By Jacki Mieler | Photo by John Burcham
It’s on Flagstaff’s busiest street, tucked between a chain pizza joint and a nail salon in a nondescript strip mall. Those aren’t exactly the directions you’d expect to a restaurant with a European ambience so comforting you feel a need to flash a passport at the door.
The rush-hour din fades as diners enter Coppa Café, greeted by warm yellow walls, pressed-tin ceiling tiles and bustling chefs with armfuls of fresh herbs. The herbs, the work of executive chef and co-owner Brian Konefal, are grown indoors alongside edible flowers in a makeshift prep kitchen — the same kitchen where an old cooler serves as the aging location for the restaurant’s namesake coppa, or Italian cured meat.
“Coppa is as refined and sophisticated as prosciutto, but more approachable,” Konefal says of both the house-cured meat and the philosophy that he and his wife, pastry chef and co-owner Paola Fioravanti, have adopted since opening Coppa Café three years ago.
If a culinary gem whose owners are dedicated to foraging and serving fresh and local ingredients seems implausible in a strip mall, consider the fact that both Konefal and Fioravanti were classically trained in Europe and have worked in some of the top kitchens around the world.
How did two globetrotting chefs with enviable kitchen credentials wind up in a small mountain town? Konefal is a graduate of Northern Arizona University, and the couple knew that Flagstaff would be the perfect backdrop for showcasing a base of classic European techniques and creating a tremendous sense of place.
This marriage is evident from the onset, as a fresh baguette and fragrant ponderosa-pine butter preface the seasonally changing menu. The beef-tartare starter embodies everything Coppa is about — the aged beef is flanked by a quail-egg emulsion and bursts with flavor from Konefal’s homegrown “micro-mountain celery.” Chillier months call for entrées such as a hearty wild-venison shank, while warmer weather warrants a delicate halibut confit with preserved lemon.
The glass pastry case is the devil on your shoulder throughout the meal, but in this instance, you’ll be rewarded for giving in to temptation. Fioravanti stocks the case with her homemade macarons, seasonal tarts, and classics such as tiramisu and crème brûlée.
Dinner is where Coppa shines, but rest assured that lunch and Sunday brunch are also worthy of ditching preconceived notions about strip-mall cuisine.
Coppa Café is located at 1300 S. Milton Road in Flagstaff. For more information, call 928-637-6813 or visit www.coppacafe.net.