When my colleague and I first walked into Josephine’s, it felt as though we were entering into the home of a lifelong family friend. The warmth of the atmosphere reflected in the smiling faces that cheerfully greeted us as we awaited our hostess who readied for us the best seats in the house. Beside a stone fireplace, crackling with enthusiasm, we spent the next couple of hours sipping wine, catching up, and indulging ourselves with some decadently delicious food. As I broke through the flaky phyllo shell covered with crumbled pistachios—dipping into the perfectly melted brie within—I wondered about the origins of the restaurant and the charmingly, cozy space that Josephine’s called “home.”
I was later able to sit down with the owner of Josephine’s. As our conversation flowed with such ease, it became clear that the affable ambiance of the restaurant mirrored the authenticity and friendliness of its owner, Chef Tony Cosentino. Chef Tony first discovered his love of cooking in a kitchen in Iowa with his mother Josephine, after whom Tony named the bistro. Tony shared with me a few fondly remembered moments from his childhood. “We always had a garden; always had very fresh food,” Chef Tony recounted. “We would hunt asparagus and Morrel mushrooms, and so there are some memories with food with her.”
As Tony grew up, his joy for cooking grew with him; and the joy remained. It remained throughout his high school years. It accompanied him as he departed Iowa and moved across the country to Flagstaff for college. Not immediately pursuing a career in the culinary arts, Tony earned a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics. However, after graduation, he quickly realized that mathematics might not be the most productive path. “I was at a crossroads in my life and, well, a bachelor’s in Mathematics isn’t actually worth anything,” Tony admitted, laughing a little. “So, I pursued cooking. I don’t think, at that moment, I realized that this is what I was meant to do, but I have come to realize that now.”
Tony spent many years developing his craft as Executive Chef at Forest Highlands Golf Club. Over the years, Tony had fallen in love with Flagstaff; and he knew he wanted to stay. The clear choice came to be to open a restaurant of his own. Tony found and purchased the modest building on North Humphrey Street in downtown Flagstaff, and he opened Josephine’s Modern American Bistro in 2002. Following our exquisite baked brie, my colleague and I ordered our entrees. Having dined at Josephine’s once before, she ordered the bacon-wrapped filet mignon with sautéed, truffle-scented Cremini mushrooms and red wine demi-glace. I, on the other hand, selected that evening’s special—a perfectly pan-seared flank steak, blanketed beneath fried, caramelized onions, a balsamic demi-glace, all set atop a pillow of Tillamook Green Chili Polenta. While Chef Tony was not in town on this particular night, we were in excellent and capable hands with Chef Manny.
As so much of the business is family owned and operated—with Tony’s wife Marlene and his stepson Louis managing the front of the house—I asked Chef Tony if Chef Manny was part of the family. Tony went on to tell me how he first met Manny. The restaurant, along with the rest of Flagstaff, was entering the slow season. Tony was not looking to hire when Manny came looking for a job. “Manny came in one day and said, ‘I need a job, and I know you aren’t hiring, but if you hire me, you’ll never regret it.’” Tony smiled, remembering the interaction. Admittingly, Tony shared, “I wasn’t going to hire him, but then I said, ‘Okay. You’re hired.’ That was like a decade ago, and I certainly don’t regret it.”
Chef Manny’s ready smile and easy laugh bring cheerfulness to the restaurant that keeps you wanting to go back. It’s relationships like this one that has made Josephine’s what it is. I asked Tony if he had any dreams or ideas of expansion, but his priorities are rooted in the experience and in the people that surround him. “It’s not all about money,” Tony replied. “We have a house, and I do what I love in a place I love. Could I open another restaurant in Sedona or Phoenix? Sure. But at that point, I think I might just be deluding myself about what’s important to me. Part of being a small business—in a relatively small town—is knowing my customers. I see the people who are coming back every day, and it’s more important for me to maintain that quality and pride than to make a couple of extra bucks.”
While we weren’t going to order dessert, Chef Manny insisted; and I was so delighted that he did. Awaiting our Zeppoles, or Italian donuts, I thought a bit more about the bungalow-style house, its family-feel and the little bistro. Chef Manny personally delivered to our table a plate of warm, fluffy Zeppoles. These ricotta Italian fritters, with vanilla pastry cream and Josephine’s very own wild berry jam, are not to be missed. By the time we were finishing our dessert, I had fully settled into the atmosphere of this historic building. I sat back in my seat with the warm fire burning behind me and relished the room.
Constructed in 1911, the John Miller Clark House was one of the first buildings to be erected using the Malpaís rock that is native to and indicative of the Flagstaff area. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is itself worthy of a visit. Groups of guests are invited to dine upstairs in smaller, private rooms that were once the house’s bedrooms. In the summer, the umbrella-covered patio is a perfect place to enjoy a salad and a glass of wine from Tony’s extensive collection.
Family and community are key elements in making Josephine’s Modern American Bistro what it is. I couldn’t have chosen a more exceptional place to wine and dine and catch up with my dear friend and colleague. A helping of homelike atmosphere, a dash of family-run values, and a healthy sprinkling of personal attention all wrapped up in a cozy building, bakes nicely into a warm treat that every guest will savor.
“Josephine’s features two lit fireplaces in the winter—perfect for romantic dinners—and a beautifully landscaped patio in the summer for a casual lunch while enjoying the wonderful Flagstaff mountain climate."
Story written by: Sara Knight Photos Provided by: Josephine’s