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Corn and Chocolate at 95 Proof

Just days after releasing its first whiskey, Tucson’s newest distillery is already making news. I guess that’s what happens when you bottle fermented blue corn and chocolate, at 95 proof!

In my Inside Tucson Business column this week, I caught up with the two people behind this spirituous story who call their business Town Under Black.

Check out my story here and let me know your thoughts!


Where Love Lives

There was great wisdom in the prescription by Greek physician Hippocrates when he said, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” Though he spoke these words thousands of years ago, their relevance remains at the newest restaurant to come from the Flores Concepts family, Charrovida.

I sat down with Ray Flores, the Chief of the Charrosphere himself, at a pre-open dinner last night. And just seconds into his story about this new concept, it was clear to me what he and his team were collectively embracing.

This is a place where love lives.

This love story weaves its way from the spirit of Salamanca, Spain, where family and cultural traditions were forged by Old Spain’s proud charros, to the soul of Sonora, Mexico, where inspiration was drawn from the blessings of the land. Food was life. Food was love. And food was the connection to health.

You might say that Charrovida’s thoughtful menu is a modern-day prelude to this love story. Its Food Por Vida (Food for Life) promise allows us the opportunity to love on ourselves, and our families and friends, just a little bit more. The chapters of this story highlight the benefits of plant-based eating, the ideal and sustainable proteins and their intentional preparations, the natural fats that our hearts crave, the most suitable of sweeteners, and other examples of foods that maximize the body’s inherent potential for self-healing.

The chapters of this love story are conveniently organized by category, including:

Viva Vegetales tapas (try the chile-charred cauliflower al pastor with grilled pineapple)

Comerjuntos for sharing (try the tableside avocado hummus with plantain tostones)

Bowls y Mas (try the frida salad with arugula, watermelon, and quesa frida)

Entrees (try the salmon de la costa with charred Brussels, hummus, pepitas, and chimichurri)  

Dulces y Cafe (try the yes we did with vegan and gluten-free chocolate chip, peanut butter, and sugar cookies with ice cold almond milk)

Joining this loving lineup are a host of side dishes, organic and biodynamic wines, beers, cocktails, and a colorful array of alcohol-free refrescos.

You can take great comfort knowing that a group hug awaits you at the place where love lives.

Located in Casas Adobes Plaza on Ina and Oracle Roads, Charrovida opens its doors to the public today and will serve guests daily from 10:00 am – 9:00 pm.

Viva Vida!


Palate Preparations for National Bubbly Day

National Bubbly Day is the first Saturday in June!

In my Inside Tucson Business column this week, I sat down with two of Tucson’s sparkling celebrities who had much to say about bubbly and the myth that you need a special celebration to pop the cork.

Check out my story here and let me know your thoughts!


Iron Chef 2019

It’s a culinary competition of epic magnitude.

While reigning Iron Chef of Tucson Brian Smith of Maynard’s Market & Kitchen is preparing to defend his title at the 2019 Iron Chef battle on June 29, a slate of challengers hoping to unseat him is taking shape in preparation for the qualifying round that will take place on May 19 at Casino Del Sol.

This Meet the Chefs event is open to the public, and for just $10 you can meet the challengers and taste their dishes, each of which will be blind-judged by a panel of experts who will reveal their top three finalists. These finalists will advance to a public vote over the following few weeks, and the winner will share the Iron Chef Kitchen Stage with Brian Smith in a battle for this year’s belt. Oh, and I’ll be pleased to return as Iron Chef commentator for the big night, providing play-by-play during a pretty intense 60 minutes!

The challengers include:

Chef Adam Puckle of The Cafe in Sonoita
Chef Robert Ramos of R & R Family Kitchen & BBQ
Chef Mary Steiger of Gourmet Girls Gluten Free Bakery/Bistro
Chef Kenneth Foy of Dante’s Fire
Chef Wendy Gauthier of Chef Chic
Chef Javier Martinez of The Glowbal
Chef Kyle Nottingham of Prep and Pastry/Commoner & Co
Chef Alan Lambert of DoubleTree by Hilton Tucson at Reid Park

Attend Meet the Chefs on May 19, support our local culinary community, and get ready to lock in your votes in the countdown to Iron Chef Tucson 2019!


Loews Grows

Introducing Arizona’s first resort-based indoor hydroponic lettuce garden!

In my Inside Tucson Business column this week, I sat down with Chef Ken Harvey of Loews Ventana Canyon whose nearly pathological commitment to the principle of sustainability is driving his latest project.

Check out my story here and let me know your thoughts!


Of Booze, Bugs, and one Spirituous Storyteller

Alex Zepeda, one of HUB’s Storytellers-In-Chief

I cleared my calendar when I was invited to a private cocktail tasting at HUB for local food and beverage journalists.

But for me, this abrupt schedule sweep wasn’t just about my occupying a coveted seat at a hot downtown bar and restaurant to witness the revelation of a new cocktail menu. It was as much about my private audience with Alex Zepeda, HUB’s general manager, whose work behind the bar over the years has always been anchored by the concept of story. Since story makes us in the media smile, I eagerly accepted the invitation and soon found myself on a bar stool directly across from this spirituous celebrity.

That I was additionally honored to sit next to popular booze blogger “The Classy Alcoholic” is another story for another time!

And that’s when Alex Zepeda started talking about Mexican bug shells.

The East Ender

During the assembly of the East Ender, one of nine new creations on her libations list, she paused to tell the story of Granada-Vallet, a bitter liqueur with notes of pomegranate that gets its warm sunset color from a natural dye that comes from the shells of scale insects in Hidalgo, Mexico. A collective hush hovered over the bar top as we all reflected on the blessings of a beverage made possible by a bug’s unselfish sacrifice of its exoskeleton, as our host returned to the stirring in anticipation of her next story.

Along with the Granada-Vallet, the East Ender features a white whiskey, a wine-based apertif called Cappelletti, an Italian Amaretto, and a lemon peel garnish. Drawing inspiration from the classic Negroni, Zepeda calls this one, “a cocktail for the true cocktail drinker.” I guess this is why it ranked high atop my list of the nine.

Pieces of Eight

Zepeda then began to channel her inner Jack Sparrow as she started to build another new cocktail called Pieces of Eight.

As she was unsheathing the purple straw that would later be plunged deep into a tall glass, she told a story about the pirates of yore who regularly robbed individuals of their Spanish pesos. Those pesos could actually be broken into eight pieces, called reales, which was common currency back then. And now there’s a cocktail at HUB inspired by crime and currency.

This playful beverage features black barrel rum, Swedish Punsch, ruby port, cinnamon syrup, grapefruit juice, lime juice, and a grapefruit peel and parasol garnish.

Zepeda calls it a coincidence that her Pieces of Eight has eight building blocks. But I’m not so sure.  Without that parasol, it might have been called Pieces of Seven, which would rob her of the pirate story.

Here are the other new cocktails on HUB’s list:

Workhorse: vanilla-infused rye whiskey, demerara simple syrup, Workhorse Rye Salted Cacao Bitters, salt, and orange peel garnish.

Basil Buck: basil vodka, fresh lime, ginger syrup, soda water, and lime wheel garnish.

Sunspot: gin, apricot liqueur, orgeat, lemon juice, and lemon wheel garnish.

Sandia Fria: tequila, falernum, watermelon syrup, lime juice, hibiscus salt, and lime wheel garnish.

Stuck in my Cabana: tepache, raspberry eau de vie, coconut syrup, lemon, and garnish of raspberry, pineapple slice, and cinnamon lime.

Rodeo Queen: vodka, lemon juice, blueberry syrup, sparkling wine, and garnish of blueberries and thyme.

Santa Cruz Float: Amaro Lucano, Whiskey Del Bac, stout syrup, soda water, and salted caramel ice cream.

Work your way down the list and let me know your favorites. And please raise your glass to say cheers to Alex Zepeda…or yo-ho-ho if you’re drinking the Pieces of Eight.


Construction Cuisine

With menu items named Construction Burro and Train Wreck, you might think that the Ina Road location of Baja Cafe was doing some culinary coping with the two-year mess caused by the I-10 traffic interchange project.

Think again.

In my Inside Tucson Business column this week, I sat down with the owner who explained the origin of these popular dishes amidst his celebrating the end of the construction.

Check out my story here and let me know your thoughts!


Agave Aqui!

One of my favorite local events that I emcee every year is an evening dedicated exclusively to a desert plant.

But this isn’t an ordinary plant. It’s a representative of the monocotyledon class that’s given rise to spirituous celebrations for generations. It’s the agave, and thanks to the hard-working jimadores who harvest these beauties under the hot Mexico sun for our enjoyment, you’ll experience sipping in surround sound at the annual Agave Fiesta on April 27 at Hotel Congress.

More than 30 agave spirits will be on hand at the fiesta, including tequila, mezcal, and bacanora.


Yes, bacanora, an agave spirit that’s largely cultivated from wild agave in the Sierra Madre Mountains in Sonora, Mexico. I’m told that it’s still harvested in the wild and packed out on burros, and for many years was manually made in the back yards of Mexico using automobile radiators for filtering. Thankfully, technology has enabled advancements in bacanora production over the years, but the taste of the wild is still prominent in this rustic and delicious spirit.

In addition to these spirit samplings, attendees will also enjoy an agave cocktail showdown, agave presentations, live music, agave art and other goods inspired by the agave plant, and delicious food including mezcal yellow watermelon gazpacho, wild mushroom flautas, barbocoa and al pastor rolled tacos, and chicken mole tostadas.

Tickets for the Agave Fiesta can be purchased here, and while you’re at it, peruse the calendar of more than 20 associated agave experiences at the Agave Heritage Festival, including an Agave Heritage Dinner and an Ancient Agave Garden Tour.

Prepare your palate for the 2019 Agave Heritage Festival by watching this short video of last year’s festival.

Agave aqui!


A Party Fit for a King

King’s Day is coming up soon so dig into your wardrobe and pull out all of your orange!

Er, oranje.

In my Inside Tucson Business column this week, I caught up with a local chef whose plans for this national day of Dutch celebration call for some truly authentic dishes and drinks.

Check out my story here and let me know your thoughts!


Zin, Blues, BBQ…and Blue!

Meet James Blue.

He’s a Certified Sommelier by the Court of Master Sommeliers, a Certified Specialist of Wine by the Society of Wine Educators, and arguably one of the most entertaining and erudite figures on the wine scene today who can rock a fedora like nobody’s business.

He’s also a Southern Arizona-based account manager with Quail Distributing, a boutique distributor of fine wines and other spirituous beverages, and this position puts him in a place of prominence at wine events across town, including the upcoming Zin, Blues & BBQ event at the Hacienda del Sol.

James is in his element at these types of events because he’s not just pouring for the masses. It’s the fascinating stories that he tells about the hard-working families behind the wines that matter, the soil that’s specific to the regions and why we should care about it, the climate’s contribution to a grape’s ripening, and how these all collectively create memorable wine experiences. And when he’s talking Zins, believe me, you’re in for a treat.

James is one of a number of wine distributors who’ll be pouring at this event and I hold them all in high regard. They each bring a unique style and exhibit a true passion for their work and the brands they represent.

Collectively they’ll feature more than 35 distinct varieties of Zinfandel at the April 7 event, accompanied by pit-roasted suckling pig, pork ribs, beer-brined chicken, grilled salmon, and a seemingly endless spread of associated BBQ goodies from Hacienda del Sol’s Executive Chef Bruce Yim and his crew. Live music will also be served up by Hurricane Carla and the Bad News Blues Band.

This event will sell out, so hop on it now and get your tickets here.

Give me some big jammy Zins, smoked and succulent meats, and live blues and I’m in my happy place….as long as I can raise a glass or two with James Blue.