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Canyon Café Takes Diners to the Southwest

Chef Sandra Banchs does Southwest fusion right.

Diners wanting to leave town and enjoy a taste of the Southwest need to go no further than Canyon Café at Plaza Frontenac. For 15 years, the restaurant remains a popular place to go for a celebratory dinner, a romantic tête-à-tête, or a happy happy hour.

Walking into the restaurant is a walk into a desert cantina, albeit a bit more appointed. Muted colors of ocher, orange and yellow settle the soul. Just the right amount of Southwestern and Native American artifacts are placed around the rooms, and diners forget they’re a few steps away from a bustling fashion center.

As soon as you sit down, an attentive waiter brings chips and salsa, but these are neither ordinary chips nor ordinary salsa. The chips contain three varieties--sweet potato, corn tortilla, and wontons. The salsa is made fresh in house daily with no preservatives.

Regarding the aforementioned Happy Hour, Canyon Café offers its famous "Limit 2" Margaritas ($10.95) because that is all you can order. Made with fresh limes, Grand Marnier, and Sauza Commemorative tequila, the margaritas are handshaken and quite refreshing. But you can still have only two.

With that margarita, the Sedona Spring Rolls ($7.99) have been a consistently popular item. Four tortillas wrapped around a combination of chicken and vegetables and served crisp over roasted barbecue sauce with tossed greens, these make the perfect accompaniment to your drink of choice.

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Chef Sandra Banchs attended culinary school in Galveston, TX when she was offered a job in a restaurant.“It was a mixed blessing because it took me away from school, so I had to finish up and do everything on own.”

Then, on September 11, 2001, she got the opportunity to go with Canyon Café.

“I’ll never forget that day,” she said, “For more reasons than one.”

After training in San Antonio, she went to the store in Dallas as the executive chef, then on to Houston. After four months, she came to the Plaza Frontenac location and has taken Southwestern cuisine to a new level.

“We fuse Asian with Mexican, Spanish, and Native American cuisines,” she said. “We use a lot of peppers, authentic Mexican chilies and spices, and it’s just the different flavors coming together that make an explosion of good taste in your mouth.”

Banchs said she gets her ideas from books, things she sees, and even the customers.“I’m a chef at heart, and I’ve taught myself a lot."

Some of the most popular items are the Blackened Salmon Caesar ($11.79), fire-grilled salmon served over a Southwest Caesar salad with capers, Parmesan cheese and Roma tomatoes, and Pancho’s Enchilada ($10.95), roasted chicken, Monterey Jack cheese and green onions wrapped in four tortillas, topped with a three-pepper cream sauce and tomato salad, and served with Southwest rice and tossed salad greens.

Another popular item is Mama’s Quesadilla ($10.95), which is grilled chicken, fajita vegetables and Monterey Jack cheese with a little spicy adovo sauce and served with tomatillo-avocado salsa, chipotle mayonnaise, pico de gallo and margarita slaw.

The end of the meal brings a sweet surprise when the waiter gives each diner a tamale wrapped around a stick of chilled white chocolate.  

General Manager Laura Molder, a Kirkwood native who has been with Canyon for more than nine years, started as a pharmacy technician. After eating at the restaurant, she decided that if she ever got the chance that was the place she wanted to work.

What does she think is the secret for Canyon’s continued success? “Consistency, good service, great atmosphere and outstanding food keep customers coming back,” she said.

When a restaurant stays in business and enjoys a bustling clientele for 15 years, especially in this economic climate, it is obviously doing something right.

Hours: Monday through Thursday: 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday: 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday: 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

Where: 1707 S. Lindbergh Blvd., Plaza Frontenac

Information: 314-872-3443

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