Filed under: chef, farmer, food and beverage, locavore, organic, restaurant, sustainable, sustainable food, top-feature
Restaurants Harvest Desert for Extreme Locavore Menu
A new trend for Phoenix area restaurants has been to create menus based on local and sustainable foods. The Tonto Bar & Grill and its sister restaurant Cartwright’s Sonoran Ranch House and Lounge have been leaders in sustainable and locavore dining for many years.
A locavore or localvore is defined as someone who eats food grown or produced locally or within a certain radius such as 50, 100, or 150 miles. The locavore movement encourages consumers to buy from farmers’ markets or even to produce their own food, with some arguing that fresh, local products are more nutritious and taste better.
Even with fresh, local and sustainable being the big buzzwords in food, few Valley restaurants can boast the kind of “extreme locavore” ingredients that Tonto Bar & Grill (map) and Cartwright’s (map) use in their dishes. Eric Flatt, chef and owner, considers himself a passionate advocate for local and sustainable eating. He is capitalizing on the fruits and plants in the desert nearby his restaurants to roll out a cornucopia of desert-inspired dishes this summer.
Cartwright’s chef Montez Crane and Tonto chef Aaron Geister have traded their chef’s whites for hiking boots to harvest ocotillo flowers and cholla buds from cacti on site and in the nearby desert on private property. Geister used the ocotillo flowers for a special salad that also included wild arugula with toasted pepitas, julienned jicama, and lime and mesquite honey vinaigrette.
Prickly pear fruit is used to make syrup used for desserts, garnishes on entrees, and in the Indian Harvest Torta on Tonto’s regular menu. Mesquite beans are harvested and ground for flour that is used to dust seafood dishes and for baking. They also make a rich syrup. Saguaro fruit will be used in some appetizers, and saguaro seeds are dried and used in the same manner as poppy seeds: on salads and possibly in breads. Jojoba beans are toasted, like nuts are, and used in salads. Two large olive trees at Tonto that haven’t fruited in several years are flowering, and according to Flatt he expects them to produce.
In addition to using the desert’s bounty whenever possible, Flatt is committed to incorporating a bevy of local and sustainable items on his menus. Organic grass-fed beef from Cochise Cattle Company in Arizona is used for the burger at Tonto, and only all-natural meats and sustainable seafood are offered on the menu there and at Cartwright’s. “When the cat’s claw blooms, we’ll use the flowers to finish meats,” said Flatt. “They put out a perfumed smoke.”
As a frequent diner at both establishments, I can vouch for the amazing food, extensive, award-winning wine list and attentive service. But I have to admit, I do truly love the surroundings. It seems they don’t just use the desert for its culinary advantages they also capitalize on the striking views of the Sonoran desert. Tonto overlooks the 11th hole of the Rancho Manana Golf Course, surrounded by stately saguaros and blooming desert plants with the ridge of the Tonto National Forest in the distance. Cartwright’s is nestled in the side of Saguaro Hill with stunning views of Black Mountain. Indoor and outdoor patios with fireplaces deliver unbeatable atmosphere and are complemented by their appreciation for the area’s rich history. Each visit has always been a pleasure and with the new sustainable culinary techniques, I have even more reason to return.
Tonto Bar & Grill at Rancho Manana
5736 E. Rancho Manana Blvd., Cave Creek
Regular hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily
Cartwright’s Sonoran Ranch House and Lounge
6710 E. Cave Creek Road, Cave Creek
Open 7 days a week 5:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Reservations are recommended for dinner and holidays.
Photos courtesy of Tonto Bar & Grill and personal collection.