Writer Amanda Christmann

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n many ways, Cave Creek has escaped the pen strokes of time. Sports cars still share the road with horses and there are just as many Tony Lamas as there are Christian Louboutins. For well over a century, time has not managed to erase all that has made Cave Creek special, and if Cave Creek restaurateurs Eric Flatt and John Malcolm have their way, the history and lore that made it great will live on through stories and song.

Arizona has always been a place where people do things a little differently. Perhaps it’s something about the dry desert air that makes us feel a little more relaxed and closer to one another. We don’t have to sit in the glow of a campfire to connect through stories and common history; we just need to share a good meal, imbibe in a drink or two and make new memories while sharing old ones.

It’s not a stretch for a place like Cartwright’s Sonoran Ranch House to carry on Arizona traditions. The restaurant is named after the Cartwright family, which was among the first and most successful pioneer families to settle the area. For a century, the Cartwright Range was one of the largest cattle ranches around, and it has been said that it was the oldest Arizona ranch to remain in the same family for more than three generations.

For a decade and a half, Flatt, Malcolm and their handpicked staff have carefully molded and nurtured the restaurant to honor the pioneers who struggled through the harsh desert climate to create a foundation for all the amenities and conveniences we enjoy today.

The two did the same for Cartwright’s older brother of a restaurant, Tonto Bar and Grill, now 21 years old, which celebrates the Native Americans who left their marks on area history for centuries before westward expansion began.

If each restaurant was a painting, it would be filled with the most striking of details, every color carefully selected and blended, each stroke a surprise for the eyes; there is nothing routine or plain about the menus, quality or service in either Tonto Bar and Grill or Cartwright’s Sonoran Ranch House. Each has accrued its own list of prestigious awards, but more importantly, they’ve become part of the ongoing story and flavor of Cave Creek for visitors and Creekers alike.

“Today, we try our best to exemplify the spirit of those who invested in the land, the animals and the people of this area,” said Flatt. “From the sustainable food sources we use to the atmospheres we create, everything we do is about preserving the legacy of those who came before us.”

Part of their mission is creating a home for the diminishing art of storytelling and preservation of a bygone era that is slowly fading into the annals of time. For the sixth year in a row, Flatt and Malcolm are continuing that tradition by partnering with some of Arizona’s most notable raconteurs to share the tales and tunes of Arizona in the most unique — and delicious — way. There’s no better way to experience the fun than at the annual Cartwright’s Sanderson Lincoln Arizona History Dinner series events, which kicked off May 11 and run through October 26.

“I have always been a history buff, so this is just as fun for me as it is for the people who come to enjoy it,” Flatt said. “It gives me an opportunity to connect with the community by doing something a little different, and people have been really enjoying themselves and one another every year.”

Cartwright’s Sonoran Ranch House will be the place to gather every other Wednesday for stories, songs and sagas from some of the Valley’s most colorful and knowledgeable tale-spinners.

Each history dinner begins with no-host cocktails in the Cartwright’s Sonoran Ranch House Ranch Room, followed by a mouthwatering three-course, Sonoran-inspired meal carefully prepared by top-ranking chef Brett Vibber and talented pastry chef Amanda Crick. This event is a local favorite. Reserve your spot early or you may miss out!

This year, Cartwright’s Sanderson Lincoln Arizona History Dinners will feature presentations by the state’s most sought-after speakers, including Marshall Trimble, Dolan Ellis and Charlie LeSueur. There will also be a special partnership with Cave Creek Museum on one special night of fun and feasting.

Dinners include unique course selections created specially for each event, including treats like a duo of beef and venison backstraps with red kuri and kabocha calabacitas; smashed marbled fingerling potatoes and sauce Bordelaise; British Colombia lingcod with sun-dried tomato and desert herb butter, roasted sunchokes and tri-color quinoa topped with Queen Creek Mexican lime oil; and oven-roasted heritage turkey with hand-foraged Arizona mushrooms, spinach and chervil gnocchi topped with stewed tomato chutney.

“The menu this year has really been kicked up a notch,” said Flatt, an impressive feat considering the over-the-top excellence in previous years. “Chef Brett Vibber is an Arizona native, and he relishes in local history as much as I do. He puts so much care into this event that people who come can taste his dedication.”

“History is what this area is all about,” added Flatt, a Colorado native. “For many of us, it’s why we come here, and it’s why we stay.”

And it’s why we especially enjoy events like the Cartwright’s Sanderson Lincoln Arizona History Dinners.

Reservations can be made online or by phone, and complete menus and speaker dates are posted on the Cartwright’s website.

No matter what kind of horsepower brings you to Cartwright’s — the kind with wheels or the kind with hooves — you won’t want to miss this annual tradition.