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
  • DEVELOPMENT & COMMUNICATION SPECIALIST
    Idaho Walk Bike Alliance seeks a lover of bicycling, walking, and all modes of active transportation who willingly puts the car in the garage and...
  • COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR
    Friends of Inyo - the Communications Director is a full-time permanent position that reports to the Executive Director and utilizes communication strategies and production skills...
  • INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS EDITOR
    High Country News seeks an editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk. This individual will lead a team of passionate journalists...
  • HIKING TO THE EDGE:
    Confronting Cancer in Rocky Mountain National Park. Poetry and photos on survival thinking. E-book and paperback available at Amazon.com.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation has grown into America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 53 state/territorial affiliates and more than...
  • IPLC RIGHTS AND EQUITY PROGRAM ASSOCIATE
    A LITTLE ABOUT US Founded in 1951, the Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FUTURE WEST
    Future West seeks an executive director to lead this dynamic organization into the future. Based in Bozeman, MT this well-respected nonprofit provides communities in the...
  • PART-TIME EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Mitchell Museum of the American Indian Location: Evanston, IL Salary Range: $45,000 @ 24 hours per week. send resume: [email protected] www.mitchellmuseum.org
  • COMMUNICATIONS LEAD
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...
  • SENIOR POLICY ADVISOR
    Since 1989, The Nature Conservancy in Alaska has been doing work you can believe in protecting the lands and waters that all life depends on....
  • OUTDOOR PROGRAM - ASSISTANT DIRECTOR
    St. Lawrence University seeks to fill the position of Assistant Director in the Outdoor Program. To view the complete position description, including minimum qualifications required,...
  • PUBLIC LANDS DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement Conserve Southwest Utah is seeking a dedicated advocate for conservation and public lands Public Lands Director a "make a difference" position Conserve Southwest...
  • FOR SALE
    Yellowstone Llamas Successful Yellowstone NP concession Flexible packages
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT & MARKETING
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners is seeking a full-time Director of Development & Marketing. This is a senior position responsible for the development of all marketing...
  • LEGAL DIRECTOR
    The Legal Director will work closely with the Executive Director in cultivating a renewed vision at NMELC that integrates diversity, equity, and justice. Black, Indigenous,...
  • VICE PRESIDENT, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION
    The Vice President for Landscape Conservation leads Defenders' work to promote landscape-scale wildlife conservation, focusing on four program areas: federal public lands management; private lands...
  • WE'RE LOOKING FOR LEADERS!
    As we celebrate 50 years of great Western journalism, High Country News is looking for a few new board members to help set a course...
  • WIND RIVER WRITERS AND PHOTOGRAPHERS RETREAT BY THE NATIONAL BIGHORN SHEEP CENTER
    Enhance your writing or photography skills with world-class instructors in the beautiful Wind River Mountains. All skill levels welcome. Continuing education credits available.
  • EARTH CRUISER FX FOR SALE
    Overland Vehicle for travel on or off road. Fully self contained. Less than 41,000 miles. Recently fully serviced Located in Redmond, OR $215'000.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    identifies suspect buried trash, tanks, drums &/or utilities and conducts custom-designed subsurface investigations that support post-damage litigation.