The Schoolhouse Restaurant

Chef Christopher Dobrowolski and his wife, Laura Fayette-Dobrowolski, opened The SchoolHouse Restaurant in Cottonwood in March 2013, and Arizonans statewide haven’t stopped buzzing about it. Located inside the Verde Valley’s first grade school (1878 to 1917), the 44-seat restaurant’s lunch and dinner menus are constantly changing depending on what’s in season. The chef’s bar, which is where we dined one evening, might have the best seats in the house. The bar seats four and faces the kitchen, so interacting with Chris is part of your dining experience.

Reservations are required for the bar, where  you order off the regular menu, but Chris spoils you along the way. First we received small bowls filled with homemade corn nuts and chili-lime pumpkin seeds, which complemented our microbrews and glasses of wine (the menu includes 17 glasses of wine for $7 each). Next we were treated to non-alcoholic lemon-hibiscus margaritas that were garnished with cilantro and cayenne pepper and served in shot glasses. Just before our entrées arrived, Chris presented us with individual servings of one his most popular appetizers: crispy pork belly served with brown-sugar-and-porter-beer beans and dates. The combination of textures and flavors prepared our palates for our main courses, and we highly recommend all four. If you are looking for something light, try the pan-seared diver scallops served with a creamy roasted-carrot-apple-chardonnay sauce. Vegetarians will love the fire-roasted poblano chili relleno, which is stuffed with cheese, pecans, avocado salsa and forbidden black rice. The duck carnitas is creative: tender shredded duck served over Yorkshire pudding and topped with crimini mushrooms, chevre and a chipotle tomato sauce. We also fell hard for that evening’s special, a 6-ounce tenderloin with a side of cheddar grits.

If you have any room left for dessert, Chris’ peach cobbler is baked fresh daily. The humongous portion is served with fresh whipped cream and pecan crumbles. Chris loves to chat, so don’t be shy when you’re at the bar. “It feels like you are coming into my home, and I’m cooking for you,” he says. “That was my vision when we opened, and it’s working.” – Text by Erika Ayn Finch. Photograph by Deb Weinkauff.

The Schoolhouse Restaurant, 202 N. Main St. in Cottonwood. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m, for lunch; 5-8 p.m., for dinner. MC, Visa, AmEx, Disc (928-634-0700) (Inexpensive to Expensive)

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