You always remember your firsts.
Cowboy Ciao was my first foodie find in the Phoenix area. Kazimierz World Wine Bar was my first watering hole in the desert after we moved here almost six years ago
So it's sad to learn today that owner Peter Kasperski may be closing both Old Town Scottsdale locations, according to social media. Kasperski could not be reached for comment. No word if he will try to reopen either place. He previously filed for bankruptcy six years ago.
Cowboy Ciao, which opened in 1997, became our go-to place for special occasions or when we had visitors. Out-of-towners were always wowed by the presentation of the restaurant’s iconic Stetson Chopped Salad, probably the most photographed dish in the Valley. Some referred to it as the state salad of Arizona.
It comes to your table looking like a foreign flag – colorful rows of Israeli couscous, sweet dried corn kernels, bits of smoked salmon, chopped tomatoes, pepitas, dried currants, arugula, and Asiago cheese. Then, after first-timers snap a picture, the server drizzles on the pesto buttermilk dressing and swirls it all together to create a wonderful experience for your palate.
“I love that salad so much I put it on my screen saver,” one guest said, according to the Cowboy Ciao menu.
My new son-in-law, a former sous chef, was so impressed he learned how to re-create it perfectly, which makes him a welcome addition to the family.
My daughter had already informed me that we would be stopping at Cowboy Ciao during their holiday visit this year.
She’ll be disappointed that the restaurant has closed, but at least the beloved salad lives on.
The salad’s creator, Bernie Kantak — who was the longtime chef at Cowboy Ciao – has taken it with him to at least two other area restaurants, Citizen Public House in Scottsdale and The Gladly in Phoenix. It’s billed as the Original Chopped Salad in both places. New Wave Market in Scottsdale also announced on Instagram that it will be serving the salad, too.
Kantak told Phoenix New Times a few years ago he had seen it copied at restaurants around the country.
“It’s haunting me,” he said.
Kantak is one of several prominent local chefs who sharpened their cutlery at Ciao before getting their own places. Others include Keenan Bosworth (Pig & Pickle), Gio Osso (Virtù Honest Craft), Nobuo Fukuda (Nobuo at Teeter House), and Tracy Dempsey (Tracy Dempsey Originals).
Kazimierz World Wine Bar also served the Stetson Chop and shared a shared a 47-page wine list with Cowboy Ciao, an encyclopedia of some 2,000 choices.
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We found the list a bit dizzying, we preferred ordering one of the Kazbar’s wine flights to get a sampling of the best.
The New Times' Best of Phoenix 2018 named Kazimierz the Best Wine Bar.
We had to check it out just a couple of months ago before we decided on the award.
Too bad that may have been our last visit.