Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Eatzza In at Thatzza Pizza

Thatzza Pizza and Eatzza Your Pizza Here

201 South Main Street
Monticello, Utah, 84535

Phone: (435) 587-9111

“We get a lot of out-of-towners who want to eat here as a family.  …and the price is right!” which placed an idea in Linda Wigginton’s mind that simply would not go away.  Linda, owner, operator and chief chef at Thatzza Pizza – Monticello needed more space to expand and create a dine-in area.  Even though there were picnic tables outside the business, they could not accommodate many; bad weather was a huge deterrent as well. 

Spring of 2019, a business space finally became available next door; Tom, her husband, and Linda snapped it up and began to build the dream.  Tuesday, May 21, 2019, “Eatzza Your Pizza Here” opened up where the public could order their meals at the main area up front, then bring their food to the dining area.  Sound too inconvenient?  Plans are still in the works for opening up a doorway between the two sections; patience grasshopper, this too shall come to fruition.

The interior of the dine-in area took a lot of muscle, knocking down walls, rewiring, painting, new wooden flooring; the addition of metal wall panels and signature lighting giving it a modern, yet comfortable feel.  Booth seats, chairs and tables line both sides of the walls currently, but there is another plan in the works – a buffet unit.  Imagine, a half hour or hour for lunch, where to grab a fast meal that is made fresh?  Workers, visitors on a tour itinerary, anyone in general will be able to stop in, sit down and manga’, or fill up a take-out box for eating on the go.  For Monticello, this will also be a unique addition to restaurant fare and this also means, Thatzza Pizza will be open for lunch!

For those who have not tried out Thatzza Pizza, the menu is more than just pizza, it includes pasta dishes, salads, cheesy bread, wings with 7 different sauces to choose from. 

Dessert?  Try out cinnamon sticks, one of the new dessert pizzas, or an ice cream favorite with soft or hard pack – shakes, sundaes, cones (crispy waffle or regular), cups, or a warm, freshly made waffle bowl.  Mmmm, you can even get a root beer float or banana split; sounds like something available for whatever you are craving!

Sitting here, watching snow fall on this near-the-end of May day, Eatzza Pizza could not have come at a better time.  Especially for new visitors to the area who are very confused about the weather, but still need a great meal away from the cold.  Thatzza Pizza can give it their all now!

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Spirit of Community at Twin Rocks Café

 Twin Rocks Café

913 East Navajo Twins Drive
Bluff, Utah, 84512

Phone: (435) 672-2341

Twin Rocks Trading Post
The Navajo Twins
The Simpson Family of Bluff, Utah, has been an integral part of the community for several generations. Duke Simpson purchased land overseen by two sandstone pillars, The Navajo Twins.  He established a trading post in 1988, bartering with local Native Americans, and other residential artisans.  Six years later, with the idea of opening up a small deli to provide sandwiches to travelers, could Duke have foreseen the iconic business he was creating?

Before Twin Rocks Trading Post and Café were even a thought in Duke’s mind, he ran a gas station at the corner of Highways 191 and 162.  He helped Rusty and Lily Musselman build a small trading post of their own right next door; The Cow Canyon Trading Post.  Duke was teaching and establishing values in his children that would benefit the community as well as the family.

As Barry Simpson states, “Twin Rocks has the community in mind; it is about local community and it is about the community of travelers coming through Bluff.”  The Simpsons care about their employees, they are not simply workers, but part of the Twin Rocks family.  “We are living wage employers; we provide opportunity via our own incubator program.  After coming to work for us, one of our employees was finally able to get electricity into her home.  Many are able to go off to college, graduate and then come back to their community of Bluff.”

After purchasing the Trading Post and Café from their father, and there by keeping it within the family, the Simpson sons experienced their own knowledge building and growing processes with the businesses.  Attracting only locals would not be sustainable, it had to attract the interests of travelers as well.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner were made available; many items given that Southwestern flare visitors were looking to experience.  A huge change came about on July 4, 2017 with the addition of new General/Restaurant Manager, Frances Vander Stappen.
Executive Chef, Frances Vander Stappen and Owner, Barry Simpson
Frances hails from northern Utah, did a lot of traveling in her day, and it is no wonder why she fell in love with Bluff.  She is a certified executive chef and very in tune with the restaurant world, as Barry states, “She has taught us a lot!”.  Revamping the menu did not mean losing the Southwestern flare that locals and visitors enjoy, but amping it up!  Green chiles are a staple in many dishes, or can easily be added; Navajo Fry Bread is made with the best flour, Blue Bird; hot sauces and beans from Adobe Milling.  Local sourcing is done as much as possible as dictated by supply and demand.  Sauces and dressings, except for Caesar, are house made and the tastes are fresh.  That is another facet that is important to the Twin Rocks Café menu - fresh, and the addition of healthier, vegetarian and gluten free options offers something for everyone.  If you walk into the Café and cannot find anything on the menu to your liking, that is due to not being hungry in the first place.  

Along with Barry and Frances, their “right hand in general” employee is Nizhoni; a lovely Navajo woman with a beautiful personality and fun spirit.  All the employees are friendly, helpful and make the dining experience at the Café enjoyable.  As a complete family, the Cokenour and Watkins clans always have the best time at Twin Rocks Café.  The atmosphere is welcoming, the employees laugh along with our antics, and the food is always, always the best.

…and there is my lead in to the food.  We all had not been to Twin Rocks Café, since their renovation (life does interfere with life sometimes).  The additional seating area has windows that open up wide to let in those soft breezes; or there is patio seating outside on the veranda.
There are two Tesla units attached to the building, so a vehicle can feed as well as the owners.

New appetizer on the menu, Bluff-alo Chicken Bites; hand-cut boneless, skinless chicken breasts with a fabulous crunch (balance of the sugar mixture is key) and Adobe Milling hot sauce.  Instead of celery sticks, we received cucumber spears along with the sweetest carrot sticks; both a refreshing treat between mouthfuls of delicious heat.

Many of the meals come with a choice of salad, fries or coleslaw; lucky me chose a house salad with the most outstanding dressing, maple-agave-balsamic vinaigrette.  Almost had to stick a fork in my hubby’s hand as he kept stealing my salad; that is how good that dressing is!

My meatloaf dinner is a mixture of pork, beef, bread crumbs, freshly diced celery, onions, herbs, spices….hey there Frances, were you trying to copy my meatball recipe!?! Ah, but here comes the bite upon the cheek, green chile added to the mix and a nice surprise too.  The red-skinned mashed potatoes are house made, and choice of gravy is brown or white.  I picked the brown gravy which was thick and so lip smacking tasty; I even dipped my hubby’s fries in the gravy.  If he can steal my salad, I can steal his fries!

He had the Classic 7-oz. Burger on, what else, Navajo Fry Bread which makes the best Navajo Taco or Pizza as well.  The meat is a ground mixture of Choice round, brisket and short rib grilled to your liking, but an addition of sautéed onions and roasted green chiles makes it A++. The fries are lightly dipped in a beer batter mixture which makes them crunchy good on the outside while fluffy tender on the inside.

Navajo Taco

That beer batter mixture is used more thickly for the hand-cut Alaskan Cod featured in Beer Battered Fish n’ Chips which is eye-popping amazing!  We enjoyed a sample, and were craving it the next day; dad (Bishop Richard Watkins) was still talking about it the next week! Anyone who is a fish eating lover will enjoy this meal, and still be craving it again days later; it is that great! Wow, wonder if I’ll have to put in an order in advance, to make sure they have not run out?  

I know they make sweet tooth indulging desserts, like Peaches de Chelly; but holy moly, we had eaten so much food, they needed to push us out in wheel barrows.  Alright, not really, but we just could not eat another bite without exploding; oh but we so wanted to…eat that is, not explode.

There are a few other new options at Twin Rocks Café, such as breakfast offered all day! Navajo Blue Corn Pancakes, Omelets, Breakfast Burrito, Pancakes and more!  Need a picnic lunch for that hiking, climbing or river rafting adventure, and I always recommend that; Twin Rocks can fix it up fresh for you.  Meat and veggie packed sandwich with all the fixings, dessert, chips and drink for only $13.50.  

When you walk into the front door of Twin Rocks Café, you will notice the newest addition to their delicious offerings; an ice cream counter that also features espresso, espresso beans, quiche, house baked desserts and more!   Oh, but look to the left and see the gift shop featuring crafts and wares from artisans of the Four Corners; plus, books, maps and other must-haves.

Kachina Dolls
While I have only mentioned a few of the menu items, I need to tell you that each experience at Twin Rocks Café has been great…great atmosphere, great staff, great food.  The spirit of community is strong with the Simpson family, with new executive chef, Frances, and with all the staff.  We sat speaking with Barry and Frances for over an hour; the pride and passion was over flowing; their eyes shining with excitement as they watched us taste the food, “ah” over it, and dive in again for another bite.  Go, visit, have a great time, and enjoy being part of the Twin Rocks community; it is a great, not just San Juan County, but Four Corners experience.

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Curry Up and Thai One On.

In the past, over ten years ago really, going to a Thai restaurant featured two choices in curry; green (usually made with fresh chilies which while pungent, have a sweeter taste) or red (usually made with dried chilies, have a smoky taste and are hotter). Within the past 5-6 years though, I have experienced Thai culinary pleasures at Thai Cortez in Cortez, Colorado; Arches Thai, Bangkok House Too and Thai Bella in Moab.  Hint San Juan County, you so do not understand the delights your taste buds are missing out on not having your own Thai palace.  Anyway, imagine my surprise when I found out that Thai Curry’s variety is astounding. 

The base for curry is the paste, not just red or green, but Southern Thai (Massaman), Northern Thai (Jungle), Chili Tamarind, Yellow Bean, Black Bean, Mint Tamarind and even Lemongrass.  Now remember, I'm only dealing with Thai cuisine here; there are also curries from India, Pakistan, Japan and most of the Asian cultures which all have unique beginnings.

As a reminder, authentic curry powder is not the same thing; it is made from the curry plant which is similar in appearance to lavender, but smells and tastes similar to sage. However, to confuse the issue more, some places do sell "curry powder" which is a dried, ground mixture of herbs and spices to help the home cook's life "easier" when making a curry recipe. I noticed some recipes state "add curry powder" and I wonder if they are using this premade mixture, or the curry plant.  It does make a distinct difference in taste and flavoring, so make sure to use the correct “curry”.

I will not be posting any recipes for a curry paste as there are so many varieties, but I will recommend a book.  It is a simple book to read, easy recipes and little "knowledge" tidbits added in here and there to make it more interesting.  The book is called, The Everything Thai Cookbook by Jennifer Malott Kotylo; and I do recommend books in "The Everything" series as they are informative.  Chapter One is "Pastes, Marinades and Other Concoctions" which includes rubs and vinegars.  Not a book reader, then there are tons of cooking sites on the internet containing recipes, and even instruction videos.  Seriously, what can you not find a YouTube video about nowadays!?!

I will be giving you two of my recipes, one for Red Curry and the other for Green Curry; simple basic recipes which you can expand upon depending on your own tastes in vegetables and proteins.

Thai Curry

 Red Curry


2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 cup sliced carrots
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 cup chopped broccoli
1 cup snow pea pods
½ cup diced onion
1 Tbsp. red curry paste
1 (14 oz.) coconut milk
1 Tbsp. cornstarch


In a large skillet, heat oil on medium heat; sauté vegetables until they just begin to soften, about 7 minutes. Turn heat up to medium-high; stir in curry paste and cook another minute. Mix together coconut milk and cornstarch; add to skillet and bring to a boil; let cook for 2 minutes before serving. Suggested side: Jasmine rice.

Note: One cup of chicken, pork or shrimp can be previously cooked in additional two tablespoons of oil and set aside to be added to the skillet during the final two minutes of cooking.

Makes 2 servings.

Green Curry


1 Tbsp. canola oil
2 Tbsp. green curry paste
1 cup coconut milk, divided in half
1 cup sliced carrots
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 cup chopped broccoli ½ cup chopped baby corn
3 kaffir lime leaves, split
¼ cup Thai basil
1 tsp. fish sauce
1 Tbsp. sugar


In a large skillet, heat oil and curry paste over medium heat; add in half cup of coconut milk, vegetables and kaffir leaves; cook for 10 minutes. Turn heat up to medium-high; mix in remaining coconut milk, basil, fish sauce and sugar; bring to a boil and let cook for 5 minutes before serving. Suggested side: Jasmine rice

Note: One cup of chicken, pork or shrimp can be previously cooked in additional two tablespoons of oil and set aside to be added to the skillet during the final two minutes of cooking.

Makes 2 servings.

Now the only real problem is going to one of my favorite restaurants and not ordering one of everything!  Thai cuisine, it’s a wonderfully tasty adventure.

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Food Love at Peace Tree Juice Café

Peace Tree Juice Cafe

516 N Main Street
Monticello, Utah, 84535

Phone: (435) 587-5063



 When it comes to the restaurant business, true success is based upon the love and passion owners, cooks, chefs, and employees have for what they do.  No one knows this better than Karen Whipple, owner of the Peace Tree Juice Café – Moab and Monticello; loyalty from customers and employees speaks volumes on this subject. 

Twenty-one years ago, Karen began her venture with the first Peace Tree in Moab; based solely on the concept of fresh and healthy.  

Before opening the Peace Tree Menu, make sure to read the story behind the name; but it’s the Vision and Mission Statement that seals the deal.  “The Peace Tree Juice Café celebrates this promotion of goodwill and harmony.  It is our goal to provide healthy, flavorful sustenance using natural, organic, and farm-to-table foods when possible.  Additionally, we believe in the strength of our community and we strive to offer top-quality food and products that are locally grown and made.”  Wow, local businesses and residents promoting and supporting each other; what a great vision and mission in itself!

Karen worked hard at doing and learning, not just the business aspects, but how to make juices and smoothies; hands on experience overall.  That’s right, she didn’t just purchase equipment and books, hand them over to the employees and tell them to figure it out; she needed to perfect it within herself first.  Little by little food items were added to create breakfast and lunch menus.  A second location in Monticello opened and several years ago, a dinner menu emerged with additions of Mexican and Italian cuisines to the American fare.  Whether breakfast, lunch or dinner; the menus at Peace Tree are designed for everyone, no matter the dietary need or life style choice.  It was not always easy, but the rewards are being reaped with great reviews, repeat business, and folks wanting to experience the food love.

Again, Karen is a hands on type of owner; she told me a story of being at the Moab restaurant and how she would go in after hours and clean.  One day, while employees were still there, a new employee asked another, “Is that the cleaning lady?”  “No”, she was told, “That’s your boss!” and let me tell you, I can relate to that assumption.  But that’s Karen for you, even though she has staff, getting down and dirty for her restaurants is just the way she is; and Karen is appreciated and loved for who and what she is!

Then again, Karen appreciates and loves her staff; she knows they’re as much the backbone of the Peace Tree dynasty as she is.  From the servers to the prep cooks, everyone has an important part to play; take, for example, Chef Allea Garcia.  Allea was a military wife living in Italy for four years; perfect environment for a woman with a love and passion for cooking.  Not being one to simply sit on her duff and wait for something to do, she became assistant to the chef at the officers chow hall.  She learned by watching and doing; learned intently the ins and outs of running a kitchen, using the tools, tasting the flavors, smelling the scents.  Like any true Italian cook, she learned quickly that the best measuring tools were the hands and eyes.  

Having my personal specialty style in Italian cuisine, trying out Allea’s dishes was definitely a true test to her ability; she passed with flying colors!  Her meatballs are made with pure, high quality ground beef, no bread in the mixture for those who are gluten intolerant.  Her flavor intense, freshly made sauce is served over the meatballs and perfectly cooked spaghetti; garnished with herbs and parmesan cheese.  The garlic bread, sprinkled with roasted red pepper flakes for a little heat, is definitely necessary to sop up every drop of that delicious sauce.  As with the spaghetti, the fettuccine is perfectly cooked and draped with the creamiest, decadent Alfredo sauce; also freshly made.  Alas, the pasta is not handmade as it takes so much time to create those handmade, fresh sauces; believe me, I can relate to that as well!

Oh, but Italian is not all that Allea can do; her Mexican dishes are amazing as well.  Her Chile Rellanos are, well, they are so wonderful that I no longer have to make them for my husband, Roy.  He said, “Honey, as good as your Chile Rellanos are, I’m sorry, but I am coming to Peace Tree whenever I want some.”  Does that bother me?  Oh heck no, Allea, thank you so much for getting this chore off my meal to-do list.   I had Allea’s version of Fish Tacos, using Tilapia; the fish was so tender and flaky; the coating so perfectly seasoned, I didn’t even have to add any of the accompanying sauces.  Next time I must try the tacos with shrimp; oh yes, I do expect many a next time; and bringing others with us as well to enjoy the feasting. 
Appetizers like Roasted Red Pepper Hummus or Jalapeno Artichoke Dip are so creamy, rich and full of taste bud thrilling flavor, and served with grilled Naan bread.  Needing a small meal? Try a side or Caesar salad with one of these appetizers; it will do a body good!  We also made sure to leave just enough room for a dessert, Brownie Ala Mode, oh so warm, chewy, gooey and good!   Hey, not everyone’s definition of healthy is the same, don’t judge!

But wait, there’s more, breakfast is an incredible feast to start the day off with.  Start off with two types of freshly roasted coffees before diving into Jo’s Omelet full of veggies, and meat of your own choosing, or stick to vegetarian style.  The Panini Sandwich is a mouthful of eggs, cheese and meat; omelet and sandwich both served with seasoned, roasted red potatoes.  French Toast sprinkled with coconut or cinnamon, or Sweet Cream Pancakes for those seeking a sweeter good morning.  A lovely group of tourists, from England and the Nederlands sat inside “the cave”, and feasted on breakfast while we were there.  One item was the Lox Bagel loaded with cream cheese, smoked salmon, roasted red peppers, red onion, capers and tomatoes…it was just too pretty to eat!  That was a Sunday morning when, suddenly, a snowfall of about ¼ of an inch fell.  While others around us were in distress, we simply said, “Give it 5 minutes, the sun will be out”, and we happily continued to eat.  How could we not laugh though, when the sun came out shining, and the visitors to our area were amazed at the correctness of our prediction.  Welcome to San Juan County, where the weather changes every 5 minutes or thereabouts.  Enjoy the entertaining weather while eating, it surely is a wakeup call.

Here it is, late spring and the warmer weather is slowly creeping in.  With our beautiful Abajo Mountains, eye popping blue sky, what perfect way to enjoy meals at Peace Tree Juice Café than on their patio?  Which means, with the use of the patio seating, don’t be afraid to have your well behaved, friendly pet dining with you.  Oh dear, I almost forgot about lunch; a yum-fest of salads, wraps, Angus beef burgers, hot, or panini, sandwiches like the Southwestern Chicken.  Don’t forget about Peace Tree’s ever popular variety of Smoothies, Juice Drinks and Coffees to go along with that veggie packed wrap, or panini stuffed with turkey, avocado and bacon.  

Which brings me to Allea’s newest additions to her condiment/sauce collection; Bacon Jam (close in texture to a chutney) and a Bacon Glaze containing smoky bacon, strawberries and sriarcha; so good on chicken with the heat and sweet mixture.  She is hoping to bottle and sell this latter one, and it would go great on that other white meat, pork.  Oh my, the lunch menu just happens to have a Cuban Melt listed too; roasted pork, mouth-watering.

The front entry way also has a gift shop area featuring jewelry, paintings, metal décor and sculptures, pottery and more from local artisans.  Don’t hesitate to browse as you more than likely will find that perfect gift for yourself, or someone else.

What else can I say except, “Go to Peace Tree Juice Café and have a food love adventure!” 

Peace Tree Juice Cafe Video by
Desert Stone Studio

Mary Cokenour