The Back to California Cross-Country Road Trip, Day 28: Flagstaff, AZ

DSC01315What a relief to leave the oven that Phoenix is and head north to Flagstaff. Whenever I drive this road, I forget how beautiful the view is from the summit around the turn-off for Sedona. The temperature  plummeted. After a short rest at my family’s house south of Flag, we attended a wine dinner at Tinderbox, a very good restaurant in the city center. All the BBQ ribs and brisket I ate over the past month were nothing compared to the cold corn soup ladled over a piece of smoked butterfish and a scallop; the pea-shoot and arugula salad with beets and blue cheese; the mushroom and duck confit risotto with crispy thin onion rings; the thick slices of balsamic-fennel crusted lamb sirloin, roasted broccolini, and pan-sauteed new potatoes. Stop! Mercy! we fifty diners cried. Kevin Heinonen, owner, and his cousin, Scott Heinonen, the chef, really have something special here. I’ll never forget the fried housemade-baloney sandwich I ate there three years ago. The Jersey girl in me was in heaven.

Tehachapi on Saturday, home on Sunday.

Flagstaff, Arizona: Tinderbox Kitchen

DSC0501034 South San Francisco St., Flagstaff, AZ, (928) 226-8400. website.

You won’t find many kicks left on Route 66. I certainly didn’t, when I drove at the end of August a thousand miles south and then east to the White Mountains on the far side of Arizona. And if you’re used to the bounty of northern California’s markets, you’ll feel distinctly deprived of culinary kicks.

Until, that is, you arrive in Flagstaff and stop for lunch at Tinderbox, a friendly little restaurant about two blocks south the old Rte 66 that runs through town. The menu was eclectic and unpretentious, the servers friendly and prompt. I started with a refreshing cucumber soup that was a tad too thick but good. I couldn’t stop there, especially when I saw they offered a friend baloney sandwich with bbq sauce. How could I, a daughter of New Jersey, not order it? To be sure, I asked about the baloney before I committed. House-made? Well, say no more!

The sandwich arrived on good toasted sliced bread. The tender baloney was sliced about a 1/4-inch thick and friend lightly. I was glad they weren’t especially generous with the quantity of bbq sauce, because it’s a sandwich worth wrapping your fingers around securely and hanging on to it until the last bite. Without falling apart completely or drenching my hands in sticky sauce, the handful felt like something substantial, soft, and gloriously squishy, oozing with juice. Would that Oscar Meyer had produced baloney like that when I was a kid!

DSC05009After lunch I felt I had to digest the baloney before I got back into my car. Somewhere in the blocks north of Tinderbox, I came across a gem of a used bookstore, Starlight Books (15 N. Leroux St., Flagstaff, AZ 86001, 928-774-6813). Whoever it is that runs the store maintains a very good collection of used hardback fiction in their original dust jackets at very reasonable prices. Many of the books on the shelves are first editions. This is the kind of shop that needs support. When you’ve finished your lunch, drop by and pick up something to read. You’ll know the moment you walk into the shop that it’s a worthy cause.