It’s probably been ages since you’ve made a lunch reservation, let alone tried a new restaurant.
But soon, you’ll have two new dining options, as restaurants run by community college culinary arts programs will reopen for full-service dining and take-out on select days.
Regions Restaurant at Estrella Mountain Community College and The Artichoke Grill at Scottsdale Community College are preparing to resume after temporary closures during the pandemic. Both are hidden gems with rotating menus that offer traditional, vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options.
The Artichoke Grill actually reopened last fall and then went on an extended winter hiatus. For the Regions, the pandemic has resulted in a longer pause in operations.
“It’s been a long road back,” says Steve Griffiths, who leads the culinary arts program at Estrella Mountain. “But a lot of us have been eating out and feeling more comfortable lately, so we’re trying to keep up the pace.”
When Regions reopens in early February, students will prepare and serve dishes inspired by various regions of the United States, such as the Pacific Northwest. For this region, menu items may include lobster bisque or oyster stew, salad with poached pear and blue cheese, duck or pork loin and cheesecake or bread pudding.
Menus change weekly and usually include a soup or salad, a main dish and a dessert. After spring break, the focus will be on classic French cuisine. “The program dictates our menu,” says Griffiths. “Education comes first, and the restaurant works alongside it as a tool for students to gain hands-on experience.”
The students range from high schoolers to seniors, according to Griffiths. “About 20 to 30 percent already work in the restaurant industry, whether it’s a fast food restaurant, resort or assisted living facility,” he says. Upon graduation, they will have a wide range of options, from starting their own food business to working in a casino restaurant.
“We’ve really seen the hospitality industry grow, especially in the last five years,” he adds. “Now, with labor shortages affecting so many restaurants, we see even more opportunities for culinary arts graduates.”
On Tuesdays, regions will offer take-out meals such as sandwiches and salads. On Thursdays, the restaurant will offer full-service meals for just $12.95. Menus are posted online and reservations are recommended as space is limited and seating is not guaranteed.
“The restaurant equips culinary students with cooking and cooking skills, so they’re very well rounded when they graduate,” notes Griffiths. “They become general trades and then further specialize, depending on where they work after they finish school.” The college offers an Associate of Applied Science degree in Culinary Arts, as well as three Culinary Arts Certificates that require one to four semesters of coursework.
Scottsdale Community College’s Artichoke Grill is scheduled to reopen in mid-February, offering take-out as well as table seating Tuesday through Friday from 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. “Menu items match our skills base,” says Mark Dow, who directs Scottsdale Community College’s culinary arts program. “When students are studying smoking, for example, the restaurant might serve smoked beef brisket with gluten-free mac and cheese.”
Over the course of several weeks, regular customers can experience an eclectic mix of food items such as Hawaiian huli huli chicken, tortilla soup, buckwheat salad, dried lox on rye, tepary bean hummus, shrimp and grits, turkey burgers, quiche, and Yucatán. style tacos. Usually about half of the customers are employees of the Scottsdale campus and the other half are members of the community. “We attract a dynamic mix of diners,” says Dow.
Both restaurants are taking COVID-related precautions, such as requiring culinary arts students and diners to wear masks. Students roll silverware in napkins rather than setting utensils directly on the table, and they serve bottled water rather than pouring water into customers’ glasses. You might also notice a decrease in seating capacity. In Scottsdale, for example, only about eight tables will be open for service.
For diners who frequented Cafe Oso at Phoenix College, the news isn’t so good. Although the college offers a certificate in commercial bakery and pastry, the cafe is permanently closed.
For those venturing outdoors, Dow says these college restaurants offer a chance to try something different while supporting emerging chefs as they learn some of the finer points of working with college clientele. restaurants. And, adds Griffith, “You can get a good meal for a good price.”