Road Journals Blog—When I think of foodie destinations, Arizona doesn’t typically leap to mind. But the southwestern dining scene is experiencing a shift in its culinary landscape, and Mesa, Phoenix’s neighbor, has verdant watersheds that nourish acres of farmland, allowing the chefs in the Phoenix area to reap a bounty of local produce and transform seasonal ingredients into innovative new dishes. From dining at a working farm at the base of a mountain to eating upscale American cuisine to sampling locally produced beers, I quickly dropped any notions I had of soggy Tex Mex and languishing produce.
The Farm at South Mountain
After spying desert birds and sturdy saguaro at South Mountain Preserve, I kept the rugged outdoor vibe going (with a whole lot of added charm) at The Farm at South Mountain . In the rural tranquility only eight minutes outside the heart of downtown, the Farm operates on a sustainable business model, producing everything on-site from herbs to eggs. After choosing from the menu inside, I waited for my name to be called, grabbed the woven basket filled with my lunch, and snagged a seat under the shade of one of the 100 pecan trees that dot the 12-acre farm. My chicken salad sandwich, which included some of those same pecans, came piled high on a baguette under a mountain of peppery arugula. And despite the rising heat, I couldn’t help but try the clam chowder soup of the day.
One of the restaurants on the forefront of Phoenix’s dining metamorphosis is Cask 63 . Executive Chef Brian Feirstein focuses on producing clean flavors from fresh, local ingredients. The seasonally-changing menu featured a lobster pot pie and premium black angus beef short ribs, but I opted for the macadamia nut–crusted sea bass in a coconut lemongrass broth with Asian risotto and asparagus. I also couldn’t resist the s’mores dessert, which featured pillowy homemade marshmallows, from scratch graham crackers, a chocolate brownie, and peanut butter ice cream so beautifully displayed that I almost felt bad about ruining it with my spoon. The menu boasted a wine list that focuses on local varietals, but I opted for the new-fashioned, old-fashioned cocktail: Sazerac rye, a sugar cube, Angostura bitters, crushed orange, and a brandied cherry.
Four Peaks Brewery
After sporting high heels the night before, throwing on flats and jeans and heading to Four Peaks Brewery  for a pre-baseball lunch almost seemed like a foreign concept. But while the pub definitely caters to a more casual crowd, the emphasis on local production still runs
strong. As the largest and most award-winning brewery in the state, Four Peaks has built a name for itself since opening its Tempe headquarters in 1996. The Scottsdale location exudes the same relaxed vibe, and the beer’s reputation is well deserved. Along with a number of appetizers I split with my group, I was able to sample different varieties of the beers presented on a paddle-like wood board in what appeared to be oversized shot glasses. The secret behind the successful brews lies in the water. Four Peaks replicates German water for its Kolsch and water from Edinburgh for the Kilt Lifter. The brewery also develops its own yeast strands and uses recyclable materials in its cans.
This blog post was first published in May 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.