Kitchen Doors: Let’s Eat
Unique Mexican and Southwestern cuisine at one of Sedona’s most popular restaurants
Jeff Smedstad grew up in Chandler and is living his dream in Sedona as chef and owner of the acclaimed Elote Café. He was inspired to be a chef by cooking in the U.S. Coast Guard.
“As a kid from Chandler, I wanted to see new things,” Smedstad said. “It was a great experience going from the desert to the ocean and learning how to cook.”
Smedstad attended the Scottsdale Culinary Institute and was the founding chef at Los Sombreros, which he bought from his father. He spent time traveling around Mexico and studied in Oaxaca. “I was inspired by the markets, and my mind was blown by the tastes and flavors,” he said. “I immersed myself in the food and culture.”
He had an opportunity to open a restaurant in Sedona, and Elote Café has received local and national recognition since opening in 2007. Smedstad credits Elote Café’s success to the food and the staff, many of whom have worked with him for more than a decade. “We offer a unique spin on Mexican and Southwestern food that represents the area that we are in,” he said. “Our team is very passionate and takes excellent care of our customers. People have dined here for years, and I love seeing families come back year after year.”
Elote Café’s signature starter is the elote, fire-roasted corn with spicy mayo, lime and cotija cheese. The most popular dishes are the enchiladas, braised lamb shank with ancho chile sauce, and smoked pork cheeks with cascabel chile sauce and Smedstad’s grandmother’s corn cake. Desserts include flan, Mexican chocolate pie and pastel de elote, a sweet corn cake with dulce de leche and agave ice cream.
The robust bar menu features mezcal and tequila flights, margaritas and cocktails made with in-house mixes, as well as beer, wine and after-dinner drinks.
“The menu is inspired by food I’ve had in people’s homes and markets,” Smedstad said. “We get travelers from all over the world visiting the restaurant and it’s a great compliment when diners from Mexico say my food reminds them of home.”
Elote Café lost its lease and opened in a new location in July 2020. “The new location is everything I’ve ever wanted in a restaurant with a beautiful kitchen with new equipment, an amazing bar and a great climate-controlled patio for year-round use,” Smedstad said.
A cookbook author with many accolades, including two James Beard nominations, Smedstad truly loves being in the kitchen. “This is my piece of paradise,” he said. “I’m a cook first and I’m lucky to have carved out a niche in such a beautiful place. I appreciate everything in my past which led me to where I am today, which is my dream come true.”
Elote Café is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday. Learn more at elotecafe.com.
Shanny’s Frozen Bananas Focuses on Quality
Mom of three creates unique treats
Shannon Moss started Shanny’s Frozen Bananas in 2015 after having her third son. “Although I was a busy stay-at-home mom, I still had my entrepreneurial itch to create and do something unique,” Moss said. “With my background in visual and performing arts, I love how I’ve been able to apply my artistic talents using food as my medium.”
The business started with a small cart at pop-up events and farmers markets. Moss expanded into wholesale and upgraded to a vintage trailer. When the pandemic hit, she quickly adapted her business.
“I’ve learned that everything is a process and you have to go through the journey of trial and error to see what works,” Moss said. “When the pandemic hit, I made the decision to sell the trailer, downsize on inventory and menu options, and transition to delivery and pickup only. To my surprise, we’ve been doing better than ever. I also introduced a new line of whimsical baked goods called Shanny’s Bakeshop and it’s been very successful.”
Shanny’s menu includes frozen bananas dipped in chocolate with a variety of toppings, cold brew coffee, popcorn and baked goods. Shanny’s most popular frozen bananas include dark chocolate with salted peanuts, dark chocolate with rainbow sprinkles and white chocolate with Fruity Pebbles cereal. Shanny’s decorated cookies and rice cereal treats are also top sellers.
“I love what I do and having happy customers makes it all worth it,” Moss said. “I’ve met so many awesome people in the local culinary community and have even received praise from some big-name chefs. It inspires me to want to keep learning and improving.”
Shanny’s products are available for pickup in central Phoenix and can be ordered through her website at shannysfrozenbananas.com. They can also be ordered for delivery or pickup from the Uptown Farmers Market via gatherazexpress.com.
Caring Chef: Danielle Leoni
Supporting local farms and independent restaurants
Chef Danielle Leoni and her husband Dwayne Allen own The Breadfruit and Rum Bar in downtown Phoenix, as well as Big Marble Organics, which produces ginger beer that meets the highest sustainability and quality standards. They closed the restaurant in March 2020, when the pandemic hit. They haven’t reopened yet, but they have been hard at work with pop-up events and supporting the local community.
Leoni has been involved with several local nonprofits, including Slow Food Phoenix, which focuses on nutritious food in schools, Careers Through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP), which provides resources for high school students to pursue culinary careers, and Les Dames d’Escoffier, a philanthropic organization of women leaders in the culinary community.
Leoni has participated in several James Beard Foundation programs, including Smart Catch promoting sustainable seafood, Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change, and Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership. She was the local all-star chef at the James Beard Taste America gala in Phoenix in 2019.
Although the James Beard Foundation has put these programs on hold to focus on supporting restaurants during the pandemic, Leoni continues to advocate for sustainability, local farms and independent restaurants.
In 2020, she partnered with World Central Kitchen’s Frontline Foods program, which feeds first responders. “At the time, frontline workers were receiving local support and I saw there were many others in the community who needed help,” said Leoni, who worked with her restaurant staff to feed a few thousand people through A New Leaf, which provides housing and services for families affected by domestic violence and poverty. They provided food boxes with partially prepared meals with recipes and cooking instructions using Arizona produce, meats and grains. “It was an opportunity to help local farmers and help families feel empowered,” Leoni said.
She gets immense satisfaction from helping others. “I’ve always been a fixer and organizer,” said Leoni, who earned the Executive Master of Sustainability Leadership degree at Arizona State University. “It feels good to help people. I hope I can be an inspiration and let people know they are capable of doing more good.”
Leoni believes everyone can do their part. “Please keep supporting local independent restaurants through dine-in and takeout, and be kind to the staff,” she said.
Leoni also suggests buying produce from local farmers markets. “They have such pride in their products and so much appreciation for the people that buy from them,” she said.
Leoni passionately continues her fight to save independent restaurants. “We keep telling our story and hope enough people hear it to be inspired, and together we can all do something good.” visit stksteakhouse.com.