By Roger Naylor | Photo by Morey K. Milbradt
Considering Sedona residents can barely step outside without stumbling over a scenic wonder, it’s no surprise they don’t like to leave town. Especially for something as basic as a meal. Yet nearly every night of the week, the Manzanita Restaurant in the hinterlands of Cornville is teeming with Sedonans. Joining the red rockers are folks from Flagstaff, Prescott, even Phoenix.
Whether it’s the pecan-crusted pork chops, slow-baked sauerbraten or chicken breast stuffed with crab, artichoke and spinach, Manzanita serves up meals worth some travel time.
“We’re a frumpy little stucco building with a Spanish name serving German food and we’re off the beaten track,” says owner Randy Hale. “It’s a wonder we get any business at all.”
Hale is being modest. Since the early ’90s, Manzanita has been regarded by serious foodies as one of those far-flung gems, a culinary outpost featuring a hearty continental menu. Crisp Wiener schnitzel, as golden as a winter sunrise. Steaks so tender you wonder how they ever kept a cow upright. Soups so rich, they should pay for the meal. Hale strived to maintain that sterling reputation after buying the restaurant from Swiss chef Albert Kramer in December 2006.
“There are lots of reasons to buy a restaurant, most of them bad,” Hale says. “But when the opportunity comes along to buy a wildly successful restaurant because the owner wants to retire, that’s when I got interested.”
Chefs Sam Leffel and Chris Bruneau, Kramer’s former sous chefs, now run the kitchen, where meats are still hand-cut, herbs and veggies are plucked from their own garden, and seafood is flown in fresh. Hale continues the labor-intensive slow-food practices that put Manzanita on the map, while still expanding the menu.
Take those pork chops. For years, Manzanita served a grilled chop, tasty but traditional. Hale added one as a special, sautéed in a bourbon reduction sauce and topped with a pecan mix giving it a sweet, nutty crust. It became such an instant hit, it bumped the original from the menu. More work to make, but like every other dish served, it haunts your taste buds.
In addition, Manzanita recently began offering lunch Wednesdays through Sundays, and a wine and hors d’oeuvres happy hour on weeknights — wines from neighboring vineyards are featured.
“This is something we wanted to do for the locals,” Hale says. Of course, when it comes to Manzanita, everybody in Arizona with a car qualifies as a local.