The dining experience at What’s Crackin Café is still developing – as all new restaurants do months after opening – but at its core is everything that years in the food industry has taught the owners.
Free-flowing design over corporate blueprints.
Authenticity over contrived atmosphere.
Fresh food over fast.
It’s the type of neighborhood place, located in north Mesa at the southwest corner of McDowell and Power roads, that co-owners Craig Arstingstall and John Wilcoxon envisioned when they started talking about collaboration after years of working at places like Olive Garden, Cheesecake Factory, On the Border, and Romanos Macaroni Grill.
“We were working with each other at On the Border and knew there was more out there for us,” Wilcoxon said. “We decided to become partners and make it work.”
And so far, it has worked since opening in the early days of June.
The location has a plethora of locally owned spots and What’s Crackin is finding some momentum thanks to positive reviews, social media and a strong menu developed by Arstingstall.
“It’s so nice to be out of the corporate kitchen,” he said. “I love serving you something your grandma would get you. It might take some time, but you will be happier in the end.”
The building itself is somewhat oddly shaped and the outdoor seating, which accommodates dogs, is nearly as big to double the capacity. This time of year makes the patio the place to sit with TVs and a bar window ($2 mimosa).
The bar menu has several Happy Hour Food selections from noon until 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday led by rolled tacos, fried pickles and Mexican pizza.
The main menu has found a star in its version of the Monte Cristo including a melba sauce that should be put in a IV bag so it can flow directly into the blood stream.
The ham and gruyere combo is placed between two pieces of white bread that have been deep fried in pancake batter.
The saltiness of the meat and cheese is tempered terrifically by the powdered sugar and raspberry-based melba sauce.
Order it, and a second one to take home.
And if there is someone out there you are feuding with or wronged, all will be forgiven if you show up with one of these Monte Cristos as a peace-offering.
“It has really become the signature item,” said Wilcoxon, who said the original name of the restaurant was going to be Breaking Eggs but went with something catchier. “We figured it would be the omelets, but everyone has really like it.”
The other go to has become the stacked enchilada as blue corn tortillas are layered with Monterey Jack, either carnitas or pulled chicken with a choice of sauce, sunnyside egg along with avocado slices, sour cream and pico de gallo.
Other winners are the build your own omelets, and country bowl that has a homemade buttermilk biscuits as the base.
The idea behind it all is to do something to get a return customer and keep them coming back on the strength of the food.
“We are a scratch kitchen so some things are going to take a little longer than (a chain) where a lot of it is already prepared,” Wilcoxon said. “We are getting meals to the table between 12 and 22 minutes depending on what’s ordered and how busy we are at the time. We feel like food is that much better because nothing is started until the order goes in and it is received in the back.”
The original branding idea was as a breakfast and brunch spot, but about a month ago the hours on Thursday through Saturday were extended from 4 to 9 p.m.
“The branding of your own place has been great,” Arstingstall said. “The customers were asking us to open for dinner, and we are still trying to build that side of it. It’s a breakfast for dinner idea so we will see how it goes.”
The patrons, enticed by trivia nights, 22-ounce commemorative cup and Halloween costume night, are almost eclectic as the menu and décor as What’s Crackin continues to develop and find momentum.
“We are in a good place right now,” Wilcoxon said. “The food and finding right the servers has been the focus. It’s coming together and people are starting to notice.
“It’s been busy from the start and as we all know the first few months are vital. We are really beginning to become exactly what we set out to be.”
– Jason P. Skoda is a senior writer for MyNewsMesa.com. Send Mesa-based story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
What’s Crackin Cafe
Address: 6663 E. McDowell Road
Hours: 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday.
6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.