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Fri, March 22

Chew on This: Chalk up the homemade hits at Blackboard Cafe

Pause, before you enter Prescott Valley's new Blackboard Café, on Robert Road just off Highway 69.

Ask yourself: "Am I ready for this? Do I really want to let go of the safety of boring, mass-produced food and leap into ... this?"

Steel yourself, enter the former Prickly Pear Cafe, and introduce your taste buds to the creations of Denise Atkins.

She's not just a foodie, she's a super-foodie.

Here's how serious Denise Atkins is about food: She makes her own butter.

She makes her own yogurt.

And her own granola.

She makes her own jams. (Recent selection: Pinot noir strawberry jam.)

Plus her own pickles.

She makes her own peanut and almond butter.

While Atkins handles the lunch and dinner main courses, her mother, Linda Auston, bakes pastries, muffins, cookies and pies - from scratch, of course. The staff is rounded out by Atkins' boyfriend Jesse Armstrong and his mother, Ellen Williams.

Sounds a little bit like a TV sitcom - and the BBC (as they like to call it) has been quite a hit since it opened three weeks ago.

"We have a lot of regulars," said Williams. "They like that we have something different every day."

Wednesday's lunch special: Big Daddy Mac, grilled hot link in a sesame seed bun with caramelized onions and spicy mustard and a side of green chile mac and cheese, $8.50.

"It was amazing," gushed a woman after meeting Big Daddy Mac.

Carnivore mouths will water at the likes of the Squealer (sharp cheddar, maple bacon bourbon jam and fresh spinach on garlic-rubbed grilled sourdough, $7) and Hog Wild (green chile pork, caramelized onions, avocado and pepper jack cheese on garlic-rubbed sourdough, $8.50).

For vegetarians, there are plenty of selections, from the Classic (havarti and sharp cheddar, grilled on sourdough, $5.50) to the Athenian (a tasty combination of olive tapenade, herbed cream cheese, fresh spinach and sliced tomato on toasted whole grain, sourdough or rye, $7.50).

The crunchy pea salad, with cashews adding the crunch, is a great side - though the pesto potato salad is also said to be a winner.

Inventive selections include the Blackboard Benedict (English muffin with maple bacon bourbon jam, tomato, poached eggs and shallot hollandaise sauce, $8.50), Southern Stack (shredded green chile pork layered between fresh tortillas and melted pepper jack cheese with two eggs, $8.50) and Breakfast Bruschetta (two baguette slices topped with cream cheese, scrambled eggs and pesto or artichoke spread, $7.50).

The Love In is a great healthy choice, and all-fresh, with Atkins' yogurt (thinner than store-bought), served with granola and muffin of the day, $6.50.

Cooking from scratch is in Atkins' blood, as she remembers her mother not only baking her own bread - but grinding her own flour. Laughing, her mother says that she was 10 years old when she started baking "little things" and selling them around her childhood neighborhood.

Atkins did catering and taught cooking in Phoenix; this is her first restaurant, and she says she is living her dream.

"As an added bonus," she said with a big grin, "I get to work with my sweetheart and his mom and my mom."


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