By Marjorie Rice
Step into the patio at Persepshen, Jason and Katherine Dwight’s transformation of the former Hula’s Modern Tiki on Central Avenue, and the first thing you see is a vintage military trailer parked in the open area. Inside, a huge bare tree suspended from the ceiling and festooned with bare-bulb lights hangs above an enormous slab of pine supported by a framework of old pipes.
It’s industrial austerity warmed with natural touches and the result is a place where you want to pull up a bench and strike up a conversation with the strangers across the table. The table serves more than the Dwights’ design esthetic – it fosters a sense of the communal table, where people come together over good food to converse and bond.
The menu is designed to encourage family-style dining.
“It gives people the opportunity to pick a bunch of stuff and share it at a communal table next to strangers and enjoy food – no TVs, no cell phones,” Jason said. “The idea is bringing people together with food.”
Jason and Katherine have worked more than two decades in the restaurant business.
“We realized working 100 hours a week really wasn’t getting us closer to our goal of owning a restaurant,” Jason said. “So we quit our jobs and found this old World War II military trailer and we built a wood oven on the back and started selling at Uptown Farmers Market, doing private dinner parties and catered events.”
They built a loyal following with their menu including pickled vegetables, Katherine’s pastries, sandwiches and smoked sausages, varying with the seasons and availability and focusing on organic ingredients.
When the Hula site became available, they took the plunge. Jason’s father helped them build a large wood-burning stove, and they called on designer friend Bill Hemphill to help create a welcoming environment using repurposed and recycled materials. Hemphill built the communal table, using Arizona beetle-killed pine with legs that are old irrigation water pumps with cast-iron pipes.
The focus on recycling materials is an important part of the Dwights’ vision. They believe in using what’s at hand – and using it up, every scrap. Anything left over is recycled.
The focus is on local ingredients, organic sustainability and making everything possible from scratch, including cured meats – recent visitors could see sausages hanging in a curing chamber along with pork jowls.
“We make all of our own salumi – prosciutto, cappicola, coppa, everything like that,” Jason said. “What we stand proud and true to is, if we don’t make it, we don’t serve it, all the way to ketchup and mustard.”
That means sourcing a locally raised, organic, antibody-free whole animal, then changing the menu, depending on the cut of the animal the cooks are working on that week.
Some items always are on the menu, Jason said.
“We always have a charcuterie board with an assortment of five house-made meats, three pickled vegetables with mustard, jam and sesame seed lavosh,” he said. “And there always are variations on house-made pasta, pork, beef, shellfish and fowl. Those items are going to be here, but what the dishes are is going to change depending on what we’ve got.”
Another item that stays is Katherine’s “overloaded” chocolate chip cookie, worth a visit just for a taste.
Persepshen, located at 4700 N. Central Ave., is open from 5 to 10 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. For information call 602-935-2932 or visit www.persepshenarizona.com.