A Long, Strange Trip

How a New Yorker came to own Bisbee’s most beloved place to relax and nosh.

May 1, 2014

GleaningsIssue 6: May/June 2014

Peton Tamburo’s High Desert Market in Bisbee.

If you sit long enough at an outdoor table at High Desert Market and Café in historic Old Bisbee, you’re bound to have some interesting conversations. Many older folks and retirees call Bisbee home, but they aren’t exactly the bingo- and bridge-playing set. Some, like High Desert Market owner Peyton Tamburo, have much more interesting stories to tell.

Tamburo grew up in New York and lived there for 50 years, working as an actress—that is, until she embarked on a cross-country motorcycle journey to Bisbee and began planting vegetables. For a few years, she sold her vegetables on the highway leading into the quirky little mountain town. In 2000, she moved into the space that her successful restaurant now occupies.

It didn’t become a restaurant overnight, however. Tamburo has seen the place evolve from a little vegetable market to a restaurant in 2006, finally opening its full space in 2008, which is complete with a smoothie, juice, and coffee bar. The store carries a variety of local foods and crafts, as well as a selection of gourmet cheeses, wines, and other picnic necessities. You’ll also find Mexican pottery, French soaps and table linens, African baskets, and natural cosmetics. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and is constantly evolving.

“When I started, I didn’t pay any rent for a year. That’s just the way it is in Bisbee,” recalls Tamburo, who never worked in a kitchen before opening her place. “The people are the key to my success—I’ve been growing the business according to what people wanted. Also, we have a great staff—several people who’ve been here for many years.”

Almost 15 years after she first opened the doors at High Desert Market, Peyton Tamburo is still adding to the eclectic mix of food and wares.

Almost 15 years after she first opened the doors at High Desert Market, Peyton Tamburo is still adding to the eclectic mix of food and wares.

What Bisbee residents and tourists want, evidently, is variety. On a recent weekend, Tamburo was filling up chiles rellenos with a creamy corn and cheese filling for the dinner special. Another night that week, the special was Thai BBQ Chicken with Lemongrass and Coconut Ginger Green Beans. Another night featured New Orleans Style Shrimp and Cajun Rice. “I try to balance the menu,” Tamburo says. She and another chef alternate nights cooking for the early dinner crowd. Then they close up shop at 7 p.m. and sell what’s left as heat-and-serve meals the following morning.

The breakfast and brunch menu remains more constant, and includes a savory bread pudding with Italian sausage, excellent fresh salads, and crispy grilled focaccia sandwiches. “I still grow veggies and raise chickens for eggs and use them [at the restaurant] whenever I can,” says Tamburo.

Desserts are not taken lightly at High Desert Market. Tamburo and her bakers stock a wide variety of cakes, pies, and cookies, including a decadent gluten-free carrot cake.

For locals, High Desert Market is a hangout, a place to gather and converse with neighbors and to pick up a bite for dinner. For visitors, it’s an ideal spot to start your day, get your caffeine fix, and power up to walk around town antiquing and touring. If you get to chatting with the locals, you might start to sense why people love Bisbee so much.

Tamburo will be the first to tell you her amorous feelings about her new home. “I like everything in Bisbee. After so many years in New York, I wanted to be outside, but I thought the rest of the U.S. was so provincial,” she says. “But this is a diverse and kooky kind of place—not unlike a neighborhood in New York.”✜

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