Before you even crack the menu at Up the Creek, you’re confronted with a tough choice. A seat by the window offers sweeping views of Oak Creek. A seat at the polished wooden bar, adorned with decades of carved messages, is short on views but rife with local flavor as the gathering place for winemakers and farmers. But when it comes to Up the Creek, which is surrounded by Central Arizona’s Verde Valley vineyards and the creek’s tranquil waters, the only wrong choice would be not getting off the beaten path to experience it.
Originally a gas station and convenience store in the 1950s, the restaurant is the perfect culinary complement to the neighboring tasting rooms. Jim O’Meally says when he took over as chef and co-owner in 2014, he wanted to build a place where people would congregate for wine and his own brand of “international peasant cuisine.” Indeed, wild game and meat are prominently featured on the menu, as are classic French sauces — and there’s a wine to match any dish.
Although meat is the star of the show, the vegetables on the appetizer menu could convert the most dedicated carnivore. The mushroom bruschetta features grilled bread topped with earthy mushrooms and a rich Marsala sauce that’s begging to be sopped up with extra bread. The roasted Brussels sprouts are a delicate balance of a sweet balsamic reduction, salty capers and Parmesan, and the crunch of almonds.
If you’re on the fence about wild game, venison is the ideal gateway meat. O’Meally sources his from New Zealand and serves it with a hearty farro cooked in a classic onion sauce that’s leveled up with the addition of cream and Gruyère. A blueberry gastrique rounds it out, striking harmony between the lean venison and the rich farro. Not quite ready to be a game convert? Try the Scottish salmon, a fattier (translation: more delicious) version that packs the punch of a meat dish but retains the delicacy of flaky fish. It’s paired with rice pilaf and an Emiliana-style green sauce, an Italian concoction featuring notes of basil, parsley, capers and anchovies.
In addition to “bringing French techniques out of a hoity-toity perspective,” O’Meally regularly brings the house down. A jack of all trades, he lists “pianist” on his business card, right next to “chef” and “sommelier.” Playing anything from the Grateful Dead to Chopin, he believes food theory is like music theory — and that the balance of notes and chords is no different from balancing flavors in the kitchen.
Thankfully, the piano can be heard from a window table or a bar stool, so choose a seat knowing you’re in for one harmonious experience.
Up the Creek
1975 N. Page Springs Road