By niki d’andrea
Photos by Debby Wolvos/Courtesy Dust Cutter
Dust Cutter takes a stylish Southwestern twist on the hotel restaurant concept
The term “Dust Cutter” was Old West slang for a cocktail so potent it could knock the dust from your tongue. That was back when there were fewer buildings on the frontiers, thus increasing the likelihood one would have dust on his or her tongue in the first place (and probably some cow or horse poop on the boots, too – but “Dung Runner” doesn’t sound like a good name for a libation).
Thankfully, Arizona’s become a lot more civilized over the past century, and Dust Cutter now describes a modern American eatery with a Southwestern bent, embedded in the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown. Opened in early June, the restaurant sits to the side of the hotel lobby but feels like a little world unto itself, thanks largely to the design and décor. Large-scale custom wood tables, oversize spurs hanging from railroad beams suspended from thick ropes, and art, including a huge sepia-toned photograph of a cowboy hat, contribute to the quaint but cutting-edge vibe.
Food skews Southwestern with a strong emphasis on Arizona’s heritage grains and locally sourced ingredients. Among the appetizers, house-smoked pork belly and the Hatch chile corn bread skillet stand out. The former dish sees the fork-tender pork varnished with a glaze made from dates and Arizona’s own Copper City Bourbon, then adorned with candied pistachios and pickled watermelon rind before being topped with a decorative yellow nasturtium flower. The latter dish arrives in a heavy cast-iron skillet; made with flour from Hayden Flour Mills and served with a side of scrumptious cilantro agave butter, the cornbread could easily feed three people.
Dust Cutter may be the only restaurant in town that has a section on its menu dedicated solely to cheese crisps, and their takes on the humble quesadilla include a flamboyant fig and prosciutto variation with delectably bright and flavorful Humboldt Fog goat cheese, balsamic tomato jam and arugula and the Pamplona Chorizo crisp, loaded with tangy cotija cheese, avocado and blistered tomatoes.
Sandwiches are pretty standard – burger, BLT, pork, chicken – but locavores will love the Sonoran Sandwich, made with Strauss Farms grass-fed beef, Grand Canyon onions, fried egg from Hickman’s Family Farms in Buckeye, heirloom tomato, Jack cheese, and chipotle pepper aioli on a brioche bun.
Heartier mod-cowboy fare can be found among the entrees, including a bodacious burrito bowl packed with beans, pico de gallo, guacamole, shredded lettuce and cilantro lime rice; grilled wild salmon; shrimp and Hayden Flour Mills grits; and “Mary’s Chicken & Mesquite Pod Waffles.” The last dish is one of Dust Cutter’s most popular, and the most notable thing about it is the topping – a pile of greens spiked with chunks of pickled yellow watermelon so spicy you might be tempted to take a big swig of the Copper City Bourbon syrup that comes on the side to take the edge off the burn. Go easy on the infernal melons and you should be fine. As for the chicken, it’s pretty flat and flaccid but has decent flavor. The waffles, made from mesquite pod flour, possess a perfectly spongy texture and an earthy tinge and are made immeasurably better by the delicious bourbon syrup. The dish pairs perfectly with The Cutter cocktail, a blend of Four Roses Yellow Label Bourbon, Ramazzotti Amaro liqueur, Aperol and lemon juice.
Other inventive bar creations include the spicy-sweet Beet Around the Bush (Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, maple beet shrub, maple syrup, lime juice, angostura and figgy pudding bitters) and the smoky Mezcalito with Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon, Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, pineapple syrup, passion fruit syrup, Elemakule Tiki Bitters and lime juice. All the beers on the bar’s eight taps are Arizona-made, from the buttery Barrio Blonde out of Tucson’s Barrio Brewing Co. to the creamy, coffee-like Sweet Devil Stout from College Street Brewhouse in Lake Havasu City. The wine menu isn’t massive, but the couple dozen vino selections include some great-tasting wines like California’s Cannonball Cabernet Sauvignon and the Dos Cabezas Pink from Sonoita, Arizona (both on tap).
The dessert menu includes a handful of sweet delights, but two of them vie for the confectionary crown: sopaipillas with ancho chile chocolate sauce and blue agave caramel, and smoked lavender and mesquite honey ice cream with an old-fashioned doughnut. Both explode on the palate like furious, flavorful dust storms – and it will take more than a craft cocktail to cut the flavor from your mouth or memory.