By Jacki Mieler | Photo by John Burcham
When someone says “campus dining,” I’m immediately transported to my college years, recalling haunting images of hairnets, plastic trays and questionable meatloaf. The memories come rushing back, and they are remarkably absent of filet mignon, cumin-dusted scallops and Arizona wines.
1899 Bar & Grill, an independent restaurant on the Northern Arizona University campus, is bridging the chasm between these two dining experiences, offering students and the general public valuable lessons in campus dining done right.
1899 is a hat tip to the year that NAU, then called Northern Arizona Normal School, opened. That campus history is celebrated throughout the restaurant, housed in a restored 1950s building that has been everything from a post office to a pool hall. Photos from the NAU archives adorn the walls, and the original wood floors, brick walls and mammoth floor-to-ceiling copper fireplace are reminders of the building’s colorful past.
While the setting is decidedly historic, the menu is firmly rooted in a more modern culinary tradition. A quick and approachable lunch spot by day and a casually elegant steakhouse by night, 1899 is the kind of place where diners in hiking shorts sit alongside suit-clad symphony-goers.
The lunch menu features build-your-own salads and burgers with enough topping, vegetable and cheese options to allow indecisive diners to mix and match to their hearts’ content. But sometimes it’s better to leave it in the hands of the experts, and the signature 1899 Burger is proof that the chefs in the kitchen know best. Good things happen when you marinate a burger in local dark beer. Even better things happen when you do a little mixing and matching of your own, pairing the sweet-potato fries with a side of the deliciously spicy and creamy chipotle ranch from the salad menu.
Fresh steaks and seafood are the stars of the show at dinner, and the unmistakable sizzle of steaks hitting the grill in the open kitchen makes it nearly impossible to visit any other section of the menu. Although the menu changes quarterly, items such as the ribeye and New York strip are fixtures, as is the difficult choice between a bacon-and-blue-cheese baked potato or garlic-cheddar mashed potatoes as a side.
The culinary team at 1899 takes “local” to a whole new level. Sure, they serve local beers and wines and work with Arizona farms for fresh produce. But if the menu features something with tomatoes or basil, there is a good chance it came from a greenhouse right on the NAU campus.
At the end of the semester, don’t be surprised to see a dining room full of college students using up their parent-funded dining dollars at 1899. Can you blame them for choosing filet mignon over meatloaf?