Saturday, February 27, 2016

A Grand Day Out With The Tucson Homeskillet!

The wife has been out of town for almost a month and I really haven't left the house since she left. It's odd. Being joined at the hip like we are, when she goes to train new bartenders in various locations across the US, maybe once twice a year for a few weeks, my first inclination is to get a bunch of stuff accomplished. The reality of it all is the first week she's gone I live in almost silence and seclusion. I love her more than anything but she can be quite the tornado of clothes anywhere and everywhere, towels strewn about, shoes left in the middle of walkways and lord almighty if I can't just get a corner of the comforter when she literally coils herself up in a blanket ball from her night spinning much like a thrill seeker barrel rolling down a steep hill.

So the first week I clean the house knowing it will stay clean, take as many naps as possible, listen to Metal at top volumes alongside not saying a word and just enjoying the tinkling of garden chimes and the cat purring. Around the second week I start watching movies and shows I wanna watch and possibly have one too many to drink at night as trying to sleep without struggling for a bit of sheet only makes the bed feel empty and the house somehow bigger and darker. The third week I sort of get into this groove of "being alone" and before you know it she's back and all is right with the world. Well, our little world anyway.

The Wednesday (my one true day off during the week) before she returns, I decided to make a journey of it. Getting inspired by Wallace and Gromit and their "Grand Day Out" where they go to the moon to get more cheese and then are accosted by a skiing enthusiast robot oven, I too wanted to eat and do something around Tucson that I have been meaning to get on with. So I made a list, set a course and when I woke up at the crack of noon I got in the car and began my adventure. So here are the results of a most recent Homeskillet outing.

Was it grand? Some points. But a few snags only made a beautiful late winter afternoon as close to perfect as one could hope for.

Here we go...

Stilton? Wensleydale? 

First stop was a new taco place right down the street from my house and it is called:

2960 N. First Ave.

What used to be El Mezon del Cobre (a fine place to eat and grab some beers while we did laundry next door at this little wash shack called Dean's Village Laundromat) is now a nautical themed Mexican food establishment that boasts some of the best and most inventive seafood fare in the neighborhood, if not the city. I mean, the outside is built to look like a submarine and when you walk through the port like doors, you enter a fairly dark and blue hued underwater themed submersible bar and restaurant, one that you might find in some overpriced water park.

It was late afternoon so the lunch rush had already come and gone. Sure there were a few people in there but when I was sat at one of their large tables in the middle of the action, I had a feeling that I was in for something good.

In the center of the long plank-like table are a bevvy of various hot sauces and along the curved walls large flat screens display the specialties of the house all keeping with the undersea motif. This place is pretty cool.

The massive Chile Relleno Taco

Scanning the menu, I instantly became a bit weary of the prices. Tacos and tostadas ranged in price from $8 to $20. For a taco? In Tucson? So I asked my server what the portions were like and with a gesture of his hands as if he were holding a football, he assured me that the food here was very generous.

"Trust me," he said with a smile, "they are like no taco you have had before."

So I ordered a taco and a tostada. He then looked at me and asked "For...just you?" This made me nervous. Did I order too much?  The tone of his voice indicated that perhaps my appetite wasn't as big as the food here. I then assured him that I "just wanted to try a good variety" and, yes, I will need a to go box. But I was so hungry I knew that I could devour all the food I just ordered. It couldn't be that big...could it?

First up was some chips and salsa but....this wasn't your average free dippin' sauce you expect in a Mexican food joint. This wasn't made with tomatoes, but rather tropical fruit, peppers and, get this, soy sauce. I had to ask because when I dunked my chip into it and took a bite I was overtaken by flavor. Simple, beautiful, fresh and imaginative. Seeing my pleasure of just sampling the salsa, he kept bringing out more for me to try. Each one was wholly different and textural from the next. Some hot, some thin, some bright, some dense but all delicious.

Soon my first item arrived. It was the Chile Relleno taco which was described as a jalapeno filled with cheese and shrimp, topped with a cabbage salad, cilantro guacamole with a creamy chipotle dressing and pickled onions. Upon first view of it, yes, my server was right, this is a very shareable taco. It was big. But I braved the sheer mass of it all and dug it.

Glorious. Absolutely filled with layers of flavor, balance of heat, crunch, savory and creamy that all came together in a wonderful array. He was right, I hadn't had a taco like this before.

Then came the tostada.

La Berraca tostada, bask in all of its glory

The La Berraca tostada features salmon, shrimp and scallops on thick warm corn tortillas in a sea of ranchero essence sauce. Now, I haven't had thick corn tortillas like this since my time living in southern California or various trips to Baja. Everything about this dish was amazing. So fresh, so clean and so considered and thought about. At this point I began to get a little light headed from all that was going on in my mouth and stomach but I trudged on and actually finished the La Berraca tostada. But between the thickness of the Chile Relleno taco, the chips and the samples of salsas and the fact that I still had a full day ahead of me, I did indeed ask for a box for the remaining taco. Note to all readers: always trust your server!

El Berraca is new but is easily on it's way to becoming a food destination here in Tucson. Owned by the same team that runs the BK franchise, this place is now something that I treasure and fear in my neighborhood. Treasure because...oh my god! Fear because...oh my god, am I eating here again? Like I need a taco habit to aid in my already expanding middle. Whatever.

When I left I was so elated that I considered going up a few blocks to the house, cuddle up with the cat and take a nap. I still had four more places to go so off I went.

The next food destination was:

210 N. 4th Ave.

I've been wanting to try this deli ever since going to Ermano's next door but never stepped foot in there even though its open later than most delis. Now, if you've read other Homeskillet posts you know how deli obsessed I am. Seeing how rare it is to get me to come down to 4th Ave, or even downtown, I thought the Hopyard Deli must be awesome because the decent reviews and accolades are coming in from all sides. 

Well, I must have caught them on an off day. 

It was late afternoon and the place was empty. It was nice, clean, seemed like a great location to stop in for a soda and sandwich but there was nobody there. Like...nobody. Not even an employee behind the counter. I couldn't even hear anybody prepping or cleaning or...anything. So I looked around, decided to get some pastrami to go and then waited. 

And waited. 

Maybe it was self service, I don't know. After about ten minutes or so of just standing there and looking into the cameras hoping someone would see me, two teenage kids slowly emerged from the back and just sat on a table checking their phone. I had to ask, "Uh, do you work here?" The girl with the blonde dreads and stoned eyes walked behind the counter and just looked at me. The other dude in the Bonnaroo t-shirt just sat there not even acknowledging anything. So I hesitantly ordered some pastrami, which seemed like an absolute chore for her, then the dude slid off the table, rang up my order and had problems running my card because the iPhone thing was "acting all stupid". What should have taken a minute or two was like a twenty minute ordeal. Plus it was getting close to 4pm and I didn't want to be late for my next appointment, which started at exactly 4 and if you don't get there on time...the merchandise goes quick. 

In silence and non appreciation, I was handed my stack of cut meat and I dashed out the door to my next destination. 

Thanks Hopyard, now I know: Just stick to the Sausage Shop and all will be well. 

Plus the pastrami was bullcrap.


Well, after that disappointing venture, I was off to my next annex, one that I know will not let me down, because the third spot belonged to:

Various Locations (This one came from the Tucson CSA, 300 E. University in the Historic Y courtyard)
No, I did not take this picture, thanks to the good person who did

When I re-started the Tucson Homeskillet almost two years ago and totally immersed myself in the local food scene, one of the first people to friend me and who I started to follow back was Don Guerra. This alchemist of local grains and flour creates some of the tastiest bread I have ever had the privilege to put in my mouth. Working out of his garage, Don is a one man flurry of baking, spawning delicious loaf after delicious loaf and sells his wares across Tucson at random locales, usually schools and community areas.

On this particular Wednesday, he happened to have a stand set up at the Community Supported Agriculture center courtyard on University Avenue.

Pain Epi and Au Levain, in repose

I got there at exactly 4pm and there was already a line. After staking my place in the que while checking out the amazing goods for sale, I had a horrible thought: Barrio  Bread only takes cash on outings like this, and I hadn't been to an ATM in quite some time.

Crap. Thing is, I rarely carry actual money with me, so I dug out my wallet and opened it up, praying I had at least a few bucks. Luckily there was a 10 in there...whew. Not enough to buy one of each but at least to grab two of my favorites, the the Pain Epi baguette and the au Levain loaf.

What can I say, if you have never experienced what real bread tastes like, you have no idea. Follow Barrio Bread online and track them/him down. Authentic bread is honestly one of my favorite things to eat. You think it's so simple, and, in reality, it is, but it is so much more. So complex, a living thing that is nearly almost all air, but it's science so... I hate to use this word, but the flavor is transcendent. Yes...I said "transcendent".

After the disappointment from the deli, the two loaves I was lucky to get made up for it. Just the smell alone made me woozy. And when I bit into the pain epi I honestly drooled a bit on myself. Which was funny because I wasn't even hungry. Those tacos from El Berraco were still doing their job which made my next destination a bit questionable.

Real bread is so Metal

To experience their happy hour cocktails and food, my fourth location was intended to be:

820 E. University
I'm sure the drinks and food were good but...

Here's the thing: I didn't get a chance to grab a drink or any food. Pasco at 4:30pm on a random Wednesday in February was PACKED. For real, there was absolutely no room at the bar, the patio was way over crowded (I mean, it was a splendiferously beautiful day so that was no surprise) and although there was a table or two open, I felt weird being alone in that sort of upscale environment, me in grubby shorts and tattered Vans, among the late afternoon scenesters and purveyors of lunchtime gossip and wine pairings.

So...I split. But I told myself I would return, hopefully with a partner and probably not as sweaty and still bloaty from the taco apocalypse I had just endured.

Sorry Pasco, but good on you! Congrats on the success. I mean, the food looked good and the cocktails appeared inviting. Hopefully next time.

Anyway, at this point my daytime adventure was winding down and I was really craving a drink. Luckily my final stop was a bar, a bar in a video store no doubt. That's right, I finally hauled my lazy butt over to:

2905 E. Speedway

The day was growing pretty warm, I had been driving and walking across a good portion of the city and I was so ready for a little respite and a cold beverage to ease me into the evening. Luckily when I walked into Casa Video's beer and coffee bar I was very pleased to find it full of places to sit and was gloriously air conditioned. Not too sure why it took me so long to check this place out but...I was glad I finally did.

Beer and a movie? Um, yes please!

Their beer selection was great, covering not just Arizona breweries but many others from the Pacific and Southwest. And there was a movie playing on the various flatscreens, Badlands, a movie I hadn't seen since I was a kid. This was great, just what I needed to end my grand day out.

The bar is set up really nice too. Not only do they have fantastic beer on tap but also microbrews in bottles for sale as well. Plus they are a full service coffee bar to boot. The other bodies in the place were drinking fresh brewed coffee, but not me. I needed an ice cold beer. And I got one. An IPA from a brewery up in Flagstaff. After grabbing my frosty glass filled with golden hued goodness, I took a seat on a comfy red chair near a viewing screen and sighed deep.

To quote Ice Cube: Today was a good day.

The beer was amazing; citrusy, hoppy, balanced and, most important, very cold and a bit strong. Folks from the regular video store area would wander in to access the second floor area seeing as the only way there was through the bar. I watched Martin Sheen and a very young Sissy Spacek kill people across the acrid space of South Dakota while quaffing a delicious ale made a few hundred miles up a ways as kids munched on popcorn before ascending the stairs to select a fine foreign film or exploitation movie whilst on a cozy chair hiding from the beating sun and after work traffic outside.

Everyone should have days like this. It makes you really appreciate the city you live in. When I was a resident of San Francisco for over 12 years I would do a "discover your city" tour at least once a month. Sometimes just jumping on a train and getting off at some random neighborhood and walking around to see what you could find. Tucson is no different. I mean, our "train" only goes a few blocks here and there but, you get what I am getting at here.

And, to quote Calvin and Hobbes: There's treasure everywhere!

Perfect way to end a fun day

Sure, the deli was a flop (like I said, I probably caught it on a not so awesome day) and Pasco was filled to capacity but...still. I set out to do what I had planned to do and when I went home to think about dinner and call my wife I was greeted with the fuzzy face of our cat, laying in a box and looking at me with "so when do I get a treat?" eyes. Days like this are indeed rare but when things come together, you need to just lean back and appreciate the awesomeness of the town you live in.

Thank you Tucson. We shall meet again on another excursion like this.

And then you lucky kids get to read all about it.

How grand is that?

Lil' my only friend

Camera and Typing
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
Late February, 2016

Metal Influence:

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Kneel Before The Altar Of A Meatless God!

Pretty sure it all started with a link.

It was a few years back, I had just left the life of a chef to work in a library and start a food site. Me being a lifelong fan of Metal music and also being a big time eater and lover of food, I'm pretty sure someone sent me a link via social media with the tagline: "Dude, you gotta check this guy out."

The link took me to a YouTube page dedicated to someone calling himself the Vegan Black Metal Chef. Okay. The Black Metal thing I was immediately down with as was the chef part...but "vegan"? It looked cool but I wasn't immediately sold.

So I clicked on a video where he was making Pad Thai. Sure. I mean, I was pretty convinced that this whole thing was a joke. Some guy in corpse paint, maiming food and then sacrificing it all to some slop altar all in the name of instant and brief internet fame.

But then...I kept watching.

After the initial bleating of his name over and over again in the sort of goblin squawk that some Black Metal vocalists strain, the video actually turned a respectable corner. Wearing chain mail and harsh vinyl gauntlets, the man in the makeup began to actually cook food. Brandishing a wicked blade you might see in a Dungeons and Dragons playbook and doing it all in candlelight, the Vegan Black Metal Chef took you from what ingredients you will need, what to do first, how to cook and assemble and all the while using non-animal products to do so. About halfway in I didn't even mind that he was cooking vegan. In fact, I really didn't notice. This guy knew what he was doing and I was an immediate fan.

His book, his tome, his offering unto the world

The best part was, the Vegan Black Metal Chef was funny. Keeping with the whole "Black Metal" motif, he tells you to "crush the s--t out of the peanuts" and "this is so much better than store bought because store bought sauce suuuuuuuucks!"

Not only was I learning, but I was laughing too, all the while getting my Metal fix in as blistering darkened music loomed in the background while his lesson goes subtitled seeing as he is near gargling the recipe to you in demon speak. When that video ended I instantly started another. Then another. Pretty soon I was a subscriber to his site, followed him on social media and began posting his newest videos on my own online pages.

And I'm not even a vegan. Far from it.

But I was hooked.

The man, the makeup, the lover of animals

A few months ago I got a message on social media: The Vegan Black Metal Chef was writing a cookbook and created a Kickstarter campaign to get it going. Oh, I may not have a ton of money, but this guy is going to get some of mine because I want that cookbook out on the shelves for everyone to savor. Vegan or not, the guy in the bat wing shoulder cloak knows what he is doing and I knew that his manual would envelop most run of the mill Food Network inspired cookbooks. Forget the boring old 'brunch ideas' and 'super simple supper' recipes you've bored over again and again, the Vegan Black Metal Chef is here to burn all that tripe down (well, not actual tripe, that would mean cruelty to a cow) and build a tasty fortress of gastro-ingenuity without the use of real cheese or meat.

I've seen it be done on YouTube, now I just need it bound and printed.

There was even an incentive to donate to his cause. If you gave a certain amount, not only would he get closer to publication and you get a copy of the book once it was published but he would mention you and promote your website as well. This, I thought, was too good to be true. Seeing as the Tucson Homeskillet was in the infancy of its rebirth at the time, we could use all the help we can get. Heck, we still can! So I gave what I could and waited...

Ingenious recipes, easy and animal free

Then one day I got an email. It was from the man himself. He received my donation and just needed the link to my website. So I sent him the address and not too long after he responded:

"Your website has an image of a piece of pizza that clearly has animal based product on it. Since I cannot condone the use of animal based ingredients, can you send me something else?"

So I sent the Vegan Black Metal Chef a few articles that could be deemed "vegan"; one was about a local beer house and the other was a local brewery. That's...what I had. Luckily those links seemed to satisfy the dark lord of the kitchen and on November 3rd 2015, myself and the Tucson Homeskillet got a nod from the wicked sorcerer de cuisine sans animale.

A couple of months later, a package arrived. In it was his cookbook.

Immediately I flipped through it and just as quick I knew this thing was amazing.

Breaking it down like the villages of the forlorn doomed to have their huts engulfed in flames

"The Seitanic Spellbook" (for those that might not know, seitan is pure wheat gluten that a lot of vegetarians and vegans use in the place of meat, it has a similar consistency to some lean proteins especially when cooked and seasoned correctly) is what you would expect from the magic realm of the Vegan Black Metal Chef. Right off from opening the blackened folio of heightened consciousness cuisine, there are skulls, fire, pentagrams and most importantly a mission statement.

The master invokes the conclave of what "traditional" plant based cooking is meant to be and smashes that notion like the brains of his enemies. He sticks tried and true to keeping as close to non-animal based components as possible but using his own experience and taste to elevate each dish. But just like his website and videos, the VBMC crushes the usual elitist and sometimes tasteless takes on what it means to eat and live vegan. This guy makes it fun. Like really fun.

And that is something the lifelong devotees and the curious onlookers of the vegan cabal need these days. 

I know I do.

Your unearthly trip across the globe

The book starts off with a breakdown of cuisine from around the world. Not too sure what they are dining on in Hell these days, but I am sure it might involve a lot of garlic and some Sriracha, which the chef here uses a good amount of.

Peppered among the glorious offerings of less than barbarous fare are essays and helpful hints to assist you in your ascent into a food coma oblivion. Such as, and I had no idea about this, there are "vegan" wines compared to other wines. Did you know this? We sure didn't.

Apparently some wines are filtered through bone marrow and fish parts....but why? Anyway, the good thing is that vegan wine is cheaper than those that invoke gelatin to make them sweeter or more palpable to the common tongue and for that we bow our heads before the enlightened deity and continue forth on our quest for real yummy vittles. 

Further uses of the components you already possess in your pantry of doom

You are taken on a journey from Euro-American, through Asia, South America, Indian cuisine, Italian and the Middle East. Each stop, much like the notion of this entire hell spawn of recipes and concepts, breaks down the "traditional" approach to each dish. The best thing is, the change is really quite simple. All you have to do is tweak a bit here and there, perhaps spend more time at Asian markets and co-ops to get you ingredients, but overall the switch really isn't that grotesque.

And this is coming from a Metalhead that eats whatever he wants. Honestly, "The Seitanic Spellbook" really makes me want to challenge myself and go vegan once in a while. I like vegetables. If it wasn't for the potato how would we get french fries and vodka? Think about it.

Perhaps you going vegan wouldn't be so rough if you follow the examples set in this book. I bet you can do it.

Let's see if you can.

Metal Mark's weakness, Indian cuisine, which is nearly vegan to begin with

Each section opens up to one initial recipe, folded between the two pages. On the left, you have the "Spell Reagents" (aka the ingredients), which are always stripped down and easy to obtain and follow. Next comes the play by play on cooking the dish all done with the vernacular that we have all come to love and fear from his online videos. Sure there's no Black Metal playing (um, this is a book yo), so you're going to have to supply that on your own.

Might I suggest some early Emperor, Mayhem, Dark Throne, Carpathian Forest and that Chris Gaines thing that Garth Brooks did trying to do some sort of switcharoo on us and all he did was don a black wig and flavor savor.

Oh, and you need to cook by candlelight. And with a dagger of eternal nightmares. And pepper.

Lots of pepper.

Scoop out the flesh of yon avocado of death

Intertwined in these works of gloom and deliciousness, are the Chef's advice on how to shop. Oh you think you can just waltz into any Piggly Wiggly, buy some non-meat item and then be all "Hey, looka me...I'm all vegan and crap!" No. You need to read the labels, you need to seriously give some thought into what you are putting in your cart and then putting in your mouth. Hidden in so many so called "vegetarian" products contain microbes of animal spleen or cricket dust. It happens and if you want to follow the doctrines of the Vegan Black Metal Chef you are going to have to change the way you shop.

All it takes is perhaps a course to a different food supplier, maybe sourcing from a local farmers market or not supporting the gratuitous big box gluttony that is slowly poisoning you with their labels of "organic" and "healthy". This scripture of evil benediction will guide you into the darkened light of a new consciousness with just the simple task of modifying a thing or two here and there.

Regardless, this book is just chock full of instructions on how to inventory your kitchen to create the best freakin' food you could possible conjure up to appease the wicked gods of the culinary underworld.

Did you know you can recreate the flavor of shrimp by using the Japanese Konjac root and a few spices?

Me either.

Apparently bacon is a state of mind, not just a fatty pork product

My favorite parts have to be the "Oracles of Inspiration" which are extensions of the meal plan and recipe you were just provided with and uses the components to further your excursion into the deep forest of flavor.

You have the vegan cheese and made black bean "cheese" what? How about mac 'n cheese? A burrito? Lasagne maybe? He doesn't just proclaim "Go get me some green beans for this one dish!" and then leave you hanging. Using the index in the back, locate 'green beans' and pursue your way into the vortex of heavenly spite and yummy tummy scorn. There is no end to the concepts of eating vegan in this book and flavor is just the beginning.

Or the end. Bwahahahahaa!!!

You all have spiked bowls of infernal grimness I hope

Through it all, the Vegan Black Metal Chef arrives on occasion to inspire and be the torch down the long dungeon of uncertainty and possible fleeing. With that razor sharp wit and confidence, he has pages dedicated to knowing what the book's intentions are, what it means to live a cruelty free life and to be the best darn person you can be. All the while cursing, praising Satan and making you laugh the whole time.

This cookbook may not be for all people just due to the subject matter and the use of Black Metal and skulls to mach your guacamole, but no one can deny the care, thought and time it went into creating such a demonic reach of exquisite food and flavor. If you are looking for fancy vegan cuisine using only the dried berry emulsion from the rarest bloom found on the tallest mountain only cultivated by a secluded indigenous people for one week out of the need to talk to you dietitian/yoga instructor named Chip because this guy uses onion powder and stuff you can purchase down the street. The idea of going vegan shouldn't be terrifying or really that hard. It should be about awareness and caring about how you live in this world and what you do as a part of it. That and eating some good stuff.

The only "terrifying" thing is his collection of battle weapons. I mean, how do you chop a leek with a double bladed axe? Not too sure, but the Vegan Black Metal Chef makes it look so easy.

And fun.

By the fires ov Hell, the food was delightful

"The Seitanic Spellbook" needs to be in the collection of any serious home cook looking for options, vegetarians and vegans needing a well needed push into safer territories and for Metal fans because this man does it right. It's smart, it inventive, it cracked me up and above all it made me super hungry. I look at cookbooks all the time and this one actually had me panting and drooling. Best part is, there isn't one animal ingredient in any dish and I'd like to see Bobby Flay pull that off. Plus I don't think he could pull off the corpse paint either. Or maybe he could. I'd like to see him try.

Blessings and curses to you Vegan Black Metal Chef. This scroll of savory darkness is one to cherish and keep bound forever in a sarcophagus buried deep in the forlorn wastelands of Nefelheim only to be procured by the summoning imps beyond the freezing damnation mist when their hunger becomes malevolent.

Or keep convenient on top of the fridge like I do.

Either way.

We of the Tucson fold know our tacos, and these are good tacos

You can visit the Vegan Black Metal Chef HERE

Watch his videos HERE

Eventually buy the book but for now get it for your Kindle HERE

Camera and Typing
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
In the Permafrost of Late Winter, 2016

Metal Influence:

Sunday, February 14, 2016

What's That Smell? Oh, It's Romance In The Air!

It's that time again Homeskillet fans. Time to get snoogy woogy with your bestest love muffin, dole out perforated cards stating pre-drafted sentiment like "Use the force...and be mine!" and above all spend your hard earned dollar on big plush bears, dyed pink, scented like roses with doughy wet eyes holding a heart that says "I Wuv Wou!"

That's right! It's Valentine's Day and we at the Tucson Homeskillet are all about romance. We love food. We love booze. We love Metal. And...uh...well I'm sure there's more to life but at the time being we can't really think of anything else.

That said, the Tucson Homeskillet is here to help those that are stuck on what to do to court that special someone. It's not widely known, but Tucson is the romance capital of, um, anywhere between Phoenix and Nogales. Betcha didn't know that did you? you do! Yes, this fine city is chock full of enchantment and beguiling charms of the heart. In fact, the word Tucson comes from the native people's word for "city by the hills" and history has shown those hills were the curvaceous rump of a lovely O'odham lass named Becky who was the peach in a missionary named Rondor's eyes as he killed her family because they did not believe in Jesus. Afterwards, he put beans and mayo on a hot dog and, well, the rest you know.

So here are some things we came up with to get yourself magically whisked away into a incandescent rainbow colored tsunami of love and unplanned bulges as young hearts race and long term marriages begin to go through that "should we try make this work?" phase of their commitment. Yes, let us guide you into the thudding abyss of silk sheets, scattered flower petals and some hitchhiker named "Cody" and wiggle down the choo-choo tracks of  lust and questionable charges on your credit card.

You ready? Well bend over Methuselah because here comes the cupid juice!

Ignite The Passion At Furr's Family Buffet

When you walk through the door you and your valentine will be suddenly transported into another world. Bask in the glory as the local elders take in heaps of steamy "food" and cram it down with bottomless ice tea refills all the while getting confused by the sneeze guard. The look on the servers face alone with tell you what's on their mind: They're not in it for the money, oh no. They are in it for the excitement of it all, the occasional "Thank you sweetie" and waking up grandpa Jack when he goes face first in the pea soup.

The best part is that you two can gaze longingly into each others eyes over a potato product of some kind, knowing that you are, or are becoming, a couple as tables are nearly unoccupied let for one lonely soul, still looking for their mate I guess. Yes, even those in their golden years are still on the market as they stab green beans and enjoy the fine music of yesterday played through a dying Casio in speakers from the Nixon era. Sometimes the solitary dreamer just stares out into the ether wondering what the heck they just ate and where might their long lost heart's desire reside. Here at Furr's Family Feedbag, the old and companionless sit for hours doing just that and isn't it high time to get your fantastic journey of tender submission to the sweet gods of amour underway? We think so...

It also helps if you play old Tom Waits while eating and looking at the single seniors sitting on naugahyde and enjoying 1950's inspired cuisine.  It makes for lovely cabaret.

Take A Romantic Stroll Down Miracle Mile

Nothing says "Oh la la" like vintage neon signs, bowling alley churros and a $9 prostitute wearing a neck brace. Yes, Miracle Mile is a lovers stroll down the city's history. Just take it all in. No really, just lean your head back and breathe in deep.

Quite pungent isn't it? That's decades of frolic and antics from yesteryear. Sure there's the refurbished Monterey Court with it's newfangled shops and fruity art galleries along with that hoity toity cafe of theirs, but that's not what you're looking for, right? No! You're looking for an authentic Tucson adventure to ease your date into a state of wonder followed by a woozy foray that could almost be described as "straight roofied".

Might we suggest taking a tour of the historic Ghost Ranch? We might.

These days it isn't a ranch at all. In fact it's better than a ranch. It's an apartment complex!

Think about all the fun you kids can have by just knocking on doors and making new friends! It's like an instant Valentine's Day party. All you gotta do is knock, introduce yourselves, walk right in and help yourself to whatever is in the fridge. Perhaps going through their medicine cabinet can be the start of a muy romantico evening. What's that on the TV? A 'Criminal Minds' marathon? I say it's time to sit down on that couch with your new apartment pal, kick back and enjoy. Maybe slowly put your arm around your date as the man in the brown terrycloth robe phones the authorities. Smooth move there Don (or Joan) Juan.

After the cops take down your information and set you two loose on the streets, you need to embrace some of the higher quality culture that Miracle Mile boasts. This can only mean one thing:

It's time to take in the local dance theater that is TD's Showclub.

Ballerinas have nothing on these prima dancers, let me tell you. First of all, ballerinas don't glisten and shimmer with fairy dust, these ladies do. Ballerinas can't shimmy up and down a fireman's pole and do all sorts of Cirque du Soleil gymnastics as the dancers here can. And I'm sure ballerinas don't make that much money because these light on their feet fillies literally have cold hard cash thrown at them and all they have to do is become art models for a moment and sometimes wow you with their derriere dexterity. Really, it's quite the spectacle. One cheek goes this way, the other in another bouncy direction. Now that's talent!

If you two love birds get hungry, nothing says "I've got a crush on you" like various chicken parts doused in Tabasco water, or "here's lookin' at you kid" much like hockey pretzels slathered in a fine duck butter glaze and served with a kiddie pool filled with cheese squirt, all served up by a lady that didn't make the dancer cut so now she cuts herself at night just so she can feel something. Yessir. There's a bit of ol' Old Pueblo magic at TD's and when the coke raids start at midnight, you know your love will last forever.

Plus there are plenty of places to sleep on Miracle Mile, when that time arrives (wink wink). For less than $20 you can rest your love soaked head down on some rubber matted sheets and enjoy the rhythmical pastorale of folks expressing their Second Amendment rights, enthusiastically and more often than you anticipated. You'll find it hard to beat saying "good night dear one" like an angry pimp trying to explain to his female employee that she has not provided enough payment for the evening and he is now just wondering where the other payments might be residing. The coo of her desperate pleas will inspire many cloud puffed dreams as your neighbors violently make love to one another and call out the name of our Lord whilst the rapping of their headboard offsets the almost Christmas-like lights from squad cars fill your room with the warm glow of sheer heart racing bewitchment.

They don't call it "Miracle Mile" for nothing. The sheer benediction of this long stretch of road can only bring couples closer, reignite the passions of those long married and entice those that just locked eyes and know they will be together forever. And if that isn't a miracle...we don't want to know what one is.

Except for that one drunk guy warbling Dire Straits down at karaoke night at Nevada Smith's Saloon some evening. That wasn't just a miracle. It was something else making angels weep. Hopefully he will be available to croon you two into marital bliss because only true love can follow Chad from accounting five-rums-in squelching "Man in the Mirror". Let his song be your drift into wedded rapture!

Enjoy Our Signature Valentine's Cocktail 

Okay lovebirds, time for a nitecap. 

He likes beer while she prefers a good stiff drink. You are both reeling from the evening and noticed that you filled your pocket full of gravy from Furr's which just makes you two laugh and laugh. Not wanting to waste anything, especially this delicious and sensuous moment, you decide to make everyone happy so here is what you will need to set the mood for a night you will never forget:

1 part Rumple Minze
1 part Four Loko Malt Liquor Energy Drink
That day old gravy

Shake the Rumple Minze and Four Loko together. Strain in a dirty glass you got at the swap meet. Top with the gravy. Serve and enjoy. 

And what is the name of this mighty potion of desire?

A Rumple Four Skin

You're welcome Tucson. 

Happy Valentine's Day!

Typing and Uploads
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
Valentine's Day, 2016

Metal Influence:

Monday, February 8, 2016

Fumbling Around Tucson During the Super Bowl

The Super Bowl, for me anyway, always represents the end of a season and the beginning of a new one. Winter, kind of, officially ends when the winner of the game gets handed that oblong silver medal and is showered with multi colored confetti spewing out of plastic canons. The holiday season is long gone, the decorations are put away and all we have to look forward to now is the dreaded pink and muck of Valentine's Day.

Baseball and basketball linger for far too long, hockey is cool but not the biggest American diversion. So the end of football means that we have to wait another seven months till the weather starts to cool off a bit and we can prepare, once again, for the awesome calendar holidays and a sport that all but consumes most sports fans. I myself decided to be a football fan a few years ago and, since then, have wavered in and out with my attention. Some seasons I have fun with it and watch as many games as possible. But some, such as the most recent, I really didn't care about any of it and I would blankly stare at the TV at my local watering hole if a game was on. Just wasn't feeling football in the '15-'16 season. Just didn't care. It happens.

But, for some odd reason, I wanted to try and get into the super bowl this year. Not play in the game silly but make an attempt to give a crap, just one last time, before spring hits and the summer wave of heat and bad television takes precedence. So in order to do so I thought it would be fun to completely immerse myself with super bowl happenings all across Tucson.

The idea was to map out a bunch of neighborhood and sports bars that advertised themselves as a Super Bowl headquarters and restaurants touting food and drink specials to coincide with the sport spectacle, take a bunch of photos, chat about the food and drinks and have a good time. Seems pretty fun right?


It didn't hurt that the night before the game, and my Tucson super bowl trek, Metallica played a free show at the stadium in San Francisco and live streamed it. Now, I have only seen Metallica live twice; the first was their Master of Puppets tour just a few short months before Cliff Burton died in that bus accident and the second was their ...And Justice For All show which was cool but lacked the energy of the days playing with Cliff. Then they released the "Black Album" then I stopped caring and then time passed and, well, here we are.

Thing is, the show they delivered the night before the game was really fun and impressive. They sounded great, seemed to be having a good time, played a lot of old school favorites and I'm sure with the talent and youthful energy of bassist Robert Trujillo have found a new vitality in what they do. So I went to bed that night happy and excited about my adventures the next day.

"Too heavy to play halftime"

The map I created had me starting in my neighborhood (midtown) with some local bars, then winding around various east side locations, back around Speedway and Broadway then ending up on University Avenue with all of the open air locations with huge TVs and possible heaps of screaming fans. For a second I thought about going downtown but...meh. If you know me then you know I don't go downtown much. Let the other food writers cover that territory. I'll cover the rest.

So my first stop was a place right down the street from me, Nancy's Fort Lowell Pub. It doesn't take much for the owner, staff and even a few regulars to bring in a swinging potluck. So I was sure that for the super bowl, they would pull out all the stops.

First stop on the super bowl adventure

I got there a bit early, like 3pm, an hour and a half hours before kickoff, and they were still setting up. In the midst of people bringing in offerings, there was already an impressive stash of brauts, chili, chips, pulled pork and so on. A lot of people I know are a bit weary of going into Nancy's, mainly because of it's location (1st and Ft. Lowell at the dark end of a line of shops) but mostly because this is a real neighborhood bar with real neighborhood patrons. There is absolute no pretension at this place and that is why we love it. An honest drink for an honest price? Yes please. Then throw on top of that the usual pop up of a potluck? Awesome.

It was still pre-game and I had a lot of ground to cover, so I made my way out and onto the next location.

Bartender Patty's beloved Cowboys crockpot filled with slow cooked goodness

Now, some of you may know while others have literally no idea, I am married to the uber bar maven of Old Chicago on Campbell Ave, She-Ra. Have been for a decade now; the reason I moved to Tucson in the first place. One year she was recognized for her homemade hot sauce and mix that goes into their Bloody Mary and won "best of" from local media. Pretty cool.

Well, for the super bowl, Old Chicago was running a special on Bloody Mary's and I decided to check it out even though She-Ra is out of town training new staff in a Texas location.

Me and this place go way back

Here is where super bowls of the past started to come back and haunt me.

For a few years I was the pizza chef and kitchen supervisor at Old Chicago and the minute I stepped foot into the restaurant I remembered that the super bowl was a notoriously slow day. We always overstaffed the kitchen, over prepped for the onslaught of tickets we were preparing to blind us with orders...all of which never came.

Usually by halftime we sent most kitchen guys home and just froze the over prep for later use. No one was ordering Bloody Mary's and in the still eve of a kick off the place was a bit quiet. So I said my hellos, took a photo or two and left.

It's just not the same without She-Ra.

Waiting for the game to start, trying all 110 beers

Third on the list was our usual hangout, Danny's, which had a wing cook off starting at 3. Unfortunately I was a little late seeing as I had already been to two other locations celebrating the big game but was lucky enough to eat a few wings, have my first drink and relax in a comfortable spot before heading back out.

I know, I talk about this place a's like home away from home

The wings that I did get to sample were delicious. In  fact, since I was too late to be a judge, the wings that I thought should win actually did win. See, this is the kind of forethought and community inclusion that I love about days such as the super bowl and about places such as Danny's. If you're not going to spend game day at home or at a friend's house, why not go to your usual spot and enjoy the day with your adopted bar buddies?

Much like Nancy's, Danny's was filling up and was full of happy customers a good hour before kickoff. Unfortunately, I had a long day ahead so I finished my drink and headed up to my next pinned location.

Amazing BBQ chicken wings as part of the cookoff

Vero Amore is one of my go to restaurants for pizza and has been for quite some time. It is so good, for the most part. Now that Tucson has Pizzaria Bianco and the mobile unit Fiamme Pizza Napoletana, they seem to teeter on good and acceptable lately. But they were advertising themselves as a go to spot for the super bowl, so I parked my car and got there just in time to see and hear GaGa sing the national anthem.

I thought the girl killed it. In the best way possible.

Werk that anthem hunty

When I asked the girl at the host stand what they're specials were, she looked distressed and said she didn't know of any. So she scuttled off, asked one of the chefs and then came back saying there was a rosemary potato pizza special and a gnocchi special.

Were those two items cheaper because they were special? She said no. What about drinks? You have to have a beer or cocktail special for the game, right?

There wasn't any.


Looking around, I noticed the place was near empty. Old Chicago at least boasted specials with reduced prices but Vero Amore, advertising super bowl deals, had none. Interesting.

This is where things began to take a dull and fruitless turn.

This image became the norm for the rest of the day

Leaving Vero Amore, I turned right onto Speedway Blvd. and tried my hand at Sir Veza's, the place that boasts that they are the "day drinking headquarters". This place must have something cool going on for the game. Nope. And just like Vero Amore, it was almost empty.

With the game about to begin, I made my way into Trident Grill. Okay, this time the place was packed, but after asking if they had any game day specials, the girls all looked so rushed that I couldn't get a straight answer. Now I didn't take any pictures here because I felt odd, for some odd reason, of taking pictures of dudes staring at big TVs. Same went for Sir Veza's. Why shoot a near empty bar or just a packed bar with folks camping for the game?

So I moved on to what I thought would be my final location, which is the bar and restaurant stretch on University Avenue.

Before I decided to park the car, I made the move to just drive down the street first and see if there was any action. Well, from my vantage point, there was not, or at least not very much. The new kids on the block, Illegal Pete's had some turnout but not enough for me to pull over and start snapping photos. Frog and Firkin had all their TVs going, so did their neighbor No Anchovies, all blaring loud as the game was underway, but the seats were nearly empty. Perhaps I should have just gone to Red's Smokehouse ordered some bomb ribs and called it a day.

Thing is, at that point, I just wanted to go home. Driving around Tucson looking for food and drink awesomeness during the super bowl was my first big (insert fail music here) since restarting the Homeskillet, other than getting turned down by the Salvation Army to cover their big Xmas turkey dinner for the homeless. Oh yeah. Because of who knows why, they wouldn't let me promote and help with their big charity event. Whatever. Until they can support same sex marriage I could give a poo.

Now I know. The super bowl is more of a home gathering, with friends coming over with treats, the BBQ is smoking and filled with burning meat and veggies, ice cold beers in the fridge, you know...American stuff. For some reason I had this idea that Tucson would be out in droves, celebrating, screaming at the TV and cramming as much food and beer into their football loving faces in a public display of fan affection.


Here's a tip though: If you don't care at all about the super bowl...the city is yours! For real. All those usual, crammed, hard to get in places? You can just step right in and have the space to yourself. Much like when I lived in San Francisco, during Burning Man the city was an empty shell of what it normally blusters. For one week all of the wait lists and deep cover charges are lifted. So on the next super bowl Sunday, have fun exploring the food and bar scene of your fair southwestern hamlet. Because it is extensive, exciting and growing day by day.

After grabbing some Indian food, I sat in the soft warmth of my own home, streaming the game on the computer, quietly rolling my eyes at each referees call while petting the cat and making a note to do the same next year.

But if I do decide to go out next year...c'mon Tucson. Give us some incentive to do so. Learn from the neighborhood bars and give us a reason to sit and occupy your services for three hours. It's not that hard. Is it?

I hope not.

Anyway....who won?

Camera and Typing
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
Super Bowl Sunday (and Monday), 2016

Metal Influence: