Adam Allison, the chef and co-owner of the Left Coast Burrito Co. food truck, has teamed up with Scottsdale-based DMB to launch the first major dining spot in Eastmark, a large-scale master-planned community located in southeast Mesa.
The restaurant, called Handlebar Diner, will operate out of a vintage, 11-seat diner.
If the diner's bright, candy cane-inspired color scheme, boxy metal frame, and retro design gives you a slight sense of déjà vu, then you're probably familiar with Welcome Diner in downtown Phoenix. Like Welcome Diner, Handlebar Diner is also a mobile, midcentury-built, Valentine-style diner.
"I believe it's the same model as the Welcome Diner," Allison told New Times recently.
The diner was previously located in Colorado, says Allison, before being relocated to Mesa. It was installed recently on a lot adjacent to the Eastmark Visitor and Community Center, not far from the intersection of Ray and Ellsworth roads.
Although the diner is small by design, once construction is complete on the property, it will feature a front courtyard patio with seating for up to 60 or 70 people.
The diner, which will serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, is currently scheduled to open on April 1.
Allison, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Scottsdale, says that the menu at Handlebar Diner will reflect his penchant for bringing together Southern and Southwestern flavors.
"My family's from Tennessee, and I was born in Alabama. I kind of grew up with Southern food," he says. "My style is kind of a mix between Southern and Southwestern."
For breakfast, expect to find options like fresh-baked bagels and breakfast burritos. The lunch and dinner menu, meanwhile, will feature modern, gourmet spins on comfort food favorites like meatloaf, fried chicken, tamales and enchiladas.
Handlebar Diner has a full liquor license, says Allison, so there will be a bar component, as well.
If gourmet comfort food and cocktails served from a photogenic vintage diner isn't exciting enough for you, Allison also plans to bring a strong farm-to-table ethic to the menu.
A small farm, located on-site, will supply fresh produce and ingredients to the kitchen, says Allison.
"We're going to stick to diner-style food, but definitely do farm-to-table. We'll use the farm as much as possible," he says.
The menu will evolve and aim to be "super seasonal," yet retain its essence of casual, friendly comfort food.
"A lot of times you see farm-to-table stuff kind of get away from the comfort food. It's kind of hard to do both. My challenge is to bring the comfort and farm-to-table together and to integrate it as best as possible," he says.
The farm at Eastmark is still currently in development, but it should be operational by September of this year, says Allison.
Handlebar Diner will also have an espresso machine and offer full coffee service, which should give neighborhood locals a convenient place to stop in for a morning latte and bagel before heading to work. In-house pastry chefs will produce scratch-made breads, including English muffins.
Currently, there are not many options for food and drink located within the boundaries of Eastmark, but commercial development in the area is expected to boom soon.
The ambitious master-planned community is located on 3,200 acres in southeast Mesa, built atop what used be the old General Motors Desert Proving Ground. The community is bound to the north by Elliot Road and Pecos Road to the south, and by Ellsworth Road and Signal Butte Road to the west and east, respectively.
DMB is known for developing mixed-use communities with strong neighborhood appeal, and Eastmark is no different. Other DMB communities in metro Phoenix include Verrado in Buckeye and DC Ranch in Scottsdale.
Currently, there's about 1,600 homes in Eastmark, says Allison, but that number is expected to balloon to around 15,000 in the next decade or so.
Allison says he was approached by DMB to be at the helm of the diner project at Eastmark.
"I was referred to them by a bunch of different people. Mutual friends, chefs, farmers ... My name was kind of thrown out there to do it," says Allison, who has many years cooking at popular food trucks and catering operations, along with holding down more conventional restaurant gigs.
In the past, Allison was the chef at the SuperFarm SuperTruck, a "farm to fork" truck from the folks at Superstition Farm & Udder Delights. He says he will stay on as a partner at his current business, Left Coast Burrito Co., and balance his time between the two endeavors as necessary.
Handlebar Diner will give the chef the space to exercise his creative and culinary muscles in a unique setting. The diner has been in development for four or five months, says Allison, and he describes it as a sort of dream project.
"I never wanted a giant restaurant," says Allison. "I've wanted a little restaurant, maybe with a farm, so I could kind of plan my menu and work with the farmers."
"Partnering up with DMB has been a good opportunity to kind of see how the big guys do it," says Allison. "I've done restaurants and food trucks, but they build multibillion-dollar communities ... A little guy like me partnering with someone like that is really cool."