It may be an old-fashioned name, but at the Desert Botanical Garden, founded by visionary environmentalist Gertrude Divine Webster in 1939, "Gertrude" has a decidedly modern ring to it. In fact, a brand new restaurant, named in her honor, is slated to open adjacent to the plant shop on the garden's grounds in mid- to late-January.
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Gertrude's executive chef Stephen Eldridge has created a farm-to-table menu, using local, seasonal and organic ingredients. He describes his food as "Modern Arizona Cuisine." What, exactly, does that mean?
Well, how about Niman Ranch short ribs braised in red chile and ale, served with fingerlings, pickled onion, cilantro and goat's milk sour cream? Or lambcetta -- lamb belly cured in white wine, garlic, herbs and spices? Or juniper-crusted, seared bison carpaccio, served with marinated trumpet mushrooms, Crow's Dairy chevre, arugula and Meyer lemon oil? Or seared day boat scallops with roasted kabocha squash, walnut agrodolce and fried sage? Doesn't sound much like museum food, does it?
Eldridge -- who spent five years in Chicago working for James Beard award-winners Rick Tramonto and Michael Kornick -- says he'll pull fresh veggies straight from his 4-by-60-foot garden (Urban Farmer Greg Peterson is his consultant), as well as buy from local farmers such as Crooked Sky, Duncan Family Farms and Maya Dailey. He'll also keep it local with Schreiner's Sausage and AZ wines and micro-brews.
And because GM John Windels has loads of experience in the beverage department (including being a Certified Specialist of Wine), we can expect good wine and an impressive selection of specialty cocktails emphasizing herbs and veggies from the garden. "Gertrude was a gin drinker," Eldridge says, "so we'll have a nice botanical list." Windels and Eldridge spent hours in research and development (i.e., drinking) with experts from Southern Wine & Spirits to create a cocktail program unique to the garden.
The sunlit space will feature an expansive bar, an exhibition kitchen, a 12-seat chef's table in a private room overlooking the action in the kitchen and a massive sliding glass door leading out to a lush, desert-landscaped patio with fountain.
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If all goes as planned, Gertrude's will serve breakfast and lunch the first week of opening, dinner the following week and both brunch and happy hour a week or two after that. Breakfasts will include a full coffee bar, pastries, housemade granola, eggs to order, griddle cakes and green chile pork over creamy grits.
Skip and Chantal Hause of Fabulous Food Fine Catering and Events, who have successfully run the DBG's Patio Cafe since 2006, are partners in this project.
Eldridge says, "This is a dream job for me, given the way I feel about food, getting to just walk into the garden and pick something fresh. I feel so lucky."