Dining Out

‘Made from scratch’ is rallying cry of Tucson restaurants this autumn

High-quality ingredients, local specialties and seasonal cuisine are on tap for new fall menus in Tucson.

Everything is “fresh, homemade” at Tavolino Ristorante Italiano, says owner and chef Massimo Tenino. “Coming from Italy, I take for granted that every day we bake fresh bread in our pecan wood-burning oven.” Tavolino also grills chicken and other meats on their open-fire rotisserie and prepares fresh pasta daily. “We’re a from-scratch kitchen. I see how much people appreciate that, especially the bread,” he adds, which is made with sea salt and fresh herbs, served with extra-virgin olive oil.

Tavolino’s new fall menu includes a dish made with zucchini and smoked mozzarella cheese, topped by tomato sauce, much like eggplant parmesan, says Tenino. Looking ahead to Thanksgiving week, the restaurant will serve special pumpkin gnocchi with butter and sage, as well as butternut squash soup.

Andreas Andoniadis, co-owner of Opa! Greek Cuisine, told the AJP that everything is made fresh daily at his family-owned

operation. Opa! is “a mama and papa restaurant. My father-in-law is here every morning at 5 a.m.”

After catering many private parties with requests for gluten-free Greek dishes, Opa! will add them to their regular menu. As for all their Greek cuisine, says Andoniadis, “people can feel the difference. Let me put it this way: we care.”

Whether dining on steak or seafood at Sullivan’s Steakhouse, the quality is top-notch, says executive chef Jonny Ricketts, who hails from London. “The first thing that hit me when I came in here was that it reminded me of back home. It was simple. You got a great cut of meat on a plate.” With its fall menu update, Sullivan’s will offer more seafood, flown in fresh from Boston.

Ricketts harks back to the changing food scene in London in the late ’80s: “It had been ugly and stagnant for years. It became more of a melting pot with a blending of French and American cuisine. We don’t need to be so traditional,” he adds. “We don’t need 10 glasses at a place setting. You don’t need to be all dressed up to enjoy good food. Everyone enjoys eating.”

More vegetarian and vegan options, along with considerations for religious dietary restrictions, will be offered on Sullivan’s fall menu. “We’re not just a steakhouse,” says Ricketts. “It’s so unfair to be stuck in a party of eight people at a steakhouse if you don’t eat steak.”

Tucson Originals has more than 50 member restaurants promoting local, independently owned dining choices — from Mother Hubbard’s Cafe to Tavolino to Café 54. The Originals also collaborate on special events. Rocco DiGrazia, president of Tucson Originals and owner of Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizzeria, notes that this year’s Tucson Culinary Festival Margarita Championship will be held at the Tucson Museum of Art on Oct. 26. “We’ve outgrown other venues. There will be more consolidation of space on the museum’s beautiful patio,” he says, adding that “we’re still growing.”

This year, the Originals are splitting up the organization’s culinary festival events, holding them at different times of year and at new locations. The Copper Chef Challenge and Barbecue, which drew 460 people last year, will take place in the spring. “We’re still looking for the right venue,” says DiGrazia.

Lodge on the Desert, another Tucson Original, “is one of the first restaurants in Tucson to roll out a new fall menu,” says executive chef Ryan Clark. “It’s very exciting.”

One of their new dishes is duck breast with roasted heirloom pumpkin risotto. “We’ll have a new fall harvest salad with roasted pumpkin and seeds, goat cheese and confit apple-shallot vin. We’re spicing it up this winter with some new cocktails too,” says Clark. “We’re having a special ‘Halloween Offals + Brews’ tasting dinner on Nov. 1. The dinner will have a spooky theme, with weird real beer labels like Angry

Orchard, Rogue Dead Guy and Freaktoberfest. I got the last two cases of that beer in Arizona.”

Falafel King owner Joe Abi-Ad has been in Tucson for more than 35 years. “My family has been involved in food preparation for the last 800 years” in Lebanon, says Abi-Ad. “Many Mediterranean restaurants have come and gone over the years. I’ve closed and opened new ones myself, but I’m still here, making the same authentic dishes. I don’t modernize them.”

And he adds, “If you’re around Campbell and Fort Lowell at lunchtime, stop by for our $1.99 falafel special. You can’t beat that anywhere.”

Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort boasts a choice of four restaurants, from the Sundance Café to the La Vista Café at the golf club, to casual poolside dining at Desert Spring, to dinner at Epazote Kitchen & Cocktails. Under the direction of executive chef Jan Osipowicz, menu selections represent cultural cooking styles and regional influences of the Southwest, with an emphasis on indigenous ingredients.

The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa runs the gamut of dining opportunities for relaxation and enjoyment of its panoramic views of the Catalina Mountains. Guests may opt for quick and casual family meals, more elegant dining or Sunday brunch. Tucsonans can head to the resort for a power lunch.

For a contemporary dining experience, Westin La Paloma’s AZUL Restaurant prepares small plates influenced by the flavors of the Mediterranean coast: Spain, France, Italy and Greece. The resort also offers organic and sustainably grown choices.

The Flying V Bar and Grill at Loews Ventana Resort will soon roll out its fall menu, which executive chef Josh Willett is now putting together, says Mark Lindsey, director of sales and marketing. “Josh is famous for his ribs, which have a Spanish/Mexican influence. We’re known for our margaritas and guacamole prepared tableside. Buffalo sliders, which were very popular last year,” will return to the fall menu.

“We’re featuring over 60 tequilas,” says Lindsey. “We’ve reopened the fire pits on the patio. It’s gorgeous, overlooking a negative-edge waterfall. It’s the best location in Tucson.”