Pecan pie, ballpark food: Lots to love from Canyon 49
By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
Pecan pie can take away your woes. No. More than that. It can be life-affirming, and dare it be said? Downright transformative.
So pecan pie it is at Canyon 49 Grill at GCU Hotel, which is hitting home runs left and right lately as it not only ushers in the fall with an addition to the menu, Angie’s Pecan Pies, but has added culinary girth to the Grand Canyon University campus with the debut of Ball Park Burgers by Canyon 49. The baseball-inspired food stand, open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays to Fridays, has dug its heels into the north end of Antelope Gym.
It’s the latest spin-off for the University’s steadfast restaurant at the Canyon 49 complex on 27th Avenue, which is open and ready to serve the campus community after an unpredictable and unprecedented summer.
It’s a summer – and now fall — that has changed the dynamics for the restaurant as the hotel has closed temporarily and many employees are working from home.
It was in early March that Canyon 49’s burger stand was serving hungry baseball falls at American Family Fields of Phoenix, the Milwaukee Brewers’ spring training facility in Maryvale. Since 2017, the restaurant has been part of of the foodie experience at the Brewers games. If fans craved a burger, the GCU stand is the only place they can get it.
“They don’t do burgers at the (stadium) concession stand,” said Brett Cortright, General Manager of GCU Hotel and Canyon 49 Grill, who added that the Maryvale Stadium burger stand isn’t so much about churning out a substantial profit as it is about giving hospitality students the chance to operate that type of business.
Cortright got the call that the spring training season, which had just begun, was not to continue because of COVID-19 concerns and that the stand would have to close.
But a few weeks later, he heard that GCU President Brian Mueller was looking for more campus outdoor dining options.
“The stand was over at Maryvale Stadium; it’s ours,” Cortright said, and so Ball Park Burgers by Canyon 49 was born. “ … We’re doing our Ball Park BBQ Burger and Ball Park Turkey Burger and house-made chips for $10 and $11,” said Cortright.
Just call it a slice of the baseball foodie experience right here on campus.
It wasn’t just by happenstance that Canyon 49 Grill’s BBQ Burger got the spotlight at Maryvale Stadium.
“It’s our No. 1 seller at Canyon 49,” said Cortright of the establishment, where the campus community can find some upscale menu choices.
Executive Chef Marcus Maggiore and Sous Chef Mike Willison — Willison just filmed a cooking segment for Phoenix Food Day — have been known to put some broccolini and smoked jalapeno butter on the plate and aren’t averse to making their own pickles.
What’s special now at the grill is that it’s running an all-day menu from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
“It allows our students to enjoy anything at any time,” Cortright said. “They can come in at dinner and get a breakfast burrito. Or if they wanted to come over and have a steak at 10 in the morning, they can do that, too.”
They also might hear live music, another new feature. Every Friday, GCU finance/economics student T.J. Rifkin (he’s also a student worship pastor at Christ’s Church of the Valley) leads a group that performs at the grill.
“We had a really good response,” Cortright said.
Canyon 49 also is touting a new student general manager, Kelsey Schultz. She is only the second student general manager for the hotel and grill.
“This (the student general manager position) is a big deal for them,” said Cortright. “… She has come in with a ton of energy and a clear mission of what she wanted to accomplish. She said, ‘I came to GCU just for the hospitality program and just to run this hotel.’
“Kelsey separated herself from the rest. She took it upon herself to introduce herself to every student worker that we had. … Just as Karen (Madlock, the first student general manager) was nominated by her peers, Kelsey was also a shoo-in.”
As for the pecan pie?
“The holidays are going to be big for us,” Cortright said, and one reason is “the most amazing pecan pies in the world.”
They will be prepared at the Lope House at GCU Championship Golf Course and served at the restaurant throughout the holidays.
The pies are the creation of Angie Celis, a former pastry chef at resort hotel The Phoenician who’s now at GCU.
“Recently, the passion for baking has come back to her, and she asked if she could become involved in the culinary operation. She baked us a couple of these, and they were lights out.”
Cortright is hoping the campus will take advantage of that lights-out culinary experience, too, whether it’s grabbing a barbecue burger (at the restaurant or burger stand) or a piece of pecan pie or stopping by to listen to some music.
Social-distance measures are in place, as some tables have been removed to allow for more space between eating areas, and misters have been added on the patio for al fresco dining.
“Our kitchen staff and service staff are all using cleaning precautions and cleaning measures,” Cortright said.
The shuttle will take students, faculty and staff right to Canyon 49’s front door and back to campus. Another boon: Students get a 10% discount, and they can use their dining dollars for lunch and dinner, too.
For those who can’t stay to dine in, takeout is available (call 639-8502).
It’ll be lights out either way.
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.
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