The bar at Tonto Verde Golf Club (right) features leather chairs and wood trusses in a very classic Arizona style.

Falconer was the founding

chef for another celebrity enterprise, country singer Toby Keith’s restaurants across the country. Then, in 2011 he joined Tonto Verde and developed what is now a first-rate contemporary American destination. Open to the public, it’s one of the few restaurants in the small community of Rio Verde. Yet besides being a neighborhood destination, Mesquite Bar & Grill is worth a drive for any diner looking for a top-notch meal surrounded by some of the Valley’s most beautiful desert. In classic Arizona

style, the look is upscale territorial, cocooned in open wood trusses, wagon-wheel chandeliers, busy black- brown-gold pattern carpet, and tall back leather chairs. Floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the al fresco dining terrace and mountains, and the entry lounge is a sophisticated Scottsdale- secret hangout, anchored by a curved wood bar and cowboy- style, nailhead-trim chairs. The chicken corn chowder

(cup $5, bowl $7) will never be removed from the menu, our server promised, because the thick, creamy concoction is a best seller. It’s indeed superb, stocked with lots of sweet corn kernels, a bit of spicy heat, and a crunchy lacing of tri-color tortilla strips atop. Steamed pork pot stickers

are perennial favorites as well, the dumpling’s richness tempered by tart cucumber sesame salad and gingered soy dipping sauce ($7). And while I’m not a fan of sweet foods, the golden fried

coconut shrimp has excellent balance, accented with grilled pineapple, macadamia nuts, tequila mango chutney and a spicy strike of Sriracha lime aioli ($9). You could come here for

a Margherita pizza ($13) at the bar, and that’s a good time, paired with a Four Peaks Brewing Co. craft beer from Tempe ($5.50). But play on the chef’s real skills for an expertly prepared, summery dill-crusted wild Alaskan salmon, the fat slab roasted to a buttery finish, partnered with crispy Yukon

potatoes, cucumber and avocado sauce ($27). For winter, it’s been updated to a luxuriously simple steamed organic Scottish salmon, alongside poached red potatoes, asparagus and sweet-corn puree bathed in lemon butter sauce ($25). It’s not easy to make

truly good fried chicken, either, with a winningly crisp crust and juicy insides, so kudos to the chef’s bargain of half a bird rounded out in comforting mashed potatoes, brown gravy and sweet root vegetable slabs ($18).

At dessert, a holiday eggnog celebrated, yes, the winter holidays, in a festive concoction of aerated house-made nog spiked with gingerbread cookie, dark chocolate and brandied fruit of the season ($6). Yet the indulgent mud pie ($8) is a signature bound to survive the seasons. It’s everything one could want after a diet-be-damned meal -- all chocolate, cookie wafers, fudge and whipped cream. Some finer things

in life, after all, should never change. n

Carey Sweet writes about food and wine for The Arizona Republic, San Francisco Chronicle, and Scottsdale and Sunset magazines.


Chef Chris Falconer comes up with lots of special dishes at the Mesquite Bar & Grill, like this Verde salad accented by hot-smoked chilled salmon.

Mesquite Bar and Grill 18401 East El Circulo Drive, Rio Verde (480) 471-0438 Winter hours: Through May, 2016 — 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday.

PREVIEW 2016 | AZ GOLF Insider | 19



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