the restaurant moved to new ownership.
The other two include that the restaurant will no longer be BYOB. They have a sommelier on staff now who will curate a "really small boutique-y" wine list and have added a beautiful wooden bar in one of the dining rooms. Guests will be able to order cocktails while they wait for a table and Lewkowicz says he's looking at adding a small bruscetta menu for those who just want to walk in for a drink and a snack.
Finally the restaurant will no longer close for the summer season.
If you visit the Café Monarch Facebook page, you can get a good sense of how much pressure Nienke and Lewkowicz are under to do things well. On it they're constantly fielding questions from worried guests about whether things will change and if so, how much. Out of towners who have been coming to the restaurant for years want to know, for example, if Nienke still be able to make one of Van Arsdale's dishes they had come to love (If you're wondering, the answer is that he will). They have reservations already for birthdays, rehersal dinners and even a proposal.
"To have people love this place this much that they're making reservations this far out ... they're putting so much trust in me," Nienke says, very aware of the expectations that rest on his shoulders.
"But this is my field of dreams."
One thing everybody should know about the new Cafe Monarch...is that it isn't that much different than the old Cafe Monarch. Chef Christopher Van Arsdale worked his butt off making it amazing. Who am l to fix something that isn't broke? It is a beautiful restaurant with an amazing concept.
Your favorite dish on the menu: It hasn't been made yet. We truly are a seasonal restaurant and it really depends what is at the market. Ask me in a month or two.
The kitchen at Cafe Monarch
If the food at Cafe Monarch was a song it would be: "All You Need is Love" by the Beatles
Three things you can't cook without: Good olive oil, butter and vinegar (salt is just a given).
The best thing about the Phoenix food scene...has to be the abundance of breakfast spots. When my wife and me first started dating we both worked in kitchens so we went out to breakfast a lot, because we didn't have to be at work until about 11. Breakfast has kind of become our thing.
One thing the Phoenix food scene is missing...is a sense of community. I've only been here a year but there doesn't seem to be a bar or coffee shop where chefs get together and talk shop. I think that if we all got together on Monday evenings and compared ideas talked about what is in season and so forth it would do nothing but drive everyone to be better and serve better food. If there is and I'm just out of the loop will someone stop by the Cafe and tell me.
Four places in the Valley where you want to eat are...Citizen Public House, Chef Bernie is an amazing guy who puts out really good food, I love that place. I also really love Sushi Roku, Chef Shin is a wonder with fish, he made my wife some stuff when she was pregnant that I was jealous of. I really want to try out Binkley's, I haven't had the opportunity yet but I've been told that that place is amazing. I've also heard extraordinary things about Shin Bay. I really want to try that place out. But I can't leave Searsucker out either. It's amazing.
The food trend that you're totally over...is ego. It seems today not enough people are cooking to make themselves famous. Or, as opposed to cooking for the guest, are expecting the diners to eat to them.
The next big movement in the culinary world...needs to be not following trends and cooking what you feel. People are always going to need to follow someone or thing, people need to label and be labeled. But in my eyes that is lack of creativity. People just need to cook what fits their heart and the dinning room they are cooking for.
Where do you see yourself in five years: I expect to be cooking my heart out at Cafe Monarch. I love this restaurant and I very much look forward to feeding the people who are going to dine here.
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