It's the Weekend. Let's Eat. Old Town Cottonwood.
At Expedition Foodie, we're all about giving you reasons to travel for a good meal. "It's the Weekend. Let's Eat." features itineraries for where to dine and what to order in cities throughout Arizona. This edition takes us to Old Town Cottonwood.
By Nora Burba Trulsson
Old Town Cottonwood was a sleepy place just a few years ago. Then the surrounding Verde Valley blossomed with vineyards and wineries, and the city sprouted serious tasting rooms. Great restaurants soon followed.
Now, you can literally eat your way through Cottonwood's restaurants without ever getting into your car. Here's the weekend plan.
Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room & Osteria was opened in late 2016 in a corner storefront by rock musician/winemaker Maynard James Keenan. Sample a glass of Merkin's Shinola, a sangiovese-based blend, then dig into the hyper-local menu created by Chef Christopher Smith. Pastas and breads are made in-house from Arizona flour, so don't miss the wine- and prickly pear-infused Merkin mac and cheese (yes, it's pinkish, not orange), the pesto and cheese cavatelli or the creamy gnocchi made with Willcox potatoes. If dinner is more about grazing, the charcuterie board features a changing array of meats and cheeses, while the salad choices feature fruits and vegetables culled from Merkin’s own orchard, gardens and greenhouse.
Sunny and casual, the Old Town Red Rooster Cafe is the place where locals linger over coffee to catch up on gossip. Scuttlebutt or not, you can't go wrong with the open-faced egg sandwich, made with asparagus, goat cheese and dill sauce. Or a scrambled egg, cheese and avocado-stuffed quesadilla. Or the granola-studded yogurt parfait. The coffee is delish, but if you want to be more adventurous, go for the iced blueberry chai. Of course, there’s always the adult bevvies, too, such as a Bloody Mary or an Irish Coffee.
Chef Michelle Jursin went to Naples, Italy, to study pizza making, then returned to Cottonwood to open Pizzeria Bocce in a transformed 1920s-era automotive shop. The indoor-outdoor, industrial-modern restaurant serves up a dozen kinds of wood-fired pizzas. Among the favorites: the Cire's, made with house-crafted Italian sausage, fresh basil, mushrooms and hand-stretched mozzarella; and the straightforwardly named Shrimp and Hot Peppers pie, whose main ingredients are complemented by fresh tomatoes and a chimichurri sauce. Don't skip the bocce balls appetizer, a comforting bowl of chicken and sausage meatballs in spicy marinara topped with mozzarella. And, ma certo, there's a full bar and an outdoor bocce ball court where you can while away an afternoon.
Eating at Abbie's Kitchen is like having dinner at Grandma’s house—if Grandma was cool, hip and a gourmet chef. Chef/owner Abbie Ashford runs the 28-seat restaurant out of a tiny, 1920s miner’s cottage. The cozy setting is a backdrop for the wonders that emerge from the pint-sized kitchen, like mushroom crêpes, crab cakes dabbed with a mustard sauce and veal osso buco served over house-made fettuccine. Save room for her flourless chocolate cake or carrot cake. Drinks? Abbie's serves Arizona wine and beer. Reservations are recommended unless you’re feeling lucky.
Chef Michelle Jursin (yep, of Bocce fame) has you covered in the a.m., too. Located in a shady courtyard on Main Street, her Crema Craft Kitchen + Bar is known for its macchiatos, mimosas and meal-in-itself Bloody Marys. And those are just the drinks. For eats, there’s the luscious lobster and asparagus eggs Benedict, pumpkin pancakes covered in mascarpone and pralines, red velvet waffles with beer-battered chicken, and the chilaquiles. While you're lounging over brunch, take heart in knowing that Cottonwood has a long history with booze. Crema, like other buildings along Main Street, sits atop Prohibition-era basements and tunnels, where bootleggers once lurked.