Oysters, Oysters, Oysters

Celebrating “all things oyster” isn’t new to Kingfisher where on any given night the diners can find an abundance of bivalves on the menu.margarita&more 006

But every October for the past seven years, Tucson’s favorite seafood restaurant holds their Oysterfest. The event happens on UofA Homecoming Saturday (This year October 28th from 10am-2pm.)

Well-trained shuckers will be in the tent that Kingfisher sets up in the parking lot showing off their skills. Oysters are culled from all over. Choices may include Totem Point from Washington, North Shore Gold from Canada or Kumiai from Mexico.

Oyster stew, Oysters Rockefeller, both New England and Manhattan chowders, fried oysters and Murph’s sinfully good Oysters Storyville will be available.oystersstoryville

Kingfisher Oysterfest is not to be missed.

Get Thee to Mabel’s

The majority of my writing is about restaurants and food, but I want to share the info about a great new find that is a food lover’s dream.

Mabel’s on 4th is a kitchen boutique selling all manner of things for the kitchen. The quirky store is filled to the rafters with gadgets and whatnots relating to cooking. There are all the practical items and a whole host of kitchen gadgets you probably didn’t know existed.15735906172_2bfcaab57e_o_1024x1024

these guys keep you brown sugar soft

 

Cookie cutters come in cool shapes like cactus and the shape of Arizona (and other states). Tea towels are enhanced with hip sayings. Aprons are made by a local seamstress out of vintage tablecloths. Pie plates, vegetable brushes, ice cream scoops, lemon peelers, egg timers and tons of other items are arranged in artistic, inviting displays.image_8bf20a17-cdfa-4bb9-ad9f-ee09a28282cf_1024x1024

Carrot curlers

The owners had a similar store in Savannah, Georgia but after the discovered Tucson, the moved themselves and everything in their store here. They are charming people who are enthusiastic and friendly.

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paella spoons

They also just opened Rosie’s Barket, a store for pet lovers, who want to give their babies the best in snacks and toys. Tucson’s first pet boutique is located on 7th St, just off the Ave.

There are so many nifty items available at Mabel’s and the vibe is so cool, that words can’t do the place justice.ee47ae358c63261ad22e1cb6edf47081_1024x1024

your days of messy first pie slices are over

But if you like to cook or have friends who do, this is a perfect little spot to shop. I could spend a small fortune there. PS the prices are reasonable.

Get thee to Mabel’s on 4th.

Hail and Farewell, Jon Rowley

My first meeting with Jon Rowley was some time back after he contacted me about an article I wrote about oysters for the Tucson Weekly. I was a neophyte food writer, but he had seen the piece and emailed me about our mutual admiration for the lovely bivalve.

We communicated back and forth for a bit and then he asked me if I wanted to be a judge for his Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition. The competition was relatively new, maybe one or two years old at the time, and the purpose was to find the perfect wine to pair with oysters. Preliminary rounds took place at restaurants in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Jon would fly me to LA, take me to the event and then I would fly home that same day. I was flattered and at first a little hesitant, but then I figured, why not? Research on Jon proved him to be a well-known figure in the culinary world especially when it came to the foods of the Northwest (Copperhead salmon was his baby) where he lived. We met at the airport, took a taxi to the Water Grill, where the wine and oysters awaited. We had lunch before the event started.

The oysters would be furnished by Taylor Shellfish, which was also a partner. Wines would come from a previously pared down list of American wineries that had submitted their product earlier.

We were to taste 12 wines and eat as many oysters that we saw fit.

Other judges included Russ Parsons, Mary Sue Millikan and Jonathan Gold, although I’ll admit I didn’t know who he was at the time.

Jon was charming and quite the host, balancing all the various duties of running the competition with keeping all the judges happy.

Afterwards I got to dine with the other judges and again with Jon and Russ Parsons. They then drove a pretty buzzed, totally sated me to the airport.

Over the years we kept in touch. I always made a point of writing about the Oyster Wine Competition and then years later when I knew I was going to Seattle for a wedding, I asked Jon for a restaurant recommendation. He suggested the Steelhead Diner. We weren’t able to meet up with each other, but I had a fantastic meal and thought about Jon and his avid love for food and wine,

I never got to eat one of his famous peach pies but I learned so many things from him, even though we hardly knew each other.

It’s odd, because I was thinking about Jon just the other day and wondering how he was doing. When I heard he had died, I had to stop for a minute and tell him thanks for taking a chance on a new food writer from Tucson and giving me one of the best experiences in my career.

Thank you, Jon Rowley. Here’s a toast – white wine and an oyster or two – to a truly great man who loved food and found a way to share the passion with people from all over the world.

A Return to Culinary Dropout

Just a short note today; we returned to Culinary Dropout yesterday and unlike our last attempt when there was a forty-five-minute wait for a table. we were seated immediately. Plenty of tables were filled with an assortment of people from grandparents and grandkids (adults) to a group of guys from Cox playing shuffleboard in the back to the usual ladies who lunch.IMG_0083

Service was typical of a Fox restaurant, friendly smiles from all the staff, a team effort which meant our food and drink were arrived in a timely manner and a feeling that the people like working there.

I had to have the deviled eggs. There were only three to the order as they are part of the antipasto choices, but they were creamy, rich and topped with crispy prosciutto. Next time I’ll double order. A neat option that wasn’t available at the soft opening is the antipasto menu, which resembles a sushi menu. You check off the items you want ant the quantity. Clever and quick.

We went with two sandwiches: the grinderIMG_0081 and the French dip. Both used a nice, soft roll and were not obnoxiously large and overstuffed. The beef in the French dip was prime rib and the au jus was real. By that I mean, it came from prime rib juices and not that synthetic, salty brown water found every place else. Good french fries are hard to come by these days, but the fries here were hot, cripsy, salty, in other words, perfect.IMG_0080

Finished off with the monkey bread, a great iteration of the cinnamon soaked bread dessert. The vanilla ice cream on the side was the perfect complement to the lush sweetness.

Most of the pictures I took were of the space rather than the food. I am astounded by the look and the feel of Culinary Dropout. Mile-high ceilings, large windows, plenty of room between tables give a sense of space. IMG_0079Chairs and tables are mix and match with plaids and florals and stripes in an assortment of colors. There must be at least six or seven different styles of chairs and almost that many types of tables. Lighting is industrial but stylish. The artwork is fabulous with a nod to rock/movie stars. The yard part, which is both indoors and out, feels like the perfect backyard for entertaining.

We will return because there are so many items I want to try.

It’s a Block Party with Pigs

Yesterday the Gastronomic Union of Tucson threw a block party.IMG_0074

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Tucked in to parking lot adjacent to Carriage House this party was an homage to pork. four chefs prepared four whole pigs four different ways. All came with a plethora of sides that ranged from broccoli rabe to apple pie topped with ice cream and bacon. Each booth served cornbread in some form. Beans, potatoes, salads were there. Four local breweries poured gallons of beer. And people ate and drank and ate and drank and ate and drank.IMG_0066IMG_0063

Chefs Devon Sanner of Carriage House and Gary Hickey of Charro Steak were the instigators behind the event with the support of all the other chefs who are involved with GUT. Megan Marcello Noli of Carriage House helped organize. Rob Base from Tucson Eats & Drinks was taking tickets. Jim & Jackie Murphy from Kingfisher were there, as was Janos Wilder.And just about every food writer in town found their way downtown to nosh.IMG_0065

Pork was prepared Italian style thanks to Micheal Elefante of Mama Louisa’s. IMG_0070Gary Hickey’s food was Mexican influenced, even the arancini.IMG_0071 Chef Wendy made Asian pig. And the final plate was all southern-style. (I didn’t get the name of the restaurant, so sorry,)IMG_0073

DJ Herm provided the tunes.

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I left before it got busy, but everyone had a great time.

 

 

 

 

Great food in Amado? Yes, Great Food in Amado

Amado, Arizona is not the kind of place that draws visitors like neighboring Tubac. Located about 45 minutes from Tucson on I-19, the tiny community is home to less than 300 people. And while several movies have been filmed there years back (remember the “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” in the movie ‘Oklahoma’?), these days not a whole lot is happening in Amado.

But last October, chef Gavin Rychner took a leap of faith and opened a restaurant in a little enclave called Amado Territory. He named his place, Firefly.

A couple weeks back, after an article appeared in the Tucson Weekly, my friend Karyn Zoldan, asked me if I wanted to go with her and some other friends to have lunch there.

Why not?

We left around 11:30 yesterday and had a pleasant drive. I wasn’t driving which made the ride even more pleasant.

There were a few other tables occupied but for the most part the huge main dining room was empty. A few people were on the patio out back. We ate in the tiny bar room in front.

The menu has some interesting items that run the gamut from fried green tomatoes to a salmon gyro, Burgers, salads and soups can also be found.

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After picking a starter of fried green tomatoes, I ordered the shrimp and grits. I’m not sure why, but that dish seems to be appearing on menus. I’ve had several versions, all of them different, all of them delicious.

Firefly’s version was outstanding. Tons of perfectly cooked good-sized shrimp swam in a sauce spicy “broth”. Bits of bacon added a sweet, saltiness. There were juicy tomatoes as well.IMG_0059

Karyn order the veggie burger,IMG_0062Marianne had the salmon gyro IMG_0060and Ann, our intrepid driver, had the jambalaya. IMG_0061All raved about their choices.

We opted out of dessert, in spite of our pleasant server’s descriptions.

I hope Firefly succeeds. Chef Rychner has a lot of talent and his passion is apparent. They will need to do some big-time marketing to get folks from Tucson to travel there. Green Valley seems ripe a restaurant like Firefly, as does Tubac, Rio Rico and even Nogales.

I’d recommend a drive to Amado to dine at Firefly. Call for reservations.

A Bird in the Hand

Yesterday we went to Culinary Dropout for lunch but when we got there we found the place packed with a forty-minute wait.

So, we moved on with plans on returning in a few weeks.

We opted for Bird, another restaurant on my list.

Located in Casas Adobes Plaza, Bird Modern Provisions  serves Southern comfort food.

The space is beautiful and in no way, resembles the bland little eatery that had been there. I only took a quick glance at the bar when we walked in but from what I saw it was warm and welcoming.

The dining room is filled with natural light from the two walls of windows. I had a fantastic view of the Catalinas. Tables are space comfortably apart and the chairs were comfortable.

Water glasses are made from wine bottles. The napkins are white but the blue trim takes away any stuffiness that white napkins can have.

The wine list is small and comprised of not so familiar wines. We went with beers from the nice mix if local, craft and national brews.

The menu offers interesting takes on all those ladies-who-lunch favorites. A whole section is devoted to shared plates.

For some reason, and I really don’t care why, deviled eggs are appearing on menus all over town. These throwbacks to mid-twentieth century entertaining are a favorite of mine. My mom only made them when we were having company and she always made extra because we kids would eat all the ones meant for guests if she wasn’t paying attention.

Bird’s deviled eggs were tiny, creamy, subtly flavored with mustard and tasty. Another order wouldn’t have been out of line but our entrees arrived. They look like little chicks and are finished off with cured mustard seeds.

John ordered the fried green tomato sandwich, which is, a pulled pork sandwich with a schmear of pimento cheese, arugula, pickled onion and of course a fried green tomato. The bun was sturdy and held up under all those messy ingredients. He opted for the house-made potato chips which were slightly thick and crisped to a golden brown.IMG_0568

Fried chicken is on the menu in several iterations from a full dinner to a salad to the hot friend chicken sandwich that I ordered. The piece of chicken – breast meat – went beyond the sturdy hamburger bun is served on. Ultra-crispy, lightly seasoned and topped with a crunchy slaw, a sweet hot blend of honey and Tabasco, Dijonaise, pickles and a dab of dill, the sandwich was a pleasant blend of tastes and textures.  IMG_0571

If the bird served in this sandwich is any indication of what their whole bird tastes like, I know what I’m ordering the next time I go to Bird, although the shrimp and grits sounded pretty good, too.