Those Were The Days

Last week my friend Virg gifted me with a book called “Menus of Tucson’s Finest Restaurants” published in 1978 by the Quail Run Press.

The title says it all. The book is page after page of replications of the restaurants in Tucson that were considered the “Best” places to dine back in a time when Fine Dining was going strong.

As I’ve said in the past, I love old menus and so this book is a treasure and lots of fun to read. Vintage menus give us an insight as to how people lived way back when. They are as historic record of life as any newspaper. They show trends and reflect lifestyle and values. They’re fun to read, especially is you ate at the restaurant of the menu you have in your hand. And the prices are hilarious.

In this particular edition (I think there were several yearly additions for maybe three or four years) the restaurants range from the high-end places like The Tack Room to highly popular eateries like Pancho’s Mexican Restaurant. I’d say 95% of the restaurants included are closed with the exception of El Charro Café, Saguaro Corners and Mama Louisa’s, although each of those places have undergone changes in expansion and ownership.

I knew and ate at many of them but there were several I’d never heard of, although a posting on Facebook brought a string of comments about places like The Plankhouse, Los Yentes and Raintree.

Certain dishes were a must have and reflect what was popular in 1978.

One dish, Veal Oscar, is on just about every Fine Dining restaurant in the book. Beef Brochette is also a biggie. Lobster tail is prevalent as well. Many plates are prepped teriyaki style. Oddly, beef liver shows up often. I can’t imagine any restaurant, with the exception of some diners, would ever put liver and onions on their menu these days.

Some dishes have short explanations as to what’s in the dish, but not like what is found on today’s menus. And almost all dinners come with a salad and soup.

The book also has a little blurb about each restaurant, the hours and days of operation, the address and which credit cards they take. Anyone remember Carte Blanche? And just so diners know, the style of each restaurant is also listed: American (too numerous to list), Continental (again too many to list), Mexican (quite a few, of course), German (Rhine Castle), Seafood, Polynesian (Port’s O Call and Kon Tiki), Italian (Mama Louisa’s La Cantina, Da Vinci’s and Lupo’s), Chinese (Ali Shan’s, Imperial China and Dragon View) and one lonely Mediterranean (El Jebala).

There are a few pages of restaurants that were popular in Santa Cruz County and Nogales.

I’m not sure what the purpose was for publishing such a book. It seems like a group of friends got together with the idea of sharing the information. I’m also unsure of how they decided which restaurants to include or if the restaurants paid to be in the book. I know the publishing company had books from other years, but I don’t think they ever published anything else. I think there was a Phoenix version.

I’m going to look for the other additions and will keep you up to date.

Learn and Dine and Have a Little Fun

Flying Aprons Tucson is a great resource for getting some inspiration for cooking and creating. Owned and operated by Michelle Schulze, Flying Aprons brings local chefs, makers and Tucson’s cultural traditions together in both in-person and Zoom cooking lessons.

In person classes are usually limited and cost $75. Zoom classes are $40 per screen not per person. For details and registration visit http://www.flyingapronstucson.com.

The October schedule offers a wide range of classes.

On Monday October 18th from  6:00 pm – 7:30 pm, Chef CJ Hamm will be offering lessons in Fall Comfort Food Tucson Style.

CJ is the Executive chef/partner of Mulligan’s Sports Grill and Saguaro Corners Restaurant  which is where this class will take place. Lessons will be up close and personal as the restaurant will only be open for the in-person class. The class menu that night will be: Cumin Crusted Roasted Pork Loin with Local Bourbon Apple Jus, Chipotle Honey Mashed Yams, Agave Braised Collard Greens and Pumpkin Panna Cotta with Candied Lemon and Prickly Pear Coulis.

This class should be lots of fun as CJ brings a lot of life to whatever he’s doing. It will be held at Saguaro Corners 3750 S Old Spanish Trail.

On Monday October 25th from 6:00 pm- 7:00 pm, the scene changes when Isabel Montano, Jorge Franco and Erica Franco from La Estrella Bakery will show you how to make the traditional Dia de los Muertos, sugar skulls.

The class is at the bakery at 901 N, Grande. The bakers are the children of La Estrella’s founders, Marta and Antonio Franco. You’ll get a hands-on lesson in the ancient art and includes not just a sugar skull but cookie and Pan Muerto instruction.

The Franco family will also share Dia de los Muertos stories and its history as they guide you through the decorating.

courtesy The Spruce Eats

You’ll walk away with some goodies and a deeper understanding of the rich tradition of this most important cultural tradition.

From sugar skulls to fresh Italian cheeses. At the next class participants (both Zoom and in-person) will make fresh mozzarella, burrata and ricotta and then learn how to pair them with all manner of goodies to create your own personal chefs’ board.

Designer Dani Williams and Chef Thomas Gernick of Graze+Provisions will be your guides. Williams turns her styling skills to create colorful and multi-textured boards. Gernick has high praise from many national food entities including the New York Times. The in-person class will be held at 550 W. Orange Grove Rd.

This photo, taken from their website is an prime example of their work.

For further details and to register for any class do to www.flyingapronstucson.com.

The Webster

Full disclosure here: the restaurant and food in this piece is owned and operated by my daughter, Riene, and son-in-law, Sam Gelman.

The restaurant is The Webster. Located in Iowa City, Iowa, the restaurant opened in May of this year after months of delay due to Covid-19.

Even though they kids had to put off their dream, everything seemed to come together just as the country and Iowa City was opening up. So, in some ways, timing was favorable.

Both Riene and Sam brings years of experience and talent to The Webster having worked in Chicago, Tucson, Nantucket, Boston and New York City. Sam pulled a long stint with the Momofuku restaurants. Riene’s front of the house experience includes Eleven Madison Park and Tom Colicchio’s Craft.

Why choose Iowa City? That’s where Sam’s family is and they thought their son Charlie, six at the time, would benefit by being closer to his extended family.

The Webster is named after Sam’s grandfather and serves up, “American Cuisine”, but with an upscale spin and a big city vibe.

The design is uptown but not fussy. No white tablecloths here. A patio was just added.

Sam is a seriously great chef and some of the meals he’s prepared for us since we first met him have been outstanding, so good I can still remember tastes and textures. He’s passionate about his work and has the chops to pull off just about any dish.

Sam in his element.

We ate there twice for dinner and once for a quick bite after a musical presentation at the University of Iowa Campus. On that occasion, closing time was about a half-hour away but Charlie was sure that they’d “make an exception.” They did.

We tried a good portion of the menu.

The menu is divided into: Breads, Small Plates, Pasta, Large Plates, Sides and Desserts. Just about everything is made in house, which includes aging huge cuts of beef and pork.

Riene has curated an impressive worldly wine list with a wide range of options. Most are from smaller wineries. Over the years, our daughter has turned us on to some fabulous wines. The list at The Webster reflects that talent.

I didn’t get pictures of everything we ate. A few are mine others are borrowed from their social media and friends.

Under the breads we had the cast iron cornbread and the buttermilk biscuits that come with cultured butter and summer fruit preserves and a half-dozen slices of paper- thin ham, cured by Chef Greg >>>, that was buttery rich and hammy.

The cornbread was laced with pickled jalapenos and bacon which added heat, salt and texture. The cast iron pans made the outside all brown and crispy and the inside tender. The biscuits were much the same way – golden brown and crisp on the exterior with a flaky, pull-apart interior.

Greg’s Berkshire Ham

We enjoyed several small plates as well. In fact, one could easily make an entire evening dining on the Small Plates alone. The Friendly Farm (a local provider) tomatoes are dressed in Arbequina olive oil with a bit of crunch from tomaquet. The sweet corn soup, which is now off the seasonal menu, was enriched with Jonah crabmAleppo peppers and fennel. Presentation here was artful with the tiny mound of crab served a bowl at the table and the soup was then poured into the bowl from a porcelain carafe.

The confit chicken wings had decidedly Asian spin with nuoc chum, cilantro, mint and scallion They sticky and crispy, hot and sweet.

Confit Chicken Wings0

And then there were the oysters! The prep varies over the seasons, but these tiny gems were accompanied with a gazpacho mignonette. Outstanding! Turns out Charlie loves oysters. He has a pretty sophisticated palate for a 7-year-old, and on the night we ate with him and his other grandparents (Tom and Becky) he insisted on ordering the oysters, which he and I shared. Eight for him and four for me. If I hadn’t acted fast, I’m sure he’d have eaten the entire dozen.

Pasta choices included eggplant agnolotti with ricotta, sesame and golden raisins and the duck egg tagliatelle; a toothsome take on Alfredo, only here they use cultured butter and reserve Midwest cheese. The freshness of the pasta takes these plates to another level. On night two, Sam’s parents, Tom and Becky had the the bucatini with yellowfin, Berkshire pancetta Bolognese and the lumache with corn, pancetta, banana peppers and pecorino respectfully. As a hint to the seasonal changes the lumache now is served with butternut squash, the pancetta and oyster mushrooms. My only regret is that I didn’t try a sample.

eggplant agnolotti
Bucatini Bolognese with tuna
lumache
Beeler Pork Chop

We had been excited to try the Beeler’s pork chop since we first saw it on the menu and so we did. The seasonal prep included roasted peaches, cherries and nduja. As a Side we tried the newest item on the menu, warm nugget potato salad with grilled Pella bologna, scallions and tagarachi.

The pork was heavenly, all tender and juicy, sweet and savory. Cut into thick slices, the texture was like a very tender steak.

But that potato salad was beyond any other potato salad I’ve had. The warm potato nuggets were bigger than bite-sized. The bologna had been roasted to a crispy crunch. Every bite was a delight.  I hope they keep this dish on the menu permanently.

We tried all three desserts: the cold, creamy panna cotta with Michigan blueberries; the crumbly, lightly sweet corn cake; and the sinfully tart lemon-yuzi curd with a graham cracker crust topped with a toasted meringue. All were wonderful endings to great meals.

Lemon-yuzu Curd

I wish we could travel back soon. But winter is coming and I don’t do well in cold weather.

And while I know most of you will never get a chance to try The Webster, if you happen to be in the area, GO!

Si Charro Summer Specials

The Si Charro family of restaurants is launching their summer specials..

Each restaurant has a long list of tasty summer dishes,

If you plan carefully you just might get to try all of them,

El Charro Café 99TH SUMMER CELEBRATION!  6/15/21 thru 8/15/21

CHARROS Y CAMARONES   just $9.99 each

ADD charro rice, choice of frijoles, & calabacitas + $4.95

Shrimp Poblano Enchilada Elegante GF Grilled shrimp, peppers & bacon in twice rolled corn tortillas and baked in our Poblano Crema with queso oaxaca, avocado salsa, & marinated pink onion

Grilled Shrimp Fajita Lettuce Cups (2) GF Grilled shrimp & peppers mixta with lettuce leaves, queso cotija, chipotle crema, avocado salsa & margarita lime vinaigrette

Mojo de Ajo Shrimp Tamale GF Grilled garlic chimichurri shrimp over our delicious handmade corn tamal with tomatillo sauce & queso oaxaca (add 2nd tamal for $5.95)

99th CHARRO SUMMER “MARGS & ‘RITAS

“El Grande” size for just $5.99!  All Summer Long (6/15 – 8/15)

Modelo Splash

A delicious margarita made with organic tamarindo nectar, fresh citrus, rocks, and a refreshing splash of ice-cold Negra Modelo

Mangopeño

Mango Margarita with mango nectar, muddled jalapeño, tamarindo dash, citrus & agave. Served with tajín dusted rim

Charro Island

Margarita with fresh coconut, pineapple, and lime nectar and a float of tropical pea flower tea with a toasted coconut rim

Watermelon Fresca

Perfectly cool way to wind down with our watermelon nectar margarita featuring agave, fresh mint & sea salt rim

El Charro Cafes are located at 311 N Court Ave · (520) 622-1922); 7725 N Oracle Rd #101  (520) 229-1922)  and 6910 E Sunrise Dr, (520) 514-1922).  All are open Tuesday through Sunday from 11am to 8:30pm.  For details visit https://www.sicharro.com/safety-guidelines/

CHARRO STEAK & DEL REY

The popular grill kits are back. These take- home selections created during the pandemic to serve a mostly stay at home population have become a must- have option.  This season’s “Teach ‘em to Grill…But only with Grass-Fed Beef” summer promo offers the finest of ingredients, sustainably raised products, house made accompaniments.   Two options are offered along with a terrific in-house “Meat Me” daily Happy Hour special featuring  1/2 priced Burgers and Carne Asada Fries, as well as all aperitivos, house wines, well spirits, drafts and bottled cervezas.

Teach ‘em to Grill Options

The Cala – Charro Burger – Feeds 6

6x ½ lb grass fed beef patties, queso Manchego, pint of charro sauce

6x Barrio Charro Handmade local buns, Chip & Salsa, 49.95

The Terna “Sampler” – Feeds 6-8

10 oz grass fed carne asada, 12 oz new York strip, 14 oz grass fed boneless rib-eye, marinated ½ chicken, 12 oz Duroc pork chop, charro beans (2 pints), local tortillas (2 doz), chips & sals 49.95

Order at 520-495-1922 or meat@charrosteak.com

Charro Steak & Del Rey is located at 188 E Broadway Blvd. and is open daily from 3-9pm. Phone 520-485-1922. For details visit .barriocharro.com

CHARROVIDA PLANT+

Offering Tucson’s finest vegan (plus protein upon request) menu, Charrovida has become a top Tucson destination for eaters of all varieties.  The summer menu features a delectable mix of salads, desserts, cool classic beverages and half off a dazzling array of Mimosas offered by the glass, bottle or flights. Summer specials are offered along with the regular menu.

SUMMER OF VIDA ’21 stay cool with this fresh mix of summer recipes

Summer of Ceviche brightly marinated garden of vegetables 9 add + marinated shrimp* +6

Caesar Tostita Salad  plant-based caesar on avocado tostitas with charred cauli, vegan feta, pink onion, pepitas, cucumber & radish 9 add + chimichurri grilled shrimp* +6

Diablos Tacos charred diablo cauliflower with vegan taco crema, greens, pico salsa & pink onion 9 (2) add + diablo grilled shrimp* +6

Chef’s Brulėe & Berries  plant-based recipe with vanilla & fresh berries 9

CHARRO & CHILL

MOJITO MIST sparkling bubbles rum & mint 9

CABANA CAFÉCITO chilled coffee. coconut rum & nectar 10

THE DEL CHARRO rocks. del bac whiskey. agave. prickly pear. citrus 13

LA PLAYA ROSA pink lemon, Titos. prickly pear. citrus. mint. agave. 1

½ OFF MIMOSAS ALL SUMMER LONG!

Legend has it they were first made in Paris in 1925, and another story says famed movie director Alfred Hitchcock mixed ‘em up in San Fran in the 1940’s. Either way, mimosas are iconic, and we hope you enjoy ours in a single glass or as a bottle flight with your choice of nectar & bubbles: classic with fresh orange juice superfruit high antioxidant berry mix watermelon agua fresca nectar prickly pear natural cactus nectar grapefruit fresh grapefruit juice mango tropical fruit nectar cranberry not just for vodka anymore

SINGLE GLASS 9 BOTTLE FLIGHT  39* pick 3 flavors 2-4 persons

VEGAN MIMOSA FLIGHT add for vegan bubbles +15* *half off price shown. n/a half off for vegan bottle & n/a as single flute

Promotion valid 6/1 thru 8/1 No combining of offers or delivery

Charrovida Plant+ is located at 7109 North Oracle Road in the Casas Adobes center and is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11am -8pm. For reservations visit charrovida.com . Phone 520-779-1922

BARRIO CHARRO

Barrio Charro continues to delight Tucsonans with its innovative menu of offerings created by one of Tucson’s most acclaimed Chefs Carlotta Flores and James Beard Nominated Don Guerra of the multi award-winning Barrio Bakery.  Summer additions to the lineup like Wilshire’s Watermelon salad, join the group of other iconic Tucson neighborhood named dishes on the menu.  Made with juicy fresh watermelon, spiced pepitas, queso fresco, served over balsamic kale with sweet chile vinaigrette, this dish is a delight.  Other dishes like Street Roasted Corn, Barrio Burritos and Enchilada El Cortez are destined to be keepers.

Wilshire’s Watermelon fresh watermelon, spiced pepitas, queso fresco, pink onion & sweet chile vinaigrette over balsamic kale 11.95

Enchanted Elote roasted street corn, queso cotija, avocado, iceberg, lime, cilantro, crema, tajín spiced pepitas & pink onion 11.95

add: grilled chicken +3.95

Barrio Burritos choice of recipe with grilled calabacitas, peppers & queso oaxaca

wrapped in a barrio grains flour tortilla with salsa rojo, lettuce, cilantro & pink onion papa & egg*8.95 veggie or vegan*9.95 pollo asado 11.95 carne asada 12.95  frijoles & queso*7.95 charro birria 12.95 pork carnitas 11.95 chicken tinga 11.95 add: avocado +2.95 chorizo +2.95 enchi-style melted queso, red & green sauce +3.95

Enchiladas el Cortez

layered enchilada recipes with calabacitas, red & green sauce, queso, crema, fresh greens & frijoles  veggie or vegan*12.95 pollo asado 14.95 carne asada 16.95 pork carnitas 14.95  add: avocado +2.95*vegan recipes +1.25

Barrio Charro is located at 3699 N Campbell Ave, Tucson, AZ 85719   Phone: (520) 372-1922. For additional information visit  barriocharro.com

CHARRO STEAK & DEL REY

Meanwhile, downtown at Charro Steak & Del Rey a whole lotta grillin’ is going on with the very popular summer take home grill kits.

The Cala (feeds 6)

The Charro Burger 6 -1/2 lb grass-fed beef patties, queso Manchego, pint of charro sauce, 6x Barrio Charro handmade local buns, chips and salsa   $49.95

The Terna “Sampler” (feeds 6-8)

10 oz grass-fed Carne Asada, 12 oz New York Strip, 14 oz grass-fed boneless ribeye, marinated half chicken, 12 oz Duroc pork chop, Charro Beans (2 pints), local tortillas (2 doz), chips and salsa $149

Charro Steak & Del Rey are located in downtown Tucson at 188 E Broadway and are open Tuesday through Sunday from 12pm to 7pm.  Thanksgiving hours 11am- 6pm.  As at all Flores Concepts restaurants, their comprehensive 100 Point Plan for Safety is in full effect.  For details visit https://www.sicharro.com/safety-guidelines/

XMAS IN JULY  – Coming Soon!

Buy a $100 Charro Card and get a $100 Charro Card!  It is certainly the best deal around and the perfect gift for year- round giving and dining.  Cards can be pre- ordered online at www.sicharro.com/xmasinjuly between July 1st and 22nd and will be on sale online and at all locations (excluding Barrio Charro) on July 24t and 25.   The Charro Card can be used at El Charro Café, Charro Steak & Del Rey, CharroVida Plant+, and Pub 1922 in Sahuarita. Certain limits and processing fees may apply.

ONE LAST NOTE

Recently, popular food vlogger Mark Wiens was in Tucson to visit the original El Charro Café in downtown Tucson and explore the world of authentic Carne Seca and the birthplace of the Chimichanga.  His YouTube channel has over 6.72 million subscribers and over 1 billion views to date. … The full-time travel eater travels around the world to eat delicious food and share his meals and discoveries.  View the video at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTzIkTh580o .

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it’s all about the bun

During this last year and a half, I’ve started eating more bread. I’ve never been a big bread eater but I could be called a bread snob because I will eat the heck out of a quality loaf. Lately though I’ve developed a better appreciation of bread in all shapes and sizes.

The fact that we have one of the best bread bakers in America in Tucson -Don Guerra of Barrio Bread fame-has played a big part. But we’ve also been eating smaller which means a lot of sandwiches. Usually, I save Barrio Bread for toast in the morning or to sop up sauces.

In all this eating, I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter the sandwich is filled with, the success if a sandwich depends on the bread, especially when it comes to certain iconic sandwiches.

The sandwiches featured here are famous in themselves and all are associated with specific cities or regions in the country. One is a hot dog, which I don’t consider to be a sandwich but the bun it is served on is what makes this dog a standout and so in this article, a hot dog is a sandwich.

I’ve included where you can find the best version of each item in Tucson.

Beef on ‘Weck

City/Area of Origin: Buffalo, NY area

Bread: Kummelweck roll

These sandwiches are actually more Buffalo food than Buffalo wings but it’s tough to find this sandwich outside of Western New York.

The beef is slow-cooked, thinly sliced and served with its own juices with a healthy dollop of horseradish. Au jus foe dipping is also a requirement,

The bun is basically a Kaiser roll topped with coarse salt and caraway seeds (kummel is caraway in German.) Sure, you can make something similar at home but they never turn out quite right and sadly the rolls don’t travel well. They tend to dry out virtually overnight.

These buns are one-of-a-kind food and if weren’t for the salty, crispy, caraway flavors and textures this is just another hot beef sandwich.

Beef on ‘weck is one of the first things I used to order when we’d visit my husband’s hometown. Every place had their own sandwich but all were miles beyond anything I’ve had here in Tucson.

Recommendation where to get one: None

Chicago Dog

City of Origin: Chicago

Bread: Poppyseed bun

Although associated with Chicago, these dogs can now be found nationwide thanks to the internet and modern shipping.

The ingredients are mandatory: Vienna All Beef Hot Dogs are the best but a high-quality all-beef dog will work. The dog can be boiled, steamed or grilled.

Toppings, and here there are no real substitutes, are: a slather of yellow mustard, a nearly glowing green sweet pickle relish, chopped white onions, chopped tomato or a few tomato slices, a dill pickle, sport peppers (small, thin long and crunchy) all finished off with celery salt.

And of course, the soft poppy seed bun.

Personal tastes allow for eliminating any of the ingredients, but the poppy seed bun is an absolute must.

The bun is at once soft and sturdy. The poppy seeds add another layer of flavor and texture.

There are several bakeries that claim to be the ‘official’ Chicago hot dog bun, but that’s not surprising. Chicagoans will fight to the finish about which hot dog stand makes the best in the city, even though basically they’re all made the same way with the same ingredients.

Recommendation where to find one: Rocco’s Little Chicago (also the place for Chicago pizzas – deep dish or the real Chicago style thin pizza (see my Pizza post.)

Rocco’s Little Chicago’s Chicago Dog Courtesy Rocco’s Little Chicago

Philly Cheesesteak

City of Origin: Philadelphia

Bread: Amoroso roll

Again, like a Chicago hot dog, Philly cheesesteaks are available all over America but in all honesty, the good ones are far and few between.

And like the Chicago dog, the competition as to the best sandwich in Philly is fierce.

But all agree that the best sandwiches are made using Amaroso rolls. Hearth-baked, the rolls are big and sturdy because they have to stand up to all that meat and juices, and yet they have a light crunch and soft insides which makes for tasty eating,

The sandwiches are served with melted cheese, the preference being Cheez-Whiz.

The thing is you can only get the rolls from Philadelphia and only from the Amoroso Bread ad Rolls. The bakery started in 1904 in a tiny shop; now they are sold in grocery stores and shops in the Philly area or on line.

People will argue about the best cheesesteaks in Tucson, but for the real thing Frankie’s South Philly Cheesesteaks is the place for a true Philly cheesesteak.

Philly Cheesesteak Courtesy Frankie’s Philly Cheesesteak

Lobster roll

City/Area of Origin: New England

Bread: Soft Hot dog bun

Lobster rolls are plentiful across the US. but most are missing that sea air that adds to the flavor.

Nevertheless, Maine is the place to find the best lobster rolls (although people in Connecticut will argue otherwise.)

The buns here resemble hot dog buns but because they have to standup to big hunks of lobster and grilling, they are sturdier and baked in a way so that the sides are nearly flat and don’t get as brown as the top. And how they are cut also plays an important role.

While there are two schools of thought as how to prepare the lobster: lathered in butter or tossed with mayo. Each side has their proponents but all agree that the bun MUST be cut a certain way.

Rather than being sliced along the side and opened for the filling, the bun is sliced across the top being careful to not take the slice to the edges. This prevents the filling from falling all over the place. Very clever and most practical because no matter how the lobster is prepped, you want the meat to stay in the bun.

Kingfisher

Lobster Roll at Kingfisher

Po’ Boy

City of Origin: New Orleans

Bread: ‘French’ bread with a crumbly top and a soft interior

Po’ Boys can be filled with a number of items but traditionally the choices are deep fried shrimp or deep-fried oysters. Hot andouille sausage, duck, crayfish, beef, chicken and even alligator versions are also popular but the condiments used in the sandwiches differ.

Seafood uses melted butter and sweet pickle rounds; Louisiana hot sauce is optional. Creole mustard is used in many of the others. All require lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayonnaise.

Again, the bread needs to be sturdy but soft. Long and narrow it resembles a baguette but the texture is chewier and crumbly. The soft interior sops up all the condiments, The exterior cannot be too crunchy or else because the sandwich is so packed, the sandwich would be impossible to eat. Just as with the kummelweck rolls, some say the authentic bread can only be found in New Orleans,

The Parish

Shrimp Po-Boy courtesy The Parish

I suppose I could’ve included the Reuban sandwich or a French dip because the bread used in them is a specific type (especially with the marble rye in a Reuban) but I’ll save those for another post.

Time for Breakfast

If I had thought about it, I would have ordered the same meal – Eggs Benedict – at both restaurants and then I could’ve written a fantastic compare and contrast piece, highlighting the differences and similarities between a traditional version and a modern version of the iconic dish.

But, I didn’t. I was hungry because I was just coming off a fast that I’d done for some routine lab work I needed to get done and the Huevos Rancheros at Flora’s Market Run sounded like just what I needed.

The next day at The Dutch I ordered Eggs Benedict because, in spite of all those creative bennies out there, when I see a traditional version, I order them. In fact, the Eggs Benedict were the reason why I decided to have breakfast at The Dutch.

Things worked out perfectly.

Flora’s Market Run is the latest venture by the same folks who own and operate the highly popular two  Prep & Pastrys, Commoner & Co. and August Rhodes Bakery. They’ve transformed the former Rincon Market space in to an airy, chic dining room complete with a big bar. The well-stocked market is next door.

Both the Brunch and the Dinner menus at Flora’s offer interesting options that are a mix of tradition and innovation,

The huevos rancheros is a prime example. While all the traditional elements of this Mexican fave were on the plate, there wasn’t anything traditional about these huevos.

Instead of charro or refried beans a crunchy local tortilla was topped with marinated beans. Thanks to the marination, the beans held a darker color, deeper flavor and a sweet tenderness. Usually ranchero sauce is used, hence the name. But here the kitchen uses guajillo sauce, which has peppers as a base. This takes the dish into new territory. The sauce isn’t hot but certainly has a richer more lingering taste and feel. Cojita cheese substitutes for the usual bright orange cheddar and a bit of avocado contrasts the dark rich sauce. My egg, which you can have cooked to your liking, was a perfect over easy.

I’d happily order this dish again.

I’d also order the Eggs Benedict from The Dutch again.

The Dutch is one of the most tasteful dining areas in the city. High ceilings, lots of golden woods, a wall of windows that allow for plenty of light and great people watching and the biggest clock I’ve ever seen hanging above the bar.

There was an English muffin as required in the original dish, followed by thinly sliced Canadian bacon. You never see Canadian bacon anywhere on bennies these days and I don’t know why. Slicing it paper thin was the only diversion, Then came the perfectly cooked poached eggs; not watery, not over cooked, they were just right. Also done just right was the Hollandaise sauce. All too often, kitchens mess up this delicate sauce making it too thick and bland. Not so here. I sopped up every last drop. The potatoes on the side were fabulous,

If you’ve never had traditional Eggs Benedict, I suggest a trip to The Dutch.

As an added bonus, both the service and the coffee at both places were ideal.

Drum Roll, Please!

Mark your calendars!

Sunday June 20th is the Summer Solstice AND the Grand Opening of Gallery of Food, the hip bodega on Ft. Lowell.

Starting at noon and winding down around 6 pm, Gallery of food will be hosting a party complete with food, music, tours of the kitchen and more. You’ll be able to shop as well.

“But,” you say, “I thought Gallery of Food has been open for a while now?”

Well, you’re right. The market, delivery and catering have been open, but due to the pandemic, chef/owner Kristen Jensen wanted to wait until life was safer and the Summer Solstice seemed the perfect time to celebrate the store’s Grand Opening.

Long before eating local was popular, Jensen used purveyors that she knew by name. Produce comes from Pivot Produce, Aravaipa Farms and other nearby farms. Meats are sourced from Top-Knot Farms. Barrio Bread provides their wonderful items. Jams and jellies are from Cheri’s Desert Harvest. Salsas and sauces, cookies and candy, chilled desserts and savory soups are all at the ready.

And of course, there’s all that great food made by Chef Christopher Baldwin.

If you’ve been, you know how wonderful this shop is. If you haven’t Sunday June 20th would be an ideal time. You can meet Kristen, Christopher and the rest of the staff, learn about the various items in the store, listen to music and EAT!

Parking is limited but the neighboring businesses are pitching in. You can park at JT Auto, Dan’s Toy Shop and Zona Foundations.

See you there!

Zio Peppe is here!

Zio Peppe opens tonight for sit down service. After a couple of weeks doing only takeout and delivery, the doors are wide open to this exciting venture of two of my favorite chefs, Mat Cable and Devon Sanner.

Zio Peppe means Uncle Joe in Italian and while the food here is Italian in theory, the chefs have put a decidedly Southwestern spin to the menu.

We were privileged to eat the last night for the Friends and Family soft opening. And I have to say, everything we had, from the first bite of the elote arancini to the pistachio cannoli, was outstanding.

Those arancini were probably the best I’ve ever had. There was no red sauce on top, but that was a good thing. Crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside (with both corn and rice) I could’ve eaten a dozen of them.

We sampled three pies: the Figgy Stardust, the Margarita and the Bandera. These are thin crust pies, The crust was perfect and each of the toppings stood out. The margarita was an ideal balance of cheese and sauce and oh that sauce! Loved the Figgy Stardust. It was both sweet and savory. The Bandera had chiles and smoked turkey and a garlic crema. The flavors all came together nicely.

Bandera
Figgy Stardust

The polenta was made with masa and again was outstanding with the addition of cheese and chiles. Some might call it fusion (I hate that term). This was more like a good, solid, fun marriage.

Polenta

They served four pastas: two Alfredos, a mac and cheese and a rigatoni arabiatta. The pasta was light and tender in the alfredos and the sauces were silky and flavorful. The mac and cheese had bits of smoked salami. During regular service they serve it in a focaccia bowl. The arribiatta was ultra hot! If you like spicy food, this is your dish.

Alfredo and aribiatta

Both risottos were sublime. Cooked the way risotto is supposed to be cooked – creamy but toothsome – I couldn’t tell you which I liked best. Shrimp? Mushroom? Mushroom? Shrimp? Give me more of both!!!!!

I’ll also take a couple more of the pistachio cannoli, please. And the lemon curd was a great way to end the meal.

Cannoli
Lemon curd

Service was great but I’m not surprised by that given the chefs’ years of experience. The vibe and décor are casual and comforting.

I really can’t wait to go back and I suggest you get to Zio Peppe’s as soon as possible.

Just Say ‘No!’

For a large restaurant corporation to open a taco restaurant in Tucson, is a little bit like bringing coals to Newcastle.

Tucson has some of the best tacos in the country and the options are endless.

So, when I heard Phoenix based Barrio Queen was opening a large space in Oro Valley, I was curious.

The Barrio Queen story is interesting, but more about that later. Let’s just say that a lot of their hype needs to be scrutinized for authenticity. And you reads know I seldom use that word.

Even more shocking is that Barrio Queen is not only the soon to be opened, if not already opened, corporate Mexican restaurant in town.

One, El Mesquite is located in the new Doubletree Hotel Downtown, just a stone’s throw away from long-time local favorite, El Minuto and a hop and skip away from El Charro. Their schtick involves bringing a “desire to work these flavors (agave, cactus, pre-Hispanic tomatoes, squash and corn and the smoke of mesquite) into a fresh modern interpretation of desert dining and present Tucson with a new lens to view Mexican cuisine.” Apparently, they haven’t heard about our City of Gastronomy designation.

One has to question our city elders when it comes to their judgement about not insisting on a different kind of restaurant. Rather than promote all the local places within walking distance they condone a ‘modern’ corporate Mexican restaurant.

The other, Ojos Locos, is on the Southside near Irvington and I-19 located among a mass of other chain restaurants. It’s been described as a Mexican Hooters but the website leans a little more redneck than anything Latino (that’s the word they use.) The company is out of Dallas, which explains a lot. The website reads like a gringo trying hard to not sound racist as he talks Spanglish with his Mexican neighbors.

The question is: Do these big shots really think they can serve us anything that comes anywhere close all the wonderful Mexican food we have here?

Simply put, NO!

Tucson Mexican food is some of the best on the planet and these days can be found citywide. From tiny taquerias and food trucks to elegant sit-down dining rooms, Mexican food in Tucson is a treasure.

Casa Molina’s tacos dorado

Our Mexican food comes in many iterations. Too many types of tacos to mention all beautifully presented. Casa Molina’s tacos are almost too pretty to eat- but DO eat them!.

Flat enchiladas at Rollies Mexican Patio
Carne seca heading to the roof at El Charro.
Chimichanga, a Tucson original

Tortillas, both flour and corn, come to the table hot off the grill like at Taqueria Pico de Gallo or the huge flour ones at St. Mary’s. Birria (have you at the birria at Rollies Mexican Patio?) and carne seca (El Charro‘s comes to mind) take beef beyond the limits of flavor.

Making tortillas at St Mary’s

Pollo and mariscos are prepared by with care and skill. El Guero Canelo made the Sonoran hot dog famous. We’re the home of the chimichanga and topopo and almendrado for christ’s sake.

Boca’s tacos with two salsas.

And salsas? Just check out Boca Taco for examples of what’s out there.

The biggest pretender of all is Barrio Queen.

In an article in a Phoenix business magazine, the owners claim they created Barrio Queen to ‘bring to the valley the history and culture of Mexico…using traditional recipes from the barrios of Mexico’.

In reality, Barrio Queen was the brainchild of Silvana Salcido Esparza, a most talented and creative chef in Phoenix. Her Barrio Café has won numerous accolades from food professionals and the national press. She won a James Beard Award. Politicians stop by as part of their campaign tours.

She’s her own woman, no cookie cutter chef is she.

Silvana opened Barrio Queen in 2012 in partnership with Steve Rosenfield and his wife, Linda Nash of Rosenfield Restaurants LLC. They own hundreds of chain fast-food restaurants in a half dozen states.

Before the year was out Silvana was no longer involved. The reason for the change is very murky, but the fact that she is not ‘allowed to comment’ on anything says more than any comment she could ever make.

The landlord of the building where Barrio Queen will be situated was quoted in the Star saying, “We think Barrio Queen will be the perfect addition to Oro Valley.”

Really? Charro Vida is two minutes away. Tucson Tamale and Guadalajara Grill are across the street. Each offers different takes on Mexican food and all are LOCALLY OWNED!

Do you remember in Peter Pan when Peter tells Wendy that every time a child stops believing in fairies, another fairy dies? That’s how I feel when these corporate Mexican restaurants set up shop in town, another bit of Tucson’s soul dies.

I’m not going to tell you what to do…. but if you cherish Tucson flavors, local businesses and the vast talent Tucson restaurants have to offer, you know where to dine.

A word or two to your city councilperson or county administrator probably wouldn’t hurt. In fact, take them to lunch for some real, local Mexican fare. You have plenty of choices.

The Mexican food in Tucson is real food made by real people.

We don’t need out of town pretenders coming in to town thinking they’re going to show us how to do Mexican food right.

We’re Back…..

Last night’s dinner was a long time coming.

After more than a year, my good friends Edie Jarolim, Norma Gentry, Karyn Zoldan and I got together for a celebratory dinner. We celebrated Karyn’s birthday but it was much more than that. We celebrated out friendship which has endured through the pandemic but not face-to-face.

Karyn chose 47 Scott. I was surprised by the choice, I thought she’d pick one of the newer places. But 47 Scott ended up being the perfect place. I’ve always enjoyed the tiny, downtown bistro. The menu is smart and well-balanced. There’s nothing fancy about the food, but it’s always carefully prepared and artfully presented.

Cocktails rule, in part because of Scott & Co, the sister bar next door. I opted for wine, as did Karyn but the drinks Edie and Norma had looked great.

We began with two apps: the salmon carpaccio and the goat cheese croquettes. The carpaccio was a generous portion of brightly colored salmon accompanied by beets, orange segments, capers and a garlicky crème fraiche. Thin toast points made it easy to pile on the fish and a schmear of the crème fraiche. A perfect starter for a Spring evening.

There were only three of the croquettes, but we all managed to have our fair share. Laced with herbs and almonds and a slight crunchy coating all spread nicely on the toast points. We all ignored the sweet and spicy sauce on the side. For me, it was too spicy and unnecessary.

The market fish of the evening was cabrilla and that’s what Karyn ordered. This was a huge portion complete with a head. The fish had been crisped to fork tenderness and topped with a sauce rich with fresh vegetables. I had a bite. This is how fish should be cooked.

I didn’t get to taste Edie’s ahi tuna salad or Norma’s linguini, but they raved about each dish. The salad had a huge amount of lightly seared tuna lain across the top. With the olives, Yukon potatoes, haricot verts, egg and heirloom tomatoes, it was a nice take on a Salade Niçoise.

Norma asked that her linguini and chicken be made without tomatoes and the kitchen was happy to do so. The sauce of pesto cream, parmesan and asparagus didn’t seem to suffer from the omission if her reaction meant anything. There wasn’t a drop left behind.

My grilled scallops and shrimp were just what I wanted. Served on a bed of wild mushroom risotto laced with tomato sauce, pancetta, asparagus and topped with shaved fennel and green apple the dish was a wonderful balance of savory and sweet, creamy and crunchy. I had planned on taking some home, but alas I ate every last bite.

Sadly, I didn’t get a pic of the bread pudding. This was a classic version with hints of apple and cinnamon. The ice cream was icy cold and proved the perfect balance.

We sat on the back patio and they tucked us in the corner away from other tables. This allowed us a feeling of privacy and conversation flowed. But the again, this group of women always has plenty to say. A little culinary gossip, sharing of our last year, lots of laughter…a perfect reunion with some of my most favorite people.

Glad to be back ladies. See you soon.