Tucson’s Best New Restaurant

The Coronet in Tucson

I don’t come to Tucson to eat rustic European cuisine at a brasserie style restaurant. It somewhat shocks me that there is such a place here, and that it’s popular, and that the food is good AND that the location and restaurant interior are so perfectly on point! But that just proves that my ideas about Tucson cuisine are badly out of date because The Coronet has worked some serious magic and created a cozy bistro that fits in perfectly right at the junction of downtown and 4th Ave.

The Coronet in Tucson

The Coronado Hotel building dates back to 1928. Chef owners Sally Kane and Gregor Kretschmann took over the restaurant space in 2013 and opened The Coronet last year. The original windows are gorgeous and the rest of the interior blends Mission tile floors, Victorian stained glass and furnishings collected from all manner of far-flung places on Craigslist. This eclectic blend of European influences inside an old adobe building brings the Spanish style of Old Tucson into the funky setting of 4th ave. and makes it all work. Sally Kane said she wanted to create a café like you would find in any major city and she’s succeeded well because The Coronet feels true to the desert spirit but the food is definitely 21st century.

The Coronet in Tucson My friend Eric and I had cocktails and we tried the sardines, the pate and the cheese plate. All the food was beautifully presented, the cocktails weren’t too sweet or too pretentious and our server was both knowledgeable and attentive, sometimes a rare combination in Tucson. Of all the food, I least loved the pate de campagne, which I expected to be mostly meat but instead had layers of vegetables and seemed more like a terrine. But that was a fault of expectations I think, and not the actual dish.

The Coronet is completely delightful. It looks good, it feels good and it tastes good. Tucson food lovers, this is the place you’ve been waiting for. I hope you get a lot more like it.

Route 66 through Arizona

Route 66 through AZ Yes, I’m accumulating a collection of street signs taken by the side of empty roads. Let’s say it’s on purpose. Route 66 Everyone who road trips thinks about Route 66. The Mother Road, famous for it’s cross country sprawl from Chicago to Los Angeles and equally famous for the touristy kitchy statuary and paraphernalia that sprang up to attract tourists to stop for gas and hamburgers. Now Route 66 has been absorbed by many cross country highways – like highway 40 in Arizona – but some of the kitsch still lives. Here’s what I saw between Kingman and just past Flagstaff.

Old roadside relics just barely maintained Route 66 Twin Arrows I think these twin arrows used to be part of a gas station. Now Twin Arrows is the name of a nearby casino and these arrows are behind a concrete embankment just hanging out.

Gregg Arnold added to the roadside memorabilia with this sculpture he calls Giganticus Headicus, an Easter Island head far from home.

Kbarrett Giganticus Headicus

Hackberry General Store.

Hackberry General Store

A quasi museum/gift shop of Route 66 memorabilia along with vintage gas pumps, Burma shave signs, and old red corvette and many photo ops. Bikers like to drive up here and hang out on the picnic benches, adding their own picturesque quality to the scene.

Williams

The entire town of Williams is a tribute to Route 66 with a historic main street packed with gift shops and 50s style diners. I ate at Cruisers 66, a restaurant attached to the Grand Canyon Brewing Company.

Cruisers 66

I had a stout, cuz i’m on a stout kick at the moment, and a salad that wasn’t really picture worthy. I thought the beer was decent but nothing to write home (or here) about and the whole restaurant is the kind of place you eat when you’re determinedly doing the Route 66 thing, which I was.  If you want good food you probably want to go elsewhere in town. I hear Cafe 326 is good.

2 Guns Arizona was my sad Route 66 finale

Two Guns AZ

I think it was once a tiny thriving settlement of a gas station, a store and an inn called Kamp (only slightly kreepy) but now it’s a bonafide ghost town

Two Guns AZ

Full of graffiti and just enough of a weird vibe to keep me checking over my shoulder as I took pictures while the car was still running. I hope that Route 66 kept this little place alive for awhile but it’s definitely wreckage now. And probably won’t even be that for much longer as the desert and the sun take their toll.

I don’t know, ya’ll. I love the romantic idea of Route 66, all those bright shiny cheeked parents and kids seeing the USA in their Chevrolets. And I love the genuine old relics like Twin Arrows and the new ones in the same spirit like Giganticus Headicus. But the museums and the 50s diners and the endless gift shops? Those can go anytime.

I say bring back the spirit of Route 66 by bringing back the American Road Trip. Create new kitschy roadside stuff to give drivers an excuse to stop and take pictures. Let’s all get in our cars and see the USA in our Nissans and Hyundais.

It’s pretty cool out there.

Route 66 Betty Boop

Roadside Attractions in Northern AZ

My favorite road trip website of all time is Roadside America, which likely started with a couple of guys driving down Route 66 taking pictures of whales and teepees, visiting folk artists in their mad castles  and wondering why there are so many Paul Bunyon statues in America.

I totally made that history up but it seems completely reasonable.

I do know that Roadside America is now a repository for the picturesque and bizarre including Muffler Men locations, UFO museums and the world’s tiniest churches. And it’s all crowd sourced. If you see something weird you can take a picture of it, email them and they’ll post it on their site. There’s SO MUCH on that website that no matter where you are in America, I guarantee there’s something strange very near you.

On my epic road trip in 2011 I created most of my daily routes by visiting at least one Roadside America attraction and then trying to find a Bikram yoga studio. Believe me, that’s a full day of research right there.

Since all I’ve done today is drive, I present you with some interesting tidbits I’ve seen from the road over the last couple of days:

Roadside shrine in Miami AZ

The roadside shrine, a common sight in the Southwest, but this one is particularly large, lovely and well kept. It’s right outside Miami AZ and full of pictures of people who aren’t with us any more. I hope they’re now being looked after by mother Mary.

Top of the World Trading Post

Top-of-the-World is an actual settlement in Arizona with a couple hundred people living in a 6 mile area. First, I love the name and second I love that this trading post sells tires and fresh brewed coffee. Sadly it wasn’t open when I came by or I might have gotten some coffee.

However, there’s trouble in paradise because planned expansion of the highway could further divide Top of the World

Save Top of the World

I don’t completely understand the situation but it seems dire and there were lots of signs. I wish them well and I hope the trading post is open the next time I’m on highway 60.

Shoe Tree on Highway 188

If you looked at that picture and said to yourself, “what in the world…” then perhaps (like me) you need to turn your car around, drive back and get out so you can get closer.

Shoe Tree on highway 188

That’s a tree with a lot of shoes in it. And a flamingo. My friend Jason thinks this is the result of a “Wizard of Oz style tornado,” which is as good a guess as any.

Personally, I’m confounded by the flamingo. Did someone have a plastic lawn ornament in their car and then they were all “hey there’s a tree full of shoes and we have this flamingo…”? There’s no explanation so feel free to make up your own. There are a lot of shoe trees in America but this one is not documented on Roadside America so I just might send it in.

Sedona

I did blaze through Sedona on my way north and it was predictably stunning with all that red rock and greenery.

But frankly, I’m more intrigued by the shoe tree :)

Nevada tomorrow.

Visiting the Boyce Thompson Arboretum

If you’re going to visit the Southwest you want to come in the spring and if you’re in northern Arizona, you want to stop at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum off of Highway 60.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

It’s so pretty in all the ways you expect in the Southwest

Cactus Garden

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

And then it’s spring so everything’s blooming

Dwarf Bottlebrush

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Even the cactus

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

The arboretum is beautifully landscaped with a little lake

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Wooden lookouts over the canyons

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

And shaded walking trails

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

The nature walk is 1.5 miles long, with a bunch of trail offshoots

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

I even learned a few things about iPhone photography by taking about 100 bad pictures of this flower before I figured out how to make it focus.

Dwarf Pomegranate

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

I mean… that seems appropriate :)

I had a really pleasant afternoon at this arboretum. If you’re near Superior AZ, check it out!

Goodbye to New Mexico

jen and katie

Jen and I have been friends for 25 years. Considering this sampling of pictures from our past, we’ve decided we look better with age :)

We’ve seen each other through a lot of change in the past decades. These kiddos are some of favorite additions

 

Ruby

Ruby and Kaitlyn

I love this little fashionista with her long legs and her pink fascinator

kate marie

kate marie

And this tiny terror with her pigtails and sunglasses.

I’m so glad I got to hang out for a week and be a part of the Silver City White family. Much love to Jen, Shawn, Ruby and Kate Marie. Thanks for the gardening, potato salad, visits to the chemistry lab, political debates and yoga sessions. I can’t wait to come back!

State road 78

Now I’m back on the road, headed to AZ for a brief stop with my brother

The old west highway

Arizona tomorrow

 

New Restaurants in Tucson

Tucson street art

Tucson has a somewhat conflicted food culture. The overall vibe of the city is casual and some of its best food can be found in open air taco stands. However, there’s a growing group of Tucsonians who want to dress up and go out for dinner and cocktails. Every time I come back to town I find new upscale, urban restaurants with long wait times and unusual food choices.

Here are the four new restaurants I tried this visit:

Nook Downtown

Far and away my favorite of the four, Nook is a downtown Tucson’s newest breakfast/lunch place. With wooden tables and flooring, brick walls, padded chairs and a light open airy feel, Nook follows the latest restaurant design trend of stylish comfort. Like you’re at home but it’s way better looking.

Godfather benedict

I had the Godfather Benedict, one of Nook’s signature dishes, with arugula, prosciutto and poached eggs topped with hollandaise sauce and a balsamic reduction. Everything about this dish was perfectly on point. The proscuitto was thinly shaved and slightly fatty, the arugula had a nice peppery bite and this hollandaise might have been the best I’ve ever had. I fear thick clunky hollandaise sauces and so I rarely order benedict but this sauce was thin and creamy with a lemony kick to it. I wanted to lick the plate. Nook is Matt and Nikki Thompson’s first restaurant and I think they’ve knocked it out of the park. I hope Nook gets lots of love and attention so it’s going strong the next time I’m in town.

Oink Cafe

The unfortunately named Oink Cafe is another new breakfast place in town. That picture above pretty much says it all: bacon. Lots and lots of bacon. Pig is the trendy animal of choice in the 2000s and while it’s hard to argue with crispy fatty luscious bacon strips, I don’t know that Oink is doing anything new with the pig. The flight of bacon, above, had 8 different preparations, largely indistinguishable from each other.  I think your average breakfast diner would rate them as “good, slightly spicy, good, maybe sweet?, good, good, smoky?, good.” The rest of the food we had was also good but nothing I’d return to eat. I’d rate this place as solidly average with lots of bacon.

Jackson Tavern

Given that I just spent a week in Maine, i was amused to hear that one of Tucson’s newest restaurants serves New England style seafood. Jackson Tavern is Brian Metzger’s newest restaurant (also Poppy Kitchen and Gio Taco). The polished wood tables and open design of the restaurant bring a casual neighborhood feel to the dining room and the U-shaped bar in the next room definitely looks like the northeast. Of course there are pictures of lighthouses, since I can’t get away from them even in the desert. Design aside, I think the seafood concept is such an unusual choice for the southwest. Who comes to the desert looking for clam strips? But I think this restaurant is a perfect example of the growing food culture in Tucson and underlines the desire to move beyond all the usual food options in town.

IMG_1747

I had the clam strips, which were surprisingly tender albeit with quite a lot of breading. We also had deviled eggs that were ok and my friend Chris had the mac and cheese, which he said was really delicious. I think Jackson Tavern is a unique offering for Tucson. It might be a hard sell in a place so far from water but for people who want good seafood in the desert, they won’t be disappointed here.

Reforma Cocina y Cantina

Reforma Cocina y Cantina is going to do really well in Tucson because the St Phillips Plaza area is known for good dining, these owners also run the very popular Union Public House next door and the restaurant itself is lovely. Designed like a Spanish style adobe hacienda with white lights outside and a dazzling full wall display of agave spirits inside, this is exactly the kind of location the Tucson dinner crowd wants.

I wish the food were better. The best things we had were side dishes: the arroz oaxaqueno with poblano chilies and queso fresco was flavorful, spicy and delicious and the esquites, charred corn with chipotle lime crema, tasted exactly like the grilled street corn slathered with crema and cotija sold in Mexico. However, my shrimp tacos had overcooked shrimp and a lack of flavor – though the hand made tortillas were good – and the chili en nogada with poblano chili and vegetarian chorizo had way too much dried fruit and the strangest mealy consistency. Even the tortilla chips in the picture above were slightly tough and the salsa lacked salt and heat. Given Tucson’s well deserved reputation for excellent authentic Mexican food, Reforma’s food was disappointing.

However, like I said, the food isn’t the point here. We had a hard time getting a reservation on a Saturday night so it’s certainly popular and the restaurant has a nice vibe and it’s beautiful.

I’m happy to see another excellent breakfast restaurant in Tucson just as I’m happy to see Tucson’s food culture grow.  I hope that the burgeoning interest in dining out will actually develop Tucson’s food scene into a place where the beautiful restaurant spaces have food equal to the surroundings.

Yoga Vida Tucson

Yoga Vida Tucson

It’s strange to come back to Tucson because I have a lot of history here. I moved here in the mid 90’s on a whim and stayed for a decade, which was slightly longer than was good for me. In hindsight I only stayed long enough to do everything I needed to do, it just took longer than I thought. By the time I left I practically ran out of town.

Since 2006, I’ve been back to Tucson (usually reluctantly) every year or so to visit my friends and my storage shed. Normally I only stay for a brief few days but for one period of time in 2011, I moved back to Tucson temporarily to write a book and during that time I started going to this yoga studio regularly.

Being on the road all the time, I enjoy the familiarity of Bikram studios all across the nation. I know what I’m getting into and yet I have a different experience in each class. Bonnie and Yoga Vida are directly responsible for my love of yoga studios that teach the Bikram method without the dialogue. I can appreciate the need for dialogue and the emphasis on certain Bikram-specific practices (LOCK YOUR KNEE!)  but there’s a yoga spirit that can be lost in a Bikram class because of the stridency of the speech. What I really enjoy is doing a familiar sequence of poses with instructors that extemporize verbally, correct postures, tell stories and don’t talk about Japanese ham sandwiches. Plus I always come away with something to think about.

In class this weekend Bonnie started by saying “Let’s go into this slow. Work as hard as you want, but let’s start slow.”

That is pretty much the exact opposite of everything I hear in my normal life. Everything around me (including the drill sergeant in my head) says move fast, hit the ground running, catch up, you’re getting left behind. Nothing says “Go slow. Think about the work before you do the work. Easing in is ok…”

She followed this by saying “Let’s pretend we don’t know what these poses look like and focus on what they feel like.” In other words, lifting out of the arch of my foot doesn’t look like much but it feels gigantic. Shifting my gaze from my knee to my navel might not change anything about my posture but it changes everything about my intent. If I’m always depending on some exterior source, like a mirror, for corrections, I won’t ever know what it feels like to do it correctly because sometimes the changes are too small to be seen.

Interestingly, both of these sentiments can be flipped around. Some days are about starting fast, moving more and visually correcting myself. Pushing harder than I want to but getting further than I expect.

The trick is knowing what day it is.