What’s New at The Heartline Café
This intimate, family-owned restaurant, with its updated dining room and secret-garden-style patio, has shifted to serving dinner only, five nights a week (Thursday through Monday) and Sunday brunch—($18.95 a person, including a Bloody Mary or Mimosa.) The menu changes weekly and offers daily specials. Many of the restaurant’s renowned signature dishes appear on the menu or as a daily special. Catering has become an important part of the restaurant’s outreach—especially daytime events and weddings so guests can enjoy the beauty of Sedona.
Dog-friendly. Will create their trademark pecan-crusted trout (for a reduced fee) if guests bring in the fish they have caught at the local Trout Farm. Fresh Food with a Flair at The Heartline Café. To talk with Charles Cline, the impassioned sous chef at The Heartline Café, is a glimpse into what it is like to transmute a childhood immersed in culinary adventures and a love of the arts into a vibrant restaurant career.
Charles is the only son of Chuck and Phyllis Cline who have owned The Heartline Café in West Sedona (1610 W. State Route 89A) for a quarter of a century. He grew up in a room that now houses wine, sleeping on a sofa with an intercom nearby to stay connected to his parents, the young restaurant staff, and, most especially, the kitchen. Even as a toddler, Charles delighted in the kind of room service most people only dream of—lobster blinis right out of the pan or crème brulee, delivered with “sibling” humor (i.e., a little dash of whipped cream sprayed into his mouth). For the precocious youngster, good food, a little teasing, and lots of laughter created the memories that now are the backdrop of his dynamic food career.
Charles, like his award-winning father, is passionate about serving delicious fresh food. To take advantage of seasonal and local ingredients, Charles creates a weekly menu. (“Sometimes I feel like I want to change it every day,” he grins.) The menu features daily specials and rotating dishes, anchored in the restaurant’s signature items, such as the trout, crab cakes, warm red cabbage salad, and grilled marinated vegetables with wasabi vinaigrette.
According to Charles, “If you see peaches on the tree, you put them on the menu. If you see figs, you make a fig jam [a delicious and attractive cookie filler] or you use the fig leaf to wrap salmon and steam it.” Mint finds its way into mojitos,
chutneys, chilled melon soup, and the sorbets and ice creams produced on site. Edible flowers like violas, pansies, and nasturtiums enliven drinks and salads, and fennel pollen adds a bitter-free fennel flavor to a chilled strawberry soup. (“It’s like putting salt on something; it’s a tiny little essence.”).
As Charles points out, being a chef is a creative endeavor: Every day is like beginning with a blank palette and making something beautiful. “I don’t put dishes on the menu just to impress people. I want people to come in and have a satisfying meal and know that is fresh.”
Charles did not always dream of hitching his star to the Heartline kitchen. Although he grew up in the restaurant, plated salads with his father as a teen, and worked in the food emporium that once adjoined The Heartline Café, Charles’s
culinary imagination took off when he returned home after traveling for several years to explore the nation’s music scene (another personal passion) and to study Chinese medicine. In 2015, he began working as The Heartline Café’s bartender, and that’s when inspiration first struck: With the help of his girlfriend Anthea (soon to be his wife), he created craft cocktails such as the Heartline Bling, Lavender Ginger Sidecar, and Rosemary Julip—all featuring herbs and flowers from the restaurant’s garden.
The popularity of these drinks made him briefly consider featuring a happy hour at the restaurant, but he realized that diners primarily come to The Heartline Café because they are looking for a fine-dining experience. So Charles shifted his attention to food.
“What I love to do in the kitchen is the same thing I did with drinks when I was a bartender,” says Charles. “You take a classic recipe and give it a little twist to make it more unique but also to make it more flavorful and interesting.”
Take rack of lamb, for example. Instead of the herb-crusted meat that many restaurants serve, the Heartline Café uses mesquite flour, ground from roasted mesquite pods, which gives the lamb a nutty, distinctively Southwestern flavor.
As a change of pace, the chef may glaze the lamb with rosemary honey. To elevate the traditional cheese quesadilla, Charles serves a pesto quesadilla, and a twist on traditional apple pie could be a poached apple wrapped in puff pastry. A favorite for wedding parties is the Heartline’s rendition of Chicken Cordon Bleu. Instead of a ham and cheese filling, Charles stuffs his chicken with sun-dried tomatoes and ricotta cheese. Many of Charles’ innovations also have found their way onto the Sunday brunch menu, including the popular Lemon Cream-Stuffed French Toast.
The Heartline Café has always been sensitive to diners with food restrictions, such as offering vegan and gluten-free dishes. “Honestly, I don’t really enjoy gluten-free pasta—the texture falls short for me,” says Charles, “so we substitute spiralized vegetables, such as butternut squash, zucchini, or sweet potato.” His mother Phyllis, who has a degree in horticulture and environmental science from Rutgers University and whose love of plants and herbs have added beauty and aroma to the Heartline’s ambiance and menu, prefers the spiralized vegetables even though she is not gluten free. “We have always made a lot of Pasta Puttanesca” she says. “But I like the one with the vegetables better. It has a fuller flavor and a brighter color.”
Although you can almost hear the creative wheels turning in the young chef’s head, he is the first to admit that certain trademark dishes are just perfect as they are. One Heartline staple, whose fame has spread across the oceans, is the restaurant’s Pecan-Crusted Rainbow Trout, served with a Dijon cream sauce. Sometimes people from as far away as Japan arrive at the restaurant with a picture of the trout and point to it when it is time to order. “Food is something that spans across nationalities because you don’t have to speak the language to understand the flavor,” notes Charles.
As with the trout, all dishes are generously plated. The entrees come as a complete meal—with a starch, vegetable, and salad and French baquettes, reimagined and baked fresh by Charles. “For 20 some years, no matter what we did, no one loved our bread,” recalls Phyllis. “Charles said, ‘I’m going to fix that. I am going to conquer that. I am going to make it better.’” And he did. “You know, making French baguettes is an art. So now that we have really gotten it down, it’s only going to get better and better,” says Charles.
“We always say it’s like we are living the movie Groundhog Day. We come in; we know what to expect. We know how to do it like we did it yesterday but better. Every day we try to accomplish one beautiful thing that elevates us to the next day. For us, it’s about making food as good as we can every day.”
Story written by Patti Polinard | Photos by Big Vision Art + Design
For more information on the Heartline Cafe, visit: www.heartlinecafe.com