Saturday, May 26, 2018

Smokin' in the Back Room

What I love best about being a food writer here in Tucson, or just being a curious/adventurous eater (and drinker) in general, is that there are so many fun and random pop up culinary events to attend year 'round. How frikkin' fun is that?

So frikkin' fun!

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, the Tucson Originals group in conjunction with Local First Arizona held a fairly intimate gathering at the fairly new Trident III (250 S. Craycroft, just off Broadway) called Whiskey & Smoke. This was a time for some Tucson breweries, distilleries, restaurants and chefs to highlight when they can do with some of their products and pair them with some 'smoky' nibbles and goodness.

Because, hey...why not?

Its always good to see Barrio Brewery in action

It's also good to see that Trident III is doing so well because the last few concepts in that spot didn't pan out so well. In fact the one right before they moved in was open maybe a month or two before having to shut down for good.


But on this particular day, the regular restaurant portion was pretty bumping as was the Whiskey & Smoke event which was nestled into a jammed side area just right of the front entrance.

A corndog without the dog

My first booth stop was at Hamilton Distillers that bottle the multiple award winning whiskey series, Del Bac. Since my cover story on them and other local distilleries for the Tucson Weekly last year I have been sort of obsessed with their Dorado blend, which is sort of like drinking liquid bacon. No, serious, its like...totally amazing. With that down the gullet I was ready to sample the goods from various restaurants and chef friends that decided to come out for this jaunty shindig. 

This dessert sample was amazing

First sample was from Mat Cable of Fresco Pizza. He made this mezzelune out of burnt wheat, stuffed it with with some smoked duck and then finished with a morel and smoked whiskey cream sauce. Wow. Incredibly good. So far the "smoke" aspect of the event is off to a great start.

Next was the host, Trident III, and their smoked brisket take on a banh mi. There were so many elements involved in this dish that all I could do was nod as the list of ingredients were being laid out for me. To be honest with you, I'm a little bored with banh mi sandwiches, seeing as I eat a lot for this job, but the fact that this time it came in slider form and featured barbeque...I was alright with it. Very tasty.

Oh look...banh mi

Of course I had to get a plate of Rocco's famous smoky wings. These things are always a fun thing to have in your mouth. You know what I mean right? Yeah.

The good people of the Bisbee Breakfast Club did a sort of "corndog" but I think it was a bacon wrapped bit of fried pork belly, which breaks down to bacon wrapped bacon. It was good. Chewy, but yummy.

A definite highlight were these mandarin white chocolate truffles served with fresh summer berries and a creme anglaise from Le Rendezvous, a restaurant I have still never been to even though its right up the street from our favorite hangout.

After a few bites of meaty smoked girth, this was a midway respite as I had a few more to try out. Oh my good and refreshing.

Yep, Thunder canyon makes their own hooch now

Now that Thunder Canyon likens itself as a 'brewstillery', seeing as they distill their own rum and, apparently, whiskey. They have something called a Mesquite Honeyshine and made a right proper old fashioned with it. What made it even better was the plate prepared by new executive chef Matt Kraiss that featured beer braised pork belly (yes, lot of pork belly today) on a house made ciabatta, drizzled with a whiskey leek cream sauce and completed by some whiskey pickled fennel. Even though I was a little pork belly'd out, this sandwich was amazing. Highly advised to put it on the regular menu...that is if it isn't already.

Finally there was Barrio Brewery that offered up their new Smoked Nolan's Porter and paired it with some fantastically sticky BBQ ribs. I wasn't too sure who would win this event but in the end the Barrio ribs took the prize. They were perfect. No really. I can totally see why they won.

Although in my eyes, and stomach, everybody was a winner.

Awwww....can we get more corny than that?


And their own pork belly

After Whiskey & Smoke it was off to another event...but that will come later in a future Homeskillet.

Thank you Tucson Originals and Local First Arizona for putting on this event! And thank you chefs, brewers and distillers for bringing the heat. That smoky, smoky heat. You all rule.


Simply the best

Camera, Typing and Loving Tucson
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
Late May, 2018

Metal Influence

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Distilled For Your Pleasure

I was fortunate enough to meet the Three Wells' owners and operators, Matt Montgomery and Chris Dudding, when I wrote my first cover story for the Tucson Weekly. It was on the local distilleries here in Tucson and all I can say their vodka is some of the best I have ever had. In fact, I even enjoyed their gin. And I hate gin.

Why do you ask.

Well, it all goes back to drinking too many gin and tonics in Hollywood, CA with a bunch of friends about two decades ago which ended up with me violently throwing up in a grimy alleyway, so the smell of gin just makes me want to gag.

Theirs didn't.

It's official!

After our interview, Matt and Chris said they were in the very early stages of opening up a craft cocktail bar in the downtown area. This was about a year ago. I told them to keep me posted so when the bar made its official debut that I would be there.

It did.

And I was.

So many components to ponder and muddle

Opening in the spot next to Breugger's Bagels at 13 N Stone Ave, Series 19, named after the license you have to obtain in order to open an offsite distillery, make drinks and to offer bottle service, is now ready to serve the good people of Tucson, and the rest of the visiting globe, quality cocktails and fine craft spirits.

Yes please

If you know me, have been following the Homeskillet or various other rantings, you know my penchant for darker, slightly "divier" bars. Being a food and beverage writer has taken me to a few mega swank and hipster affairs and I've always been annoyed and even disappointed with them. Its all show and no substance. The drinks are usually so weak and way too sugary, setting you back like 12 to 20 bucks. Why, because it took an hour to make and is garnished with flowers and a gold leafed caviar slider? Lame. But a good neighborhood bar will most likely pour you an honest drink for an honest price.

I guess I'm just not into scene-ster things. Never have been. I wonder why?

Oh yeah....I like myself. That's why.

Hmmm, decisions decisions 

So I was really happy and even relieved to see that Series 19 was relaxed, yet with a good polish.

It's a smaller space, longer than it is wide, with sanded wood as its main theme. The bar is on your immediate right, supplied with a few chairs but there are a couple of tables towards the back if you and your friends want to chat face to face.

Series 19 has the feel of a local pub but the attitude of an upscale lounge. If that makes sense? Like, the bartenders are shaking it up and look like they could be tending in a four star hotel but the stripped down approach to the style resists any pretension.

You know what I mean?

Let's move on...


Fortunately I know the manager and head bartender, Tyler Dunn, so when I bellied up to his bar I asked what he wanted to make me.

"Our gin fizz," he said.

"Oh man. But I hate gin!"

"Shut up. You'll love it. Ever had an Orange Julius?"

"Well, yeah...I grew up in LA."

"Then shut up. You'll love it."

Watching a master bartender do their sorcery is a thing of awesome. Before I knew it, after a lot of ingredients being squeezed, twisted and beaten, I had a white snowy filled glass with a fresh orange rind floating on top. So I sat down and prepared to not like it.

Shut up, I told myself after taking a sip. This thing is delicious.

It makes a difference drinking quality spirits as opposed to those on the bottom shelf in some bleak liquor shed because I didn't even mind the gin. It all made sense. It was so good.

Okay, I'm convinced.

On to the next!

Booze flights going down

What I like about Series 19 is that it embraces all aspects and libations of the Sonoran Desert and not just Three Wells' products.

They carry Tucson whiskey wizards Hamilton Distillers line of Del Bac varieties among a bevvy of other independently produced spirits. This is the kind of, well, spirit I like from good people that own a good business. Supporting others that are in the same game as you is a big up for me and since I did get to know Chris and Matt on a certain level, it doesn't surprise me that Series 19 is something special.

The night I was there some catered food was provided but I hear that you can order charcuterie platters from sort of neighbor Johnny Gibson's Market. So bonus on that.

Sippin' on a fine chilled cocktail while eating some cured meats, imported cheeses and seasonal fruit among comfortable surroundings with good people?

Sign me the fxxk up!

Tyler the Creator

Next drink I had to try was something called a Muddler. Basically you pick your booze, then pick some fruit or veggies and herbs and they mix it all up for you in a tall mason jar like glass. This thing was glorious.

As mentioned earlier, I'm not into really fruity or sweet drinks but my Muddler, which consisted of lime, cucumber and mint, was adorable. And its big!

Knowing I had to cut out soon to meet other obligations that night, I just leaned back in a corner table and took my time with this one. Perfect for the oncoming summer scald as you watch the world go by outside hoping those in cars have their air conditioning working or those on the street remembered to apply deodorant earlier that day.

To say the least I had a great time at Series 19, so cheers to Matt and Chris for this one.

You guys are going to do fine.

Matt thanking us for coming out that night

And cheers to the good people of Tucson because you now have a better hangout downtown to relieve yourself of the pressure of having to endure another uppity gloss concept making you feel inferior for wearing shorts even though its 100+ in the shade. Series 19 obviously welcomes all seeing as my flubby shorts and Hawaiian shirt wearing self was greeted with shaking hands and warm hellos.

Oh, and cheers to Tyler for changing my perspective on gin. I'm still a vodka kind of guy but, man, that fizz was the shizz.

Congratulations Three Wells...and thanks!


Camera, Typing and Drinking
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
A Balmy Late Spring, 2018

Metal Influence:

Friday, May 4, 2018

What's So Miracle About These Berries?

What is this "miracle berry" you speak of? And why should I care?

(What's with all the questions?
Oh no! Another question!

Answer is: I don't know and you can too!

Let's do this!

Actually a miracle fruit, or synsepalum dulcificum, is a berry that grows fairly wild in West Africa and when consumed makes sour foods taste sweet and vice versa and so on.

This interesting 'lil phenomenon has caught on so much that people started making and selling tablets so you can experience the flavor fun in the comfort of your own home. Or kitchen. Or prison toilet. Its up to you!

Hearing about this, we here at the Homeskillet just had to get in on that action. We just had to. It''s what we do.

So we purchased some tablets online, went to the farmers market to get some super fresh produce, went home and, are the results.

Flavor Tripping, and it looks like a ticket...get it?

A Packet of 10 tablets set us back like $12. There are more expensive options but we are absolute cheapskates and there you go with that.

The tablets themselves are pretty tiny, like a ruddy red/brown color and are made to dissolve on your tongue in a few minutes before you do the taste test.

The tablets kind of had this bitter flavor at first, but when they started to dissolve it took on a washed out cherry flavor or like a really bland Kool Aide. Drink actually. Purple drink. Yes. That's what it tasted like.

Took almost 15 minutes to evaporate and coat the tongue and once it was gone we went to the kitchen to see, and taste, for ourselves.

Farm fresh produce about to get tongue twisted

The grapefruit we got comes from this guy that only sells them at the St. Phillips Plaza farmers market and they grow in what he calls an 'ancient orchard', like trees that have been giving fruit for hundreds of years. Yeah. Very cool. These things are super potent and very tart but extremely delicious (that is if you like grapefruit, as we do).

Biting into one yielded a reaction of  "Okay". Nothing mind blowing but, I guess, it did taste a little sweeter. I guess. But not really. We were expecting a "Oh wow!" moment eating grapefruit right after the tablet coated the tongue. It was fine I suppose.

The best part came with the limes and lemons we got from a local farm. Yes, these guys did taste sweet which was very cool. Almost like candy. We devoured so much citrus that we are now completely free of scurvy for at least a few generations.

The worst part was the strawberries. Maybe it was because we consumed a good amount of tart and sour fruit but the strawberries tasted like dirt. Very strange. The strawberries came from the same farm as the limes and lemons; they were fresh and very good but, man, that musty flavor was just really disappointing. And weird.

It was time to taste some other things!

Hot pickles goin' down

A good friend makes his own bread and butter pickles and he does them up nice and spicy. Its like part cucumber, part onion and part jalapeno in the brine. Yum.

The miracle berry didn't help with the heat but the flavor of the pickles and jalapenos were sort of sweetened a bit. Not by much though. So far this whole experiment was one big shoulder shrug.

Lets do something super spicy now!

And now for the big boy stuff

Tucson native Daniel Kinn has his own line of hot sauces that he makes at home called Heat Stroke. His spiciest has to be the ghost pepper variety. Oh man does it pack a whallop. We put some on our fingers and then on our tongues.

Yep. Hot. As. Fxxk. But all the miracle berry tablet did was make his hot sauce taste muddy. That was a let down. Then we went back to the fruit and due to all of the various flavors and textures going on, and probably because the stuff was wearing off, everything just tasted like themselves again.


$12 eh?

Wonder what the more expensive stuff would do? Maybe we'll get into that later. Maybe...

Final thought: It was kinda cool.

Perhaps next time we'll consume two tablets. I don't know. They just didn't do all that much. The lemon and lime was interesting but all the rest? Meh. Unfortunately we didn't have ice cream or a lot of sweets on hand so we might follow up with that.

Stay tuned.

And there you have it.


Welp...that was a thing

Camera, Typing and Still Not Fully Convinced (But Kind of Impressed)
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
First Week of May, 2018

Metal Influence: