By Adrien Field
Scottsdale has called itself “The West’s most Western town” since its incorporation as a city in 1951. In the intervening 63 years, the Phoenix suburb has swelled in size from 2,000 to over 200,000 and traded in its cowboy boots for the well-heeled patent variety available at its downtown Fashion Square’s luxury boutiques.
While Scottsdale may no longer be the Wild West, it’s on the pioneering frontier of a farm to table movement that’s both elevating the culinary scene and raising consciousness about the provenance of one’s plate. No longer just a spa and golf destination, Scottsdale has forged a place for itself on the foodie map, attracting nationally recognized chefs who work with local small-scale farmers to offer fresh, seasonal dishes.
In nearly all ways, Scottsdale has become a cosmopolitan oasis in the Sonoran Desert with world class dining and accommodations. With its myriad spas, golf courses and the upcoming Super Bowl and PGA tournament in Phoenix – both taking place within a week of each other – there’s never been a better time to visit our neighbor to the East.
Scottsdale is just 380 miles from Los Angeles, or an hour’s plane ride into Phoenix with all major airlines providing multiple flights daily. Peak season is January through March, when the weather cools to an average of 70 degrees during the day. Off-season is predictably from June to September, when summer temperatures soar into three-digit territory. Those who don’t mind the heat will find incredible deals on hotel stays and spa packages.
There is no shortage of hotels and resorts lining the city’s 184 square miles, ranging from quaint to opulent. Landmark properties include The Hotel Valley Ho, one of the only mid-century modern resorts built in the 1950s still standing today, the Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain, a luxurious celebrity favorite, and The Bespoke Inn, Scottsdale’s only bed and breakfast.
The Omni Montelucia is a sprawling 35-acre property at the foot of Camel Back Mountain. Influenced by the architecture of Southern Spain, the hotel inspires feelings of grandiosity with its long courtyards and soaring stone archways.
Rooms are comfortable and well appointed with cloud-soft king sized beds, a workspace and sofa. Our room looked out onto the expansive Camelback Mountain with a double door that opened out onto tranquil garden, home to rabbits and hummingbirds
The main attraction here is undoubtedly the 31,000-square-foot Joya spa designed by Sylvia Sepielli. Men’s and women’s lounge areas are complete with a steam room, sauna, Jacuzzi and the only hammam treatment rooms in Arizona. Upstairs is also a private pool for spa-goers with treetop and mountain views.
The Montelucia’s marquee restaurant, Prado, is a stylish and acclaimed breakfast, lunch, and dinner spot serving Mediterranean cuisine. Executive chef Michael Cairns overseas the kitchen that features a wood-burning fire grill.
For a romantic getaway, the Royal Palms offers secluded bliss amid lush bougainvillea-scented surroundings. Originally built in 1929 as a private residence, the resort opened its doors to the public in 1997 after an extensive renovation. Couples can lose themselves among the winding stone pathways that lead to intimate garden nooks and fountains.
Each of the property’s 119 guestrooms is situated in bungalow-style casitas with a front entrance and a back patio. Adding to the intimacy are grand four-poster beds and a remote-controlled fireplace in each room.
For a sumptuous dining experience, the hotel restaurant T. Cook’s is not to be missed. The menu by executive chef Paul McCabe features rich continental cuisine with highlights like venison tartare, stone seared foie gras, and a mouth-watering Colorado lamb.
Queen Creek Olive Mill
About an hour outside of Scottsdale in neighboring Mesa, the Queen Creek Olive Mill is an example of the small scale farming operations currently changing the food landscape in Arizona. Helmed by husband and wife team Perry and Brenda Rea, the mill farms some 7,500 olive trees on its property and produces a range of flavorful extra virgin olive oils onsite including specialty infusions such as chocolate, vanilla bean and yes, even bacon olive oils.
An afternoon can be easily spent touring of the facility’s production operations, where visitors learn how the olive goes from fruit to liquid, followed by lunch at the café, which serves up an array of Mediterranean-style salads and sandwiches. Make sure to try an olive oil cupcake before perusing the various olive offerings at the marketplace in the form of oils, jarred tapenades, and even beauty products made by Mrs. Rea.
A true local’s spot inconspicuously situated in a strip mall, Bink’s serves locally sourced organic foods that are simply delicious. The ambiance lends itself more to afternoon than evening visits, but dishes like lobster pasta and 5 spice duck breast make dinner too good to pass up.
The unlikely pairing of a fast-talking Montenegrin/Columbian oenophile and a shy but extremely talented chef make up FnB (Food ‘N Beverage). Situated in the Art Walk district downtown, the restaurant has received national attention for its seasonal menu that puts Arizona produce front and center. In chef Charlene’s hands, Tuscan kale falafels are a soft and savory delight, roasted tomatoes are dynamites of sweetness, and the chicken au jus entrée is a flavorful classic.
Co-Owner Pavle Milivec serves as front of house and educates patrons on Arizona wines, including some of his own blends, each lovingly nicknamed after his children.
The attached shop next door, Bodega, also sells local wines, cheeses, and other fresh farm produce.
SPOTLIGHT ON SINGH FARMS
For Ken Singh, a second-generation Arizona farmer, “food grown properly is magic.” It may as well be his mantra; since he took the reigns of Singh Farms from his father, he’s transformed his 60-acre farmland into an organic and sustainable operation growing 50 varieties of produce.
A veritable Garden of Eden rising in the middle of Scottsdale’s arid terrain, Singh Farms draws locals every Saturday morning to its farmer’s market where it serves fruits and vegetables harvested from the earth that morning.
It’s the quality of the produce that keeps food conscious patrons coming back week after week to this hidden gem. “It’s simple. Give the soil what it wants and get rid of chemicals.” Mr. Singh says as he surveys the growth of his Moringa trees. In addition to composting his own soil, Mr. Singh has implemented companion growing, which supplants the need for pesticides since each plant naturally has an essence that protects another.