Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Tucson Homeskillet pays tribue to Mukhi Singh

Photo courtesy of

(First off, just to note, all of the images in this tribute are from various sources and did not come from my camera. My interview and feature on Mukhi and his new restaurant was cut short upon his sudden death. So cheers to the Tucson Weekly, Arizona Daily Star and Google Images for providing me with some pictures. I don't make any money off of the Tucson Homeskillet, so if you come after me, all I can pay you with is a hearty shrug and a "Sorry". Thanks...)

 The first time I met Mukhi Singh was the first time I ate from the Twisted Tandoor truck. It was a Wednesday, early evening, late spring, in a dusty lot off of Ft. Lowell and Campbell Ave. There were other food trucks around but this particular one served up my favorite cuisine, regional Indian. Years ago, while still living in San Francisco, I had fallen in love with Indian food on a chilly day when I had very little pocket money and a voracious appetite. There was this place up the street from my apartment that had a all you can eat Indian buffet for only $5. Not really familiar with authentic Indian food at the time (like I said this was a long time ago) but heeding the call of my rumbling stomach, I walked in, loaded up a plate of steaming colorful food and took a bite. 

Immediately I was hooked. The complex flavors, the textures, the....everything! was so magical to me that I became a regular at that little Indian restaurant (what was it called...?) along with several others across the city. Moving to Tucson in 2006, I was lucky to find a few good Indian restaurants, but when I discovered the Twisted Tandoor, I knew I was in trouble. 

Mukhi greeted me with a big smile as he leaned out of the sliding glass window of his truck. I asked what I should order, he gave me a knowing nod and wink and said "I'll fix you something and you'll like it." It was a spicy beef curry dish with potatoes and lentils and it was incredible. Seeing as it wasn't busy that night, we struck up a conversation as I ate his savory food. 

He told me he and his wife moved to Tucson over a decade ago, started the truck in late 2012 and have been busy ever since. Having lived in India most of his life, Mukhi said he learned to cook by watching his mother in the kitchen and just walking around the busy streets of his hometown, Secunderabad, and studying the street food vendors there. Well, all that observation and practice sure paid off because my first dish from him was amazing. 

That started an almost obsession with the Twisted Tandoor, as I hunted him and his truck down across the arid plains of this funky hamlet of ours seeking out new flavors and dishes that Mukhi had created in such a small and sweaty space. Like I said, I was hooked.

Courtesy of Tucson Weekly

One particular evening, after ordering way too much food, I informed Mukhi that I had been a chef in the past for several years. Studying the long line of tickets he had clipped up over his roiling cooking area, he leaned out the window and asked "Do you want a job?" Seeing as I had recently made the switch from kitchen to library (long story, I'll explain later...) and was actually kind of missing cooking professionally, I lightly bobbed my head and said "Sure". We exchanged numbers and social media information but the job of cooking alongside Mukhi never actually came to fruition. 

But I was seriously considering helping him out on a few nights. Had it all planned out in my head: I'd work from 9-6 at the library, jam out to wherever the Twisted Tandoor was parked, help prep, cook and breakdown and then head home in time to watch bad TV with the wife. The wife, though, wasn't too thrilled with this idea and was relieved that the part time job did not come through. Not that she didn't like Mukhi or his food, far from it, but the idea of me coming home sweaty and stinking of curry was not her idea of a fun Friday or Saturday night. 

Oh well.

Courtesy of

Then one day I got a text. It was She-Ra, the wife in question, informing me that the Twisted Tandoor was mashing it up with my favorite pizza place, Vero Amore, for one night and serving up Indian inspired pizzas. This, my friends, caused a ruckus in not only my stomach, but my brain as well. How can two of my all time favorite eateries come together and create a fantastic collaboration of culinary profiles like this? I was floored. In fact, I didn't care about the "how", I was just thrilled about the "why". Why they decided to pair up for a night of Italian/Indian wizardry was like an early birthday/Xmas gift for me. 

At the time I didn't know this would be a regular event, so on that first night I ordered one each of the Indian pizzas. When I came to pick them up I was greeted by a wide grinning Mukhi, holding onto a frosty glass filled with beer, who shook my hand and asked what I had ordered. 

"Umm," I began. "One....each?"

"Of my pizzas?" he quizzed with a giggle. There were like six or seven of them.

"Uh. Yeah."

Mukhi just laughed and patted me on the shoulder. He was busy and had to get back to work. When my pizzas arrived ( to go mind you!) the bill came to $80, the most I had ever spent on pizzas. She-Ra just rolled her eyes. But I didn't care. The Indian inspired pizzas were glorious and I had leftovers for a week. 

Best $80 I had ever spent.

Soon after I had gotten word that the Twisted Tandoor was going brick and mortar. A location was set, somewhere out on Limberlost, and I was so excited that I could barely contain myself. 

Just a few months earlier I had re-started  my food blog, this one!, and turned it into a full blown dot com after a lengthy hiatus. Knowing that I had to do a feature on Mukhi and his new stand alone restaurant, I messaged him asking for an interview and photo shoot. He immediately said yes and that he would get back to me as soon as he could seeing as he and his family were very busy with not only the truck but the restaurant. 

I told him to take his time and we will keep in contact. 

On August 18th, 2015, I sent him a text asking about the restaurant. He, once again, was very gracious, but said the interview would have to wait because of time constraints. Then, sometime in the late afternoon of Friday the 21st, over the course of social media, I got the news that he had passed away. Wait...what? Apparently, just two hours before the opening of the Twisted Tandoor restaurant, he collapsed suddenly suffering from a massive heart attack. Mukhi was only 52. 

Shocked and saddened, I sent out a small tribute to him on Facebook. But that just didn't seem like enough. Sure, the Tucson Homeskillet is a fun food site, with snarky articles on rotten burritos and the like, but it is also a place for all things culinary here in Tucson, and Mukhi Singh was a huge part of that. 

He was always gracious to me, he always filled my to go containers with extra portions and a tasty surprise on the side, he freakin' offered me a job at one point and was a kind man. I wasn't close to Mukhi by any means, we never hung out beyond his truck or Vero Amore, but that didn't matter. From what I did know of him, and the food and smiles he provided, he seemed like an amazing spirit. 

For that, we at the Tucson Homeskillet want to thank you for all the good times, the fantastic cooking and the generosity you provided us over the years. 

Cheers Mukhi. The other side is eating really well right now...

Courtesy of

"Metal" Mark Whittaker
Late August, 2015

Metal Tribute
OM, "Thebes" 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Consuming More Garbage Food For Your Pleasure: Wacky Potato Chips and a Sandwich Stuffed with Uninspired Hatred

That's right. The Tucson Homeskillet crew is back in action and this time we ate a crap load of crap. Again. It's what we do. For your entertainment. And to feed our ridiculous cravings for even more ridiculous flavors that the corporate juggernaut keeps sending our way, we went full throttle this time. Four crazy potato chip flavors that only a drugged out Tourettes victim might imply as "tasty" and a sandwich that I know one did create.  I mean...who thinks up stuff like this? The question is, why do they keep doing stuff like this? 

Remember the 90s? Yeah. Well ,back then, due to the incline and demise of the fated "grunge" era, things were all about being extreme. Cartoons were more nutty and extreme, music, of course, was becoming splintered and extreme, but what I noticed most was the flavors, ideas and presentation of food was becoming the buzzword of the moment...extreme! Dips, tacos, hoagies, flan, coffee drinks and all things fast and junk food suddenly went 'extreme'. What did this mean? Not too sure. I was too busy trying to navigate random "dot com" jobs and discovering, well, extreme doom metal. But the label was everywhere. Thing is, when you purchased a bag of extreme Doritos, you were wont to find that it just had more of that infernal yet highly addictive nacho dust sprinkled on every triangle. Big deal? Does adding a tad more mulch on already crap munchables make it extreme? Screw you crazy corporate food wizard, locked in your tower of decadence filled with heavy pharmaceuticals and pots roiling with your infused power of giggling hate and crotch salt! You don't scare us. Not now....not ever. 

That it...until right now now. 

Lately the powers that be have thrust upon the shivering masses a line of potato chips so vile and bizarre that only we of the Tucson Homeskillet stomach pumpage can endure and appreciate...well, that and thousands of others out there that have Tweeted, Instagramed, Snapchatted and all around asked people "Dude, have you tried this?" about such edible nonsense. So we had a taste test recently and here are the results. 

Here's the thing. Because this one went a little long and beyond the stretch of our normal "just one item, like a foul burrito or horrifying pizza", I had to call upon the power of uncle James Hetfield (he's not really my uncle, he's just been around so long and that title has just stuck throughout the understand) and the power of his infamous "YEAHs!" to aid in letting you know how we felt about the products. You get the picture, yeah? 

Okay. Here we go.

For those about to snack, we salute you.

We lined up the bags for all to try and discern with these four new and utterly fantastic/why God why? flavors: Biscuits and Gravy, Reuben Sandwich, Truffle Fries and Gyro. 

If you've kept up at all with what Lays potato chips have been up to, recently they have had 'contests' of who can come up with the craziest flavor profile and the winners will get their harrowing creations somehow made and produced.  Thing is how...HOW can the crazy corporate wizard recreate such flavors as a Reuben sandwich? Or Truffle fries? Truffle fries!? C'mon man. Sure, there are endless memes out there with folks making up their own un-doable flavors such as Benedict Cumberbatch, Tears of my Enemies (extra salty)Virginity and Everybody Forgot My Birthday, but these four bags are filled with straight up mystical science gone freaky pothead and we couldn't wait to actually see, and taste, what they were all about. 

First up, was this one:

Yeah. Let's do this. 

So on the first bite of this particular chip we got a strong sausage flavor and a weird creamy character right away. The follow up was a distinct buttery biscuit note that drove me back to long road trips traveling through the South and stopping in small diners to soak up the previous night's excesses. Strangely enough, I liked this chip. Because of the memory of early morning breakfasts in  small truck stops somewhere in Louisiana, the biscuits and gravy flavor made the top of the list. Some didn't like it...heck some even grimaced and spat when they put the crispy weirdness in their mouth. For me though, I kind of liked the combination of breakfast food meets late night snack while watching an endless parade of "Archer" episodes flavor combo. 

Still, how is this accomplished? How did the flavors of sausage and gravy get followed up by  a homemade biscuit? It freaked me out a little. No. A lot. Still. To this day.

Regardless, it was pretty tasty. 

With that, uncle James gives the biscuits and gravy potato chip a regaling:  

Next, came the Reuben:

As a certified deli fanatic and a worshiper of all things pastrami, I was really curious/horrified about trying this one out. The first bite was subtle; I didn't really get any "meat" taste until a few chews later. But then, ba-jango!, there it was. Not a huge cured deli meat sensation but there was a distinct hook of one. Whoa.

Then the real head scratching moment hit when I began to get hints of thousand island dressing. Holy Diver! How is this done?  Because of the Reuben flavored chip idea, I really wanted to be in the flavor lab to see what torturous combination of dusts, chemicals and fairy dung it took to make this happen. 

The Reuben chips, for me anyway, weren't as good as the Biscuits and Gravy (although most seemed to like this one better but...this is my food website so what I say goes!) but I did like it. 

Good thing I didn't get any twinges of sauerkraut because if you know me, you know how much I hate sauerkraut. Blecch. Like crappy cabbage gone bad from sitting in the toilet too long then you want to throw that junk on my sandwich? Aww, heeeeeeellz no. 

Anyway, with the help of ol' J. Hetfield, the Tucson Homeskillet gives the Reuben chips a hearty:

Third on the list was this business:

Now, I can dig on the notion of just straight truffles, but the addition of fries kinda threw me for a curve. Well, now that I think about it, I suppose the flavor of "truffle" on a potato chip is close enough to fries so... Wait, now I'm confused. Why not just call it truffle? But didn't I already ask that just a second ago? Am I saying this out loud? Jeeze. This has gone nowhere fast.

And what makes this "west coast"? Is this some kind of gang thing or is this chip supposed to induce images of beachfront frolic while afterwards your stuck on the I-10 for an hour when your exit is right there! It's right there! I can see it! Is that it? 

Don't know.

These chips were thicker and had the "wavy" thing going on, meaning they were, well...wavy. Anyway, I popped one in my mouth and crunched down. Immediately I was subjected to a distinct dirt flavor. Not like earthy and "truffle-y" sort of essence, but straight up dirt. Like I had dropped this chip in some soil, sort of brushed it off and then ate it. Right after the dirt came the fries. Sure, I was eating a fried potato product already so the idea of fries might almost come from just the suggestion that it might have fry extract I got fry flavor full frontal. It was traumatic. First dirt, then fry. Those wily alchemical sorcerers locked in their sick laboratory have somehow created a mess of dried mud followed by America's favorite side dish gone snack chip. At this point, I was sort of getting over it all and I wasn't a big fan of this combo of flavors. 

Because of the dirt notes and soggy fry twinge, uncle James is giving the Truffle Fries chips a shrugging:

And, finally, the last in line was this shuttering number:

(Note: I just noticed I have quoted RJ Dio twice in this piece but am using James Hatfield as my rating avatar. Hmm. It's late and these chemicals are staring to get to me...)

Okay. Gyro huh? So who is this James Wagner that suggested a meat slabbed Mediterranean sandwich for a grand idea of a potato chip? Maybe he is one of the federated necromancers chained to a stove and lab table lined with bubbling beakers who create such malformed snack intentions, high on PCP and watching endless loops of Teletubbies reruns. 

Perhaps. Because after the first bite of this one all I could taste was sour meat. It was pretty gross. Then, just like the first three, there was a subtle second flavor. This one wasn't as bad as fetid spit beef because it had hints of dill and cucumber; a twisted take on tzatziki of sorts. By this stage my mouth was contorting from the artificial roller coaster ride of  flavor devilry and the gyro taste just made me grouchy. Just to be sure, I took a second chip to keep fact that the suckage on this particular idea was clear and present. 

Yup. Balls. It tasted like noxious dead caveman balls. 

So, to salute the craptastic aura of repulsive gyro potato chips, my man James only has this to say:

Are we done here? Are we done with the potato chip taste off? Okay...good.

Wavy does not always equal "good"...

Here's the rub though. Yeah we were done with the four horsemen (Okay...I got a Metallica quote in here, now it sort of makes sense with Hetfield right? Yeah...didn't think so) of the potato chip apocalypse but we still had one more disastrous "food" idea to deal with. 

This time it didn't come in chip form, this one was served between bread and came courtesy of Eegees

We here in the 520 know all about Eegees. Its a local chain famous for their delicious icy treats that are a welcome breeze when it gets well into the 100s here. They also serve sandwiches, hot dogs, pretzels and, my personal favorite, loaded crinkle fries. Believe me, much much better than the truffle fries variety noted above. The loaded fries are greasy, drippy, stupid, bad for you but so so good late at night after a bender of 40 oz liquor swiggin' to fuel you up for further punishment and hopefully a nap. 

Not only does Eegees offer up a monthly flavor for their shaved ice refreshments but also a "limited time only" for some of their food items. This time around, they concocted something so ridiculous sounding that the Homeskillet taste testers just had to get a hold of it and see what all the commotion was about.

We give you...the flamin' hot Cheetos chicken sandwich:

Yup. You can just see the middle finger in that sub roll...

Umm...yeah. Why not? A chicken sandwich topped with flamin' hot Cheetos. There has to be something to this right? There has to be an angle. You can't just fill a sandwich full of spicy cheese droppings and call it a "special"? Can you?

What Eegees promises with their "Flamin' Hot Chicken Sub" is this: Chicken breast served between a sub roll, paired with bacon, jalapeno cream cheese, buffalo ranch, your choice of cheese and stuffed with the flamin' hot variety of Cheetos. It sounded so nauseating that we just had to do it. 

Here is what we got:

Note: actual size of terror

Eegees delivered on their promise of chicken, tangy ranch, jalapeno cream cheese, (we picked) provolone and the Cheetos but...the question is why? WHY are flamin' hot Cheetos on this sandwich? The spicy ranch and peppery cream cheese alone was fine, I guess, but to add red hot Cheetos as well? I didn't get it. 

The first bite was like all of the others that followed: it was a chicken sandwich topped with flamin' hot Cheetos. They added nothing, nothing!, to the sandwich other than the fact that the poor thing was rammed tight with frikkin' spicy Cheetos. What, did the Eegees CEO (probably one of those culinary drug slob prestidigitarians I keep mentioning) just approach Jeff, a stoned and zitty cashier, one day and go "Hey man, we need a new idea for a sandwich. Any ideas?" 

At this point, Jeff, who was daydreaming about being the third member of the Insane Clown Posse, just started word vomiting some of his favorite things to "cold munch on" when he is higher than Jesus on planet Helium.

"Uh. Um," he probably drooled. "Chicken. Ranch. Cheese. And, uh...those flamin' hot Cheetos. Yeah. Can I take my break now?"

This sandwich made no sense because it made perfect sense. Not too sure what we were expecting, but when Chester Cheetah takes a big dump on a chicken sandwich after a night of consuming habanero poppers stuffed with demon squirt this is exactly what it tastes like. Mournful, salty, strangely addictive and downright spite loaded, the flamin' hot Cheetos chicken sandwich is lucky to be just a limited time offer. Because if this thing were to be a permanent menu item, Tucson would suddenly explode into a grizzly sea of hate mongering sandwich zombies and begin to shove hot coals up our rectums just so we could "feel something" due to the emotional soul suck that this death hoagie bestowed upon the masses. Just say no here kids!

Thank you Eegees. I'll send you the bill for our therapy and bathroom tissue stock pile that we're gonna need after eating that glob tube of harassment. 

You're welcome.

Like gazing into the depths of Hades if it were sponsored by Frito-Lay...

And so, on that note, which ended on a rather bad one, all we at the Tucson Homeskillet, along with grandpappy Jimmy here, have to say about the Flamin' Hot Chicken sandwich is a simple and expected old school salute:


Camera and Typing
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
Mid August, 2015

Metal Influence
Metallica, "Jump In The Fire"

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

QQ Sushi: A Moveable Feast...Literally!

So I'm going to take this opportunity to tell you a story. I'll try to be brief even though it's quite a lengthy tale.

She-Ra, my wife, and I met when I was still living in San Francisco. My day job was bartending near Fisherman's Wharf and I was her, and her friend's visiting from Arizona for a few days, bartender. According to her, I was the worst bartender ever and in two days we were engaged. 

Unfortunately, she had to go back to Tucson but she did come and visit for a week before I made the decision to drop everything and move to where she was, which was here in Tucson. During that week visit, on a walking tour of the city, we stopped into a sushi place, a style that she had never seen before and I had been to a handful of times. It was a "rotating" sushi restaurant, or a "sushi boat", which meant that rolls, appetizers and nigiri sat on different colored plates that floated on a steady stream of water, like a food armada, and the color of the plate indicated how much you would be paying. For example, if you grabbed a roll on a red plate, that meant you paid $3 for it, or a blue plate was $5, stuff like that. It was at this place that we realized that not only were we meant for each other but we both harbored a deep love for good sushi.  Well, food in general.

Now lets cut to ten years later and a sushi boat restaurant opens up near the university. Called QQ Sushi, it has the promise of being the first, if not the only, revolving or rotating sushi joints in town. Feeling nostalgic and, like always, hungry, we saddled up on a warm weekday afternoon and decided to check it out. 

The first thing we were hit with once we entered, was the scale of the place. It was pretty big; slightly cavernous and very very clean. The stainless steel that snaked around the tables and booths were wiped to a military regime shine. On these polished metal counters slithered a conveyor belt train that moved seamless throughout the wide open space. 

Ah HA!, I thought. This is the reason we came here. Cool man. Sure it was bigger than most of the sushi boat restaurants I had been to, a lot bigger, but the idea of having little plates of sushi float up to you table made me...

Wait. I didn't see any mini trays of rolled fish skimming on water. In fact, I didn't see any water. Come to think of it...there wasn't even any sushi at all! 

What we did see was this:

That's right. Laminated cards with images and descriptions of the food, moving around the seats in a weird jangly motorized dance. Immediately we were a bit disappointed, unable to recreate the first time we had sushi together in a cramped sushi boat joint near Chinatown...because there were no boats. 

Then what's the point of having a "revolving" or "rotating" sushi restaurant where there isn't any sushi that's revolving or rotating around you? 

Laminated placards on stands? This is odd. I mean...what's the deal here?

Okay...but where's the actual Tiger Roll?

Looks good. Just no real Ninja Roll.

I'll take, uh...well, nevermind.

Okay. Maybe we were getting ahead of ourselves a bit. Sure, this is Tucson, in the summer!, so maybe having lil tug boats of fresh fish and seaweed navigating on tepid water isn't the best idea. Especially in a room as big as this one. So, why the flowing belt design then? Is this like a "gimmick"? We were kind of confused but we took a seat regardless. 

Here's the thing: we were the only ones here at the time. Like I said, it was mid week, mid afternoon and mid summertime near the U of A. Not a lot of traffic on the streets this day. So maybe when its slow they convert to advertisements on stands rather than real fish. According to our very nice and very attentive server (which made us perk up a bit because getting great service on non peak hours is rare) this was not the case. Just rotating signs. 

Here's how it works: You find the food item you want to eat (which can be tricky because they move at a fairly rapid clip), place it on the end of the table, a server will grab it then bring you the dish. Right. Sounds easy enough. But why... Oh forget it. I still didn't really see the pint of it but, whatever...we were really hungry and started grabbing laminates that seemed reasonable to quell our rumbling tummies.

Wait! Slow down! I'll have... C'mon!

We needed apps and snacks stat. The edamame advert whizzed by and we grabbed it. Since we were the only ones here (well, one couple walked in a little later but, they don't count) our server grabbed the sign and within seconds, fresh, salty and steamy beans were on our table.


The edamame came in a bowl that was topped with a plastic dome, sort of like a sushi grade Tupperware. The server popped it open and we were met with grassy vaporous beauty. It smelled really good. Digging in we were very pleased to find that they were lovely and fresh; soft and flavorful with a good crunch. 

So, do they have some kind of sushi sorcerer back there making this stuff hot n' ready in no time flat, or does this place know how to prep for efficiency and massive flavor? I voted for the latter, even though I always go for the wizard chef ideal.  The edamame was really good and was in front of us in a few seconds. Amazing.

Then it occurred to me: what if QQ is out to be a sort of Jimmy John's of the sushi circuit? I could see that. In fact, while I grabbed placards for some miso soup and gyoza, I suddenly had this image of the place jamming it out on a packed Friday night. I saw servers running and swirling around each other, picking up orders off of tables and then grabbing the pre-made food before dashing back to the table, opening up the top and watching the hungry patrons dive in. 

Sure. I could see that. But how does the hot food stay hot? Microwave? I guess. That doesn't seem very fair but...whatever. The miso soup was hot and full of rich flavor in a light broth and the gyoza was done to a piping crispiness and loaded with succulent vegetables and seasoned meat. Quite yummy.

Suddenly, I began to really like QQ. But I was still scratching my head.

Hot brothy miso soup was actually really tasty.

Gyoza was flavorful and meaty. So far, we were really impressed.

The appetizers had won us over so far. They arrived with lightning speed and precision and were really yummy. Not the best we'd ever had but definitely not the worst. Far from it. Hot, delicate and done to near perfection. 

Now it was time for the real mama jammas.

The sushi!

Salmon nigiri.

First up we ordered, well...'grabbed and put at on the edge of the table', a couple of nigiri. This is a true test for a landlocked sushi restaurant: can they deliver a fresh and delicious bite of raw fish with no ocean in sight for miles? So far here in Tucson we have been lucky to have had some incredible nigiri...and some not so much. But can a place such as QQ, with it's already prepared concept and near instantaneous dispatch of food, promise to have such tasty morsels? 

The yes.

Tuna nigiri. So good, so fast...who knew?

The fish was fresh and full of flavor with a smooth buttery texture. I personally thought the rice was a little tough, but She-Ra thought otherwise. Just a slight dip of the fish into the soy sauce brought me back to coastal days in California, except it was 100+ degrees out and I couldn't see an ocean. 

We've had better but for the price and the fact that I couldn't see a sushi chef anywhere impressed me that perhaps we are eating future food. Did they teleport the stuff from Sushi Island? Is that really a place? The fish was good, tasted like decent tuna and salmon and cut with precision. Great. How are they doing this with such a limited staff and in the middle of the Sonoran desert? 

We didn't care. It was time for some rolls.

Spicy shrimp crunch roll.

When we go to a new sushi restaurant we always order some standards. That way, if they screw up a California roll or the like, we know not to come back. Once a sushi joint has been established with us, then it is off to the neither races of oddities and house specialties when we come back to visit. So we kept it safe here with a spicy shrimp and crab rolls. 

Once again, with the efficiency of a ADD cheetah on meth, the rolls arrived within no time. 

The spicy shrimp was really good. Had a definitive tang from the chili oils and spices and was cooled off by fresh seaweed and little pops from the roe. A lovely roll indeed. 

The crab was offset by tempura vegetables and cream cheese and topped with an almost bar-be-que sauce and crunchy tobiko. Again, we were vastly impressed. All of these flavors came together in a very surprising  and symbiotic way. The sushi rolls were quite good and we will most likely be back to try some, say, more "challenging" options. 

If they got the basics down on lock like this, I'm sure QQ can deliver other tasty items and, I'm sure, in the fastest way possible.  

Again, how do they do it?

I didn't care. I was too busy eating and enjoying myself. 

Crab tempura roll...yes please!

Recently we got word that a QQ sister restaurant just opened on Swan and Grant, in an old Chinese buffet space next to Chipotle. Sure. I'm game! If it's anything like the original QQ Sushi here my bet is it will be a busy boon to that side of town. 

As far as this location is concerned, we liked it a lot. Good food, really attentive, friendly and efficient service and the quality of everything was quite surprisingly top notch. Plus after all the food we ate, we walked out of there with a bill that was less than $30, not including tip. Uh, yeah. We will most likely be back. 

But I'm still not sold on the 'signs on stands on a conveyor belt' concept rather than floaty boat trays carrying sushi bites. Maybe it's just the nostalgic nerd in me, but I really loved all of the sushi boat restaurants I visited in the past, especially that one in San Francisco where we talked all afternoon and knew we wanted to get married. Oh well. Maybe that concept is just not meant to be here in the desert. Sigh.

In summation, QQ Sushi is a hit. Not a grand slam, but a good double or triple play and I can only see them getting better. If you are in the neighborhood please drop in and see for yourself. Maybe the laminates make more sense to you. Who cares though? The food was awesome.  

Although if there is anybody reading this that wants to open up a real sushi boat joint, let me know. I'll be the first to say "Yes!" and be the first in line opening night. 


Wait. They have a full bar? Why didn't you tell me? Jeeze!

You can find QQ Sushi at 1011 N. Tyndall between Speedway and 1st Ave

Visit them at: 

Camera and Typing
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
On a Sunday in early August

Metal Influence

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

When a neighborhood comes together.

For about ten years now I have called Tucson home. Having moved from the rent insanity and trivial bustle of San Francisco (where I lived for twelve years), I enjoy the laid back pure eccentricity of this, the lil desert hamlet that could. The people are genuine, the cost of living is very doable, the dive bars are real dive bars and have yet to be scavenged by neo-hipsters (but I do see it unfolding before my eyes...) and the food is some of the best I have ever had. Living on the coast of California my whole life I thought I knew what "real" Mexican food was and tasted like. Not until I move here mister. That initial bite of a Sonoran hot dog the first full day I was here I knew I was hooked. My food appreciation had become a food obsession and 20+ pounds later, post five years as a chef and now writing this blog, my love of eating and cooking has only increased by my belt line.

Thing is, and here is something I have noticed about Tucson: neighbors don't really know their neighbors. I don't know, maybe I'm wrong, but it seems that folks do their thing, come home and lock the doors. Or...maybe that's just She-Ra and me. Sure we know one or two names of people that live near us, but for the most part they just have nick names like "Crazy Ambulance Driver Guy" and "Nice Bald Lesbian". It's not like we're anti-social, far from it, we both work with the public for our day jobs and immediately there after you can find us in one of our local pubs chatting it up with the regulars and bartenders. But when it comes to actual home time, we lock the gate and shut the real world out. It is glorious.

When I was a kid growing up in the suburban bliss that was Glendale, CA, a neighborhood-y division of Los Angeles, my dad and I pretty much knew the names of all that were in the immediate vicinity. There were holiday parties, birthday picnics, summertime cookouts and, most importantly, annual block parties hosted by our friends and neighbors and, sometimes, us. These were events that we didn't even think about; they just were and you just attended. It was fun, a healthy retreat for new and longtime residents of your tiny universe and ones that we looked forward to and even extensively planned for.

But as time moved on, technology began to take over and the idea of a neighborhood block party faded into hard bound photo albums and scrapbooks. So were my memories of Mr. Greenstein burning the hot dogs that one year, or when it began raining so hard during an outdoor function that we all huddled on the Babinski's porch and the kids watched the adults get drunk on Michelob, or the time my buddy Mike put mirrors on his shoes so he could look up Brook Hill's summer dress. Stupid things like that. Thing is, those times created dusty photographs and reminiscence that I will never be able to recreate. So when some friends of ours decided to bring the art of the block party back, the Tucson Homeskillet was there and ready to relive those golden moments of neighborly good will.

Nestled near the Winterhaven area of Tucson, the first annual 'Scorchin' Pig Roast' was the brain child of proud parents and proud new homeowners Debby Riccard and John "Gonzo" Gonzales. Their idea was to bring their friends, family and neighbors together for, what they thought was going to be, a one time big time old fashioned block party.

Let's see, umm...yes please!

"We I had been thinking of having a Pig Roast for a long time to get all of our family and friends together," says Gonzo as he balances not only a child but a margarita. "One morning we decided that we wanted to have one and said 'lets text people now and see if they are interested'.  We received enough immediate response and decided at that moment that we would have the pig roast.  I immediately developed a rather basic website and invitation to the pig roast....and the rest followed." 

Ears, snout and part of the pig!

Well, let me tell you, She-Ra and I are very grateful to be friends with Deb and Gonzo because this first annual event was a smashing success. It really brought me back to yonder days of outdoor fiestas with old and soon to be friends. Kids were splashing in the pool, bands were playing, people were laughing and, most importantly, everyone was eating the bounty of pit cooked pig.

You...have no idea.

"We thought the aura of a Pig Roast was a way to bring more people together," said Debby trying to find a place to sit and eat, "and there were also some traditional ties to John's family as his mother is from Caguas, Puerto Rico."

My first plate, about to be demolished...

See, I'm not just writing about some friends that threw a decent party one night and the food was okay. No, it goes beyond that. This event is a rarity in a time where folks just don't seem to know or even trust their neighbors anymore. Now, I'm not trying to spout some atavistic Mayberry crap but...on the other hand, so what if I am? What's wrong with having some friends and neighbors come over once a year, everyone bringing a little something to the party, and for just one moment we put down the phones and turn off the video games? I like Mayberry. Who doesn't like Mayberry?

Honestly, when they told me about this event I immediately saw some potential for a sort of throwback Homeskillet article, one that can encourage fellow Tucsonians (or...Tucsonans? Which one did we decide on?) to possibly get some inspiration from Deb and Gonzo and throw our own block party. 

It can happen! I have faith in you Tucson...

If only this blog had Smell-O-Vision...

"In this day and age I think it is more difficult for everyone to imagine having a block party," notes Gonzo, looking almost a little disappointed. "Society as a whole can be a more dangerous place and more and more people are enveloped in technology and locked in their homes.  No one takes the time to go outside and realize they are a part of a world called Earth.  If neighborhoods would take the time to get involved and reach out to each other, have a party or get together annually or semi- annually, we could revive the block party or at the very least create a friendly community."


Had to take a break from plate #2...

Okay, this is a food blog so I'm gonna get into the food here. 

The pig was amazing. They slow cooked this thing in a hand built "pit" that was actually ground level so the walls came close to about 3 or 4 ft, smoked in a combo of charcoal and mesquite wood. The ears, snout and jowls, my favorite part!, were crispy and decadent. The fatty ratio to the rest of the hog was pretty large, as expected, so cutting it with a sweet or tart thick sauce really brought it together. It was delicious as it was or when I made a pulled pork sandwich on a fluffy pretzel roll. 

And roll is what I did when it came time to leave... 

Where the action all took place

The smoke point on this wood is simply magical

"We had to really dig deep to prepare for the first annual Pig Roast," sites Deb explaining the preparation to develop such a gala as this, "as we had never thrown one before and we wanted it to be successful and have one each year to follow.  We used excavators to tear out trees that we had cut down, we laid tile (not 100% finished by party time) in the living room and kitchen, networked with friends to borrow things such as the kegerator, a large canopy, musicians, assistance in building the pit and the margarita machine just to mention a few. Landscaping was done in the back yard and tables, chairs, and trash cans were rented. So, yeah, not easy and not cheap."

Neighbors digging on the tunes and food coma...

But was and is it all worth it, I had to ask.

"Oh yes!" was the resounding answer.

Still not too sure what a 'horny pickle' is...

Here's the thing. The first annual Pig Roast was held, and will probably be held, the first Saturday in August. Now, for those that may not know, or don't frequent Tucson in mid/late summer, that time of year is known as "monsoon season". 

Now, monsoons here in the high southwest desert are a blessing. They provide a bit of respite from the barreling heavy heat and give us some well needed rain. On this particular time, just about the moment they were to pull the pig from the steam pit, Tucson was hit with a torrential downpour. 

Like, literally, the hog was scheduled to be lifted out at 4pm...and that's when the Almighty unzipped the sky and tears of a trillion angels careened upon us at, like, 3:59pm. 

Won't let bad weather dampen the tunes or the spirits...

I was at work at the library when the pitter-patter of heavy droplets began to hit the midtown branch. From our view out the big back window, dark clouds loomed and rain drops were jutting down, cutting in sideways. 

"Oh no," I thought. "This sucks. I sure hope the pig roast is still happening. More important, I hope the pig is still happening..."

Drying off after the monsoon hit

When we arrived I asked if the sudden storm caused any problems.

"Temporarily," admitted Gonzo. "Our front large tent was in major distress, with many guests scrambling to save the tent from total destruction from the wind and rain while musicians protected their equipment.  The pig was being carved at the time and created a rather tense situation.  Initially, everyone involved was shocked.  But fortunately, it actually created a memorable event and laughs took over as everyone rebuilt the tents, drank and continued to carve the pig."


Yes! See, it was moments like that which always made the best memories. In fact, I'm glad a random monsoon swung in and threatened to ease the good times that were being had by all. As with most monsoons, it came and went just as quickly as it had started so by the time we grabbed our first drink and plate, the tents were back up, the music was back on and the kids were playing hard as all kids should right before school is about to start.

These kids are going for U of A toss across scholarships...

After relaying some tales of block party awesome that I was privy to in my more innocent years, I just had to know if they plan on doing this annually.

"This is definitely intended to be an annual event!," Deb assures me with a mighty grin. "Our goal and intent is for this event to grow each year, and bring family and friends together each year.  How cool is it to be attending the 8th annual pig roast and realize you have new friends that you have met at the 1st annual.  Or now your eight year old is grown and remembers being at the 3rd annual playing games and meeting their new friends as well."

So awesome...

Golden rays hitting the surrounding trees...

Cool. Now I just hope some readers out there take the lead in their own neighborhood and do the same as these guys. It doesn't take much, just a little elbow grease, some cash and the help of our friends and family, related or not, to make a fun shindig for making memories that will last longer than a Snapchat photo. Because this party was one that will inspire many more to come. 

"Definitely!," piped Gonzo when I asked if Tucson should be home to more block parties such as this. "Tucson needs more event such as these for people to be a part of.  I would hope that our Pig Roast will be an extremely large even within five years." 

Just. So. Much. Food. Yes!

I mean, you don't have to do an elaborate splurge such as the Scorchin' Pig Roast, far from it. Heck, most of the block parties I went to were like hot dogs and Ms. Wong's ambrosia salad with some cheap beer and a radio. Still, somebody had the notion to be all "It's a beautiful summer day! I've got a cooler and a bar-be-que. Come one, come all. Bring the dog."

Heck, in this day and age you could do a vegan cook off and homemade beer extravaganza, or perhaps the hipsters can congregate and have an annual 'Ironic Moustache' competition and inflatable pool party or even a build a grill out of old Jenga pieces and bits of your roommate's waterbed because he hasn't paid rent in two months type of get together. 

Point is, you're getting together, with friends and neighbors, with family that you adopted and that adopted you, for one shining day and night for the purpose of "Dude...why not?" which can possibly bring us all a little closer in the time of not-too-social media. Sure, I internet most of the day, have devises and text instead of call, but I do prefer a nice lawn chair, a cold beverage, hot drippy meat of some kind served on a questionable paper plate while listening to good music over any status update or Instagram hashtag anyday. 

But....that's just me.

Beautiful sunset after a beautiful day...

When night began to creep in, when the kids began to get a little cranky and, most importantly, when the food hallucinations began to take hold, we knew it was time to call it. As we made our way out, thanking Deb and Gonzo and taking one last bite of a crispy pig ear, I couldn't help but think that even through all the years since those little get togethers in Glendale, it felt as nothing had changed. For one sparkling moment, a very well welcome deja vu set in and I couldn't help but smile. 

Yeah I'm an adult now, but just a small moment with people I pretty much had no idea who they were, became friends, just like when random neighborhood kids would skuttle in Victor's mom's Korean BBQ block party, we were pals for an instant and then we'd never see each other again. But I sure hope that's not the case for this party. 

Because I forgot to get the coleslaw recipe from that nice lady in the purple top. What was her name? Ah, it doesn't matter...

I'll see her again next year. 

Typing and Camera
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
Early August, 2015

Metal Influence
Municipal Waste, "The Art of Partying"