Canela Bistro is located at 3252 Highway 82 in Sonoita. For more information, call 520-455-5873 or visit www.canelabistro.com.
© Edward McCain
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Muy Local"Locavores" are people who will only eat food that is grown locally. There aren't a lot of restaurants catering to this crowd, but among those that do, Canela Bistro is one of the best.
By Keridwen Cornelius
Sonoita Canela is a restaurant born of oxymorons: a Southwestern bistro, located in Arizona wine country that serves the local bounty of the desert. Yet somehow, three oxymorons make a right. Enter this small, unpretentious converted home and you'll be immediately soothed by the warm, Southwestern décor: clay-toned walls, dried chiles, regional art, native textiles and ceramics. It's sophisticated, but this is Sonoita, so the tables are usually more dressed up than the patrons.
"It has a comfortable, Old World feel where you can just be yourself and enjoy the food and wine of the area," says Joy Vargo, who owns Canela with her partner, John Hall.
Joy and John took their inspiration from the wine region bistros of California and Washington, which celebrate local vineyards and farms. Two pages of the wine list are dedicated to Arizona vino. As chef, John conjures the flavors he remembers from his grandmother's cooking (his family goes back several generations in Arizona). The couple were also influenced by their training at the New England Culinary Institute, the Farm to Chef Network, and their experience at locavore restaurants in Seattle.
"We really believe in the marriage between a restaurant and a farm," Joy says. "It's freshest, tastes best and you're supporting your local economy."
But it's one thing to source local food in Vermont or Washington, and another thing to do so in Southeastern Arizona.
Most farmers in the area only have a small plot of land, and they're not used to dealing with the demands of restaurants, Joy explains. "Sometimes we have to drive past Willcox to find things, and we can only get one animal here and one animal there, or we have to wait till the animal comes of age. You have to have patience and learn how to do things yourself."
Still, thanks to a half-dozen ranches, a handful of farms and their own garden, John and Joy produce a constantly changing menu that highlights seasonal, regional food. To wit: A salad composed of local organic heir- loom apples is anointed with sage vinaigrette. Duck is sauced with green mole and nestled atop risotto redolent of cumin. A New York strip steak gets a one-way ticket to Arizona with nopales (cactus pads), roasted chiles and cotija (a Mexican cheese). For vegetarians, poblano chiles are stuffed with mushrooms, studded with local pomegranate seeds and bathed in a red sea of sauce made from Willcox chiles. For Sunday brunch, you can tuck in to house-made chorizo with heirloom beans or blue cornbread pudding with house-made bacon.
It's reminiscent of something in Napa or Walla Walla, but with a decidedly Sonoitan twist.
"You wouldn't expect to find something like this here in Arizona wine country," Joy says. "There's no place like it."