I have been in a rut lately, and needed some new gastronomic inspiration.
We tried Avalon. I liked it a lot. The room is contemporary and unexpected, the food was well prepared, but something about it left me uninspired.
We returned to Modern Steak, after a woeful disaster of a first visit. The service was impeccable, the gorgeous room was bustling and the food was leaps-and-bounds above our first visit. The Merus King Crab, poached in butter and black truffles was over-the-top and luxurious. But, again, I felt uninspired.
So leave it to Tinderbox Kitchen, located just south of the train tracks in Flagstaff, to reignite my love of eating good food. Simply put: Tinderbox Kitchen is so good, so comfortable, so charming and so unexpected that – for the first time in my life – I’ve had moments where I wished I lived in Flagstaff.
After a full day of skiing at Snowbowl, my dad and I parked on top of a snowdrift and hobbled on sore legs into Tinderbox Kitchen. The room is simple, yet inviting, with an interior design by Carol Minshew. Tin ceiling painted black, simple photography, a small bar and a cozy-yet-comfortable dining room. Smart touches are everywhere: metal candleholders on the table with “T” cut-out, cubes of fresh bread for noshing, and enthusiastic staff that clearly enjoy being here. And I love that they have temporary tattoos with the “T” logo instead of matches. Our server proudly wore hers on her forearm.
Chef/Co-Owner Scott Heinonen has the kitchen firing on all cylinders, serving a menu with amazing depth for such a small place. I counted no fewer than nine different starters, 11 entrees, and eight sides…not to mention a few specials thrown-in for good measure. My dad and I started with the Dueling Smoked Fish: Cold Smoked Salmon vs. Hot Smoked Steelhead. It was a delicious contrast in flavor and texture, my favorite being the hearty flavor of the steelhead, accented with the powerful kick of horseradish crème.
We were eyeing the salad being shared by the couple at the table next to us, so we added a Simple Greens salad at the last minute. It was proof that “simple” doesn’t have to be “boring.” Cold, fresh greens were complimented by dried apricots, blue cheese and pistachios and, delightfully, NOT overdressed with a tart citrus vinaigrette.
Dinner arrived a few minutes later, and I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into the Duck Leg Confit, Rabbit Sausage, House-Cured Kraut and Fried Potatoes. Heinonen’s is a serious contender, with a crisp seared exterior providing the perfect foil for the tender meat inside the moulard leg. The rabbit sausage, which I presume to be house-made (as is a nice array of other charcuterie, including rabbit terrine and pheasant pate), was juicy and flavorful. I barely made a dent in the kraut since I was so full.
My dad was cooing over his Slow Cooked Kurobuta Hog Jowls with Redeye Braise and Creamy Polenta. It was the quintessential winter comfort food…hearty, rich and full of flavor and depth. His plate was completely cleaned, saving the dishwasher considerable effort.
There were so many other entrees that I wanted to try: Root Vegetable Pot Pie with White Truffle Oil, Crispy Turkey Cutlet, Pheasant Confit Ragout and Ancho-Glazed Meatloaf. I can see myself racking-up some serious miles on my car in order to get my Tinderbox fix.
Dessert was the knockout blow of the night: Apple Date Parfait with Bacon Crème Anglaise. Pow! Just like that I was lulled into a happy food coma….legs tired from skiing, belly warm and full of epicurean excellence, and comfort in knowing that happiness and inspiration are just a two hour drive from Phoenix.
Photos of the meal can be found at www.ericeatsout.com
34 South San Francisco Street
Flagstaff, AZ 86001
34 S San Francisco St, Flagstaff, AZ 86001