With the Super Bowl just less than two weeks away, you might be wondering how you will be celebrating the game now that the traditional big parties have been cancelled. If you’re lucky your team will be playing in Tampa Bay on Sunday February 7th.
But even if your fave teams didn’t make into the big game, Commoner & Co. has come up with the perfect solution (or should I say solutions?) for your smaller scaled back celebrations – Butcher Boxes filled with all sorts of goodies you can grill at home.
Known for using quality ingredients, Commoner & Co offers three excellent choices: The Essential Box. The Best Box and The Ultimate Box. Each box is packed raw and contains detailed grilling instructions.
The Essential has four 8-ounce chuck burger patties seasoned just so, four bratwursts made with beer, caraway seed and mustard and two seasoned skewers of seasoned shrimp. This should easily feed up to six people and costs $35.
The Best Box has two 12 to 14-ounce T-Bones, four of those tasty brats and four shrimp skewers. At $75, this box can also feed up to six people.
The Ultimate Box is designed for a crowd of eight and holds two 16-ounce porterhouse steaks, four brats, four shrimp skewers, two 7-ounce salmon filets wrapped in cedar wood planks. All that for $100.
Pre-orders must be received by 9:00 pm on Wednesday, February 3, with pick-up scheduled at the Foothills eatery between 4:00 pm and 9:00 pm on Friday, February 5 and Saturday, February 6.
The only thing you have to is call Commoner & Co at 257-1177 ASAP and get then fore up that grill on Super Bowl Sunday,
Comfort food has taken on a new meaning in the last year or so. With so many of us sheltering in place (or at least limiting where and how often we venture out) those old standards are truly giving comfort even as they add a couple of pounds to the old frame.
My ‘go-to’ comfort food of late has been macaroni and cheese. I don’t make it, of course. I order in and these days because so many restaurants have some sort of mac n’ cheese on their menus, I’ve had plenty of delicious tastings. In that time, I’ve become a bit of a connoisseur when it comes to what makes a good version and certainly have developed a craving for those that are above and beyond.
We never had mac n’ cheese growing up. We were Italian-American and our choice was always red sauce cooked by my mom, nana and aunts. We never even had fettuccini Alfredo. My appreciation began when my daughter was little and she asked for the boxed kind she had eaten at the babysitter’s house.
I was appalled but soon found the stuff wasn’t half bad, especially the spiral pasta style. It was fast, cheap and she ate it. Throw on a handful of Parmesan and you’ve got yourself a nice little lunch. I’ll confess, once in a blue moon I still buy a box, just for myself. What can I say?
Anyway, mac n’ cheese has gone uptown these days and there are as many versions out there as there are restaurants.
I’ve been doing serious research lately around Tucson and have been pleased with the results. All the samplings – okay they’ve been more than just samples, tending toward main dishes or at least good-sized sides – have been tasty. But some have been real knockouts, dishes where each bite is better than the last one. Dishes where you clean the plate, dishes where you wake up craving another plateful, dishes that you rave about.
Basically, mac n’ cheese falls into two categories: Traditional made with elbow macaroni and American cheese of some kind. Any decent BBQ joint or restaurant making American Southern fare will serve bright orange mac n’ cheese as part of the traditional way of ordering ‘meat and three’. The usual cooking method is in a big pot on top of the stove.
“Modern mac n’ cheese” uses upscale pastas and and mix of artisan cheeses. The first is usually cooked on the stovetop; the second is always baked and if you’re lucky topped with something crunchy.
Several elements go into making a good mac n’ cheese.
First and most importantly is the pasta. Choices are plenty but best options should be hefty and have the ability to hold the cheesy sauce. But there are so many versions it’s almost impossible to mention all of them.
A popular pasta choice is elbow but then there’s the grown-up version called cavatappi. Cavatappi is a little longer than elbow, curly and ridged. All of which, makes for an ideal choice.
At Union white English Cheddar is melted in a creamy leek sauce. They then top it off with seasoned bread crumbs and bake it all to a golden brown. The pasta holds the thick, creamy sauce you don’t miss a drop. The topping adds both more texture and taste.
At Sauce, Mozzarella is the cheese of choice. This means the sauce is soft, cream, gooey and pulls like on a good pizza.
Sauce also offers two dishes though not call mac n’ cheese are just that: a spicy chicken sausage and cheese sauce or the chicken, broccol
Both are excellent but I tip toward baked and breadcrumbs but that’s not saying I’d certainly order the mac and cheese at Sauce again.
Another ideal choice is orecchiette. Meaning ‘little ears’ the pasta looks like little caps and grabs any kind of sauce like a lover. Beyond Bread uses this pasta with a white cheddar/Parmesan sauce. Just to make sure they add crumbles of toasted bread (and their bread is divine.)
Strozzapreti, another tubular pasta that folds in creating a crevice, of sorts. Shells (congelli) and spirals work well as do penne and mostaccioli. Ziti can be found at lunch at Pastiche where they use smoked gouda, jack and parmesan laced with spinach and bacon.
Cheese choices have come a long way since Velveeta was the cheese of choice. The Dutch Eatery and Refuge uses five different cheeses: Cheddar, white American, Parmesan, Gouda and Swiss. The Swiss is also shaved across the top of the mostaccioli pasta. Ermano’s on 4th Avenue uses a smoky gouda mornay sauce, topped with a toasted panko crust. Divine Bovine’s famous Cheddar dipping sauce is also used in both their mac n’ cheese sides.
And for a taste of Mexico. Charro Steak mixes cavatappi with cheddar, jack, cotija (a white cheese from Mexico that resembles feta) and manchego cheese with a tortilla crumble on top. At Barrio Charro, the newest venture created by the El Charro team and Barrio Bread‘s Don Guerra, they serve a three cheese variation.
Saguaro Corners actually has two different sauces. The first is a Cheddar that they use in the majority of their 5 options but with the lobster mac n’ cheese they kick it up with a gruyere sauce.
At two other old time favorite meat joints – El Corral and Pinnacle Peak mac n’ cheese can be found on the Kid’s Menu; El Corral also allows grown-ups to order it as a side.
But if you’re looking for a more traditional version Brushfire is the way to go with elbow macaroni and a bright orange cheese sauce. Please note they top that with more cheese sauce just to make sure you get all the flavor.
Additions can be both simple or creative. And chefs get truly creative when it comes time to kick up their dish.
Bacon, of course, can be found at almost every place that dresses up its mac n’ cheese. Chiles ranging from poblano to jalapeno and beyond are another popular plus.
Brother John’s Beer, Bourbon and BBQ really goes all out. In addition to their Signature Mac n’ Cheese they have Spicy Crawfish, Pulled Pork, Buffalo Chicken, Smoked Brisket, Boiled Shrimp, Firehouse Chile and two Southwestern options. The Gringo has green chiles and chicharrones and the Macho kicks those up with the addition of serrano chiles and the house spicy BBQ sauce. Just to make sure you get all you want in your mac n; cheese the sprinkle bacon bits on top.
Baja Cafe is known for its outrageous takes on Eggs Benedict, so it’s not surprising that they have a mac n’ cheese version with Crispy fried chipotle mac and cheese, tomatillo green chile sauce, smoked brisket machaca, poblanos, tomato and green chilies, two strips of bacon, two poached eggs, smoked gouda cheese sauce, onion straws and pico de gallo.
At The Blue Willow they serve their mac n’ cheese (Gruyere and Cheddar sauce and your choice of either grilled chicken and broccoli or bacon and green chile,
Welcome Diner’s mac n’ cheese uses durum wheat pasta tossed with their house cheese sauce, smoked Gouda, muenster shreds, which is a basic dish but the additions stand out: brussel sprouts or a sliced hot dog. PS Bacon is also available.
Full disclosure, I have probably have eaten only 90% of these dishes many of which were part of a take out dinner, but I know and trust that the chefs at the other restaurants know what they are doing. They are on my “To Eat” List.
And speaking of take out, which is part of the new normal these days, Tito & Pep has added “Take & Bake Green Chile Mac and Cheese with caramelized onions and barbecue bread crumbs.
I had a sneak peak at Janos Wilder’s newest venture since he closed Downtown Kitchen & Cocktails called “Janos Cooks in the Time of Covid”
This exciting twist consists of video cooking lessons with Janos as the teacher.
This is a great opportunity to still enjoy all those Janos classic dishes such as Chewy Thai BBQ Ribs with Mango And Cellophane Noodle Salad and El Presidio Fried Chicken, but now in your own kitchen. Janos created the lessons with the home cook in mind – in both method, time and budget. Full recipes, shopping lists step-by step guides are also included. Skills classes are a part of the mix.
And best of all, prices are reasonable. Your previously purchased gift certificates can be used to pay for the classes.
But the lessons are only a small part of what Janos is up to these days.
FULL-SERVICE CATERING FOR THE HOLIDAYS: The Carriage House has always been a custom caterer. While this is not a time for entertaining large groups, Chef Wilder and team are ready to help with smaller events. When the time comes to celebrate in larger groups they will be ready.
FEEDING THE HOMELESS AND FRONT-LINE WORKERS: Wilder is looking for support to help in establishing a pilot program to supply meals to the Primavera Foundation men’s shelter. “We can only do this with donations underwriting our efforts. Anyone who is interested in helping, please use this link https://www.carriagehousetucson.com/primavera-foundation-donations on the Carriage House website. “Our goal is to provide five dinners a week to the men’s shelter. When you support four dinners, we will donate a fifth night. Our goal is to be 1 month ahead in donations so we have the financial security to keep going once we launch this program”.
Future plans for when gathering is possible again include:
POP-UP DINNERS: Open to the public, at these dinners will feature favorite recipes from almost 40 years of cooking for Tucson.
FIFTY/FIFTY/FIFTY FUNDRAISERS: Like so much of our community, the non-profit sector is hurting. There will be no live galas this year and no large fundraising dinners for the foreseeable future. But when the time comes again when people can gather together, Chef Wilder has a plan. “If you are involved in a non-profit, it is not too soon to start planning now. When the time is right we’ll start slowly by supplying the space, meal and team to host your fundraiser for up to fifty guests (more when it’s safe to do so) at the Carriage House and split the proceeds fifty-fifty with your organization”.
WEDDINGS AND REHEARSAL DINNERS: So many weddings have been postponed this year. However, the Carriage House is taking calls for smaller weddings that can still take place if planned carefully. The space is ideally suited as a medium size venue to provide custom menus, distanced seating, space for a ceremony and celebration reception.
For additional information on all the above call 520-615-6100.
Janos and Rebecca Wilder’s Carriage House Event Venue and Cooking School is located in downtown Tucson at 125 S. Arizona Avenue,. The space, with its brick walls, high ceilings, graceful trusses, sky lights and stunning collection of original local art provides a beautiful back drop for events of all varieties. In addition to a new state of the art catering kitchen, the 4000 square foot venue has capacity various size groups. For venue booking information, call 520-615-6100.
Another day of good eats from our Christmas Eve dinner.
Several local restaurants were offering to-go coursed meals for holiday dining. There were so many delicious sounding options, but we decided to order from Dante’s Fire. Their menu involved no real cooking and both turkey and prime rib. They said it fed four to six people and believe me there was definitely plenty of food. The total was $200 and for a few dollars more you could’ve added lobster tails. We just did the basic.
Chef Ken Foy and team did an outstanding job with the variety of items and the cooking. Thanks Ken, Bobbie Renee and DF team.
I arranged to pick it up at 11:30 on Christmas Eve. It was pretty much ready when I arrived and the person in front of the house gave me descriptions of each container.
To kick off the meal there was:
Shrimp cocktail – A dozen, icy cold firm shrimp with some kicked up cocktail sauce.
Some slightly spicy and savory Sausage and Spinach Stuffed Mushrooms which we saved for Christmas Day dinner. Stuffed to the max, these guys were the perfect starter.
A huge serving of Holiday Harvest Salad where a beautiful mix of greens, baby asparagus, baby tomatoes with a well-balanced vinaigrette on the side could have been a nice meal on its own.
The famous Foy Family Dip. Made with fermented blue cheese the recipe came from Ken’s grandmother and only family members know the recipe. I’ve been spreading it on the House Made Bread that came with it. There were also pickled pears and a bit of apple compote. I could see how one could be addicted to the dip. I snuck schmears throughout the weekend. And shhhh, the recipe is a secret.
When I called to order the meal, I was a little confused. Listed were Prime Rib Roast and a Traditional Holiday Roast with your choice of either ham or turkey breast. Did that mean I had to choose among the prime rib, turkey and ham?
No, the choice was only between the turkey and ham. You got both the prime rib and the roast! We went with turkey mainly because we didn’t have a full turkey at Thanksgiving.
Also included were Baby Asparagus and Roasted Heirloom Potatoes.
They very thoughtfully included directions for reheating the entrees and sides. The work was minimal but there was the option to have the meal heated so you could serve it immediately when you got home.
The turkey breast (about 5 pounds) was perfect – the skin a deep, golden brown, the meat tender and sweet. The gravy that came with it was smooth and rich (I’ll be honest here; we saved the turkey for Christmas Day dinner.
The three ribbed-prime rib rocked too (although I might have cooked it a few minutes longer). The outside was encrusted with seasonings that were the perfect foil to the tender, beefiness. A thick, creamy horseradish sauce was there for the taking. With or without the sauce. the prime rib was better than any steakhouse version found in town.
The potatoes were fingerlings and there were plenty of them. And then there was the asparagus. Thin and succulent they’d been tossed with butter and Parmesan. They disappeared in no time.
Two desserts were included: a delightful Apple Strudel served with a sticky caramel sauce and Pumpkin Bread Pudding that had a sweet, vanilla cream sauce. I can’t tell you which I liked better. So sorry no photos.
All in all, this was a wonderful meal. I should say meals since we split it over two days, had turkey sandwiches for lunch on a couple more days and gave a plate to our neighbor.
We drank a crisp, cool Albarino from Plaza Liquors.
We most definitely would do this again. And will probably try other restaurant offerings as they pop up.
Thank you, Dante’s Fire, for making our Christmas so tasty and fun.
People were understandably upset a few weeks back when our local James Beard Award winning chef extraordinaire, Janos Wilder, announced the closing of his wonderful restaurant, Downtown Kitchen & Cocktails.
After all, Janos has been a shining star in the Tucson culinary scene for decades and the closing of DK&C meant one less ‘fine’ dining spot in town and a nod to the fact that COVID-19 is affecting local businesses in a bad way.
But not to worry, Janos has traded in the 80-hour work week (and all the stress of running a restaurant) for a slower but no less delicious manner.
Janos is filming a series of cooking classes at The Carriage House, his beautiful multi-purpose space downtown.
Called ‘Janos Cooks in the Time of Covid’ the classes are designed for the home cook and feature such user-friendly meals as El Presidio Pan Fried Chicken and Ahi Burgers. If you’ve ever taken a class from Janos, you know that they are fun, informative and doable.
The prices are reasonable and include full recipes, grocery lists and easy to follow steps. Check details out at www.carriagehousetucson.com
Here was a happily married guy with a corporate job, raising a family, having fun…. in other words, he (Todd Martin) and his wife (Sherry) were living the good life. Todd liked to cook for his family and friends.
One of his specialties was tamales, using recipes handed down through generations of Sherry’s Mexican-American family.
Friends loved the tamales and told him he should open a store and sell them. Now this is a pretty common theme when it comes to great home cooks and most don’t dare attempt such a monumental, and slightly mad, task. But the Martins decided to take a chance. They opened Tucson Tamale in 2008 in a tiny little storefront on busy, busy Broadway Boulevard.
Tucson Tamale soon became a big hit and they’ve been awarded “Best Tamales in Tucson’ more than several times over the years.
Now after over a decade of making thousands of tamales every year, the Martins are expanding the line-up of foods at both stores.
Chef David Valencia
They’ve hired chef David Valencia to create a plethora of take-home goodies to include everything from appetizers to dessert. Valenciahas earned his chops working in a variety of restaurants in town.
His creations include poblano spinach dip, mac and cheese, a variety of burros, pozole (both pork and vegan) and bread pudding. You could easily buy a family dinner where everyone getting something they love.
The Martins are also adding a long list of local, regional and international items, all chosen for not just quality products but from sustainability concerned companies. Hot sauces from Tucson-based High Desert Sauce Company, Taza Mexican Chocolate, nuts from Sunshine Nut Co, (ethically grown and packaged in Mozambique) and nearly one hundred more quality made foods.
I may be a little late with this one, but I needed some time to think over just exactly what I wanted, and needed, to write.
Earlier this week, Janos Wilder announced he was shuttering his popular and highly praised restaurant, Downtown Kitchen and Cocktails. The news hit the streets of Tucson and within minutes people were expressing their shock and sorrow at this decision by Tucson’s most famous chef.
Janos is, after all, the person who first brought Tucson to the attention of the culinary world. He was also the first chef to bring the culinary world to Tucson.
Until he opened his first restaurant, aptly named Janos, to the Hiram Stevens House in downtown Tucson in 1983, the dining scene here had several wonderful Continental restaurants, top notch steakhouses and plenty of mom and pop diners and Mexican restaurants.
Janos, the restaurant, changed all that thanks to Janos, the chef’s, bold choices of not just what he cooked but how he cooked it.
French trained, he believed in the importance of local and fresh ingredients prepared with a strong, creative hand. Diners were wowed and soon reservations were tough to get and the national press was hovering around our city reporting on this tiny, but impressive restaurant.
Wilder won a James Beard Best Chef of the Southwest and numerous other accolades and he continued to feed Tucsonans in a manner they soon became accustomed to.
Janos, the teacher
When Janos closed that site, people were bummed but within no time at all Wilder was bringing in the crowds at Westin La Paloma at two restaurants, a revived Janos and the more casual J Bar.
I never got to eat at the original Janos, but during an assignment for a Phoenix magazine, I had the opportunity to enjoy a special several-course dinner at the resort.
To say I was “wowed” would be an understatement. This was a long time ago but I still remember an avocado soup with fresh crab that was beyond anything I’ve ever had.
Chef came out of the kitchen to present each course. He was warm and friendly, not anything like I’d imagined this star chef would be.
Over the decades, I ate at J Bar, Janos and Downtown Kitchen and I got to interview Wilder for a variety of assignments. Our relationship was professional but still I’ve always felt I had a friend in Wilder.
He can tell a good story (this was truly helpful during the writing of ‘Lost Restaurants of Tucson’). The dinner he gave in celebration of the book at Carriage House was and is one of the finest evenings in my life. I will remember that night until my last breath.
Lost Restaurants Dinner
He’s also a great writer. His first cookbook, ‘Janos, Recipes & Tales from a Southwest Restaurant’ reads like a charm.
When I wrote ‘Arizona Chimichangas’ he had a launch party at Downtown Kitchen, even creating a special chimi.
We’ve talked over the years, not often, but our conversations have always been warm and memorable, filled with laughter and learning. Dare I say I consider him a friend?
Green papaya salad
Wilder’s generosity is enormous. He’s given time, food, money and more to hundreds of causes in Tucson.
He’s taught classes to young and old.
He showed us how to appreciate the foods of our desert.
He brought up many a young chef o
He was and remains instrumental in Tucson being a UNESCO City of Gastronomy.
He’s what they call stand-up guy.
So, when I heard the news of his ‘retirement’ from the restaurant business I was sad, but then I thought that maybe this is the right thing for Wilder.
It’s funny how time away from a 70-hour work week can change a person or at least make them aware of what a wonderful life they have. I think that’s what happened with Wilder after he had to close Downtown Kitchen due to the pandemic.
A little more time at home hanging in your pajamas, another cup of coffee with wife, Rebecca, a chance to cook more family meals, to read all those books and time to reflect on the amazing life you’ve lived.
Few people get to work in a field they are passionate about. And fewer still get to do so with such success and wonder. Wilder has done all that and we Tucsonans were lucky enough to reap the rewards of his talent and efforts.
Thankfully, Janos will still be around with classes and such at The Carriage House. I’m sure we’ll see him often. Whether or not, we’ll be able to enjoy one of his Sonoran Dogs or that fabulous avocado soup, who knows?
I wish you well, Janos Wilder. I can’t think of anyone who deserves this change in life better than you.
True confession: I have not been in a grocery store since mid-March. Partly due to the pandemic and for other personal reasons, I have done the majority of my food shopping via Instacart and the internet.
I’ve become an ace at it and, in all honesty, I’ve enjoyed myself. Sometimes mistakes are made, but when food I ordered is at my front door in ‘less than two hours’, I’m a happy consumer.
I’ve also taken advantage of the many local markets in Tucson. Many of them have stepped up the game in order to ensure easy, no contact shopping.
I’ve used the markets in the past, but for some reason, using them now has taken on new meaning and even though my interaction with people is different, I feel I’ve established new relationships with the owners and makers.
When the pandemic shutdown first hit several restaurants, in order to stay afloat, adapted a market model. The Cup at Hotel Congress sold everything from fresh eggs to toilet paper. I used it once but before I could get around to another order, they stopped selling this way.
Ghini’s French Caffe also adjusted and many of the items there were those precious products that were in short supply during those first weeks. I think they quit that method once restrictions were lifted but Ghini does have an interesting list of Family Get-n-Go choices.
Rocco’s Little Chicago did much of the same thing. You can still order some pantry items – no more toilet paper though. The peanut butter cookie dough available, more than makes up for a lack of dry goods. Rocco’s announced his week that he is returning to some indoor dining.
The variety of little markets in Tucson is wonderful and I haven’t even tapped into the Asian or Middle Eastern stores. The quality of food is outstanding and customer service has been exemplary. Some deliver; others I ordered ahead and everything is brought to my car for contact free service.
Here are a few of my go-to places:
Roma Café – We went a little crazy when we shopped her, but then we always did. Everything that is Italian can be found here and in many iterations. For example, you can by dry manicotti or frozen, cheese stuffed pasta in the house marina sauce that you can go in the oven. Oils, vinegars. tuna, cookies, breads, canapes, deli meats, the list is endless. Other ethnic dishes are also on the menu. We usually get a couple of the meat lasagna meals, a couple of the baked manicotti, frozen ravioli of all sorts, eggplant fritters, marinara sauce, parmesan and or Romano cheese and whatever strikes our fancy. They make the procedure simple. You call in your order, they give you a pick-up time, you go there, give then a quick call and your groceries are delivered to your car. It couldn’t be simpler. We have tons of food that lasts several months.
Gallery of Food – This midtown bodega (they just opened for in store shopping) has a rotating menu of outstanding produce, sweets, prepared meals, condiments, seafood, meats and other goodies. The quality of the products I’ve ordered has been well worth the little higher costs; their mixed berries are outstanding. The blueberries taste ‘blue’ and the raspberries are so sweet it’s hard not to eat all of them immediately. The potatoes are mixed sizes which does make meal prep a little challenging, but somehow, we’ve worked it out. The shrimp we ordered cooked up sweet and tasty. The cheeses are fabulous. Not everything is available every day, but that speaks to their efforts to get provide the freshest items. They only deliver on weekends (in fact the bodega has limited hours) but the deliveries are timely and hassle free. I plan on visiting the bodega soon. They charge a delivery and service fee.
Barrio Bread – We order weekly from this James Beard nominee. They offer three of their breads, flour and wheat berries and there is a minimum order of $20, but our usual order of one pain au levain, super seeded whole wheat and cranberry walnut breads comes to a little more than that. You have to order between Friday and Monday at noon. I don’t bother with the flour or the wheat berries, that would mean I’d have to bake something. Again, delivery is swift and reliable (Thursdays between 2pm and 4pm). The bread freezes beautifully. There is a pick-up option – see website. I adore this bread – and the baker Don Guerra – and look forward to Thursday afternoons. There is a $5 delivery fee.
Anita Street Market – Our daughter and her family live in Iowa City, Iowa, not exactly the center of great Mexican food and certainly not a hotspot for fresh flour tortillas. So, they asked if we would mind sending a half dozen packages. Of course not. When we stopped by the gorditas they wanted weren’t ready so we put in an order to be picked up later in the day. We also ordered several dozen for ourselves. When we returned in the afternoon to pick them up the gorditas were hot off the grill. Of course, we had to have a few on the way home. We didn’t even bother with any of the other foods they have there – their red chili is the best in town. Sadly, that day they didn’t have the machaca the kids wanted so we went down the road to St Mary’s Tortillas and bought two quarts of unprepared carne seca.
Dickman’s Meats – Only went once to pick up some petite filets. Fantastic. Been meaning to return….
Tucson Tamale – This all started because I wanted to send my brother who was under the weather a taste of Tucson. Now we have tamales in our freezer. Quick and easy to reheat, they serve as great answer to the daily dinner dilemma. Outstanding customer service. I ordered several gif boxes over the phone because the website was a little wacky. The woman I talked to was wonderful, especially when one order arrived way past the two-day delivery date (one day in town). She handled FedEx and it didn’t cost us a cent.
Plaza Liquors – Drive-up service. Plenty of choices. Friendly service. A perfect neighborhood little liquor store. Mark and his crew have been around for a long time because they know what they are doing and genuinely enjoy their work. Even if you live far away, I recommend a visit to this gem. I think all transactions are done via a window so you don’t get to experience the vibe of Plaza, but that doesn’t matter.
I am looking forward to the next market addition to town, Barrio Charro, a coming together of Barrio Bread and the El Charro families. That should be by the end of November and with the bodega less than a mile away, I’ll be there often.
Also, heard this morning that Nathan Ares and team of Prep & Pastry and Commoner & Co. are revamping the Rincon Market space with a upscale neighborhood market. This is exciting news because when Rincon closed, we lost a great little market. These guys will honor Rincon well. Look for name – Flora’s Market and Bakery.
After having spent the last several years writing about Tucson restaurants – both Lost and Historic – I am saddened to see one of our cities most historic restaurants become a lost restaurant.
Yesterday, Suzana Davila, the woman who brought national attention to the local restaurant scene long before our UNESCO City of Gastronomy designation, announced the closure of her world-famous Café Poca Cosa.
When it opened in 1984, there wasn’t much fanfare. Here was a tiny little Mexican restaurant in the heart of a very dead downtown and some serious street work. Could Davila make this work?
But it wasn’t long before the word got our that the food here was unlike anything we were used to or that the warm, welcoming vibe made diners feel like family. Lines were out the door and down the block.
Davila grew her tiny business into a destination restaurant where locals and tourists clamored for a table. She insisted on fresh food and the daily menu was dictated by what she found at the market. Her molés were one of a kind. Her beans were not refried. The tortillas, that were placed on the table in tiny containers, were soft and warm. The décor made you feel you were sitting in a Frida Kahlo painting.
And then here was the Plato Poca Cosa, where diners put their trust in chef Davila to serve them their own special combination plate of what she felt they needed. Again, something we Tucson foodies had never really experienced.
Over the next thirty-six years she expanded the restaurant from the tiny spot on Scott Street to a glamourous dining room at the Santa Rita Hotel to a stand-alone brand-new building tucked under a new parking garage. All the while maintaining The Little One, a more casual breakfast and lunch spot. Her sisters run The Little One which will remain open for get-and-go and a few outside tables. Thank goodness.
Davila’s fans are legion and come from all over the world. Café Poca Cosa earned kudos from national magazines and newspapers over and over again.
This was where you brought your parents or friends when the visited, where you celebrated special occasions, where you were transported back to your last trip to Mexico.
Davila’s larger-than-life personality was a major part of dining there. Even if you didn’t know who she was, watching her as she visited her guests at their tables you knew she was someone special. Artfully dressed, highly animated, totally her own person, Suzana was Café Poca Cosa.
That’s why yesterday’s announcement hit Tucsonans so hard. Café Poca Cosa been closed since May when the first COVID shutdown occurred. She along with her two children, Shanali and Christopher, spent hours, days, trying to find a way to make Poca Cosa work so guests would still get all the treasures and pleasures the restaurant was known for and the family could earn a profit.
But it wasn’t meant to be. Café Poca Cosa has shuttered for good.
Davila notes that the decision was not an easy one, that this was not how she envisioned the end of her culinary career. At the moment, she’s not ready to talk with the media.
I get it. She’s in mourning. Without any disrespect for all the lives lost and affected by the pandemic, a lot of us are feeling the loss.
But if you’ve ever met Suzana Davila, you know she’ll find a way to get through this time. She’s smart. She’s creative. She’s passionate. She loves feeding people.
So, with that in mind I wish for Suzana and family ‘in bocca il lupo’, an Italian expression of good luck. Literally meaning, it translates to ‘in the mouth of the wolf’, a place that might be a little scary, but still holds promise of this not being the end of things. That cagey wolf is keeping you safe in an odd sort of way and there’s still hope for a happy ending.
Writer Carolyn Niethammer has long been a champion of desert dining. Her previous writings, ‘The Prickly Pear Cookbook’ and ‘Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants’ to name a few, have taught desert dwellers how to turn the richness of the Sonoran Desert into fabulous meals. She’s also taught us a greater appreciation of the wonders around us.
Now, in her inimitable style that rings strong and clear, Niethammer has written a book that celebrates our cities culinary heritage. The book, published by the University of Arizona Press, is called, ‘A Desert Feast’.
In this beautifully presented book, Niethammer tells the story of how and why Tucson became the first city in America to be designated a UNESCO City of Gastronomy.
In 2015, as part of their Creative Cities Program, Tucson was awarded this special honor. The designation has as much to do with Tucson’s rich culinary history as it does with the modern-day diversity of dining,
And Niethammer tells the whole story with chapters on why Tucson is a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, history of the area from prehistoric through modern times, gardening in the desert, small time commercial agriculture, artisan food producers and more. Basically, the book follows the grant that was presented to the UNESCO committee.
The pictures are gorgeous and plentiful.
This book is a great read. It would make a great gift for friends and family, visitors and locals. Every school library should have a copy. Parents will find it a great local source for teaching their kids about their home town.
Thank you, Carolyn, thank you so much for telling the culinary story of Tucson.