Renaissance Woman

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Anthem’s Donna Chilleen keeps the dream alive at Chilleen’s on 17

Chilleen’s on 17 is warm and welcoming. With wood-lined booths and its legendary bathrooms, the low-lit family barbecue eatery is taking dining to the next level, thanks to owner Donna Chilleen and her daughters, Cheyenne and Aleah.

She hosts weddings every weekend in its elegant facility behind the restaurant. It’s so popular, the facility is booked into 2021. To keep the locals happy, she hires Arizona bands perform on the patio and when that ends, the party continues inside with karaoke.

The former wedding coordinator for the Satisfied Frog, Chilleen has owned the restaurant since 2002, when she bought it on a whim with her now ex-husband, Scott.

“We were just driving by and we saw this place was for sale,” the Anthem resident says. “My husband was no longer working for his dad at the Satisfied Frog. I said, ‘Why don’t we just buy that place?’ The kids were little. It was a rainy day. We bought it that day.

“I had to have it. I saw the potential.”

She bought it in 2002 and reopened it in February 2003. Since then, it has been remodeled and received a food makeover, with “Bar Rescue” at the helm in April 2013. Barbecue is where restaurant excels and Chilleen thanks “Bar Rescue” and Jon Taffer for that.

“Jon Taffer wants you to do well,” Chilleen says. “We were one of their most successful episodes. We kept everything he did. I have a friend who worked with ‘Bar Rescue.’ He had all the equipment in the attic.”

Before the “Bar Rescue” visit, Chilleen’s didn’t smoke their barbecue. Now they’re trademark dishes.

“Everything from the smoker is really good,” she says. “The smoker is amazing. It gives us that good flavor. The brisket takes 14 hours. They put that in at night and the chef in the morning gets it. We can’t make it really quick. That’s something we do fresh.”

The barbecue at Chilleen’s is stellar. The all-you-can-eat barbecue beef ribs are $18.99. Other menu items include Black Canyon chicken that is brined and slow smoked ($13.99); Southwestern smoked brisket that is cooked with the fat on it ($16.99); Chilleen’s St. Louis-style pork ribs are seasoned and slow smoked ($16.99 to $20.99); the chicken and pork rib combo ($17.99) and the “I Want It All” barbecue platter with pork ribs, chicken and sliced brisket at ($26.99).

The Saturday prime rib special is another attractive Chilleen’s dish.

“When it’s gone, it’s gone,” she says. “We slice it and it’s made to order. We try not to run out of things, but you’re going to. People also drive very far just to get the green chili.”

She’s referring to the green chili con carne, a pork-based green chili served with a fresh flour tortilla ($7.99). Other green chili-themed starters are chili en chips, cooked in-house tortilla chips with the green chili dip ($6.99); green chili cheese fries ($6.99); and fried green chiles, a 40-year-old family recipe of handbreaded, deep-fried mild ortega chiles ($7.99).

Entrees include standard fare like New York strip steak ($25.99); choice ribeye ($27.99); and top sirloin ($19.99). Boneless marinated chicken with “grandma’s secret marinade” ($14.99); broiled cod fillet ($12.99) and blackened cod fillet ($13.99).

Burgers and sandwiches round out the menu—just before dessert. The specialty is a personal-size apple pie with mounds of ice cream and cinnamon-sprinkled whipped cream.

Chilleen keeps the restaurant fresh. Last summer, Chilleen’s closed for five days to remodel the dining room and the bathroom. That completed the circle started by “Bar Rescue.”

“We had three layers of flooring,” she says. “We put down new flooring, the corrugated tin in the booths. If you get barbecue sauce on particle board, you can’t wipe it clean.

“We redid the bathrooms, too. Every time we go in there, we see how pretty they are. We had really bad bathrooms before, so we gutted them completely. It took all of our energy.”

The wood that lines the booths are from her grandfather’s house at 19th Avenue and Dunlap that was torn down after he died.

“I think it looks amazing in here,” Chilleen says.

Soon, she says, Four Sons is opening next door. She expects business to pick up a bit—even though it isn’t struggling.

“This is the dream I always had,” says Chilleen, who moved to Arizona from Ohio at age 18 in 1988. “I wanted a waiting area and an intercom. We have 30-minute waits on Fridays. I wanted to have a wait.”  

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