Photo by Mark Boisclair Photography Inc.

By Allison Brown | March 10, 2022

The Royal Palms Resort and Spa may be a AAA Four Diamond luxury vacation destination for travelers, but locals know and love it for the iconic Mediterranean food at T. Cook’s and personalized, top-shelf options at the Mix Up bar.

T. Cook’s matches the Spanish Colonial setting of the Royal Palms, which rests nestled at the foot of Camelback Mountain. Upon setting foot into the courtyard, guests are transported to a faraway Mediterranean villa with intimate clusters of casitas and villas, regal Spanish Colonial architecture, 100-year-old rustic doorways and hand-painted tiles, winding stone paths along Tuscan-style gardens, and outdoor stone fireplaces throughout the property.

T. Cook’s menu reflects the atmosphere, and guests can experience seasonal rotating selections for brunch and dinner with influences from Northern Italy, Greece and Spain. The award-winning restaurant is not only for those staying at the resort; customers can enjoy a mini, Mediterranean “trip” and still make it home to sleep in their own bed.

“It’s kind of interesting that our restaurant and bar primarily have locals who go to them, which is different from other hotels. We have one of two celebrity chefs in Phoenix with chef Lee Hillson,” says Brianna Macfarlane, sales manager at Royal Palms. “It’s such a true, local hotspot.”

Hillson is a James Beard House-featured chef and was a participant on Food Network’s “Iron Chef America” show. He has reimagined T. Cook’s menu and put the resort on the culinary map. Some of the Royal Palms staff’s recommendations include the Iberico bone-in pork chop ($55), which has meat directly from Spain; huevos rancheros ($21) on the brunch menu; and the orange bomb ($15) for dessert.

Hillson’s dishes may have influences from Mediterranean areas, but he makes sure to use locally sourced ingredients when possible. Their bread comes from down the road, and the restaurant’s orange marmalade is made from orange groves that are on the Royal Palms property.

“It’s not just about buying in bulk; it’s about making interesting dishes that are seasonal and, if not completely locally sourced, at least have a big influence by the local community and partners,” says Evgenia Williamson, director of operations.

Hillson doesn’t just source locally. Williamson says he has a personal relationship with local vendors, who chat with him. That connection with the local community is part of what has made T. Cook’s a staple over its 25 years.

“We have so many guests that have returned for their anniversary trip or birthday or babymoons,” Williamson says. “A lot of our local guests had an event or a wedding or their daughter got married here, and we’re part of their memories. So a lot of people do come back to recreate those memories, and it’s great to be part of that experience.”

Macfarlane says she is proof of the resort’s local roots, as she has visited the property with her family since she was 8. She says she took it a step further than others by accepting a job at the resort, but it was ultimately because of her fond memories there.

“My grandparents used to take me to T. Cook’s when I was a little girl,” she says. “I would dress up in my big Easter dress and walk through the mansion courtyard like it was a runway. It’s one of my favorite childhood memories.”

Whether it’s an anniversary dinner, a family brunch or wedding reception, Williamson says T. Cook’s has a dining option to suit the occasion. Meals can be enjoyed in the main dining room or outside patio, which have views of Camelback Mountain, or there are also private dining options for special occasions. The private dining space can accommodate up to 60 guests, and the intimate Via Cappello dining experience is customized for couples to savor five chef-inspired courses on a private patio or garden.

T. Cook’s isn’t just known for its food, though. It partners with the Mix Up bar, also on the Royal Palms property, to provide a full list of wines, spirits and specialty cocktails. The Mix Up bar also has its own lounge area with access to the full bar and quick bites for those looking for something lighter.

In keeping with T. Cook’s, the Mix Up bar uses fresh, local ingredients for enhanced flavor and even makes its own syrups and ginger beer in-house. Some of its cocktail combinations might be surprising, like the Long Live the Queen, which has Zacapa 23 rum, allspice dram, pear liqueur, pumpkin spice, egg white, lemon and blackstrap bitters.

If guests want to see how to mix egg white and pumpkin spice, or if they find their new favorite cocktail, they can actually learn to make it themselves. The Mix Up bar offers an interactive mixology class, where guests learn from cocktail experts to pour, mix, shake and garnish a signature cocktail to savor. The class, offered every day from around 2 to 4 p.m., was started by the bartenders, who wanted to have a way to connect with guests and have some fun.

“It was a way to engage locals, because there were so many local guests who wanted to come ask questions and try something different,” Macfarlane says. “Our bartenders are extremely creative, and they come up with a new menu once a quarter. They always have something going on, they always want to try something new or add something new, and I think this is a way for them to kind of flex that muscle of theirs and have something fun and different.”

Once the plates have been cleared and the drinks are put away, guests can explore the grounds. The resort is 9 acres designed around a 1930s mansion and offers 119 custom guest rooms, intimate casitas and villas, regal Spanish Colonial architecture, more than 20,000 square feet of meeting space, Tuscan-style gardens, various antique décor and stone fireplaces throughout.

“I always tell guests to get lost on the property, which sounds harsh, but what I mean by that is we have some horticulture that just doesn’t grow anywhere else besides their home territory,” Macfarlane says. “We’re large enough where you could just walk and explore and find your new favorite fireplace or favorite fountain that you want to sit next to and grab a book and a glass of wine. I think that’s something that can’t be missed here, the beauty of being still.”