Category Archives: Arizona

Wish This Tucson Bakery Was In My Barrio

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Don Guerra owns the fabulous Barrio Bread in Tucson, Arizona

I walk into Barrio Bread in central Tucson, Arizona and the tiny place is suffused with the wonderful smell of just-from-the-oven loaves.

“Wow! This looks and smells like a fantastic bakery,” I say to no one in particular.

“No. It’s the greatest bakery in the universe,” a fellow customer corrects me.

Not going to argue with that.

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Customers snapping up the fresh-from-the-oven loaves

It’s actually a little overwhelming, at first, scanning the shelves of artisan bread choices—about a dozen on any given day. On our visit, for example, there’s a Guadalajara-style birote (made with beer malt and lemon), a pan rustico, a khorasan, a rustic nine grain.

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A loaf of Barrio’s signature Heritage bread, complete with saguaro logo

For help, I turn to a guy unwrapping tea towels from risen little loaves waiting to go into the oven. Turns out he’s the owner, Don Guerra, who started the business out of his garage in 2009.

He explains the breads are created with ancient baking techniques and locally grown heritage grains such as organic durum and hard red spring wheat, as well as more exotic einkorn and khorasan wheats. Some are leavened naturally or with a wild yeast culture. The result is exceptional bread with a chewy interior and great crusts.

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Don getting ready to put risen loaves in the oven

We pick up a puffy einkorn loaf for breakfast toast and an apricot-cranberry pain levain for snacking; it disappears before we’ve driven a couple of blocks.

Thank God I don’t live nearby.

Barrio Bread
18 South Eastbourne Avenue, Tucson, Arizona
Tuesday-Friday 9 am-5 pm, Saturday 9 am-2 pm or “until gone”. Closed Sunday and Monday
520-327-1292

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Ranch of Dreams

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At the Crossed J Ranch, in southeast Arizona, you’re surrounded by vast swaths of mountainous grasslands

When I do stay in a motel on a road trip, I tend to pick generic chains that offer reasonable value, even if it costs as much as a couple of days of Marathon Mouth eating and drinking.

So it’s pure pleasure, for a bit more money, to stay at the Crossed J Ranch, just outside Chiricahua National Monument in southeast Arizona. It’s a 10,000-acre working family ranch, raising polled Hereford calves on sustainable pasture.

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The drive, past giant sycamores, to our studio (centre right)

Our cozy little ranch house studio is a base for hiking among Chiricahua’s amazing volcanic rock formations and for discovering Mexican blue jays, swarms of wintering sandhill cranes and foraging, raccoon-like coatimundi. But over a couple of days, the ranch itself becomes a major destination, not just to hang out in but to soak up the surrounding landscape of elevated grasslands, scrub brush, desert cacti and reddish summits.

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The ranch is 140 years old, but our rental studio has all the modern comforts

For one thing, there’s all that quiet, surrounding space, several miles removed from any pavement. The night before, we had stayed in a highway-side Motel 6, where our neighbour’s every cough and Spanish TV melodramas echoed through the paper-thin walls.

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Javelina trotting past our door

On the ranch, the loudest noise is a breeze sighing through sycamore leaves. We are treated to javelinas trotting past our door to a watering tank. And we soak up the morning light warming our front-porch coffee and the vast western sky turning orange and pink over a sunset beer.

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How’s this for a front-porch sunset?

At a motel, your principal and likely only interaction with management is during the lengthy sign-in procedure and bestowal of room card keys and Wi-Fi passwords. At the Crossed J, owners Jim and Janna Riggs come by to welcome us and point out native artifacts that Jim’s father unearthed many decades ago. The next morning, their young grandson, Nathan, cycles over with a friend to introduce himself and show off a vintage truck his father used to drive.

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Ranch patriarch Jim Riggs

Our second, and last, morning, we dally over breakfast, last viewings of displayed fossils and farewells to family members heading out to check distant pastures. We don’t want to leave.

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Grandson Nathan (left) and his friend Mark

Crossed J Ranch (VRBO)
Just outside Chiricahua National Monument in southeast Arizona, about 30 minutes southeast of Willcox

Pictures From a November Road Trip to Southeast Arizona

 

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November is a perfect time for hiking in Tucson

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Hoar-frosted lines on the long, glorious drive down the I-15 in Montana

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Never too soon to promote Christmas: Willard Bay State Park north of Salt Lake City

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Sandwiches for three at Grove Market in Salt Lake City

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Trendy Welcome Diner in Tucson, Arizona

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Feathery cacti at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

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Wild turkeys in southeast Arizona

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Hole in the U.S.-Mexico fence near Montezuma Pass in southeast Arizona

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Sign in Bisbee, Arizona around mid-term elections

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Wintering sandhill cranes at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, northeast of Bisbee, Arizona

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Majestic Gadsen Hotel in the border town of Douglas, Arizona

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Superb, eroded volcanic rock pinnacles in Chiricahua National Monument in southeast Arizona

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My first sighting of a coatimundi in Chiricahua National Monument: Three feet from the car window; never paid attention

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Razor-wire fence surrounding U.S. Border Patrol compound, near Willcox, Arizona

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Can’t visit Tucson without a trip to Ruiz’s for a Sonoran hot dog

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Early-morning red rock driving near Page, Arizona

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Power plant near Page, Arizona at dawn

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“Can I park your yacht for you, sir?”

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The Maverick gas station experience in Fillmore, Utah

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Swans along Highway 91 in southern Idaho

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Hoar frost above hot spring along Highway 91

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The incomparable Carmen making fresh tacos in Hamer, Idaho

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Dead great horned owl at a rest stop along the I-15 in central Montana

Tucson’s Best Coffee

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Tucson’s Presta Roasters has one of the nicest entrances to a coffee shop I’ve ever seen

Now, this is what I call dedication. As I’m sipping a sumptuous Americano at Yellow Brick Coffee, in a Tucson industrial area, co-owner David Perreira is carefully tending a machine that roasts just five pounds of beans at a time.

This, folks, is not mass production. It takes a lot of roasting sessions to yield the 150-250 pounds of beans a week that goes to discerning Tucson restaurants, brew pubs, subscribers and dedicated folks willing to venture to this out-of-the-way location.

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David Perreira tends his tiny roaster at Yellow Brick Coffee

David and sister Anna are sufficiently passionate about tracing the source of their single-origin beans that they often visit growers in far-flung places such as Kenya. It’s all part of the process of wooing discerning customers, five pounds at a time.

Yellow Brick Coffee
3220 South Dodge Boulevard, #1, Tucson
Weekdays 7 am-2 pm. Closed weekends
520-226-4068

Presta Coffee Roasters, in central Tucson, is my definition of what a cool, elegant coffee shop should be.

The first impression is the sleek, streamlined design: a slat-covered, dappled-sun walkway leading to a reflective, glass-walled entrance. Inside, a John Prine duet is playing on the eclectic soundtrack, while a William Wegman photo book, of his dressed-up Weimaraner dogs, rests on a Danish coffee table. Racing bikes are mounted high on a wall, reflecting owner Curtis Zimmerman’s former life as a professional cyclist; a “presta” is a high-pressure valve on road bikes.

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Racing bikes on the wall at Presta Coffee Roasters

And the coffee. An achingly slow cold-brew drips into a large bottle. A Chemex carafe fills, a pour-over drains. My Americano half fills a desert-coloured stoneware mug. Nothing is hurried.

Like the other patrons, quietly sipping their drinks while immersed in a book or screen, I melt into my seat, not wanting to leave.

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Fresh-roasted coffee to go

Presta Coffee
2502 North 1 Avenue, Suite 100 (one other Tucson location)
Tuesday to Sunday 8 am-4 pm. Closed Monday
520-333-7146

Build it Right and They Will Find You

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Roma Imports is out in the middle-of-nowhere industrial Tucson

One of the unexpected pleasures of getting to obscure food and drink establishments is driving through interesting neighbourhoods you’d otherwise never discover.

Of course, heading into the boondocks means occasionally getting lost or turned around. And in every new city I explore for great, cheap eats, there’ are at least a couple of times I mutter, “This café can’t possibly be located on this residential/industrial street.” Until suddenly, there it is.

Such thoughts come to mind as we’re trying to find Roma Imports, an Italian deli and grocery southeast of downtown Tucson. We’re driving around an industrial district, with no sign of any place selling food. Just as I’m thinking we’re lost, thar it be, all by its culinary lonesome.

This is definitely the right place, judging by the line of cars out front and the stream of customers emerging with plastic bags of takeout. This impression is confirmed as soon as we enter the front door.

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The deli looks small until you keep walking back and back

The building is narrow but goes on forever. On the right are coolers filled with fresh Italian meats and cheeses and scads of interesting appetizers (roasted garlic, prosciutto-stuffed figs, balls of fresh mozzarella, cauliflower fritters). The long left flank is jammed with frozen takeout items: lasagna, tiramisu, curries, cookies, saag paneer.

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Italian deli sandwiches don’t get better or cheaper than this

Way at the back are tables, where we tuck into hefty Italian sandwiches ($8), featuring plentiful meats and cheeses stuffed into crusty slabs of baguette. There’s enough for two meals here. We then load up on sufficient marinated goodies for a light supper of appetizers.

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Roma has scads of interesting, unusual deli items

As we head out, I ask our server how long Roma has been in this out-of-the-way location. “About 18 years,” she says. So, if you build the best Italian deli in Tucson, people will find you, even if, like me, they’re not sure where they’re going.

Roma Imports 
627 South Vine Avenue, Tucson, Arizona
Monday to Thursday 9 am-6 pm, Friday-Saturday 9 am-8 pm. Closed Sunday

How About Duck Confit and Cabernet Cherries for Breakfast?

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Prep & Pastry is a bright Tucson breakfast joint with some eclectic dishes

“What’s your signature breakfast dish?” I ask the waitress at Prep & Pastry, a joint with a varied menu in central Tucson.

Without pausing, she replies: “The duck confit skillet. It’s what everyone comes for and writes about on Yelp and TripAdvisor.”

Sold.

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Now here’s something unique at breakfast: duck confit with Cabernet-braised cherries

The $12.75 dish certainly stands out from the same-old breakfast standards. When have you heard of ingredients like Cabernet-braised cherries and goat cheese mousse… at any time of the day, let alone seven in the morning? The standouts, though, are the slightly salty, shredded duck, excellent roasted fingerling potatoes and a couple of over-easy eggs. As a bonus, it’s served in a cast-iron skillet.

Prep & Pastry
3073 North Campbell Avenue (one other Tucson location)
Weekdays 7 am-3 pm, weekend brunch 7 am-3 pm