Category: Dining

Local Coffee Shop Gets Into the Craft Beer Biz


TEMPE—Nothing beats the smell of freshly-brewed coffee in the morning…unless that smell is beer.

Arizona State University alum David Arnce has had his fair share of experience brewing both, add a passion for remodeling old houses and you have the perfect recipe for the newest brewery in downtown Tempe – The Shop Beer Company.


The Human Nutrition graduate with a knack for “flipping” houses enjoyed a successful business after the real estate market floundered in 2008. Using his entrepreneurial spirit, Arnce help bail out another company—a friend’s coffee shop on University Drive.


The rest, as they say, is history.

18 taps of hometown love

18 taps of hometown love


Cartel Coffee Lab opened in downtown Tempe in 2008 and now has six locations statewide, including two in Tucson. With the success of the coffee business, Arnce started experimenting with brewing beer. Four years later, Cartel Brewery was born out of the back of the original Cartel location with a 1/2 barrel brewing system.


Now, with head brewer, Matt Johnson at the helm, Cartel expanded to a 5-barrel system and are now operating a 20-barrel brewhouse as a spin-off from the original Cartel name, enter The Shop Beer Company.


I was fortunate to be in attendance for the grand opening of The Shop located at 922 W. First St. last month and was pleased not only with the selection of beers but also by the prompt and friendly service.


The 64-year old house that Arnce renovated to be the heart of the property is an 1100-square-foot gem that has all the charm and mystique of visiting grandma’s place but instead of fresh cookies, you are getting fresh beer.


Behind the quaint taproom, is the mammoth beer garden with sprawling picnic tables and of course, a misting system to keep things somewhat cool on a sweltering summer’s day.

On opening day, there were four beers available, but there are a total of 18 taps which will soon all be pouring glorious suds.


Hours for The Shop Beer Company are:

Monday-Thursday: 11am-11pm

Friday-Saturday: 10am-midnight

Sunday: 10am-10pm

Time(less) Market


timeThe modern streetcar whistled by as I pulled up to the vintage building on University around lunchtime and there was nary a parking spot to be found. I located an area off the beaten path behind a church and trekked to the market for a daily special that has never disappointed.

I have never looked at a menu in Time Market as I am always drawn in by either their sandwich or pizza of the day. Today was no different as I was immediately drawn to the pork belly bánh mi. This Vietnamese Po’ Boy in it’s most basic form is the French baguette bread layered with a protein, a collection of vegetables and a spread—simple yet divine.

I placed my order and nestled in between two businessmen at the bar and patiently waited for my sandwich.

This place was hectic!

As I looked around, I noticed there was something for everybody here. Aside from the restaurant, there is a dedicated coffee station serving their in-house roasted coffee beans which can now be found down the road a bit at Exo Roast Company. Time Market offers up several other roasts but rest assured, they are all sourced through fair or direct trade.

Hustle & bustle on University

Hustle & bustle on University

Directly in front of me was the bar, offering up not just three or four draft offerings, but a mind-boggling 12! The selection of 12 craft beers was staggering with handles spanning from local Tucson breweries to Michigan and California to Illinois.

Fret not, my fellow oenophiles, if it is wine that you are looking for, Time Market offers an extensive list of wines by the bottle and glass. Wine and beer are also available in the grocery aisles for you to enjoy at home.

The grocery aisle, you may be wondering…yes, it is a market after all. Not as extensive as your local Trader Joe’s or even Johnny Gibson’s, but the grocery portion of the market reaches a definite niche. These hard-to-obtain items are a like finding a needle in the rough (you see what I did there?) Their selection of chocolates, spices, hot sauces, olive oils and beverages are worth the trip alone.

I ventured over to the back of the market to their wall of refrigerated beverages and took at least 10 minutes to select a bottle of iced tea. From boxed water to kombucha and chia drinks, the selection was almost too much to deal with.

Pork Belly Bahn Mi

Pork Belly Bahn Mi

Now time for the sandwich!

The in-house made baguette was crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside and packed with antibiotic and growth hormone-free Beeler Haluka pork belly braised in Chinese five spice and turmeric. How good is this pork? Beeler Farms treats their pigs better than most people treat their children. Heluka is a Native American term meaning “full of sun” and is entirely focused on the pig’s comfort, welfare and genetics.

This version of the sandwich had the standard vegetables including pickled daikon radishes and carrots along with cilantro, cucumber and jalapeño peppers to kick it up a notch. It was finished with a small dollop and a squeeze of lime juice to add acidity ensuring the perfect bite, every bite.

The bánh mi is a timeless classic, first being introduced to Vietnam by the colonial French in the late 1800s. The market, much like the sandwich is timeless reaching every age range and demographic. From college students to business meetings to “fragrant” hipsters and even families. The place was packed for lunch on a sunny Thursday afternoon and I’m sure it will be like that for a long, long time.

Real Italian Food in an Unreal Place

dominicksDominick’s Real Italian opened in June, 2014 in a strip mall in northwest Tucson and has quietly become the little secret with big flavors. Tucked in between a UPS Store and a Karate Studio, Dominick’s Real Italian is like a slice of old Italy set in the backdrop of the Tortolita Mountains.

The intimate trattoria is unassuming and does brisk business not only in the restaurant but also through carryout and delivery. The news and reviews for the neighborhood restaurant have been outstanding so I decided to give the place a shot with some out of town friends.

I walked in with 3 others and quickly found a booth along the east wall. We were greeted promptly and the server struck up a conversation with us as if he were welcoming friends into his own home.

Crispy, crunchy, delicious

Crispy, crunchy, delicious – bruschetta

He explained the menu and offered wine, beer and appetizers. We ordered a bottle of cabernet and eight-piece bruschetta. Within minutes, we had four glasses of water, our bottle of wine and a basket of complimentary garlic knots.

The knots were twisty slices of heaven and incredibly addictive while the bruschetta was near perfection with plump, juicy tomatoes, fresh basil and drizzled with oil and vinegar on lightly toasted crostini. The breadth of the menu spanned everything from salads to seafood and pasta dishes.

I asked everybody to order something different so that I could get a good sampling of the menu. My wife ordered the Shrimp Fra Diavolo while I ventured into tying the Chicken Scarpiello. Our guest had the lasagna and a meat-lovers pizza.

Our pasta dishes came with our choice of pasta, which was odd to me, but I liked having the choice so I went with linguine and my wife chose the thinner spaghettini. The meals also came with a soup or salad included—I could tell this was going to be a challenge to taste everything and still leave room for their homemade desserts.

Garlic knots, pasta & wine - oh my!

Garlic knots, pasta & wine – oh my!

The chicken was amazing with a nice sear, the sausage was crisp and the sauce was the winner. A scratch-made white wine butter sauce with generous spices made this plate a winner. The shrimp dish was on point with a spicy marinara that perfectly complemented the plump gulf shrimp.

The server recommended the lasagna and said it was the best that he has ever had and although my guests wanted the pizza, they just had to try the lasagna to see where it ranked in their ‘best ever’ rankings. One word—amazing. It was evident, once again, the difference that fresh, scratch-made cooking makes in this old world Italian eatery. The hand-stretched pizza came out piled with pepperoni, Italian sausage, meatballs, Canadian bacon and capicola. The sauce was powerful, the cheese was rich and the crust was the perfect blend of crunch and cushion.

After sampling the feast fit for Roman gods and royalty, then came the tiramisu—game over. I tracked down the owner and spoke with her a bit to find out a little bit more about Dominick’s. Lyndsey Fisher named the place after her grandfather as she was looking to create an old school Italian vibe and he was the epitome of old school Italian charm in her mind.


Heaven is available in Tucson

When asked about Dominick’s identity, she said that there were no standard regional influences other than they specialized in pasta dishes and seafood. In the kitchen, Fisher has experts in Bryan Benton who came over from Tohono Chul Park perfecting the dishes and master pizzaiolo Jon Harrington from Grimaldi’s fame dishing up the glorious pies.

“We are truly a family-owned, neighborhood restaurant,” Fisher said. “We make real Italian food in the old school, traditional way with recipes passed down through generations.”

If you are up in the northwest part of Tucson and love Italian food, head to Dominick’s and find out for yourself why this eatery is called “real Italian.”



Address: 8330 N. Thornydale Rd.

Phone: (520) 744-2002

Open: 11am-9pm daily

Arizona Black Label® Bacon Fest Returns Bigger and Better than Ever


AZ BaconFestThe Second Annual Bacon Fest returns to Tucson on Saturday, June 7, 2014 with new title sponsor Hormel and Black Label® Bacon. The event quickly outgrew its inaugural event space and will be held at the Kino Sports Complex from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. under the lights of the ballpark.  General admission starts at 6pm.

Joining title sponsor Hormel will be local sponsors Harley Davidson of Tucson, RideNow Power Sports, Rock 102.1, KLPX 96.1, NBC affiliate, KVOA 4 and KNST.

San-Diego-Bacon-Fest-520x347Festival goers will be treated with bacon-centric samplings from 30+ local restaurants and 20 breweries from Tucson, across Arizona and even Canada’s Parallel 49 Brewing Company. Chefs will compete with their bacon-filled creations submitted to a panel of celebrity judges from television and radio for the title of “ABF Best in Show.”

Attendees will also receive a 4-oz. tasting glass to taste the latest craft beer offerings and to learn about proper pairing of styles of beer with different types of food. Live music from Love Boat delivering “Yacht Rock” and Evolution bringing “Arena Anthem Rock” will provide the entertainment with DJs Super Mario and Michael “DJ Bignut” Lopez spinning party music in between sets.

This 21 and over event will also provide interactive games such as horseshoe toss, steer roping and much more.

Tickets start at $40 in advance from local merchants Brushfire BBQ, Plaza Liquors and Lindy’s on 4th Avenue. Online tickets can be purchased at for $45 with VIP packages at $100. The VIP package will allow you an hour early entrance, a separate gated entrance, t-shirt and a tented “trough” with a waitress to deliver the beer and bacon.

baFree parking will be available onsite as well as hotel accommodations at Fairfield Inn and Suites offering free shuttle service to and from the festival and a promo code for that Bacon Discount.

A portion of the proceeds will go to La Frontera of Arizona’s Rally Point. Rally Point is a service of military veterans helping veterans. Whether it be substance abuse, family violence, housing crises or medical issues, Rally Point is at the front line to fight the war at home.

The Great Food Truck Race Sizzles in the Old Pueblo

Food Trucks DowntownTUCSON, Ariz. —  Seven food trucks from across the country descended upon Tucson over the weekend and despite temperatures reaching into the upper-90s, people were out in force to show support of Food Network’s cross-continent food competition, The Great Food Truck Race. Eight teams started on the west coast and will make their way across this great country with the hope of winning $50,000 and the opportunity to keep the fully-loaded food truck as their very own.

This years’ group of food truckers ran the gamut from bikini-clad surfers to Texas barbeque experts; bacon-aficionados from Cleveland to Middle Eastern authorities; a mother and son team with a new take on Mexican food to a New England truck offering American specialties and a comfort-food truck from New York manned by wives of active-duty military members.

As a Sunday twist, all teams were to offer their take on a Tucson classic—the Sonoran Dog. As a fan who is spoiled by the original at El Guero Canelo, I was leery of trying others’ take on an Old Pueblo classic, I did end up trying two different versions, more on that later.

Let There Be Bacon

Let There Be Bacon

I arrived at the Dairy Queen parking lot on Fourth Avenue and Sixth Streets shortly after noon on Sunday hoping to get the first taste off the Let There Be Bacon truck. The trio of Matt, John and Dylan from Cleveland, Ohio came to rock in Tucson and had, by far, the biggest presence on social media with the #BaconLove and  #BaconArmy hashtags.

By 12:30, the crowd had reached a fever pitch and by 12:45, the hungry fans of the divine swine began chanting “We want bacon!”

Matt came out to address the crowd and explained the menu offering their chili-cheese bacon nachos, their Buckeye bacon pancakes and their “claim to fame,” the Mother Trucker Bacon Cheeseburger.

When I think of a bacon cheeseburger, I think of crispy strips of pork belly or fatback over a thick patty of beef with oozy cheese. The accompaniments to the burger are generally what sets it apart from the multitude of burgers and being a lover of all things green chile, I was overly excited to try this burger. The coleslaw was nice and crunchy, there was a nice level of heat from the bacon-green chile jam and the burger was nicely seasoned. Overall, a tasty burger, but it could have had a more pronounced bacon flavor.

The Lone Star Chuck Wagon was manned by Lance, Rachel and Andrea and their flavors, along with their prices, were as big as Texas. The Tex-Mex barbeque truck out of Los Angeles was setup in Main Gate Square in front of the Auld Dubliner on University. Being so close to campus, the truck adopted names for their items that had a ‘U of A’ theme including the “Bear Down BBQ Snakebites”  and the “Duel in the Desert Burrito.” I was met by the lovely Rachel and opted for the snakebites. I have always been a lover of food-on-a-stick, especially food that is messy.

Lone Star Chuck Wagon

Lone Star Chuck Wagon

This item continued my love for stick food as each toothpick had a chunk of chicken and jalapeno wrapped in bacon, grilled, and covered in their signature barbeque sauce. Lance, a native Texan has perfected a sauce that perfectly blends, sweet, spicy and smoky. Flavors of white wine, molasses, onion, garlic and pepper were detected and savored.

Next stop on the tour de food would involve going to the east side, midtown geographically, but the east side for me. Madres Mexican Meals was stationed outside of the Bashful Bandit at Speedway and Alvernon and serving classic Mexican dishes with a modern flair.

Being of Spanish descent with family from New Mexico and having lived in the southwest for most of my life, I was hoping that the “Mother’s recipes and the son’s dream” held promise.

I shied away from the huevos rancheros due to deep-seeded beliefs that no plate will be as good as the Albuquerque version with “christmas” chile over the top. I opted for the tostada de jaiba or crab ceviche tostada. It was light, refreshing and thoroughly enjoyable.

Heading back west to get my comfort food fix, I stopped at the Military Moms food truck at Campbell and Glenn, just outside the Brushfire B-B-Q location. When I drove up to their location, it seemed almost deserted, nobody milling about and there wasn’t even a menu posted outside the truck. I felt bad for the three wives of active duty military members based out of Fort Drum, New York, but it was hot and I hoped to meet up with them later.

I saw on twitter that the Beach Cruiser truck was going to be at Tap & Bottle on Sixth Avenue, just south of Sixth Street and as a beer lover, I knew this would be the perfect respite for this weary traveler on a hot day. Upon my arrival, I order a La Folie, a sour beer from the Lips of Faith line of New Belgium Brewing. The beer went down easily on the sweltering day and still no food truck, so I had another…and another.

Middle Feast Food Truck

Middle Feast Food Truck

After searching social media, I discovered that all the trucks would be heading down to the Tucson Folk Festival—perfect!

It was almost a carnival atmosphere with sign spinners and food truck hawkers vying for the almighty dollar. I went directly to the Military Moms truck on the end and comfort food was indeed on the menu. From the “Private Jelly” to the “Sergeant Cheezy.” the ladies took a creative spin on comfort food and the grilled cheese was indeed tasty with bacon and a spicy kick.

The Charlie Foxtrot looked amazing, but a sloppy joe meets nachos with a Louisiana kick didn’t sound like the optimal meal in the hot weather.

Setup next to the Moms, was the Gourmet Graduates. The trio from Providence, RI were making a big noise. The hawker was equipped with a plastic bullhorn and had his hair spray painted green to match the color of his truck. He was doing his best to drum up business and generate a buzz for the truck.

The four courses were college-themed from the sophomore breakfast nachos to the senioritis chicken roll up. For me, if you put a fried egg on top of anything, I’m sold. The breakfast nachos were corn tortilla chops topped with cheese, ground beef, pinto beans, peppers, salsa and the aforementioned fried egg. A decent plate of nachos and the fried egg added an interesting touch but I would venture to say that it’s a one-time-have-to-try-it item only.

After five food trucks and no sonoran dogs, I vowed to try a dog from the next two trucks. The Middle Feast truck offered their version of the Tucson treat with chopped tomatoes, raw and grilled onions, mustard and their special sauce. It was definitely a twist on the classic and was good, but not great.

Gretta, Nicole and bubbles!

Gretta, Nicole and bubbles!

The team of Tommy, Hilla and Arkadi hail from Los Angeles, Calif., and were offering traditional middle eastern fare including falafel and shakshuka. While most everybody knows what falafel is, I was intrigued by the shakshuka. Once again, an egg dish grabbing my attention.

The poached eggs were served in a sauce of tomatoes, chilies, onions, cumin and other spices. I will definitely have to try this in the future.

I finally caught up with the Beach Cruiser truck and the lovely surfer girl herself, Gretta Kruesi greeted me with a smile and offered up their version of the Sonoran Dog. While it was the biggest departure from the classic dog, it was also amazing in its own right.

A turkey dog wrapped in bacon with pinto beans and pineapple salsa would’ve won me over but adding the California touch of frosted fried avocado, flash-fried kale and a “special sauce” put this dog over the top.

Joining Kruesi are fellow surfers Shane and Nicole from the coastal town of Venice, Calif., dishing out Cali-style food and a beach atmosphere. Sunday had Gretta and Nicole enjoying the heat with a kiddie pool and bubbles—yes, bubbles.

All told, it was a fun time to meet up with all the food truck competitors and wish them well on their trip across the country. The next stop will be Austin, Texas and six of seven teams have posted either on their facebook or twitter about their excitement to move on, one hasn’t.

Read into that what you will but it is somewhat sad that this competition is based on marketing and making money and not based on taste and quality of the food.

Tucson’s Greek Festival – Opa!

With Fall right around the corner, it is becoming more evident in other parts of the country with the crisp night air and changing leaves. Here in Arizona, the forecast high in Phoenix is 105 and a slightly cooler 100 in Tucson so suffice to say that we are a ways off from experiencing the Fall that most of the country enjoys – maybe Winter.

The one tell tale sign that Fall is approaching is the 37th Annual Greek Festival at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church. The expansive grounds of the church are set up in the rich history of Greece and the atmosphere is electric with a vast array of Greek music and dancers. There is also an Oktoberfest feel with the beer garden community tables where thousands will congregate and enjoy a somewhat cooler evening.

Everybody Loves the Greek Festival

With all the Greek dancers and music to create such a festive atmosphere, the real draw is the food and for a large number of people, including all my friends – the beer. Festival goers will be treated to Greek specialties such as Roasted Lamb Shanks, Athenian Baked Chicken, Souvlaki, Spanokopita and my all-time favorite – Saganaki This wildly popular appetizer is cheese dipped in a special batter and pan-fried and flamed with Greek brandy and lemon juice – Opa!

Preparing the Saganaki with Greek brandy

Fret not, there are still the old standby dishes that you might be more familiar with like Gyros, Hummus plates & Greek salads, but I urge you to try something new & exciting – maybe even the Dolmathes – grape leaves stuff with ground beef, rice & seasonings served with a tangy lemon sauce.

Now onto the beer – KEO is a traditional Greek beer that is brewed on the nearby island of Cyprus and is the exclusive import beer of the Tucson Greek Festival. This light straw-colored lager has a rich head yet surprisingly light flavor. This is the perfect session beer if you plan on making a night of it which always seems to happen with my group. Bottles of Greek wine and shots of ouzo always seem to make their way to our tables and no trip to the Greek festival would be complete without dessert. Baklava, Ouzo cake, Loukomades & Kataifi are the most most popular and are a definite must-try for that sweet tooth in your life, I rarely eat sweets, but these treats are absolutely divine.


The Festival begins tonight and runs through Sunday. Hours are 5-10pm tonight, 5-11pm on Friday & Saturday and from Noon-6pm on Sunday. Admission is FREE tonight, so go to their website to print out your free ticket. Otherwise, the admission is $3 per adult per day or a 4-day pass for $5. Children under 12 and Active Duty military with ID are always free and Adults over 60 are free on Saturday from 4-6pm. There is free parking on site as well as shuttles form the Amphi Plaza parking lot and Salpointe High School on Friday & Saturday nights.

Celebrate Father’s Day in Style

Happy Father's Day

The days of giving Dad a tie are over. Father’s Day is overshadowed annually by Mother’s Day, but it is no less important so take the next 2 weeks to figure out how to take care of the man that taught you how to work a ratchet set or scared away all your boyfriends.


Scotch Tasting Event– The Stone Rose Lounge at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess is offering a scotch tasting with Johnnie Walker master distiller from 5-7pm. The $25 cost covers the tasting as well as his drink of choice.

Friday and Saturday

Father-Daughter Tea– Every little girl growing up has her tea parties and it is always in the back of her mind that maybe, one day Daddy will join her tea party. The Ritz Carlton at the Biltmore makes that dream a reality by offering seatings at noon and 3pm for father and daughter to enjoy each other’s company over finger sandwiches, scones & maybe a crumpet or two. All daughters will receive a fresh bouquet of flowers and Dad will receive a commemorative framed photo of his little princess.

Barbecue Basics


Barbecue Boot Camp– Even if your Dad knows how to man his grill, this class at the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North on Saturday the 16th will make him forget he knows everything just to attend. Dad will learn the secret to sauces, rubs and special techniques from Executive Chef Mel Mecinas and Executive Sous Chef Jesse Hansen. Also included in this “smokin” deal is complimentary beer from a local brewery, specialty on site hand-rolled cigar as well as golf tips from the pros at Troon North.


4th Annual Big Band Concert and Dance– This event is the one that means the most to me…since my father loves jazz music, I am sure that he would love this event at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort on Sunday the 17th from 3-7pm. The former front man for Count Basie, Dennis Rowland will front the Extreme Decibel Big Band and play familiar tunes from Frank Sinatra & Sammy Davis, Jr. Tickets for this fundraiser to promote jazz education are $30 in advance and $35 at the door or spoil him with a room for only $129 a night which comes with $100 credit to be used for food, beverages or spa services. That’s a grand-daddy of a deal if I ever heard one.

Arrowhead Grill Free Steak – For those looking for a great cut of meat at an even greater price – FREE; I would make reservations now for Arrowhead Grill in Glendale. Executive Chef Charles Schwerd is giving away 25 free steaks for lunch and 25 for dinner for Dad with the purchase of an entree. But wait, there’s more…this is a $28 Delmonico steak; he uses the century old recipe from the posh Park Avenue Delmonico Hotel in Manhattan.

Delmonico Steak Oscar

Rockin’ R Ranch Dinner & Show – If your father has more of a hankerin’ for the Old West, saddle up to this deal in Mesa. Guests will receive a chuck wagon style dinner and a show from the local Western music and comedy act, Rockin’ R Wranglers. The party also includes an old-fashioned gunfight near the OK Corral.

Free Prime Rib Dinner– If Dad prefers a prime rib to the aforementioned steak, Rawhide at Wild Horse Pass is offering a free eight-ounce prime rib with all the fixins’ for all Dads. No minimum purchase required, just show up and ask for your Father’s Day Prime Rib – you’ve earned it!