Arizona boasts such varied topography that if you live in the Phoenix area and are looking for a weekend escape, the choices are infinite, whether you want to camp, hike, ski or go rafting. However, if you want something a little more cosmopolitan — if you’re a foodie, for example — once you leave Maricopa County, it would be a desert out there. Thankfully, there’s John Sharpe.
The well-known chef, who ran such Southern California restaurants as Bistro 201 in Laguna Beach, decamped from the hustle and bustle of The OC and ended up in the small town of Winslow, taking over the Turquoise Room at the historic La Posada Hotel.
Since opening the Turquoise Room Restaurant and Martini Lounge in 2000, Sharpe has been a James Beard finalist twice, which after a lifetime in the restaurant business, Sharpe finds ironic. “I don’t even know how they found me,” he told me when I visited him at the Turquoise Room.
One could hop across the Valley of the Sun from Gilbert to Scottsdale to north Phoenix and not eat as well as you would at the Turquoise Room, where Sharpe introduced a contemporary Southwest cuisine using local and regional foods as much as possible. The two nights I was at the La Posada resort, the “week’s specials” on the Turquoise Room menu included Colorado elk medallions with black currant sauce and grilled churro (locally raised) lamb salad, which my wife chose. I went off the special with the grilled chicken breast with sweet corn tamale. Both were exceptional.
On our second night, my wife and I went with beef dinners. She chose the Harris Ranch Farms Angus prime rib and I chose the Black Angus ground round. The desserts are amazing, but my favorite was an apple and rhubarb pie, the likes of which I had never encountered before.
If there was one failure, it’s the Turquoise Room’s inability to make good French fries — too soggy for my taste.
I suppose when you drop out of Southern California and look for a special place to ply your trade as a chef, you probably can’t do much better than the La Posada, the storied hotel on the east-west rail lines of northern Arizona. The last famous railroad hotel to be built in North America, the property opened in 1930. Designed by the great Southwest architect Mary Colter for the Fred Harvey Co., the beautiful and grand property missed the heyday of rail travel and suffered a financially troubled history. At one point, it was slated to be torn down before being rescued by Allan Affeldt, who has worked hard to restore the hotel to its former grandeur.
Despite its troubled history, the hotel has attracted the rich, famous and powerful to its rooms — and still does. A who’s who of guests include Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman; aviators Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart; Frank Sinatra; actors such as Douglas Fairbanks, John Wayne and Diane Keaton; Albert Einstein; and artists and designers including Ed Ruscha and Tom Ford.
A notable has stayed in almost every room. My room, 204, was once the temporary accommodation of Mary Pickford.
IF YOU GO
If you live in Tempe or Phoenix, the easiest route is Interstate 17 north to Flagstaff, then Interstate 40 east to Winslow. For those folk who live in Mesa, Chandler or Gilbert, an optional route is State Route 87 (Beeline Highway), which runs through Payson to Winslow. Hotel accommodations can be made at LaPosada.org; dining information is available at TheTurquoiseRoom.net.
• Steve Bergsman is a freelance writer based in Mesa, and the author of “The Death of Johnny Ace” and “Growing Up Levittown: In a Time of Conformity, Controversy and Cultural Crisis.” Reach him at Redroom.com/Stevebergsman or firstname.lastname@example.org.