Chef Danny Grant Returns with New Restaurant, etta
Two-time Michelin-starred Chef Danny Grant is back for a second helping with his new neighborhood restaurant, etta.
Grant’s follow up to steakhouse Maple & Ash, etta is at home in Scottsdale Quarter (in BRIO’s former location at 15301 N. Scottsdale Road). Short for Henrietta, “keeper of the hearth” in French, etta centers its menu around a wood-fired oven. With other outposts in Chicago and Culver City, Calif., Grant said guests can expect signatures like bubbling shrimp and meatballs with new favorites including fire-roasted oysters and whole branzino, along with experiences meant to surprise and delight, such as celebration shots (with a cookie chaser for a sweet ending) or Porròn & Polaroids, built on the Spanish tradition of sharing wine from a pitcher with a tapered spout.
“We wanted to make the menu, the vibe, the feel of the restaurant, more than a dining experience,” Grant said. We caught up with him before the restaurant debuted in April to dig into all the details at etta, along with Grant’s take on Phoenix’s culinary scene and what’s next as he expands etta and other restaurant concepts through Chicago-based What If Syndicate.
Q&A: Etta Chef Danny Grant
Congratulations on etta. What inspired this restaurant concept?
First and foremost, etta for me is a really fun restaurant to work on. It was created by all of the food that I would want to eat on my days off, ate growing up, cook at home or bake — all that kind of stuff. We just wanted to have a restaurant and venue to do that in, so that’s where the inspiration came from.
We wanted to make the menu, the vibe, the feel of the restaurant, more than a dining experience. You can go there on a Tuesday by yourself, sit at the bar and have a salad and a simple roasted fish or you can go there with 12 people and have this really fun celebratory time, and everything in between.
Every time you do something again, you’re able to refine it and make it a little better than the last one. This etta is really special; it’s absolutely gorgeous. The evolution of the food is so exciting. This will be one of our first ettas where we’ll be able to open completely for lunch, dinner and brunch.
What dishes can guests expect?
The bubbling shrimp has been a staple from day one. The meatballs are outstanding. We have this cool, coal-fired oven that runs about 1,200 degrees. It’s not your traditional, grandma-style meatball. It’s one that has a crust on it and is roasted and a little smoky.
One important thing is always giving options to be able to have a very light, delicate and healthy meal or also be able to have more robust and decadent portions of the meal. The branzino is probably a dish that I could eat three nights a week.
The pastries here are much more unique than some of the pastries we’ve done at other restaurants, with us using some prickly pear, dates and some of the local vegetables and produce, and that’s turned out really well.
Etta joins sister restaurant Maple & Ash, also in Scottsdale — what unites them and makes etta stand out?
For me there’s always going to be a common foundation that we view our restaurants as more than just coming in to get full. I want people laughing. I want people smiling. That’s why I go out to dinner; otherwise, I’d just stay home and cook. We want to add little elements of surprise and excitement, whether it’s tableside flambé, which we do at Maple & Ash. And, at etta we do this really cool and fun interactive thing: You get a porròn full of wine or a cocktail and we give you a Polaroid camera, and it’s called Porròn & Polaroids. You see these tables all cheering and laughing and joking around, pouring porròns down their mouth, taking pictures of it, looking at their Polaroid pictures. It’s just little unexpected moments that happen throughout the night.
I’m glad you mentioned Porròn & Polaroids. What inspired that?
(Laughing) I think I had too many margaritas one day. I think we were all just joking around one day and sitting around the table porròn-ing each other, and I was like, whoa, is that a Polaroid camera? What if we did porròns and Polaroids?
We can plan and plan and plan all these things we want to do before opening, but once you’re open and you start having fun and playing inside the space is when you can really start adding next level stuff.
Etta is centered around wood-fired dishes. As a chef, what separates cooking at a hearth from being behind a stove?
It makes it harder, for sure, cooking over the fire. But at the end of the day, you’re getting another level of flavor. I like to be able to build flavors slowly throughout the dish, and the fire is just one more of those types of weapons we have to do so.
One of the reasons why I think the branzino is so special is that a lot of times when you get a fish with skin on it, the skin’s soggy. And, for me, we are able to take this branzino, put it on a wire rack and be able to just drop it literally on top of the coals. There’s really no way to replicate that on the grill or anything else.
You started your culinary career in Scottsdale.
I started my career out here and spent most of my time up at the Sanctuary (on Camelback Mountain) with Chuck Wylie and Beau MacMillan. For me, opening restaurants out here is such a nice homecoming of being able to catch up with those guys and reminisce a little bit.
How have you stayed connected here?
I’ve always had friends and family here, which makes it easy. I think it’s just something that’s important. This was a big part of me coming up in the culinary world and I like to stay in touch with the people who helped me get there.
What is it about Scottsdale that made it the right place for etta?
I love the people out here in Scottsdale. We’ve developed a really beautiful family with the team at Maple & Ash and all the customers from Maple & Ash. We figured why not keep expanding on that and give them another place to dine and more excuses for me to be out here?
You’ve seen the culinary scene here evolve. How have you seen it change — and what are you excited about?
When I lived here when I was finishing up high school, there wasn’t really much. Since then, even just the two years we’ve been open at Maple & Ash, the amount of young chefs and talent opening up is very impressive. For me, that is a really exciting thing. The more great restaurants, the higher expectations everybody has for great food and great service, it just continues to improve the whole scene.
Do you have any favorite spots you go to, if it’s not one of yours?
I’ll give you two spots. One spot would be Buck & Rider. It’s a nice, easy, light seafood place to eat. And, Taco Jalisco. I went there yesterday. It’s one of my favorite Mexican places out here. It’s unreal.
What’s next for you — etta is a concept that’s expanding across the country. Can we expect to see another concept here in the future?
I have other ettas that we’re rolling out across the country. I have a few more concepts that I want to bring out here, but we can’t release that yet.