Customers can mix at Mingle + Graze SanTan Sun News

Customers can mix at Mingle + Graze

Customers can mix at Mingle + Graze
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By COLLEEN SPARKS
Managing Editor

Anyone who wants to nosh on savory charcuterie, paired with diverse, rich, international cheeses, olives, fruit and nuts while mingling with friends and family members can check out an unusual new restaurant in downtown Chandler.

    Mingle + Graze {cheese bar and kitchen} opened in its brick-and-mortar spot in January at 48 South San Marcos Place, next to Murphy’s Law Irish Pub.

The cozy eatery, owned by Mahfam Moeeni-Alarcon and her husband, Cristobal Alarcon, offers cuisine that fuses Mahfam’s Persian background and Cristobal’s Chilean roots.

While the couple’s downtown spot is new, Mahfam and Cristobal began Mix + Mingle solely as a catering business in 2017.

They are blending their vast culinary experience. Mahfam has worked about 18 years in the restaurant business while Cristobal spent about 16 years in the industry before the pair became entrepreneurs.

“We’ve been in the industry combined 30 years,” Mahfam said. “We’ve both gone to culinary school. We use local bread; we make homemade sauces and dips, olives hand-marinated with artisanal spices. Everything’s nitrate-free. We source our products very precisely. The salamis we use are really good. I think it’s something new and people are excited and curious for it.”

The charcuterie boards are a big draw at Mingle + Graze {cheese bar and kitchen}, Mahfam said. She, Cristobal and their team hand-pick many, different cheeses and meats with sustainable ingredients.

All the cheese and meat boards come with nuts, fruit, olives, truffle-dusted chips and local bread. Diners who want a gluten-free option can get gluten-free crackers instead of the bread on their boards.

Mix + Mingle offers Olli brand Calabrese, spicy salami, Olli brand fennel pollen salami that has “licorice notes” and prosciutto di Parma.

The Young + Reckless Board for $13.25 comes with customers’ choice of three cheeses off the “Young and Reckless” board with cheeses changing about every couple months.

One of the popular “Young + Reckless” cheeses recently on the menu was a potato Gouda made with goat’s milk and a “nice flavor profile,” Mahfam said.

A 3-Month Manchego is another favorite, as is a Belletoile brie, which is served with jam from Croatia and a fig or sour cherry on top. These were also among the young cheeses available earlier this month at the restaurant.

Customers can choose the Aged + Refined Board for $13.75 with three cheeses off the “Aged and Refined Board” to combine with their meats, bread and other foods.

Mahfam said the 12-Month Manchego, a cheese made from sheep’s milk from Spain has a nutty taste and is well-liked. Other popular “aged and refined” cheeses are Dalmatinac, a cheese made from cow and sheep’s milk out of Croatia and Roquefort Papillon, a blue cheese made with raw sheep’s milk with a creamy but crumbly texture.

The cheese and meat boards make great appetizers for two people or meals for one person, Mahfam said. Customers can bring their own wine and beer to the restaurant to sip while they eat.

Mix + Mingle also features many dips, snacks and sandwiches, as well as salads, soups and desserts on its eclectic menu. Customers can also order many, different types of food for catering not on the menu at the brick-and-mortar shop.

The el Chileno Steak sandwich is a nod to Cristobal’s roots as his parents were born in Chile and immigrated to the United States. It has steak, tomatoes, green beans, pickled peppers and aji aioli and comes on local bread with a side of kettle chips for $12.75.

Diners can try Mix + Mingle’s spin on the New Orleans-style muffuletta with the “Maffyletta” sandwich, which incorporates Mahfam’s nickname into its name.

The popular sandwich has Diestel ham, mortadella, Olli salami, gouda, manchego cheese, olive salad and turmeric aioli for $11.75.

Mahfam’s Iranian heritage is celebrated in the Jeweled chicken salad wrap, which has chicken salad, barberry, greens, tomatoes, pistachios and pomegranate vinaigrette wrapped in a tortilla, also for $11.75.

Barberries are a tart and often used in Persian cuisine; Mix + Mingle adds sugar to them. Another nod to Mahfam’s culture is the Persian Garden “tostada,” a vegetarian dish with eggplant, Greek yogurt spread, garbanzos, onion, barberry jam, greens, cucumbers, tomatoes and tahini dressing.

“We’re vegan and vegetarian-friendly,” Mahfam said.

A pimento cheese dip with a house salsa roja and tortilla chips at $6.50 is one of the dips on the menu.

For the Love of Plants! is a plate with roasted carrot dip, beet hummus and toast points for $7. Customers can order marinated olives from Spain that Mahfam marinates herself for $4 and house-spiced nuts for $4.25.

The BIG salad also gives diners lots of vegetables. It has mixed greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, green beans, feta, pistachios, pickled onion and vinaigrette for $9.25. Guests can add chicken, steak and a wrap to the salads.

Tacos are popular foods Mingle + Graze offers in its storefront and when catering at other locations.

“A lot of people love tacos,” Mahfam said.

The menu at the brick-and-mortar restaurant offers three tacos served on corn tortillas, combined with cabbage, house salsa, cotija, cilantro, pickled onions and a side of stewed black beans. Customers can order them with carne asada (steak) or tamarind chipotle chicken.

Mahfam’s parents were born in Iran and she was born in Tucson but she and her family moved to Arkansas when she was 9 years old.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in business management from Arkansas State University then moved to the Valley and earned a certificate from the Arizona Culinary Institute.

Cristobal earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Oberlin College in Ohio and earned an associate’s degree from the Scottsdale Culinary Institute.

Paintings Mahfam’s mother painted hang on the walls at Mix + Mingle.

“She’s an amazing cook,” Mahfam said of her mother. “She’s an artist.”

Her mother and father spend part of the year living in Chandler and the rest of the year in Arkansas, where her father is a professor.

Mahfam previously worked as a wine buyer at Whole Foods Market on West Ray Road in Chandler for nearly six years.

She also had worked in many restaurants as a bartender, server and cook including as a banquet cook at the Arizona Biltmore resort and spa and a server at Chelsea’s Kitchen in Phoenix.

Mahfam also had taught adults and children cooking classes for the City of Chandler.

Her leap into the entrepreneurial world began when she wanted to sell her marinated olives at a farmer’s market. She began selling them at Phoenix Public Market, marinating and packaging them herself though her and Cristobal’s company does not sell there currently.

“It got me excited,” Mahfam said.

On her days off from work she started taking extra olives to bars and restaurants to see if they wanted to buy them. First Draft Book Bar, in Changing Hands Bookstore on Camelback Road in Phoenix, started selling her olives and other foods about three years ago.

Carlson Creek Vineyard in Scottsdale began selling boxes with her cheese and crackers in them and Mingle + Graze sells for special events there now. Mahfam also catered a wedding and the bride loved the food.

“Slowly it started snowballing,” she said.

Mahfam left her job at Whole Foods Market in 2017 to pursue the catering business full-time.

Her husband, Cristobal, quit his position as an assistant manager at Snooze restaurant in Gilbert in December of last year so the couple could take on their roles as owners of Mingle + Graze {cheese bar and kitchen} full-time.

Previously Cristobal worked as a manager at Postino in Gilbert, as a bartender at Joyride Taco House and other positions.

“My goal has always been to just learn—wanting my own business,” Mahfam said. “I gained all that knowledge and I started with something small at the farmer’s market.”

She and Cristobal’s culinary skills and friendly personalities are attracting customers to the brick-and-mortar Mingle + Graze. Several people have complimented the restaurant and its owners on the Mingle + Graze Facebook page.

“My husband and I just happened to come across this little gem!” Amber Wright McIntyre  posted. “They were AMAZING! The food was just so joyful. I am so excited that we got to experience such a great little place that just opened their doors. I tell anyone who will listen about this place. Keep up the great work folks. Can’t wait for our next visit.”

Matt Hurley is also eating up the dishes and ambiance at the restaurant.

“Small, welcoming cafe with amazing sandwiches,” Hurley posted on the Mingle + Graze Facebook page. “Had the Chilean, which I absolutely loved. Also had a taco and some beans, and tasted a couple of the other sandwiches. You can’t go wrong with anything here. Grab some beer next door (it’s BYOB) at SanTan and tuck in for a foodie adventure!”

Megan Porth also served up some praise for Mingle + Graze.

“We ordered a meat and cheese platter from here to take to a birthday party recently,” Porth posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page. “It was so good and so popular, we spent much of the evening telling the other guests where they could purchase a platter too. The food was delicious, the presentation was beautiful, and the customer service was top notch!”

Mahfam said Mingle + Graze plans to hold many, different events at the store including workshops on how to pair cheese with beer and wine.

“This is definitely hard work come true, the drive and the persistence of learning from so many people,” she said. “We want to welcome everybody with open arms.”

She, Cristobal and their son, Rumi, 8, and daughter Iliana, 2, live in Chandler and love the community.

Mingle + Graze is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays and from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays at 48 S. San Marcos Place. Information: mingleandgraze.com

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