Amidst panoramas dotted with succulents, palm trees and various cacti is a place lush with agritourism. The fresh foodie scene in Arizona is thriving, with chefs building not only meals, but community around locally-grown and produced items.
A prime example is Phoenix Public Market Café, (http://phxpublicmarket.com/ ) an urban hangout in the heart of downtown Phoenix, a stone’s throw from the downtown branch of Arizona State University. Local restaurateur and chef Aaron Chamberlin has grown a year-round, open air market in the parking lot next to his Café into the largest in all of Arizona. He utilizes the farm-fresh ingredients to create scratch-made breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days a week.
A broad base of all ages, including a youthful influx from the University, keep the Café buzzing all day (with the help from the buzz of their popular cold brew coffees) through evening (when the full bar keeps the evening hopping). Breakfast time the day we visited brought bacon and eggs, house-made bagels with cream cheese and lox and a plate of freshly-baked goods, including a fruit-filled toaster pastry. A must-try is the Blue Corn Pancakes with crispy edges circling a fluffy interior. Topped with whipped honey-butter and a sprinkling of airy, freeze-dried corn kernels, the flavors and various textures were a real treat.
The short walk down the street to DeSoto Central Market (http://desotocentralmarket.com/ ) isn’t quite long enough to have worked up an appetite for lunch, but it’s a start. The rehabbed DeSoto Motorcar dealership, circa 1928, now serves as an event space and small business incubator. Start-ups, which may be brand new or expanding from their food cart or food truck roots, commit to three years inside Desoto. At the end of that period, they can move on, hopefully creating their own brick and mortar restaurant, or continue in the Desoto space. The restaurants benefit from the same farmer’s market as Phoenix Public Market Café. Diners can get their meals from one or several restaurants, offering varied options such as fried pigs ears from the larder + the delta and oysters from Walrus & The Pearl (yes, oysters in Arizona). On weekends, The Kraken from DCM Bar offers a gravity-defying, multi-course meal that includes the Bloody Mary (hands down the best we’ve ever had), with veggies, bacon, pickle and then a slider burger and a moonpie on top! Disassemble it and lay out your meal, complete with a drink. Pretty brilliant!
Agritopia: Food Nirvana
Out in the countryside, Agritopia (http://agritopia.com/ ) is a master-planned community centered on preserving urban agriculture and integrating it into every aspect of daily life. There’s a community garden and a working farm that provides ingredients for Joe’s Farm Grill, where you can get pizza, burgers, salads and much more – comfort food with the healthiest ingredients possible. Eat inside in the founding family’s former home or outside under the massive tree. But mind the signs warning about scorpions in the tree that might be encountered if you just can’t resist the urge to climb.
Then take a self-guided tour through Agritopia gardens and see unexpected sights like pomegranates and dates growing. We heard more than a few times, “I didn’t know that’s how those grew!” The entire community is unique and all about embracing agriculture at the root of everyday life. Agritopia is just one stop on what is called Arizona’s Fresh Foodie Trail (https://www.visitmesa.com/lifestyles/fresh-foodie/ ) of food-driven destinations. Other examples include Queen Creek Olive Mill, Schnepf Farms and The Pork Shop.
These are just a few of the many opportunities to get to the heart of where food comes from in Arizona, in very tasty ways. Whether it’s a beer from the neighborhood brewpub to the olive oil to dress your salad or the meat in your burger, Arizona’s long growing season and interest and commitment to sourcing locally means meaningful and delicious eating for residents and visitors alike. – by Courtney Drake-McDonough, RFT Contributor