Jonathan Gold and Me

When I first met Jonathan Gold years back I was a fledgling food writer who had been invited to Los Angeles to participate in a very cool event.

Jon Rowley had read one of my early articles in the Weekly about oysters and contacted me to tell me how much he liked it. After several email exchanges he invited me to his annual, Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition. Rowley, a highly respected writer and food expert, created the event to help find the best wines that paired with wines. The oysters were provided by Taylor Shellfish Farms. The wines were mainly whites from wineries along the West Coast.

Without going into much detail, the event involved thirty or so culinary experts, about a dozen wineries and an unbelievable number of oyster slurping in three cities – Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle.

Rowley flew me into LA. Needless to say I was in deep water but he trusted me so I soon felt comfortable.

Jonathan Gold was one of the other judges as was Russ Parsons and Mary Sue Milliken.

The tasting went well but it wasn’t until afterword that I got to meet Gold (meet is a relative term here, it was more like sitting down with all the judges and listening to Gold and others chat about food and wine.)

Gold stood out, as he always seemed to, with his flowing hair, large frame and rumpled clothes. I can’t remember a word he said but I still see him sitting at the head of the table the center of everyone’s attention.

The lunch didn’t last long and everyone went their separate ways but that day is etched indelibly in my mind as an opportunity to dine with the stars. I had fun and I learned much about my craft.

Years later when I watched the movie, ‘City of Gold’, I thought about that day. I wished I’d been less intimidated, a little chattier. By then I was more firmly established in my career, so I had a greater appreciation for food, food writing and food writers.

The contest is no longer held as Rowley died a couple years back, but I will always treasure that day as one of my ‘Gold’en days of my career.

I raise a glass of wine and a couple of oysters to you, Jonathan Gold, for all you did for food writing. You helped expand the creative process. You taught us that humble foods have great worth. You changed food writing forever.

Hail and farewell Jonathan Gold!

Road Trippin’

As promised last week, I will be writing about fun foodie things to do in Tucson this summer.

This is a little late, since Kingfisher is on the third leg of their annual tour of the United States and will soon take off to other parts of the country both literally and figuratively.

But you still have time to pack your bags and head on over to the Best Seafood Restaurant in Tucson.

Murph, Jeff, Marianne and crew are stirring up the pots, sizzling up griddle and turning out fab food (ad of course, a fun time.)

 June 19 – June 30, California-Hawaii

Summer Break, re-open July 19 @ 5pm

July 19 – August 1, Great Plains – Midwest 

August 2 – August 15, Back East 

August 16 – September 2, Down South

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Another Summer Treat

Summer in Tucson is filled with exciting options for great dining.

This is part one of a very short series of foodie things to do in The Old Pueblo Summer 2018.

Maynard’s Market & Kitchen just rolled out a summer menu with a serious nod to eating local. Many of the ingredients come directly from the garden/grove that sits just off the patio. Others come from nearby farms and ranches. Executive Chef Brian Smith has developed an interesting nu full of flavors, colors and fun. I was fortunate to get a sample of the menu at a media dinner.

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Maynard’s also has a great cocktail program and currently is working with Three Wells Distilling to develop an exclusive gin made from herbs growing in the garden combined with Mt. Lemmon juniper.

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The wines too include the Maynard’s Private Label with both reds and whites.

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Chef Smith and the team at Maynard’s have plans to expand their use of local sources. Currently they figure they are at about 60%; plans aim at 90%.

The new starters include:

Wheat Berry Salad

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Strawberry Beet Salad

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Sweet Corn Bisque

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New entrees are:

Seared Duck

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Hanger Steak

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Sweet Pea Risotto

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Roast chicken

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Plus, Chef Smith is going to compete in the Iron Chef Tucson event at Casino del Sol on June 23rd. He’ll compete against reigning champ, Travis Peters of The Parish.

It’s Summer at Sauce

Summer isn’t quite officially here in spite of the 100 degree temperatures and Sauce Pizza & Wine has a summer deal that will keep us all cool.

Now through the end of August, Sauce’s Summer Sampler offers one 12-inch pizza, one salad and two glasses of wine for a mere $22. At that price you’ve got yourself a nice inexpensive date or a pleasant solo dinner.

Pizza choices are limited to those at $11 or under but that includes the savory Portobello and artichoke pie or the chicken pesto pie. Salads  (under $9) have several tasty options as well; the turkey feta salad is almost a meal in itself.

Pop on on over to your neatest Sauce and enjoy one of the many treats that make summer in Tucson ‘hot!’Sauce Summer Sampler 2018-5-X2

ZinBurger Celebrates America’s Favorite Food

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May is National Hamburger Month so ZinBurger invited me to sample their new updated menu.

I must be honest here, we are semi-regulars at ZinBurger and have long enjoyed the place. The burgers are spot on, the wine list is varied and reasonable and the vibe is upbeat and fun.

When we arrived, the place was packed with families and large groups of people, small groups of people and couples of assorted ages and genders.

Like most regulars at places we tend to order the same items over and over but in the spirit of the new menu our burgers consisted of the Waygu Burger, an enormous patty of juicy beef topped any way you want.

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We also had the Double All-American Diner Cheeseburger, a messy but most tasty version of the classic.

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We also ordered the Double-Truffle Fries and the Onion Rings, both have been on the Zin’s menu from Day One.

Our dessert was the Chocolate Cream Pie. The photo is of after we packed the pie up to take home.

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Other new items on the menu include the Seared Salmon Salad, which is tossed with roasted zucchini, shaved vegetables, avocado, romaine, sunflower seeds, and lemon mustard vinaigrette and the California Burger Bowl, made with avocado, griddled sweet potato, roasted mushrooms, caramelized onion, zucchini and tamari.

We also sipped on one of the new cocktails the Long Tall Lemonade with vodka, lemon, smashed blackberries and elderflower. This could become my drink of the summer. It’s tart and refreshing and went down way too easy.

Another point worth mentioning is Happy Hour at Zinburger. Every day from 3pm-6pm, they serve Ziniburgers for a mere $5.00. Sides are $3. (not all burgers and sides are available, but the choices do include a sloppy joy which is not available on the regular menu.) Add the perk that all wines and draught beers are half-price and well-drinks $4 and a list of $6 cocktails and you can eat, drink and be merry for mere pocket change.

Check the new menu out at your neighborhood ZinBurger.

Kingfisher – A Tucson Treasure

Tomorrow night I will have the pleasure to dine at one of my most favorite Tucson restaurants: Kingfisher.

This year Kingfisher celebrates its 25th Anniversary. Congratulations, Good Wishes and thank you for the many wonderful meals I’ve had thanks to the fab team.

What follows is from my book, “Historic Restaurants of Tucson“:

Kingfisher– 1993

One of the greatest compliments a restaurant can get is when other restaurant people eat there. Kingfisher is just such a restaurant. In interviews, when local chefs are asked to name their favorite restaurants, Kingfisher comes up again and again and again. But the midtown restaurant is also popular with the regular diners, as evidenced by being named the ‘Best’ seafood restaurant in all major Tucson publications.

Jim “Murph” Murphy, Jeff Azersky, Tim Ivankovich and John Burke had worked together in various combinations at other places in Tucson. So, when they opened Kingfisher in 1993, they had a built-in crowd that followed, but they also attracted a larger audience who loved the casual atmosphere and the delicious American fare.

Murph had learned the ropes of seafood at Jerome’s and Azersky was a transplant from the South Shore of Massachusetts so there was plenty of knowledge and experience in that area. Ivankovich and Burke had years of experience in the front of the house. But the team knew they needed more than just great seafood.

Marianne Banes was the perfect choice. Banes had a stellar culinary resume and was hired to create desserts. Kingfisher introduced Tucson’s first late night menu. They lightened up the dining room. (In its previous incarnation, the building had been home to The Iron Mask which had the look of an old English tavern.) The bar, though, retained much of the same look including the original Iron Mask bar chairs. Murph talked about how when they moved a heavy refrigerator from the kitchen to behind the bar all went well until they had to lift the item over the bar. Somehow, the mission was accomplished, but it hasn’t move since.

In 1999, Burke left to open Fiorito’s, an Italian eatery nearby but the friends continued. In 2005, they opened Bluefin Seafood Bistro on the northwest side. That restaurant closed in 2015.

In 2012, Ivankovich died unexpectedly at the age of 54. The team felt the loss deeply, but they moved forward always with their friend in mind.

Aided by a team that has been with them for years, Murph and Azersky take turns in the kitchen and in the front of the house. On any given night, the dining room is full to capacity and people stand three-deep at the bar.

The regular menu always contains a choice of oysters from every coast and other fresh seafood options. Annual festivities include an Oysterfest, Fat Tuesday celebration and a summer-long Road Trip around America.

Murph credits the longevity to attention to detail. Tucsonans credit the longevity to a fine place to relax over great seafood, a couple of cocktails or a glass of wine from the American-centric wine list.oystersstoryville

Series 19 -A New and Very Sexy Addition to Downtown

A few years back in a tiny hard-to-find spot on Tucson’s Southside, two creative and thirsty guys joined forces and opened a distillery dedicated to making fine spirits using local ingredients.

Matt Montgomery and Chris Dudding opened Three Wells Distilling Company with the hopes of producing quality gin and agave spirits. Montgomery was trained as a distiller and Dudding was a chemist and together they had the knowledge and the passion to make a go of it. They also had a great source of water from the three wells on Montgomery’s property in Sahuarita and a secret source of juniper from Mount Lemmon.

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The result was Mt. Lemmon Gin that was so good that people who scorned gin soon became lovers of the shimmering liquid.

This was followed by a full menu of agave-based liquors that have been won legions of fans. More recently they’ve added vodka and bourbon to their cupboard.

This week Montgomery and Dudding opened a tasting room in Downtown Tucson called Series 19 after a section in the state liquor laws that allows distillers and wine makers to run places featuring their products.Three Wells Vodka

They’ve kicked the concept up a notch or two by featuring spirits made all over Arizona. There isn’t anything like in Tucson and maybe not even in the state.

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Series 19 is a smart looking space, tiny but spacious thanks to the high ceilings and golden tones on the walls. The bar itself has a beautiful display of all the liquors available. Seating is plentiful. The most amazing part of the space is that Montgomery, a professional carpenter, did all the work himself.

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There is a smart cocktail list that uses fresh ingredients like mint and mangos.

The vibe is very adult and sexy.

On the website and business cards is a phrase, “Be proud of your Spirits.”

Montgomery and Dudding have plenty to be proud of and with this new venture they can do a little bragging.