The MIM’s Café Allegro hits high notes with local ingredients

Farm Fresh 

The MIM’s Café Allegro hits high notes with local ingredients.

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Chris Lenza is a firm believer in “shop local.”

As the executive chef of the Musical Instrument Museum’s Café Allegro, Lenza and his staff serve creative dishes they’ve made from farm-fresh, Arizona ingredients.

“I start with what’s in season,” Lenza says. “That’s our priority: what are we getting that’s picked at its freshest point during the day or week.”

During a recent lunch, Café Allegro offered a chicken and red chile enchilada, made from local chicken, salsa, radish, lime, and queso fresco from Two Wash Ranch in New River. The marinated double chicken breast sandwich has local herbs, garlic, and Queen Creek Olive Mill extra virgin olive oil on a MJ Bread brioche bun.

An organic strawberry and heirloom tomato salad features local organic greens with hard-boiled, cage-free egg, cucumbers, Crow’s Dairy goat feta cheese, sunflower seed and balsamic vinaigrette on top. Crow’s Dairy is in Buckeye.

Sometimes items are chosen even closer to home. The kitchen gets creative with the prickly pear fruit from the cactus in front of the building.

“We harvested the prickly pear two summers ago,” he says. “We made hot sauce out of them. I have a passionate team. They come in and they want to learn. They want to see new things.”

Portions of the menu change daily. The fixtures are found at the grill station, which serves Arizona grass-fed beef burgers, the herb-marinated chicken breast sandwich, Schreiner’s hot dogs, and its award-winning vegetable and bean burger. Not all ingredients are local, but there is an emphasis on it.

“I write the menus weekly, 10 days in advance, and then we go from there,” Lenza says. “There are some parts of the menus that change every day. Our local dish may change, as may the global and soup items, and pastries. Our grab-and-go items change seasonally.”

A Scranton, Pennsylvania native, Lenza has worked in Philadelphia, Europe, Manhattan, New Orleans, and at Wild Horse Pass Resort’s Kai restaurant in Chandler. His time with the MIM began in March 2010 when he was hired as a sous chef at Café Allegro, which is run by Bon Appetit Management Company. He was promoted to executive chef in March 2013.

“I love Phoenix. I love Arizona,” he says. “I love the products that come out of here.”

Lenza prides himself on using fresh ingredients and cooking from scratch, which helps him and his staff of eight to 10 accommodate food allergens or preferences. He just asks that guests contact him prior to their visits to “go up and down the menu to accommodate.”

“We make everything here, including soup, stocks, pastries, croissants, flavored water, cold-brew coffee, just to mention a few,” he says.

“Myself and my team are really proud of the accommodations we can make. Currently, we’re seeing the need for a celiac-friendly menu and we certainly have that in place. It just takes a simple phone call. The cooks are very knowledgeable.”

That goes for the entire staff, he’s quick to add.

“The museum staff is professional and they have great experience,” he says. “They make an extraordinary museum and we hold up to an extraordinary restaurant.”

 

 

Café Allegro

Musical Instrument Museum

mim.org

(480) 478-6000,

4725 E. Mayo Blvd., Phoenix

 

 

 

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