Former Helio Basin Brewing Company chef Tamara Stanger is bringing her progressive Arizonan cooking style to Cotton & Copper, which opens today, July 31. The 50-seat restaurant in south Tempe pairs her food with cocktails from Sean Traynor, veteran of Counter Intuitive and UnderTow. This one looks to be interesting.
Cotton & Copper will have a laser focus on Arizona. Even the restaurant's name nods to two of our state's five Cs.
Stanger tends to focus on Arizonan ingredients, often hyperlocal desert gems like wolfberries, mesquite, and saguaro juice. Sometimes, she even forages for these ingredients herself. In the past, she has used them to power dishes like barrel cactus fruit semifreddo and a puff pastry of White Sonora Wheat served with, among other sidekicks, wolfberry jam.
As she gets deeper into Sonoran ingredients and continues to develop her unique style of Arizonan cooking, Cotton & Copper should be, judging from her recent past, a thoughtful place to eat.
"It's not terribly different than what I was doing before," she says. "It's just kind of the next step, and I'll go from there. Once I have time to dig in and get nerdy with it – that's what the specials are going to be, what I'm getting from my foragers and my farmers."
The core menu will change seasonally. Arizonan specials will cycle in and out more frequently, with the local farm crops and wild desert abundance. Stanger says a special could be something like tomahawk antelope steaks served with a glass of Scotch.
"If this is the first time you're tasting this specific ingredient," Stanger says of some of the more obscure things she cooks with, "I want you to remember that for the rest of your life."
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Stanger has shaped her small menu of core dishes – fillet with tepary beans, burger with veggie-top pesto, corn dumplings made with corn ash – to go with Traynor's cocktails.
Traynor consulted with Counter Intuitive and UnderTow impresario Jason Asher when devising the Cotton & Copper menu. The opening day cocktail roster is Arizona-tilted, drinks often including in-state spirits like Mission Vodka from Arizona Distilling Company, or cut with something like wine from Caduceus Cellars in Jerome. The lineup of amari used in drinks has depth. Some drinks have unlikely ingredients, like strawberry-rhubarb jam.
Stanger says she may turn saguaro fruit juice into jam. This jam would be used in cocktails. This is the kind of idiosyncratic, hyper-local move that should have people, when you add all of these moves together, excited for Cotton & Copper.
Cotton & Copper. 1006 East Warner Road, #113, Tempe; 480-629-4270.
Tuesday to Saturday 3 to 11 p.m.*
*Stanger and Traynor aren't sure yet if they will be open Sundays. During the last hour of service, they plan to offer late-night food specials.