By Kate Wallace
Few think of the Sonoran Desert as being a fertile land of riches but take a road trip through Mesa and discover that this Arizona destination offers an abundance of fresh locally produced food. Fresh Foodie Trail is a culinary-themed journey that winds visitors along its freeways and into its neighboring town’s countryside charms.
Mesa has long served as a culinary gateway to some of the top chefs tables in the Greater Phoenix area. When you hear about restaurant kitchens sourcing their produce locally, there is a good chance the food came from the Southeast Valley. The region, made up of the towns of Gilbert and Queen Creek and promoted by Mesa, has 10 “agritourism” attractions that make up the trail and one can find everything from peaches, olives, citrus, ice cream and even pasta during their visit. Plan ahead as many of these roadside attractions host food-driven events in the winter months giving you even more reasons to stay awhile.
This fourth-generation family farm just happens to be the largest peach grower in the Southwest and with that, set the stage for a wonderful Arizona epicurean showcase as part of its Dinners Down the Orchard event series each spring. These elegant, farm country family-style dinners feature a prominent local chef that forages straight from the farm’s u-pick gardens and features the daily harvest in a four-course meal served at sunset. For visitors on the foodie trail, be sure to stop in at the Farm Fresh Bakery open Thursday to Sunday and enjoy its signature peach cinnamon rolls or the unforgettable caramel-topped apple pie. In February, the fragrant Peach Blossom orchard trail is a photo worthy stop as rows and rows of peach trees welcome the desert warmth with hundreds of bright fuchsia pink and white blossoms on display. schnepffarms.com
Queen Creek Olive Mill
If Italy had a scent, it’s captured here at the mill which promises a full-sensory experience directly upon arrival. Guests would be wise to plan their visit here around one of the day’s three meals and even then it would be hard to choose which one. A breakfast must-taste is the Lemon Ricotta pancakes featuring the mill’s signature Meyer Lemon olive oil, with the Kalamata sandwich serving as the lunch time favorite. This signature sandwich is stacked high with cured Italian meats and was featured on Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate.” For foodies, the options are as varied as the mill’s collection of olive oils, cremas and vinegars (which at last count topped 20 varieties). While here, visitors can enjoy complimentary tastings of the oils while waiting to take the Olive 101 Tour. Offered on the half-hour, tours go behind the scenes showing off the cold pressing operation while experts answer nearly every question regarding this well-regarded elixir. queencreekolivemill.com.
The Orange Patch
Just a few years ago, Mesa’s citrus industry was called out by National Geographic as one of the nation’s Top Food Drives. With citrus production in full swing each January, it’s one of the most aromatic times of the year in Mesa. The original citrus grower, The Orange Patch, offers a delightful shopping experience on the trail. The wood-framed farm store is fully stocked with a variety of citrus unique to Arizona (ask for samples), as well as bulk snacks, treats and sweets including handmade chocolates and orange blossom honey straight from the nearby groves. Visitors are welcome to watch the picking and production process that takes place daily. orangepatch.com
Hayden Flour Mills
The newest addition to the trail can be found (and tasted) at Sossaman Farms. Here, the focus is on preserving grain history with the growing and milling of heirloom wheat. The result is a flour so in demand it earned the top American Made Award by Martha Stewart. Visitors can stop in to learn more about a variety of flavorful grains and the importance of wheat to the American diet. Visitors can watch the stone-milling process and taste and purchase some of the world’s oldest varieties of grain in the form of crackers, artisan breads, pasta, polenta, wheat berries and more. haydenflourmills.com
True Garden Urban Farm
Get ready to go green at True Garden. This brand-new 5,000-square-foot vertical urban garden offers a weekly farmers market and educational courses for visitors seeking knowledge and insight about the production of healthy and nutritious food using no soil. Featuring revolutionary hydroponic gardening techniques, visitors can learn about organic growing practices and sustainable farming. truegarden.com
FRESH FOODIE STOPS ON THE TRAIL:
- Schnepf Farms
- Queen Creek Olive Mill
- True Garden Urban Farm
- Hayden Flour Mills at Sossaman Farms
- Superstition Dairy Farms
- Vertuccio Farms
- The Orange Patch
- The Pork Shop
- Joe’s Farm Grill
Request your copy of the Arizona Fresh Foodie Trail Guide online to VisitMesa.com or call the Mesa Visitors Center at 480-827-4700.