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Courtyard Cafe at the Heard Museum

January 8, 2013

Here it is, Christmas Eve day, and my husband and I find ourselves in Phoenix, Arizona on a quick weekend getaway trip.  While I’ve been to Phoenix before, it’s been at least 10-15 years since I’ve actually been in the city.  Sure, I’ve driven through the city to get down to Tuscon and points south since then, but I don’t think driving through a city can actually be called being in the city.  My husband?  He’s never been to Phoenix before.  So, what do we do on Christmas Eve?  We do the tourist-y thing, of course!  Why not?  It’s Christmas Eve, some places may be closed for the holidays, but you know the locations that cater to tourists will still be open, at least part of the day.  After all, this is the time when tourists go on vacation and do tourist-y things.

Alright, what tourist-y things are we doing in Phoenix, you may ask?  In the morning, we found ourselves at the beautiful Heard Museum.  The Heard Museum is one of Phoenix’s oldest cultural attractions, and is one of the preeminent places to learn about American Indian art and culture.  The museum is beautifully laid out with plenty of Native American art and artifacts, and even whole room that is designated to the history and the story of the 21 Native American tribes found in the state of Arizona.

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When we arrived at the Heard Museum, we saw that they had a cafe, called the Courtyard Cafe, that was open for lunch.  Seeing that it’s Christmas Eve, and we didn’t want to hassle with driving around to find a place to eat, we decided that dining at the Courtyard Cafe seemed to be our best bet.  The cafe is aptly named as it is located in the courtyard just outside the front entrance to the Heard Museum.

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Punctuated by a beautiful water feature fountain as well as lovely shade trees, guests have the option of dining inside the cafe, or outside in the courtyard.  As it was a nice sunny day, we decided to dine outside in the courtyard and appreciate the mid-60’s Christmas Eve Day.  In fact, while we were enjoying lunch outside, my sister-in-law texted us to wish us a Merry Christmas from Northern Minnesota where it was currently -3 Fahrenheit.  I couldn’t help but send her a picture back of my husband and I sitting in the sun in Phoenix enjoying lunch in much warmer temperatures!

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The Courtyard Cafe has an eclectic menu that features everything from sandwiches to soups to salads to Southwestern cuisine.  According to their website, their menu items are prepared fresh daily with locally-grown, fresh ingredients that caters towards Southwestern culture.

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Keeping in mind the Southwestern culture, my husband decided to order the prickly pear lemonade.  The lemonade came out looking cool and refreshing in a light shade of pink with a wedge of lime.  The drink was tart and tangy, which my husband appreciated as that indicated that this was fresh-made lemonade with very few additives.  The tartness of the prickly pear syrup came through the drink loud and clear, with hints of sweetness and citrus that told you that you were drinking lemonade.

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Based on our waitresses’ recommendation, we decided to start off our meal with the Tepary-Bean Hummus.  According to our waitress, this was a specialty of the cafe, as tepary beans are native to Arizona and have been used by American Indians for centuries.  The hummus was served alongside fry bread.  Fry bread plays a significant role in some Native American cultures.  Since we were visiting a museum dedicated to American Indian culture and history, we figured we should try a dish that combined the ingredients and flavors of Native American food.  My husband was actually more enthusiastic about trying this dish than I was as I am not really a big fan of hummus.  I figured, at the least, I could eat the fry bread.  The dish came out with a very generous portion of hummus and a generous amount of fry bread to dip into the hummus.  The plate was sprinkled with some sort of red seasoning, which I think might have been paprika for color.  My husband took one taste of the fry bread and the hummus and was instantly impressed.  I decided to give it a try and was equally impressed.  The hummus had a wonderfully creamy texture and very subtle flavor.  Pairing it with this crispy and light fry bread was the perfect vehicle to serve the hummus.  To my surprise, we both gobbled up the dish.  I absolutely loved the fry bread.  If I hadn’t already ordered lunch, I would have ordered more fry bread!

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Another recommendation that our waitress made to us was the posole.  She said that she wasn’t someone who liked pork, but she absolutely loved the posole and thought of it as comfort food.  According to the cafe’s website, the posole at the Courtyard Cafe has been acclaimed by Bon Apetit Magazine.  With those kind of credentials, how could we not try this?  So, we ordered a small bowl to share.  The posole is made with roasted pulled pork, sautéed onions, hominy, pinto beans, savory broth and cheese.  Generally, I’m not the biggest fan of hominy, but it worked in this dish.  The soup was comforting and delicious and hearty.  The puled port was tender, flavorful and pulled into bite-sized pieces rather than chunks, which was perfect.  There was sooo much cheese in the posole, but neither my husband nor I were complaining.  My husband isn’t a big lover of soups, but he agreed that the posole was a bit like comfort food.  He really enjoyed it.

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For my lunch entrée, I ordered the carnitas dish, which was marinated pulled pork, cabbage blend, tomatoes, queso fresco and pico de gallo with a small side salad of mixed greens, shredded carrots and pepitas.  The dish came with yummy corn tortillas.  I love that at the Courtyard Cafe, the carnitas were marinated with some sort of tomato-based salsa, so the carnitas were full of flavor and were super tender.  At most places, when I order carnitas, I just get big hunks of marinated pork that’s mostly full of fat rather than just the meat.  Taking the cabbage blend, and the queso fresco and pico de gallo and wrapping it up in the corn tortilla with the carnitas was fantastic and super tasty.  A really great and filling lunch that I’m glad I ordered.

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My husband decided to order the oven-roasted turkey & melted brie sandwich with sliced Granny Smith apples, chipotle mayonnaise and the cafe’s daily-baked cranberry walnut bread.  After one bite, my husband exclaimed “wow!”  He really liked his sandwich, so much so that he devoured the whole thing.  He really liked the combination of the oven-roasted turkey with the melted brie, and while he generally doesn’t like mayonnaise, he really liked the chipotle mayonnaise.  I think it’s the chipotle spices that really worked well.  And of course, the fresh-baked cranberry walnut bread just put this sandwich over the top for my husband.

What a wonderful way to spend Christmas Eve wandering through an amazing museum and enjoying a terrific lunch in the middle of a beautiful and peaceful courtyard in the Arizona desert.  My husband and I both agreed that we would go back and dine at the Courtyard Cafe again.

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