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Gwen Ashley Walters
June, 2009, Page 177
Photography by Richard Maack
Patatas bravas and New York Times mac and cheese
Tucked away in a 1950's building in central Phoenix, Tuck puts tasty twists on your favorite comfort foods.
Restaurant success stories generally start with a veteran restaurateur, someone who’s mastered the triangulation of location, vision and execution. Somehow, architect DJ Fernandes appears to have struck gold on his first attempt with the eight-month-old Tuck Shop, a celery-colored restaurant in the Coronado neighborhood in central Phoenix.
The back wall of this 1950s-era building boasts an old-fashioned bank vault (the building once housed a Savings and Loan), and clever, contemporary touches to the dining area accentuate a menu filled with “neighborhood comfort food.”
Tuck Shop’s compact, one-page menu is an edgy compilation of richly flavored starters, small plates and bigger dishes labeled “for sharing,” with an equally smart, affordable libations page printed on the flipside. The menu has a Spanish and Portuguese flavor with Italian and Creole tendencies. Comfort food is too stodgy a moniker for a menu this hip.
I wouldn’t call earthy, roasted baby beets with spicy mustard cream ($6) or sinfully rich Medjool dates stuffed with Schreiner’s chorizo and melted Gruyère ($9) typical comfort food. Sure, mac and cheese ($9) is pure coziness, but this one, inspired by a New York Times recipe, is gussied up with bits of crispy prosciutto and crunchy, herbed breadcrumbs.
The Tuck Shop treats another quintessential comfort food – the potato – with aplomb, including Spanish patatas bravas ($5), fat wedges of crispy spuds accompanied by a smoked paprika-tinged tomato sauce and garlicky aioli. The knife-and-fork Yukon jacket potatoes ($9) – hollowed orbs stuffed with strips of smoky bacon, anchovies and sage – is a flavor bomb.
Among the larger plates, there’s a bowl of so-so red beans and rice ($16), brought to life with linguisa, a chewy, spiced Portuguese smoked sausage and topped with a skewer of Creole-spiced grilled shrimp. The sublime citrus-brined fried chicken ($17) – a drumstick, thigh and small breast – is finger-licking luscious, paired with two browned white-cheddar-and-potato waffles drizzled in maple butter and served with braised greens that are tender but a tad too sweet.
Fried chicken with white cheddar waffles and braised greens
Just as tempting is the Pine AZ skirt steak ($18) – named for the owner’s cabin, not the dried herbs used in the marinade – accompanied by yet another stellar potato dish: Parmesan-infused mashed potatoes studded with brown lentils.
The final section of the menu, aptly called “finish,” offers a fruit, pastry or fromage, all $7. The selections change daily, but if the server describes a wedge of dark chocolate torte with peanut butter crème anglaise and caramelized banana slices, jump on it. One evening, the fruit selection was a wineglass filled with tangy yogurt mousse, Arizona honey and fresh blueberries and blackberries.
With the bill comes a single bite of chilled cookie dough drizzled with chocolate. Regardless of the last bite, the Tuck Shop is beginning to taste like sweet success.
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