This time of year, conversations at Chow Bella staff meetings tend to turn to who's eaten what and where. With the summer travel season in full swing, we bring you Food Tours, our writers' suggestions of what to eat and drink out of town.
Raise your hand if you've already been to Flagstaff at least twice this summer. And why wouldn't you? It's our close-to-home getaway for tall pines, cool breezes, a breath of fresh air and the possibility of wearing something more substantial than shorts and a tank top. Ah, but where to eat? That's easy. Flagstaff has more and better restaurant choices than ever before. Here are seven things you won't want to miss while you're there.
See also: 13 Favorite Cold Dishes in Metro Phoenix
Coppa di Testa Piccante Coppa Café 1300 S. Milton Road, #107 928-637-6813, CoppaCafe.net
Located in a nondescript strip mall on Flagstaff's traffic-choked main drag, this adorable European-style café has been flying under the radar for nearly two years now -- which means the average food lover who tastes Coppa's bread, charcuterie, and desserts (all housemade, all exceptional) for the very first time invariably has a dismayed "where've you been all my life?" moment. Husband-and-wife chef-owners Brian Konefal and Paola Fioravanti (he's savory, she's sweet) met in culinary school in Italy years ago, and their impressive résumés include stints at Robuchon, Aqua, Campton Place, and 11 Madison Park. It's impossible to name just one great thing to try here. You won't want to miss the flakiest, best open-face croissant sandwich imaginable, topped with bacon, poached eggs, and rich Hollandaise (found on lunch and brunch menus); or the amazing housemade tagliatelle with local, seasonal vegetables and grated cherry wood-smoked egg yolk at dinner (yep, you read that right: cured and smoked egg yolk, grated like a cheese over the top). Meanwhile, Paola's classic desserts (think custardy, crisp-edged cannales, and tiny, brownie-like chocolate bouchon) are simply outstanding. But for the truly geeky, the signature Coppa di Testa Piccante, served as an antipasto, is a must. This spicy pork terrine (head cheese, to be exact) is marinated in a dry rub of chiles, smoked paprika, and garlic, then braised for 17 hours and rolled up like a foie gras torchon. Thickly sliced and presented on a bed of lightly pickled fennel with a garnish of fennel seed and Moroccan harissa, its flavor profile brings Spanish chorizo to mind although its texture is softer and more unctuous ($11). Seconds, please!
Amore oi mari pizza Pizzicletta 203 W. Phoenix Ave. 928-774-3242, pizzicletta.com
Chef-owner Caleb Schiff loves bicycles and pizza, having ridden the former and sustained himself on the latter on his own self-guided tour through Italy a few years ago. He came home inspired, building his own domed, wood-burning oven from gleaming white tiles and finding a tiny, charming space in an historic, wedge-shaped building in the Southside District. Pizzicletta (a conflation of pizza and bicicletta) is the delicious result, built upon a short menu featuring three starters (cheese, salumi, and salad), five pizzas (three red, two white) and variously flavored, made-from-scratch gelatos based on Schiff's Italian friend's recipe. All the puffy, crisp-edged pies are first-rate, but our favorite is the amore oi mari, lavishly topped with mascarpone, prosciutto di Parma, arugula, Queen Creek Meyer lemon oil, and pecorino ($15). It feeds two, if you can bring yourself to share.
Crispy Pork Shank Brix 413 N. San Francisco St. 928-213-1021, brixflagstaff.com
Housed in the brick-walled garage end of a circa 1910 carriage house, cozy Brix (a wine-making term for a scale that measures the sugar content of grapes, must, and wine) has been one of the best restaurants in Flagstaff since it opened in 2006. Together, owners Paul and Laura Moir and chef Logan Weber have created a relaxed retreat that focuses on great wine and sophisticated food made with local, sustainable ingredients. This summer, Brix is featuring a crispy pork shank sourced from American Homestead (a purveyor committed to single-farm, naturally raised pork), that's braised then lightly coated in powdered sugar and deep-fried, which makes for a crispy, caramelized exterior and succulent interior meat that practically melts in your mouth ($26). Served on a pretty bed of herb risotto with Bob McClendon's baby carrots, a dab of peach coriander jam and a garnish of crispy horseradish strips, this eloquent ode to pork could rock your pig-loving little world.
Burgers -- The Blake Burger Diablo Burger 120 N. Leroux St. 928-774-3274, diabloburger.com
When it comes to the "eat local" mantra, owner Derrick Widmark walks the walk at his small, unpretentious burger joint, where the grass-fed, open range-raised, antibiotic- and growth hormone-free beef comes from two historic Northern Arizona ranches that established a land stewardship program called the Diablo Trust. In fact, Widmark sources every ingredient he possibly can within a 250-mile radius. But never mind all the high-minded stuff. Just know that the charbroiled burgers, served on MJ Coe's "db" branded, hand-made English muffins, are terrific ($10.25-$13.25), as are the twice-fried, Belgian-style frites that come with them. Build your own burger from a broad selection of cheeses, spreads and veggies, or just go with one of Diablo's creations, like the Southwestern-inspired Blake, topped with homemade Hatch chile mayo, roasted green chiles and sharp cheddar ($11.75). Wash it down with local beer or maybe a Mexican Coke.
Black and Blue Venison Tinderbox Kitchen 34 S. San Francisco St. 928-226-8400, tinderboxkitchen.com
From his historic Southside space, where punched tin ceilings and modern art co-exist, chef-owner Scott Heinonen turns out self-described "American comfort food redefined" offering up simple but nuanced dishes with big, bold flavors. Delicious case in point: juniper-cured Black and Blue Venison, served with blue cheese grits, fresh blueberries and blackberries, and a dash of balsamic -- a sweet, herbaceous, and pungent mash-up of flavors and textures that feels like home for Heinonen, who grew up in the Midwest ($28). The dish fits in pretty well in Flagstaff too, where Heinonen says it's a "crowd pleaser" he can't take off the menu.
Spiced Venezuelan Chocolate Cake Criollo 16 N. San Francisco St. 928-774-0541, criollolatinkitchen.com
Casual Criollo, baby sister to Brix, shares the same local, sustainable philosophy but rocks it Latin-style, offering upscale versions of familiar dishes from Mexico, Cuba, Spain, and the Caribbean. Try not to fill up on the irresistible fire-roasted jalapeño and bacon nachos, the pork belly tacos, or the ropa vieja (all favorites) because you'll need wiggle room for the Spiced Venezuelan Chocolate Cake, a luxurious little treat that blends sweetness and heat in perfect proportion. It's a moist flourless cake -- light, spongy but decidedly fudgy -- made with high-quality dark chocolate from Venezuela and a touch of chile pepper, which produces a slow, subtle burn. Painted with orange glaze, dusted with powdered sugar and topped with a drift of whipped cream, it's familiar but faintly exotic ($8).
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Macy's Special Macy's 14 Beaver St. 928-774-2243, macyscoffee.net
For 33 years now, this funky, crowded coffeehouse, favored by NAU students and gray-haired local hippies alike, has been the go-to for a great cup of Joe, a healthy breakfast or lunch (including lots of vegetarian and vegan offerings) and something sinful from the pastry case -- maybe a muffin, scone, biscotti, homemade fruit pie, gluten-free doughnut, or cinnamon roll. Coffee mavens swear the coffee (roasted in-house with beans culled from small farms around the world) is the best in the state, if not the Southwest. The runaway favorite, called Macy's Special, combines espresso and hot chocolate ($3.95). Get there during peak hours and you'll probably have to wait in line, maybe even bus your own table, but who cares? This is quintessential Flagstaff.