Driving from Phoenix to Carefree takes you from 1,100 feet to 2,400. As you go, the sprawl thins away. The land starts to roll and crags lurch. The soil looks increasingly Martian. It begins to feel like the land of pioneers and pistol duels, of outlaws and train robberies, of the Oregon Trail video game.
The patio at Cafe Bink overlooks a rock ridge. Sitting on the patio, looking out at the natural formations, the old American West may come nicely to your brain.
Chef Justin Olsen's trout feels eerily tailored to all of this.
Olsen is a partner in Cafe Bink with Kevin Binkley, one of the Valley's famed culinarians. Olsen has cooked for Binkley for a number of years. Cafe Bink is the cheaper, chiller, dialed down version of Binkley's. Trout is about as formal as the cafe gets.
And that Trout could have been cooked in an outlaw's cast iron.
Olsen uses farm-raised rainbow trout. He cooks the trout skin-side-down in butter on a thick cast iron plancha. The cast iron sizzles, and the fish skin crisps. When the trout is 90% done, he flips it and finishes the flesh side for about 30 seconds.
"We try to keep things fairly simple," he says. "We have some more complex flavors in some of our other dishes, but everything tends to be simple."
On the plate, the trout has the shape of a veal cutlet pounded pencil-thin to monstrous proportions. Skin crackles to the fork, crunches under your teeth. The meat is succulent, fresh, and reaches its fragrant potential thanks to herbed brown butter.
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That butter seeps down from toppings on the fish—toppings that take it out of the land pioneer's zone and more into the kitchen pioneer's.
Penny-size coins of Peruvian potatoes cooked in thyme dot the fish. So do the green beans and almonds that have been warmed in brown butter, hit with lemon, and put on the finished trout.
It's pretty satisfying to inhale a rustic 10-ounce trout with a high-end flourish or two while sitting on a patio, soaking up some rays, and ogling nature. The setting adds to the dish, and the dish to the setting. I was king of the patio just before noon on a Wednesday. Nobody was there but me and the trout.
Olsen gets fancier with a six-course tasting menu available at the bar. This costs you $78 and comes with drink pairings. The menu changes each week. In the past, it has had themes like Mexican, French, Spanish, and so on. If you stop in for that, be sure to turn in your chair from time to time, look out the west-facing windows, and take in the view. It adds some pretty rustic flavor.