Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Teetering Toward Great, Flirting With Disaster

Being a food writer and blogger in Tucson means that you eat a lot of tacos. You see, I am totally fine with this. Because of that reason I love what I do both in print and online and when a new Mexican place opens up you better believe the Homeskillet crew will be there to sample yon wares of deliciousness.

Here's the thing: Sometimes you can burn out on a style of food. Its easy, especially when you're in the food writing biz. Like, for example, I am totally in love with pastrami sandwiches but if I ate those mofos 3 - 4 days a week on a fairly regular basis I'd change my last meal option if I was to be sent to the electric chair from a #19 from Langers Deli to, oh, I don't care...anything but really.

How are Hot Pockets? Are they tasty?

Fortunately it had been a while since we stepped foot in a proper Mexican food joint so when we were in the neighborhood of Calle Tepa we slammed on the brakes and prepared ourselves for some serious southern border street food.

The place is colorful, we'll say that much

In a shopping strip on Broadway just off of Wilmot, wedged between a Panera Bread and Breugger's Bagels, is a lively spot owned by the wife of the guy that opened up the Guadalajara string of restaurants. The pedigree is there, the financial backing is obviously this place must be awesome.


Checking online reviews, Calle Tepa is pretty much 3 -5 stars across the board. First off, we were hungry. Second, we were now excited because of the internet hype. With over 400 people essentially praising this place we wondered why we hadn't visited it sooner.

Oh yeah. There's like 1,000+ other Mexican food stands here in Tucson.

That's probably why.

Chips were tasty and the salsas were really good

When we walked in we were immediately taken with how colorful the space was. The wall to your left is a vibrant mural of their menu with fairly standard fare without being too extensive which is what we like. When restaurants get too bold with their options we tend to get flummoxed, flummoxed we tell you!, and eventually end up ordering something safe just to get it over with.

The last time we were at that Cheesecake place their menu was like a frikkin tome of ancient wisdom and long sagas of battles and mythology...except with elephantine portions of extreme shrimp popper alfredo colon blocker bombs and "salads" that boasted more sodium and fat grams than a dozen burger options from Lindy's.

Way, way too big.

Still, even with the fairly tight menu, we were new and just wanted some staples: A couple of street tacos, mini-chimichangas and some ceviche along with the requisite chips and salsa.

They gave us a number, we took a seat next to a window and we waited while nibbling on their crunchy chips and really flavorful salsas under star shaped lights next to a large family that seemed quite happy to be there.

Hopefully, we would be too.

Big tacos, little flavor

For the tacos we got the carne asada, chicken adobada and the chili verde.

These things were big. And if by "street taco" you must mean a 10 lane Los Angeles highway because most street tacos we have come across are lil' bites of savory perfection, ones that easily fit in your hand so you can be on your way without that rumbly in your tumbly.

These, unfortunately, just didn't really do anything for us.

The carne asada was fine but was a bit over cooked and really didn't have any seasoning. The chicken adobada, which is normally a spicy red BBQ sauce, was nice but did not deliver any heat or much flavor. And the chili verde, slow roasted pork in a green sauce of jalapenos, garlic and tomatillos, was just kind of drippy and bland.


I mean, it was late in the afternoon, well after the lunch rush, so maybe they were understaffed and weren't really paying attention to what they were doing as preparation for dinner was the focus at that time.


Okay, well we also had some mini chimis to contend with and a big bowl of ceviche waiting for us.

Let's hope these work out for the better.

Mini chimis that were not so mini

Just like the street tacos, the "mini" chimichangas were anything but. More like small-ish deep fried burritos or extra large Mexican eggrolls.

These things we liked, mainly because they were simple and paired well with a selection from the salsa bar. The chicken was cooked perfectly and the fry on the tortillas was crispy and golden. They came equipped with some decent guacamole and we were happy that these guys hit the mark and hit the spot as well.

Sadly, the salsa and the chimis would prove to be the highlight.

Thanks to so many online suggestions on ordering their ceviche, we were really bummed that this dish sank on so many levels.

The fish was chewy and flabby, the broth lacked citrus and spice - it just sort of sat there surrounding the tilapia, tomatoes and onion with no real rhyme or reason. This sucked. Man, we hate to come down on places but unfortunately our experience at Calle Tepa was anything but awesome.

And it helps to be awesome in this current culinary climate here in Tucson. Because we can get tacos, chimis and ceviche almost anywhere, most likely better quality too. There was just nothing about Calle Tepa to make us go "Wow, we seriously need to go back there."

We went. We ate. Eh.

If you guys have eaten there and think we are daft for not loving them then send us a message imploring to give them a second chance. Otherwise there are the other 999+ Mexican food stops here that we need to try and want to come back to.

Also, if we can be honest here for a moment: We're not huge fans of the Guadalajara restaurants.

Just saying.

Sorry about it...

About the

Typing, Camera and Eating
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
A Bit Past St. Patrick's Day, 2017

Metal Influence:

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Pizza Is Strong With This One

Yes, another pizza concept in Tucson. Yes.

All we can say about that is...yes!

We've said it before and we will continue to say it: We are totally fine with pizza places opening up here. How can you go wrong with another pizza joint? Oh wait, yeah, there are actually a LOT of spots that serve "whatever" slices and pies so when one pops up that entices, delights and even surprises, all we can say about that is...


But what we are talking about here is not exactly a spot, or a joint, nor brick n' mortar, or...

We'll stop there.

No, what we got here is a completely mobile pizza station and all we can say about it is a resounding:


The maestro, Luke Smith

Luke's Neapolitan Pizza and Catering is new to the pizza block but the chef and owner is far from being green around the ears, or crust. Luke Smith was once involved, and helped get off the ground, a popular and successful "food truck" business, Fiamme, which is now a standalone at the corner of Swan and Sunrise and is doing very well.

Luke and his former business partner did not see things the way that two should when pushing a concept into the tasty stratosphere, attempting to bring them to glorious heights, so Luke split and actually left the pizza biz for quite some time to rethink what he wanted to do with his young life.

After a bit of knocking around here and there and even taking some bland job in order to pay the bills, Luke realized that he had a talent and passion for all things savory and wood fired and made a very important decision. So with a bit of luck along with some financial negotiations, he got back on the pizza wagon and began to build, well...a pizza wagon.

And all anyone can say about this is: You made the right choice.

Hand made deliciousness

Now that his former partner is nestled into a cozy spot, Luke knew that operating a mobile pizzaria would be something special here in Tucson, especially the style that he is most accustomed to making. Neapolitan pizza is essentially what pizza really is, how it got started, from a region of Italy usually associated with gangsters.

It is a thin crust made from simple dough ingredients and topped with a minimal of sauce, sprinkling of cheese and perhaps a cured meat or roasted vegetable here and there. Thrown into a well heated wood fired oven that can reach temperatures of 800 degrees, these magnificent discs of supple flavor are meant to be enjoyed for the quality of ingredients and not the sheer amount of salty messes and glop that seem to permeate so many "pizzas" that we have grown comfortable with.

Sure Luke can make you a pizza with extra sausage, extra cheese and extra sauce, but it wont be the same as his other perfected creations and just might fall off the finely charred crust and fall into your lap and your date will be all "Dude, you got pizza crotch" before taking off and leaving you there with hot drippy (yet delicious) chaos starting to seep into your underwear.

Trust the maestro here. Luke's pizzas are fantastic so leave the heavy handed muck to the corporate chains that insert hot dogs into their crust.

We know what we are talking about here.


Locally sourced wood makes for a perfect cook and char

It's hard work, like really hard work, and sometimes frustrating, but Luke Smith is tenacious and hungry so when you see his set up anywhere across southern Arizona, usually at breweries, sporting events and the occasional neighborhood bar, slam on them breaks and get you some.

His dough? Handmade. The mozzerella? Does it himself. That tangy yet subtly sweet sauce? Fresh made every day. What about the sausage? Yep, he makes it. Yeah, but how...


In our fair city of noted gastronomy, a guy like Luke isn't going to just set up a cheap oven, slap some crud he bought at the grocery store on dough that came from a can that pops loud when you twist it open then charge you like $15 for it because, you know, overhead and supply and demand and all of those buzzwords associated with lackluster products. No. This is a guy, a kid really, that wants you to walk away knowing that you just ate something special from a business that was built from literally nothing by someone with experience and a love of all things authentic and delicious.

Honestly, we just can't get enough of him and his pizza.

His ratio of toppings to dough is absolutely perfect

But it just doesn't stop or start at pizzas. He can also fix you up a calzone, which is basically a pizza gone Hot Pocket yet far more scrumptious and less frozen aisle sadness. Stuffed with pepperoni, mozzarella and ricotta cheese, he then tops it with his signature red sauce, more mozzarella and finishes it with fresh locally grown basil. It is a beast. A tasty tasty beast.

Luke's margherita (c'mon, if you're going to make Neapolitan pizza, you have to have a margherita pizza on the menu) is delicate and full of fresh flavor. One of the best made in town, flour dusted hands down.

We personally love his pizza bianca, or white pizza. A dance of choice ingredients; his homemade mozzarella, locally bottled olive oil then completed with basil and grana cheese, which is an Italian hard cheese that is very mature and has less of a sharp flavor than parmesan but still has a bold bite. You seriously need to try this one.

Okay, lets get down to the nitty gritty here. Our go-to bit of decadence has got to be Luke's bacon and egg creation. Oh...dear...jeebus. So freaking good. This monolith served atop hand tossed dough is a white pizza but covered in wood roasted bacon and a perfectly cooked over easy egg (which is anything but easy to cook, especially outdoors among the elements). Luke then takes the egg, carefully breaks open the yolk and drizzles it all over the pie like the deviant fiend that he is. This pizza is not just for breakfast anymore. Oh no. This one covers all the meals then goes into a late night snack then somehow vortexes itself into a whole new dimension.

What comes between lunch, dinner and beer?

Not too sure, but this pizza is it.

Yep, that would be a perfectly cooked egg right there

Outside of serving up amazing pizzas and calzones, Luke is also available for catering. His prices are totally reasonable for parties up to 20 people. We've considered throwing a "party" just so he would show up and serve us.

Fine, maybe is was just Metal Mark.

To get what we are talking about and to see where Luke will be set up next, you can follow him on Facebook HERE.

Oops, forgot to mention that Luke can also make you a Nutella pizza topped with ice cream for about $4. That is if he has the stuff with him which isn't always the case. So fingers crossed when you cross paths with him.

If not, he has plenty of other fantastic options to fill you up and keep you pizza motivated.

Believe us.

For that, all we can say again is...


Cheers Luke!

Camera, Typing and Eating
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
Early Spring, 2017

Metal Influence: