New café cracks the Northeast Mesa breakfast market
September 8, 2017
By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
When you walk into What’s Crackin’ Café, the energy is infectious. Music by the likes of Lenny Kravitz and the Red Hot Chili Peppers provide the soundtrack to breakfast and lunch, as servers enthusiastically quiz guests about what’s “crackin’” with them. Guitars fashioned out of license plates line a wall. Mimosas flow, smoothies are blended, and local beer is consumed.
It’s the exact vibe that owners Craig Arstingstall and John Wilcoxon, and associate Senol “Louis” Usluca had in mind.
“We want to be a fun place,” Arstingstall said. “When I was in college in Oklahoma, there was a place called Eskimo Joe’s. It was the go-to place that was known nationwide for its cheese fries and T-shirts. We wanted to mimic that feel.
“We want our guests to have breakfast or lunch, have some drinks and have fun.”
It’s not all fun and games with the trio, though. Open since June 12 at Power and McDowell roads, What’s Crackin’ Café serves up serious food. A graduate of Red Mountain High School and ASU, Usluca said a popular dish is the Monte Cristo ($11), a sandwich made with ham and gruyere cheese between white bread that is dipped in pancake batter and fried. It is topped with powdered sugar and served with a side of Melba sauce.
The country bowl – housemade buttermilk biscuits topped with country sausage gravy, sausage patty, two eggs scrambled with melted cheese on a bed of home fries – is a favorite as well, for $10.
“We have a complete scratch kitchen,” Arstingstall said. “We make our own spices and dressings.”
Arstingstall, with the help of Wilcoxon, created the menu after visiting San Francisco and Santa Fe.
“We studied different types of food in San Francisco,” said Arstingstall, a veteran of corporate restaurants who owns the nearby Red Mountain Event Center. “That’s where the Monte Cristo came from. Then, John and I went to Santa Fe so he could see the colors and designs. I didn’t want to do Mexican food, but I wanted to do New Mexican food with Hatch green chilis.”
The duo was inspired by Cafe Pasqual’s in downtown Santa Fe. Like Café Pasqual’s, What’s Crackin’ Café is devoted to food quality.
“We were corporate for so long that we really started to look at what they were putting in their food, and how it was affecting our bodies,” Arstingstall said. “We want to give our guests good food that’s not going to hurt them.
“We use butter and heavy cream, but we don’t use margarines and whatnot. We have some fatty food, but it fills you. One of our biggest sellers is the quinoa bowl. I can’t believe how much of that we’ve sold.”
The house quinoa blend comes with four toppings of seeds, fruit, sauces, nuts, meats and vegetables for $11. Extra toppings are 69 cents each.
The breakfast menu is limited yet diverse, serving up Chef Angel’s Pan Fried Tamale ($12), burritos and chimis ($11), breakfast tacos ($10), French toast ($9), omelets ($9), pancakes (starting at $7) and quiche ($10).
Tapas ($8-$16) highlight the lunch menu, with sliders ($10); Southwest dishes like burritos, chimis, tacos and stacked enchiladas ($11-$12); salads ($11-$12); burgers ($12-$13); steaks ($16) and sandwiches ($9-$12).
Specials are aplenty at What’s Crackin’ Café, including happy hour from noon to 3 p.m. Mimosas are $2 and bloody Marys and Marias are $5 all day, every day. Wine was chosen by a distributor with a family winery in Italy. He paired the drinks with the menu.
The 15-foot wine rack is the centerpiece of the restaurant, but the patio is just as striking. Complete with misters and a swamp cooler, the patio provides panoramic views of the area.
“We want to be the neighborhood go-to breakfast place,” Usluca said. “We’re all about having fun and giving our customers the best product possible. We’re very excited about the future.”