Historic flavors of Tombstone vanish

Margarita Morales eating straw berry ice cream (Photo Credit: Sarah Pelfini/ Arizona Sonoran News)
Margarita Morales eating straw berry ice cream (Photo Credit: Sarah Pelfini/ Arizona Sonoran News)

Tombstone continues to work to preserves its Wild West roots, but has the historical town forgotten a piece of the puzzle?

In a dusty town of miners, cowboys and wide-brimmed hats, fine dining is not the first image that comes to mind. But, with the success of the silver mines more than a century ago came immigrants from all over the world and classical French cuisine.

“French food was trending all over America,” said Sherry Monahan, author of “Taste of Tombstone.”

The collision of the Victorian era and the settling of the West in the late 1800s brought an entirely new paradigm of affluence and hospitality.

The Occidental Chop House on Allen Street was known around town for its extravagant French delicacies, linen tablecloths, chandeliers and offering everything from soups to nuts.

Patrons would sit through multiple courses noshing on fresh seafood served with butter-enriched sauces, decadent chicken giblet consommé, leg of lamb, duck and oysters.

Monahan explains that the affluent restaurant owners of Tombstone would serve only the finest of ingredients. Oysters and various types of fish were packed on ice and brought by train from California.

Freshly butchered beef from surrounding cattle ranges were selected at the beginning of each day. Bakeries with fresh pastries, ice cream parlors serving the frozen custard on plates and up-scale hotels lined the roads.

And today?

“You’re not going to find classic French food anywhere in Tombstone. ” Monahan said. 

Brisket Dinner Big Nose Kate's (Photo Credit: Sarah Pelfini/ Arizona Sonoran News)
Brisket Dinner Big Nose Kate’s (Photo Credit: Sarah Pelfini/ Arizona Sonoran News)

Walk the wooden slatted sidewalks on any given day and an array of burgers, steaks, hot dogs and ice cream are available for consumption.

“I don’t believe the people of Tombstone think tourists want to sit at a fine dining restaurant,” Monahan explains.

The 1800s classic French fare has been replaced by an amalgamation of American specialties that cater to tourists’ various pallets.

Two locals impersonating Louisa and Morgan Earp, enjoy eating at Long Horn steak house, “Beef—it is what’s for dinner.” The couple said in unison.

They both love seeing people come to the southwest town to experience the history.

Paula Jean Reed hopes to provide families with quick treats so, “they can grab and go and still see the sights and move around Tombstone.”

Reed’s gelato and fudge shop is next to the Birdcage Theatre and serves hot dogs, pretzels, freshly made fudge and gelato.

Tombstone represents the evolution of American cuisine in the sense that it is a true melting pot of various cultures.

When Tombstone was nothing more than a mining camp, immigrants from Italy, Germany, Ireland, Japan and China came to settle in the West. They brought the cultural fusions with them that remains in a few restaurants today.

Steve Goldstein, owner of three popular restaurants in Tombstone, has incorporated his cultural roots into Big Nose Kate’s diverse menu of pizza, brisket, pastrami sandwiches, and caprese Paninis. 

Brisket Dinner Big Nose Kate's (Photo Credit: Sarah Pelfini/ Arizona Sonoran News)
Brisket Dinner Big Nose Kate’s (Photo Credit: Sarah Pelfini/ Arizona Sonoran News)

“I have a deep background with food,” said Goldstein, who has cooked in New Orleans, Malta, Tuscany and for his fellow soldiers in the army.

Goldstein’s other popular eatery Café Margarita was inspired by his wife Gloria who was born in Mexico, and his love of Italian cooking. The diverse menu offers everything from chimichangas, to lasagnas, to fried ice cream.

Craig Hensley, who plays Wyatt Earp at the O.K Corral, sees Tombstone’s food as an afterthought. The actor explains that while many restaurants make an effort to embody the old days, the focus remains on the surroundings.

“Standing here and looking around, the most iconic thing is the town itself,” Hensley said.

While tourism and America’s evolving — or some say devolving — cuisine may be responsible for the disappearance of a taste of history, there is hope for the future.

Monahan believes that with time, Tombstonans will see the importance of bringing the authenticity of the streets back into the restaurants. She imagines a time where period costumes would be completed with traditional french cuisine, chandeliers, and grandiose style.

“Imagine if it looked like you stepped back in time. That would be my ultimate dream.”

Sarah Pelfini is a reporter for Arizona Sonoran News, a service from the school of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at spelfini@email.arizona.edu. 

Click here for a Word version of this story and high-resolution photos. 

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