After a long day hiking, skiing, snowboarding, biking or rock climbing, it’s great to find a place where you can kick back with friends, grab some good food and a cold beer.
Joel Gat and his wife, Turtle Wong, are hoping they’ve created such a place at Trail Crest Brewing Co. The couple took over Buster’s Restaurant on Milton Avenue, revamped the inside with picnic benches and reclaimed wood, and renewed the menu with dishes made from food from local farms and businesses.
“Everything here is local to Arizona,” Gat said.
That includes the drinks. Hill Crest carries 16 Arizona beers, one each from the seven Flagstaff breweries, wines from Arizona vineyards including Drinking Horn’s meads and even spirits from Arizona distilleries, like whiskey from Canyon Diablo Spirits.
The restaurant is still working on the permits for its in-house brewery, he said. The plan is to have that set up and open hopefully by the end of the year and start producing beer by the beginning of next year.
The menu includes a variety of small dishes to nibble: sandwiches, like burgers and smoked pork shoulder, salads, soups, sides, desserts and entrees, such as brisket and beer brined pork chops. There’s plenty to choose from for vegans, vegetarians and those who are eating gluten-free.
The menu also lists the location of where each drink and major ingredients in each dish come from. For example, the beef used in the grass-fed burger comes from Flying M Ranch and the beans used in the Tepary Bean Burger come from Ramona Farms. Gat said the restaurant/brewery plans to hold regular events featuring their local suppliers.
If they can’t find it locally, they don’t have it, which can make things a bit interesting for dishes, he said. For example, there isn’t an Arizona company that makes ketchup, so Trail Crest’s chef had made his own tomato jam. The same goes for cocktails. There isn’t a local Arizona producer of triple sec, so you won’t find drinks with that liqueur. The restaurant also makes its own bloody Mary mix.
Trail Crest uses a couple of interesting cooking methods. The T-bone or rib steak is cooked using the sous vide method, Gat said. The meat is sealed in a package, dropped in a water bath and cooked at an exact temperature. When it’s finished cooking, its seared on the outside. This lets the juices stay inside the meat while cooking creating a tender and juicy steak.
The restaurant gives its french fries and ultrasonic bath before frying them, he said. The raw fries are dropped in water in an ultrasonic vat, similar to an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner. The method infuses the outer edges of the fries with more water. When the fries are dropped into the fryer that extra water creates a crispy outside and a mash potato like inside.
Some menu favorites include the shishito peppers, the grass-fed beef burger, the tepary bean burger and the beer battered cheese curds, which got an enthusiastic review from a diner from Wisconsin, the home of cheese curds.
Gat is hoping to migrate the menu to a new smartphone/tablet app that would allow diners to click links for more information on the source of the food used in their dish and more information on the beers and other drinks.
Gat said he’s always wanted to get into the brewing business. He started off as a home brewer and then attended the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago to study commercial brewing. He and his wife have lived in various places across the West, including Utah, Texas and Washington. They’ve visited Flagstaff several times, fell in love with the area and moved here about five years ago.
Gat has been working on his plans to open a brewery since they moved here. The plan came to fruition when the old Buster’s location came open. The building is just big enough to hold an on-site brewery and a restaurant, which is exactly what Gat was looking for.
Gat said his basic design behind the brewery was not only to create good beer but to provide a place for outdoor enthusiasts like Gat and his wife to hang out.