Tag Archives: Micah Olson

Photo by Jill Richards

Okra Cookhouse & Cocktails debuts September 16

When Crudo burst onto the scene in 2012, and into the hearts of Arizona diners, Co-Owner/Chef Cullen Campbell, Co-Owner Maureen McGrath-Campbell and Co-Owner/Mixologist Micah Olson wanted nothing more than to deliver crisp, chef-driven menus, a cocktail program worthy of tenure, and hospitality that wrapped it’s arms around you.  Now, three years later, the trio is duplicating the tenets of their own success by opening the doors of their sophomore effort – Okra Cookhouse & Cocktails – opening on Wednesday, September 16th.  The results are sure to be downright tasty.

Serving up authentic takes on classic Southern-style fare inside a stylishly restored midcentury modern space in the heart of uptown Phoenix (5813 N. 7th St.), Okra’s casual yet food-forward intention blurs the lines between Southern and Italian cooking. Think sharable starters such as Country Ham, Pimiento Cheese Aioli & Hoe Cakes and entrées such as Eggplant Parmesan with Stewed Okra. Not to mention an expansive selection of house-baked Focaccias topped with everything from creamy Italian crescenza cheese & pecan-honey, to pork belly, peperonata, egg & Okra Hot Sauce.  A collaboration between chef Campbell and Jacob Cutino, owner of Phoenix’s own Homeboy’s Hot Sauce, this custom bottled hot sauce features the spicy, bold flavors of Fresno chilies, cayenne pepper, red bell pepper and the perfect hint of vinegar for that true Tennessee-style tang.

Okra represents a return of sorts for Cullen, who was inspired to reconnect with his family’s deep Southern roots that occupied his formative culinary years. After splitting time between Phoenix and his family’s cotton farm in Forrest City, Arkansas, Cullen attended college just across the Mississippi River in Memphis, where he was steeped in the city’s classic culinary traditions, including the secret to authentic Southern Fried Chicken. In fact, at Okra guests are able to enjoy crispy yet tender fried chicken served three ways: Buttermilk-brined, Tennessee Hot or topped with a rustic Umbrian meat sauce. Plus savor rib-sticking eats such as Ham Hock Osso Bucco, Pig Cheek Pot Pie or Catfish al Forno, accompanied by classic accouterments such as Mississippi Comeback Sauce and Alabama White BBQ Sauce.

Wash it all down with an expansive collection of wines and craft beers and of course cocktails, with co-owner/bartender Micah Olson having built a tidy menu backed by a selection of some of the South’s finest small-batch bourbons. The cocktail portion of the menu is broken into three sections, beginning with “Southern Standards,” staples that honor the historic culture of simplistic, highly quality refreshing cocktails.  The “House Cocktail” section brings southern elements into modern mixology, with more complex cocktails like Milk Was a Bad Choice (Brown Butter Washed Hamilton Jamaican Pot Still Rum, Banana Syrup, Crow’s Dairy Goat’s Milk and Mi Casa Bitters) and Dog Will Hunt (Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Vida Mescal, Bigallet Amer and Okra’s Pecan Falernum).  Perhaps the best reflection of its southern roots, Okra’s seasonal Julep section wows with interpretations both classic and expressive.   The Okra Julep serves as an ice cold reminder that all you need is bourbon, sugar and mint to find cocktail salvation, or itch your creative side with the Piña Tail on the Donkey (Appleton VX Rum, Bacardi 8 Rum, Smith & Cross Rum, Mint and Pineapple Syrup).

Housed inside the Crown on 7th, a striking rehab of a midcentury modern strip in Phoenix’s buzziest restaurant corridor, Okra’s cozy 100-seat space blends indoor and outdoor environments while sporting an open kitchen, a first for this culinary team. Enter through a wood-ensconced breezeway before opening the farmhouse door and stepping into the welcoming space boasting exposed brick and wooden ceiling trusses strung with oversized yarn-ball chandelier lighting.  Or kick back inside a mix of booth and tabletop seating back-dropped by wood plank walls with built-in glowing lamps and accented with mirrors and a crimson red colors inspired by fresh red okra. Looking for something a little more casual? Belly up to the custom wooden bar-top, or step through the folding accordion-style doors out onto the expansive outdoor dining deck.

Okra opens to the public on Wednesday, September 16th for both lunch and dinner 7-days a week.

Micah Olson, Courtesy of Crudo

Thirsty Thursday: Micah Olson of Bar Crudo and Okra

Micah Olson is set out to do bartending right.

Just by seeing him in action, behind the bar, it’s clear Olson loves what he does. He’s part-owner of Crudo and runs the bar program, for which his enthusiasm is more than evident. He greets customers he knows by name and shakes the hands of those he doesn’t.

Olson appreciates the independence the bar allows him, whether it’s experimenting with new flavors and mixtures or taking care of his own guests.

A bookcase sits off to the side of the bar, one shelf full of books on the specifics of bartending: drinks, taste, flavor.

Olson started as a line cook, eventually moving to the front of the house. As a server, he became interested in wine and after two years of learning about wine, got his Introductory Sommelier Certification from The Court of Master Sommeliers. He’s worked at Phoenix staples such as the Royal Palms Resort and the Sanctuary on Camelback, where he was the wine buyer.

It was at the Sanctuary that his mixology career began. Olson got the chance to take a mixology class, learning about the use of fresh juices, making in-house syrups and going back to basics with classic cocktails. He was offered the bar after that, finally allowed the freedom to come up with his own menu.

“A wannabe cook” is what he calls himself, which explains some of the books on the bookshelf: he has both The Flavor Bible and The Flavor Thesaurus, which he consults often but is familiar enough to know what goes well with what.

The bar computers have a button for Micah: “Dealer’s Choice,” the one Olson uses when he makes up a drink, after doing a bit of question and answer with the patron. Whether it’s regulars who’ve had everything on the menu and want to try something new or indecisive newbies, Olson’s personal touch gets thrown in, when he makes a drink just for them.

This improvisation isn’t a new skill for him. During Arizona Cocktail Week in 2014, Olson won the high-energy competition Last Slinger Standing.  It’s “March Madness bracket formula meets Iron Chef”, and with single elimination, it’s a tense few hours. With a creation he can’t even remember, Olson won last year and served as a coach during this year’s competition in February.

His menu at Bar Crudo is unique, but he’s not striving to be different, he says. Using the classics as stepping-stones, Olson relies on fresh and house-made ingredients to solidify a signature’s style. Fruits and herbs are common on the menu, allowing him to be even more creative with flavor profiles.

“I’m looking just to do things in a correct manner,” Olson says.

While Olson will be adventurous when visiting a new bar and drink specials and favorites, he has his own favorite drink. Because it’s guaranteed to be what he asks for, whiskey on the rocks is what he drinks most of the time.

“I know what I’m getting and that’s very comforting,” he says.

Customers at Bar Crudo will have the same response. Whether ordering a drink from the extensive menu or having Olson come up with a new drink, patrons will know what they’re getting, thanks to Olson’s vast knowledge of the mixology world.

Hall of Fame 2014

Arizona Culinary Hall of Fame honors innovators

Prepare yourself for a new flavor of ceremony at this year’s Arizona Culinary Hall of Fame, presented by the Scottsdale Culinary Festival and the Scottsdale League for the Arts. The star-studded soiree will be held at Scottsdale’s premier entertainment venue, Livewire. Photos of Arizona’s culinary legends will light up the 25-foot HD diagonal video wall, while the names of this year’s nominees will carousel on the mezzanine’s sweeping LED screen. Unlike previous celebrations of the Grand Canyon state’s culinary masters, this year’s tickets will be available to the general public for $25.

The ceremony will recognize 2015’s best chef, restaurateur, and beverage master. All of last year’s recipients (Joe Johnston of Agritopia, Joe’s Real BBQ and Joe’s Farm Grill; Craig DeMarco & Lauren Bailey of Upward Projects; Aaron Chamberlin of St. Francis and Phoenix Public Market Café; and Micah Olson of Bar Crudo) will present the award to 2015’s culinary tastemakers. What’s more, small bites will be provided by each of the 2014 Culinary Hall of Fame recipients for those in attendance.

Also as part of this year’s event, the late Glenn Humphrey, an icon in the culinary world in Phoenix, will be recognized with the Lifetime Achievement Award presented to his family in memory of his achievements in the culinary landscape of Arizona.  Judith Wolf, a leader in childhood arts education and director of arts programs at Young Arts Arizona, will receive this year’s Alex Simon Award. 

Along with their induction into the Arizona Culinary Hall of Fame, winners will be presented with their own Ed Mell-designed trophy that has been given to each inductee over the 24-year history, and $500 will be donated to the charitable organization of their choosing. An electoral kitchen including chefs, mixologists, media, farmers, organization leaders and board members will vote for this year’s inductees.   The voting body includes the Scottsdale League for the Arts membership, the food and beverage community, the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau and all past recipients of the Arizona Culinary Hall of Fame awards.

When: Monday, March 30 at 6:30 pm

Where: Livewire, 7320 East Indian Plaza, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

Tickets: $25 per person, tickets can be purchased at www.scottsdalefest.org

Fall fashion trends

Get your sips at Arizona Cocktail Week

Seven days a year, people from around the country come to Phoenix to celebrate and appreciate cocktails at Arizona Cocktail Week. When half of the country is freezing or hidden under snow, parties and events are being held outdoors and at venues all over the Valley. Arizona Cocktail Week is more than just drinking, though. It’s about the community, education and exposing the public to a profession that hasn’t always received its fair share of respect.

In its fourth year, Arizona Cocktail Week continues to foster the community that it saw at with its inception. With participants coming from all over the country to take part, Arizona Cocktail Week serves as a meeting ground for many people who see each other only once a year. The founders get a chance to get back together and see where their work has taken them.

Damon Scott and Ross Simon, both co-founders, recognize the sense of community the event has. Unlike cities with bigger markets, attendees at the event will be rubbing shoulders and squeezing lemons with the big names in cocktails, Simon says. When participants see the intimacy that Arizona Cocktail Week is able to offer, they go back to their own cities and to try to replicate it, Scott says.

But the event doesn’t cater to only those already in the cocktail community and looks to educate those who might not know much about the bartending career. “I think it shines a light on what we’re doing here,” Simon says. “The most important thing is getting people’s awareness up and having a vessel where we can teach that there’s more to alcohol than getting drunk.”

Despite many people’s stereotypes, bartending is looking to get a better reputation. “It’s been a respectable career for years but now we’re finally getting some of that respect back” says Micah Olson, part-owner of Crudo in Phoenix. Olson has participated in the event every year and won last year’s Last Slinger Standing, Arizona Cocktail Week’s biggest event. In charge of menu development, Olson sees seasonality playing into many drinks here, with lighter drinks doing better, though Phoenix is still a young city and developing its identity as a cocktail market.

Last Slinger Standing, held this year at Bitter & Twisted in downtown Phoenix, was the idea of Jason Asher. Asher started out in the industry trying to merge culinary arts and the bar. Several years later, he came up with competition that’s part Iron Chef, part March Madness. Similar to bartending, “it’s about listening, and it’s about understanding ingredients,” he says.

With participants from Flagstaff, Phoenix and Tucson, 2015 is the first year the entire state of Arizona will be represented at Arizona Cocktail Week. Throughout the week, many local bars and restaurants will hold more than 50 events, looking to expose people to what their bars and kitchens have to offer.

“I think this is one of the best, must-go events for anyone in the Southwest to eat, drink and learn,” Simon says.

Arizona Cocktail Week will be held from February 14-21. Main events will be held at the Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale, the Cocktail Carnival on Saturday, February 14. The Last Slinger Standing Competition will be held Monday, February 16 at Bitter & Twisted in Phoenix. Wristbands can be purchased online or at any Bevmo store.


Crudo Unveils New Seasonal Food and Drink Menus

The kids may be back in school, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep the summer celebration going. Crudo Chef Cullen Campbell and Mixologist Micah Olson have opened up their big bag o’ tricks and created an all-new seasonal food and cocktail menu to end the summer on a high note. Crudo features several new taste adventures including pecan wood-grilled mozzarella, and the new Whole Roasted Pig Head, served for the entire table with gourmet sauces and accompaniments for $60 (72-hour notice). Bar Crudo also features new late-summer cocktails including the Salt River Project (Tapatio Reposado Tequila, salted watermelon syrup, lime, ancho reyes chile liqueur, Peychaud’s Bitters & Galliano Authentico served tall over ice).

Who: Fine food lovers, craft cocktail sippers, and anyone else interested in trying Crudo exciting new food and drink menus.

What: Turn off your oven and let Chef Cullen Campbell do the cooking for you with Crudo’s all-new seasonal food and cocktail menu. Once again, Chef Cullen Campbell and Mixologist Micah Olson have dug deep into their bag o’ tricks to whip up exotic new twists on classic foods & drinks. Over at Crudo, enjoy bold new tastes such as Ahi tuna served with celery, seaweed pesto and shallots, or a smoky, savory pecan wood-grilled mozzarella plate. However, the truly adventurous will want to try the Crespelle, or Italian-style crepes stuffed with snails, soffrito and battuto. Not to mention, the Whole Roasted Pig Head, served for the entire table with gourmet sauces and accompaniments for $60 (72-hour notice required).

Over at Bar Crudo, Micah Olson has also been busy shaking up an all-new menu of late-summer delights. Highlights include the Arizona-centric, Violet Femmes (Arizona Distilling Co. Desert Dry Gin, cucumber, violet, lemon & sparkling wine served in a flute), and the Salt River Project (Tapatio Reposado Tequila, salted watermelon syrup, lime, ancho reyes chile liqueur, Peychaud’s Bitters & Galliano Authentico served tall over ice). Go green with the Chartreuse-spiked Wycked Sceptor (Zucca Rubbarbaro Amaro, John Taylors Falernum & Lime Juice served in chilled coupe). Or pucker up with a Blue Steel cocktail (Hayman’s Old Tom Gin, Blueberries, Tarragon Lemon & Fever-Tree Bitter Lemon Soda served tall over ice).

When: Crudo’s Late Summer 2014 menu is available today.

Where: Crudo, 3603 E. Indian School Road, Phoenix, AZ 85018, 602-358-8666.