By: Robin S. Pfohl
A Moon Gate is a rather odd thing to see when you’re driving down U.S. 60 through Superior. The reward for investigating the sight is a unique culinary experience for the area: the distinctly Asian-inspired building is home to Jade Grill, serving Asian-style real BBQ cuisine.
For owner Lucy Wing, the restaurant represents a coming-home journey. The New York City food writer, editor and expert was born and raised in Superior. She left in the 1960s after graduating from University of Arizona, moving to New York to work in a test kitchen for a food company. There she worked on label recipes and learned to prepare foods for photography. She also learned to develop recipes. Wing has written for Good Housekeeping, Family Circle, McCalls and Country Living, where she eventually became executive food editor for fifteen years. She has written several books on cooking including Reader’s Digest “Quick and Delicious,” Anne Willan’s “Look and Cook: Asian Cooking,” Family Circle’s “ABZ’s of Cooking,” Country Living’s “Country Mornings,” and “Indoor Grilling for Dummies.” Along the way she also freelanced, and it was there that she got the idea for a BBQ restaurant.
“I was doing some work for a client, The BBQ Industry Association, and I was bit by the BBQ bug,” Wing laughs. “I decided that I needed to come back to Superior.
“When people ask me why I came back, I say that this is my retirement project. Superior is still home to me and my family, and I wanted to distinguish myself here while helping the community,” says Wing.
Wing and her siblings were raised in the food business. Her parents owned a Mexican-Chinese-American café and grocery store on Main Street in Superior. All eleven children went on to obtain college degrees and then scattered throughout the country. Dad retired in the l980’s.
The current restaurant project is definitely a family affair. The unique structure that houses Jade Grill was designed by Wing’s brother David, an architect in San Francisco. A niece designed the logo and menus. Two sisters in Portland and Seattle helped develop menu recipes. Another sister, a dietician in San Diego, helped make the menu as healthy as possible. The project took four and a half years; Jade Grill opened on March 23, 2009.
Wing originally planned for a sit-down type of restaurant, but zoning and parking issues forced a bit of redirection into the present format, which is takeout with some indoor and some outdoor seating. The inside features seating for 15 with black granite countertops and authentic Asian stools or small tables and chairs. Outdoor seating for 20-25 is provided in a peaceful garden setting with pagoda-style architecture and Chinese lanterns overhead. The plantings are various culinary herbs, fruits and vegetables that Wing incorporates into the recipes. The garden was designed to accommodate private parties as well as casual diners.
Certain Asian countries are reflected in the menu choices. The homeland of Wing’s mother, China, is represented by the Chinese-style BBQ pork and ribs. Wing also offers Korean beef wraps, Japanese teriyaki, and spicy foods and seasonings from Thailand. She uses her mother’s own wok to stir-fry dishes like broccoli beef.
Pork and ribs are smoked on-site in a state-of-the-art smoker. “I only use fruit woods when smoking,” explains Wing. “Most places use pecan or mesquite wood, which affect the meat too strongly. I use apple wood or peach woods, which are softer and well-suited for the delicate flavors of the Asian sauce.” Cherry wood is used for grilling.
Wing distinguishes BBQ from grilling. Grilling, she explains, is using direct heat for shorter time periods, like most people do at home. In contrast, real BBQ uses “low and slow” indirect heat over a wood that imparts flavor to the dish.
BBQ is the backbone of the menu, which Wing says she wanted to keep simple. “It can take three recipes to get one dish out of the kitchen. For example, the ribs are marinated the day before in one recipe, smoked, and then sauced with yet another recipe.” The coleslaw is another example, as the salad dressing is cooked and cooled a day ahead.
Wing’s goal for the flavors of the menu is unique and memorable. The sauce she uses for the BBQ creates a signature flavor that cannot be tasted anywhere else. Grilled edamame is another creative innovation as is sweet-and-sour salsa. “No one else has recipes like mine,” Wing states proudly.
Meats such as pork, chicken and shrimp are marinated before cooking to create a depth of flavor. Seasonings and sauces contain flavors like lemongrass and dried chilies. Wing also uses Meyer lemons in her lemonade, a Chinese thin-skinned variety that is juicy and not as tart as the regular lemon.
The basic menu was expanded to include nightly specials, including sweet and sour chicken, broccoli beef, Thai shrimp, and sweet and sour. Wing points out that the specials are subject to change based on availability. “Chinese groceries are hard to get, and sometimes I have to go with what I have access to,” says Wing. She closes the restaurant on Mondays and Tuesdays, and uses Monday to shop in the Phoenix metro area for her menu recipes. Tuesdays are used for marinating and food preparation.
Wing creates her recipes in a state-of-the-art kitchen that is also health-conscious. There are no walk-in refrigerators, only the reach-in type. This is to limit any contamination of the food. She also is quick to point out that the oils used in the fryers are not cross-contaminated, meaning that oil for meat is only used for meat, and oil for eggrolls is only used for eggrolls, and so on.
Wing is also eco-friendly, using no Styrofoam containers and only paper straws. She uses soy milk, low-sodium soy sauce, and never uses coconut milk nor peanut sauces. “I can accommodate vegetarian needs and dietary concerns very well,” adds Wing. She has plans to change her nightly specials to reflect the changing seasons, so the lighter summer fare will soon give way to hearty soups for autumn. Catering is also available.
The final result of Wing’s work and experiences is a unique, memorable, and not-to-be-missed dining event at Jade Grill. It’s a safe bet her mother’s wok is quietly singing.
Jade Grill is located at 639 U.S. Hwy. 60, Superior. It is open Wednesday through Sunday, lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; and dinner 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. Nightly specials, call ahead at (520) 689-2885.
Guest Contributors include press releases, guest authors, and columnists who contribute less than 4 times a year.