Robert Nixon Executive Chef Geordie's Steak at The Wrigley Mansion 2501 East Telawa Trail, Phoenix www.wrigleymansion.com
The Wrigley Mansion has always been a destination for some of the very best views in town. Built by chewing gum mogul William Wrigley Jr. in 1932 as a gift for his wife, the sprawling home features panoramic vistas of the Valley and one of the city's most opulent venues for special events. The maze of rooms, balconies, and spiral staircases gives the mansion an air of old school charm, the kind of feeling that just can't be replicated in something new.
But despite all that the place has going in its favor, the fine dining restaurant located inside the mansion has mostly fallen off the radar. What was once a tempting dining destination has become more of a classic Phoenix spot that gives longtime residents a dose of nostalgia more than anything else.
In an effort to change that the restaurant is going in a new direction, even going so far as to change the restaurant's name from simply "Geordie's" to "Geordie's Steak." Both names draw inspiration from the late Geordie Hormel, the heir to the Spam fortune who purchased the mansion in 1992.
The new name is supposed to indicate the restaurant's new persona as an Italian steakhouse. While traditionally the menu has shown French influence, the restaurant now offers Italian-inspired dishes such as a build-your-own frutti di mare platter and handmade pappardelle tossed with roasted vegetables.
But executive chef Robert Nixon says the changes he's most excited about have less to do with an overhaul of the restaurant's identity, and more to do with a new focus on using local ingredients.
"Because this is an Arizona landmark, we're getting as much of our ingredients from Arizona [as possible]," Nixon says.
In the case of the restaurant's steaks that means sourcing only all-natural, prime beef from Arizona farms through Cedar River Farms, according to Nixon. The chef, who grew up in the shadow of Kansas City's National Beef Packing Company, says the Arizona-raised beef is "even better" than the product from well-known national brands.
Other local products Geordie's uses now include produce from Ducan Family Farms, olive oil from Queen Creek Olive Mill, and flour from Hayden Flour Mills.
Nixon, who has helmed the restaurant for the last two years, brings plenty of experience with steaks to the restaurant, making him a sensible fit considering Geordie's new direction. Prior to moving to the restaurant, Nixon spent eight years working at the Biltmore chophouse, Donavan's. And before that the chef honed his skills for eight years under chef Christopher Gross at the now defunct Christopher's Bistro. Gross also consults for the restaurant, and dates Jamie Hormel, owner of the Wrigley and widow of Geordie Hormel.
What's your favorite item on the new menu? That would be the 24-ounce rib chop. I love steak - and if you don't have a fork or knife you can always pick it up by the bone and eat it like a piece of chicken.
Your favorite Arizona product that you put on the menu: I mean, I like the prime beef, because I love beef, you know. But the olive oil is really nice that we're using. And you can use it in salads, risottos, you can freshen up meat with it...you can use it on everything.
What's your favorite view from the mansion? The city, definitely. I mean, after rains you can see the signs on the basketball stadium. It's incredible. The first time I came here I was just like, "Why haven't I been up here before?" Because I worked down the street for almost ten years and I never knew about this. Everybody that comes up here, they're just blown away.
Your go-to restaurant for late-night eats: I used to be a fast-food junkie...but any kind of taco stand.
Your drink of choice and favorite place to get it: Ah, my drink of choice would be coffee and I'd have to say, at home.
Who's your biggest mentor in the kitchen? Christopher [Gross].
The most important thing you learned from working with him: Freshness in all ingredients, basically.
Your most referenced cookbook: I don't know, with Google you don't really need a favorite cookbook. I Google everything. Any question I don't know, I Google.
What's the secret to making an excellent steak? Searing it on the outside, cooking it, and then when you pull it off, before you serve it, let it rest for about five to ten minutes. That way the juices get locked inside. A lot of people just throw it on the grill and throw it on the plate and start eating it, but you have to let it rest.
One local chef you admire: Probably Matt Carter over at Zinc Bistro. He's developed quite well, and he was with us at Christopher's also.