Finally, a burger with a taste of place

 

Some 12 million people visit the Grand Canyon every year, but any "foodies" among them tend to be disappointed when they arrive at the rim.
 
Where in all this luscious landscape, they ask, is anyone serving food that tastes of this place? Why do so few restaurants in Arizona's canyon country feature the range-fed beef or lamb, vegetables, fruits or other seasonal fare produced by local farmers and ranchers? Except at the world-renowned Turquoise Room in Winslow and Garland's in Oak Creek, both of them Arizona towns several hours south of the Grand Canyon, few chefs in the region have been smart enough to make use of locally produced food and prepare it well.
 
Until now. When Derrick Widmark first got the idea for Diablo Burger two years ago, he was already working for the Diablo Trust, one of the oldest collaborations between ranchers and farmers in the West. The Diablo Trust began in 1993, at a humble community gathering arranged by the ranchers of the Flying M and Bar T Bar. Since then, the Trust has done so much to sustain open spaces, protect biodiversity and restore healthy watersheds that it has garnered awards from the U.S. Forest Service, the National Cattleman's Beef Association and the National Partnership for Reinventing Government.
 
And yet, even with such national and regional fame, Widmark knew that the nonprofit trust needed more of a human face in the communities of northern Arizona where it worked. Though millions of people travel through the hundreds of thousands of acres of working landscapes managed by the Diablo Trust, few had any idea what the group was trying to achieve. Fewer still ever tasted any of the food it produced in a local setting.
 
It took time and patience, but Widmark assembled a team of investors and collaborators who have now changed their community's notion of what good local food can be. And the food served on Heritage Square, smack-dab in the middle of downtown Flagstaff, is exceedingly good, modestly priced and served in a comfortable and elegant setting.
 
The beef in the burgers is raised on the open range, free of growth hormones and antibiotics. It comes exclusively from the ranches within the Diablo Canyon Rural Planning Area, an innovative effort to keep private landowners and agencies engaged in maintaining the integrity of a working landscape that covers nearly a half-million acres along I-40 between Flagstaff and Winslow. But this beef is not the tough, jerky-like chaw that Arizona ranches offered their cowboys a century ago; instead, it is deliciously seasoned and carefully prepared in a variety of ways that make you expand your notion of what a burger can really be.
 
Onions, herbs and tomatoes top the burgers, and they come from Mountain Meadow Farm in Flagstaff and McClendon's Select in Peoria, Ariz. The burgers come in buns, tortillas or rolls from the Tortilla Lady in Flagstaff and Simply Bread in Phoenix. Distinctive regional wines and beers are also featured. Soups, salads and desserts change each day or so, but the tomato soup I sampled was as good as any I've ever tasted: savory and smooth, but substantial.
 
Within the first month after opening, Diablo Burger was serving as many as 300 people from late afternoon through evening. Times might be hard, but the nation's economic downturn doesn't seem to be keeping folks away from food that's both good and affordable.
 
Range-fed beef, served within 40 miles of where it was produced, offers about the lowest carbon footprint of any food produced on the American continent. It's made up of sun and grass, and as free of petrochemicals as any food these days can be. You walk away from Diablo Burger with a lingering sense that your decision to eat there has been pretty good for you, for the land, and for the local rural community. What more could anyone want?
 
Gary Paul Nabhan is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He lives in Tucson, Arizona, where he is a professor at the University of Arizona and the author of several books, including Coming Home To Eat.

High Country News Classifieds
  • ELLIE SAYS IT'S SAFE! A GUIDE DOG'S JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
    by Don Hagedorn. A story of how lives of the visually impaired are improved through the love and courage of guide dogs. Available on Amazon.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY
    All positions available: Sales Representative, Accountant and Administrative Assistant. As part of our expansion program, our University is looking for part time work from home...
  • COMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Position Title: Communications Associate Director Location: Flexible within the Western U.S., Durango, CO preferred Position reports to: Senior Communications Director The Conservation Lands Foundation (CLF)...
  • HISTORIC HOTEL & CAFE
    For Sale, 600k, Centennial Wyoming, 6 suites plus 2 bed, 2 bath apartment. www.themountainviewhotel.com Make this your home or buy a turn key hotel [email protected]
  • MAJOR GIFTS OFFICER
    High Country News, an award-winning news organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Major Gifts Officer to join our...
  • RUBY, ARIZONA CARETAKER
    S. Az ghost town seeking full-time caretaker. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • VICE PRESIDENT, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION
    Basic Summary: The Vice President for Landscape Conservation is based in the Washington, D.C., headquarters and oversees Defenders' work to promote landscape-scale wildlife conservation, focusing...
  • BRISTOL BAY PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Seeking a program director responsible for developing and implementing all aspects of the Alaska Chapter's priority strategy for conservation in the Bristol Bay region of...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The National Bighorn Sheep Center is looking for an Executive Director to take us forward into the new decade with continued strong leadership and vision:...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Powder Basin Watershed Council, based in Baker City, Oregon, seeks a new Executive Director with a passion for rural communities, water, and working lands....
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • ADOBE HOME
    Passive solar adobe home in high desert of central New Mexico. Located on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition, based in Ely, Nevada is looking for a new executive director to replace the long-time executive director who is retiring at...
  • STEVE HARRIS, EXPERIENCED PUBLIC LANDS/ENVIRONMENTAL ATTORNEY
    Comment Letters - Admin Appeals - Federal & State Litigation - FOIA -
  • LISA MACKEY PHOTOGRAPHY
    Fine Art Gicle Printing. Photo papers, fine art papers, canvas. Widths up to 44". Art printing by an artist.
  • LOG HOME IN THE GILA WILDERNESS
    Beautiful hand built log home in the heart of the Gila Wilderness on five acres. Please email for PDF of pictures and a full description.
  • CARETAKER
    2.0 acre homestead needing year-round caretaker in NE Oregon. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • SEEKING PROPERTY FOR BISON HERD
    Seeking additional properties for a herd of 1,000 AUM minimum. Interested in partnering with landowners looking to engage in commercial and/or conservation bison ranching. Location...
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.