Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Sedona Dining Tour

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Delicious bites pair with majestic sights in Northern Arizona’s Red Rock Country.

From rugged tours of the surrounding Coconino National Forest to relaxing stays at the resorts and campgrounds along the shimmering waters of Oak Creek, Sedona’s abundant tourist pursuits are defined by the town’s otherworldly, postcard-perfect landscape. The beauty of the place is a given. A matter of public record.

The excellence of its cuisine, not so much. While boasting many marvelous places to eat, Sedona is not traditionally known as a “food town,” perhaps owing to its heavyweight scenery. After all, those majestic red rocks have a way of making you stop and stare, even if it’s right in the middle of lunch.

Gradually, the food is fighting back. Sedona’s culinary brand is stronger than ever, thanks to a platoon of great new restaurants and a core of old favorites.

Breakfast-as-destination isn’t a stretch if you’re talking about L’Auberge Restaurant, where the windowed dining room is often eschewed during the warmer months for a sun-dappled terrace on the bank of Oak Creek. The magical feeling of eating under massive, leafy trees elevates hearty morning fare like huevos rancheros garnished with queso cotija, and thick applewood-smoked bacon paired with roasted potatoes and perfect scrambled eggs. Instead of piped-in music, the soundtrack is simply rushing water and the echoes of birdsong high in the branches.

phm0112 ge5 mdBefore a busy day of sightseeing, REDS Restaurant is a convenient spot to fill up on corned beef hash, biscuits and gravy, fluffy pancakes, and other comforting, all-American breakfast dishes. The spicy, Southwestern-style eggs Benedict and jalapeño-cheddar French toast are both eye-openers, especially teamed with generous coffee refills. Despite the high-style décor with expanses of sleek wood and a chic patio, prices are surprisingly reasonable.


Smiling baristas, consistently delicious lattes, and freshly baked pastries make Heart of Sedona Coffee a good pit stop any time of day, but if you want to linger, there’s also comfortable seating, upbeat indie rock on the stereo, free Wi-Fi, walls decked with local art, and stacks of magazines here and there. If you camp out with your laptop long enough (as I did one day) and work up a serious appetite, Pita Fresh Mediterranean Cuisine next door has cheap, tasty falafel plates heaped with fattoush salad, and fragrant chicken shawarma tucked into warm homemade pita bread.

Oak Creek Brewery & Grill, located in the Tlaquepaque arts and crafts village, is understandably a local point of pride, not only because of its award-winning brews (go for the Seven Dwarves sampler to taste the lineup), but also thanks to beer-friendly grub like hefty club sandwiches, juicy burgers and craveable pizzas, with stunning views of red rock formations on the side. Some brew pubs serve food almost as an afterthought, but this is well-crafted fare that stands on its own merit. The whole family can fill up here without breaking the bank.

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Another spot for tasty pies is Apizza Heaven, a funky, casual little hangout where the air is heavy with the savory aroma of New Haven, Connecticut-style brick-oven pizza. Nibble on specialties like clams casino pizza or ham-and-pineapple-laden Hawaiian pizza. The scrumptious garden pizza, topped with tomato slices, red onion, mozzarella, fresh basil and plenty of garlic, gets an extra boost from a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. That, plus a glass of wine, will make all seem right with the world, especially if there’s live music on the patio.

Few places in Sedona celebrate vegetables (and trot out guilt-free pleasures) like ChocolaTree Cafe, where everything is organic, vegetarian and so wholesome it’ll probably cleanse your aura. Energize yourself with savory kale quinoa salad with almond chile sauce, creamy carrot-ginger soup, or a quirky raw spin on falafel with veggies and garlic-dill dip on the side. Then, come dessert time, you’ll feel justified in treating yourself to some handmade raw chocolates, gluten-free cake, or pecan pie with macadamia-coconut crust. When the weather’s agreeable, the shady, sprawling backyard patio (complete with a hammock!) feels like an oasis.

If ChocolaTree embodies Sedona’s New Age side, then Cowboy Club – a saloon and restaurant tucked between souvenir shops along downtown’s main tourist drag – revels in the city’s Old West allure. Framed photos and gunslinger ephemera celebrate the golden age of cowboy movies (many were filmed here in the ’50s), while the menu showcases Southwestern comfort food. Start off with an order of crispy cactus fries (yep, they’re actually fried, breaded strips of prickly pear cactus pads) and nurse an Arizona microbrew or Golden Nugget prickly pear margarita (with Patron Añejo, Cointreau and Grand Marnier) before digging into melt-in-your-mouth, 12-hour braised pork carnitas or juicy, buttermilk-marinated fried chicken.

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If you’re ready to earn your foodie bragging rights, plan on dinner at Elote Cafe, where chef-owner Jeff Smedstad’s intensely flavorful Mexican cooking puts the restaurant among Arizona’s culinary elite. The vibe is casually sophisticated and upbeat, and the chef himself often steps out of the kitchen to sign copies of his glossy cookbook. Don’t miss the namesake elote – a decadent take on street corn, with sweet roasted kernels bathed in tangy spiced mayo sauce – or the smoky, fall-apart-tender lamb adobo served with warm tortillas. Tequila aficionados will appreciate the list of top-shelf agave spirits and dessert tequilas.

Like Elote, the menu at Heartline Cafe may be upscale, but the atmosphere is relaxed, with whimsical artwork and a convivial bar area. Founded by Charles and Phyllis Cline two decades ago, the cafe boasts a seasonal menu of contemporary American cuisine with a decadent side. Think succulent sautéed lobster in ancho cream sauce heaped on potato blinis, filet mignon wrapped in house-cured pancetta, and local farm-raised pecan-crusted trout with rich, whole grain mustard cream sauce.

Although Sedona’s dining scene is mostly casual, Dahl & Di Luca fits the bill for a special-occasion fine dining spot that oozes romance. Bask in candlelight and live jazz as you ooh and ahh at Italian specialties created by chefs Andrea Di Luca and Lisa Dahl. Start with a glass of bubbly and affinato (fig marmalade, radicchio and mozzarella wrapped in prosciutto), then fall in love with gooey lasagna and other homemade pasta dishes, as well as entrées like juicy chicken in a heady rosemary sauce.

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Since reservations are hard to come by, it’s worth it to plan ahead for dinner at Garland’s Oak Creek Lodge, several miles north of town. Every night, a pre-dinner cocktail hour by the fireplace is followed by chef Amanda Stine’s multi-course menu using seasonal ingredients from Garland’s garden. Since most diners stay at the secluded lodge as part of an annual getaway, it’s an honor to get a glimpse of tradition by joining them at the dinner table. As an added bonus, you might even make new friends.






GUIDEBOOK
Apizza Heaven
2675 W. Hwy. 89A,
928-282-0519
apizzaheavenaz.com

ChocolaTree Organic Eatery
1595 W. Hwy. 89A,
928-282-2997
chocolatreecafe.com

Cowboy Club
241 N. Hwy. 89A,
928-282-4200
cowboyclub.com

Dahl & Di Luca
2321 W. Hwy. 89A,
928-282-5219
dahlanddiluca.com

Elote Cafe
771 Hwy. 179,
928-203-0105
elotecafe.com

Garland’s Oak Creek Lodge
Eight miles north of Sedona on Hwy. 89A,
928-282-3343
garlandslodge.com

Heartline Cafe
1610 W. Hwy. 89A,
928-282-3365 (daytime hours) and 928-282-0785 (after 4 p.m.)
heartlinecafe.com

Heart of Sedona Coffee
1370 W. Hwy. 89A,
928-282-5777

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L’Auberge Restaurant on Oak Creek
301 L’Auberge Ln. (L’Auberge de Sedona),
928-282-1661
lauberge.com/sedona-fine-dining/

Oak Creek Brewery & Grill
336 Hwy. 179,
928-282-3300
oakcreekpub.com

Pita Fresh Mediterranean Cuisine
1370 W. Hwy. 89A,
928-282-0010

REDS Restaurant
2250 W. Hwy. 89A
(Sedona Rouge Hotel),
928-203-4599
sedonarouge.com/dining/reds

 

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