(cell phone users: keep scrolling down for our earlier reviews)

presenting
 LET THE FEAST BEGIN

To help get through the coronavirus crisis Bernice Chesi and I want to encourage you to dine out now and then in the comfort of your own social-distance observing home.

Each weekend we are going to order out dinner from an iconic local restaurant, create as much of a restaurant atmosphere as possible at home, pretend we are dining out and report on the experience!

Even though some restaurants will be re-opening soon under restricted conditions, some Tucsonans will prefer to wait awhile and see what happens. Enjoying another carryout meal or two at home may be just the ticket.

LET THE FEAST BEGIN
AT THE LOFT CINEMA
All signs point to the Loft Cinema for a taste of the old days...so does Victor's home theater.

For years that perennial evening favorite, dinner and a movie, found us going to the Loft Cinema, sharing pizza and wine at an outdoor table before the show. Or maybe one of those more expansive sandwich selections, with a cold beer.

People-watching at the Loft is always fun, too. Artist sightings are common among a clientele that prizes an independent lifestyle and freedom of expression.

While garden variety television at home will sort of replace going to the movies at any of the mall-type theaters, those multiplex programs don't come close to matching the tapestry of tastes and varieties of viewpoint you find on film in any evening at the Loft.

So when the Loft temporarily closed, along with everybody else, it left an exceptionally difficult hole to fill. Fortunately the Loft's film programs were soon available for streaming at home...on television.

The seating area in Victor's home theater, sometimes called "the mancave."

But for Bernice and I, hoping to add some Loft chow to our streaming Loft movie, there was only popcorn, chocolate and various beverages available to order.

Shucks. While the Loft's popcorn is always fresh, delicious and organic, we were hoping for a little more to eat. Then this doughty cinema added two kinds of vegetarian tamales from the Tucson Tamale company to the theater's snack bar list of food items – that was close enough!

We could add the trimmings for a special night of Loft food, Loft wine and more than enough Loft popcorn to fill in the chinks.

But what would it take to make that happen? The first thing we did was put on our Loft t-shirts, then the ideas began to flow. 

Special plates and special plating make any Loft movie special on a Friday or Saturday night. The wine and tamales felt right at home with the side dishes Bernice prepared.

Those tamales (Green Chile & Cheese, Blue Corn & Veggie) would be the centerpiece, with an accompanying bottle from the theater's menu of the Sand-Reckoner Vinyard's special white blend.

Bernice could add her Mexican salad and her special side dish of rice and beans. All the food would be organic and particularly healthy. Her husband Victor offered his massive TV screen set-up.

Quickly enough, matching paper plates and napkins appeared with a movie motif design to complete the atmosphere for our special night.

Since our favorite seats at the Loft are in the upstairs theater on the couch, Victor's couch nicely filled the bill. This was starting to feel really good.

Then the most difficult part was deciding which movie to pick from the Loft's line-up. To make an experimental dry run before our own special Loft night out, we picked “My Darling Vivian,” a documentary about the shunned first wife of Johnny Cash (yes, before he became famous enough to meet and marry June Carter). Now all the technical aspects were falling into place.

So with confidence we put in our Loft food order of frozen tamales (both kinds), chilled wine and fresh popcorn for curbside pickup, while the salad, rice and beans were ready and waiting, with ice in the wine bucket, and then we selected “Shirley,” an award-winning new release that had lots of heads spinning at the Sundance Film Festival last January.

Soon enough the movie was running, dramatically setting up its confrontations, while we were unwrapping the husks of our freshly steamed tamales that had been wrapped in wet paper towels to run through the micro-wave. Both kinds were equally tender and tasty.

The blue corn ones were a little more robust, but the Green Chile & Cheese was sweeter and had more body. The white wine blend was inviting with a crispy lightness and welcoming golden color.

As we enjoyed our meal, “Shirley” became a true stunner in the Loft Cinema style, both scary and though-provoking all at once. Sure enough, that long bag of popcorn became dessert, joining the rest of the wine to remind us why the Loft will always be a special place.

Bernice Chesi and Chuck Graham toast the Loft Cinema, then settle in to dine and watch "Shirley."
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Everything looks golden inside Fronimo's Greek Cafe after dark.

Years ago Fronimo's Greek Cafe first caught my eye by having the most appealing golden light glowing through those big windows at 3242 E. Speedway Boulevard every evening as I zipped past.

Quickly enough I found Fronimo's parking lot and its rear entrance back behind the restaurant. Now I'm a fan for life. That same welcoming Greek family atmosphere hasn't changed a whit since then (they opened in 1995), staying as magnetic as ever with consistently authentic quality and affordability.

During the coronavirus lockdown Fronimo's has kept the carry-out orders moving. But Bernice and I quickly realized recreating this restaurant's special atmosphere would be a challenge at home.

It was while doing online research for Greek table settings that she suddenly flashed on the idea – since her own community swimming pool has a Mediterranean design with sheltered arches and lines of cypress trees – why not present Fronimo's tasty dishes at poolside using her blue and white table arrangements to recreate our version of a sunny magic carpet resort trip to Greece itself.

Fronimo's sampler plate waiting to be enjoyed in an outdoor Mediterranean setting.

Before you could say “Where's my bouzouki?” Bernice ordered the food and had all the right plates. The weather just before sundown on the evening we chose was lovely. I picked up the food, along with a bottle of the restaurant's Boutari Moschofilero, a crisp white wine that's our favorite.

You can also request curbside pickup from your car or get Doordash delivery. Fronimo's phone is 327-8321, or online at fronimos.com (@fronimosgreekcafe on Facebook and messenger), open daily 10 a.m.-9 p.m.

Nothing left on his plate but a piece of pita.

So with sunset drawing nigh and feeling at one with our Mediterranean spirit, we opened the wine and began passing around the Appetizeer Sampler plate that came with a stack of grilled pitas – a choice of dolmades (a mix of ground meat and rice wrapped in grape leaves), spanakopita (flakey filo pastery filled with spinach and feta cheese), tabbouleh (a blend of Bulger wheat, tomatoes, cucumber, parsley and meat), hummus, Kalamata olives and thick squares of feta.

Surrounded by this heap of full flavors in freshly made dishes, it became fun to see how many different combinations we could come up with as pita dips and olive chasers.

Gathering momentum, we turned to a bountiful salad waiting patiently on ice. The large, rumpled deep green lettuce leaves were glistening with a Greek vinigrette that also brightened the tomato slices, sweet onion rings, cut peppers, cucumber, olives and feta. In this setting we felt the dish was beaming with Mediterranean sunshine as well.

A gyro, a chicken shishkabob and some Greek fries share the blue and white fish platter.

For the next course we shared a pair of chicken kabob skewers and a rolled up gyro of shaved beef and lamb, accompanied by a generous helping of Greek fries (garnished with olive oil, crumbled feta, coarsely ground black pepper, lemon and Greek spices). Over the years, Fronimo's Greek fries have become a house speciality worthy of a drive across town anytime.

We sliced up the gyro into thirds (making it sort of like three smallish Greek tacos...which didn't hurt the flavor any) that went quite well as finger food accompanied by those tender, succulent pulled-apart kabobs and crunchy, salty, cheesy fries.

Finally it was the big moment for the true star of the show, acclaimed by the restaurant's owners as Fronimo's most popular dish, the famed Athenian Chicken, accompanied by its dinner table co-star Moussaka (layers of potato, meat sauce, eggplant and a bechamel sauce).

The famed Athenian Chicken in its moment of greatness, with creamy rice pilaf and a bit of pita.

Remember quadraphonic sound? Today it would be named Stereo 4.0. That's the depth of flavors in every bite of this peppery herbed and precisely baked Athenian Chicken dish, half a chicken with an abundance of moistly melting-on-your-tongue white meat topped with your very own personal chicken wing, extra-crunchy and tender enough to fall from its tiny little bones.

The Moussaka's secret weapon is a robust meat sauce, baked in layers with eggplant and potatoes for that enhanced casserole effect that gets your taste buds swirling, a wall of sound (to continue the music reference) supporting the Athenian Chicken's spotlight aria.

Using Fronimo's food to inspire our dream of a trip to Greece was genius! This Mediterranean meal by the sparkling blue pool became a celebration of freshly made dishes in their natural surroundings of enhanced freshness, carefully prepared using combinations of herbs and spices as authentic and tested by time as the country of Greece itself.

Chuck Graham and Bernice Chesi imagine they are in Greece toasting their dinner from Fronimo's Greek Cafe in Tucson.



presenting

 LET THE FEAST BEGIN

To help get through the coronavirus crisis Bernice Chesi and I want to encourage you to dine out now and then in the comfort of your own social-distance observing home.

Each weekend we are going to order out dinner from an iconic local restaurant, create as much of a restaurant atmosphere as possible at home, pretend we are dining out and report on the experience!

Even though some restaurants will be re-opening soon under restricted conditions, some Tucsonans will prefer to wait awhile and see what happens. Enjoying another carryout meal or two at home may be just the ticket.

Bernice Chesi and Chuck Graham toast the freshly lit candles to begin their feast from Cafe Milano. In the foreground is a bowl of mussels and a basket of bread.

As the coronavirus drags on, the need grows for a dinner experience that feels particularly special. Our favorite to-the-rescue call is always downtown to Chef Fufi (Fulvia Steffenone) holding forth in the supremely intimate Cafe Milano, just a few doors west of the Fox Theater at 46 W. Congress St., www.lafuficaffemilano.com (520-628-1601).

With visions of slipping into the companionable Italian style, enjoying several courses that could extend into multiple hours of dining in soft candlelight (calling for very tall candles), Bernice went into planning mode, setting out a selection of bowls and casserole dishes to keep the entrees for the primi and secondi piatti warm in a 175 degree oven (we chose Spaghetti alla carbonara followed by Chicken – Pollo al Marsala – and Veal – Scaloppine al limone), while we first enjoyed a bowl of mussels – Cozze alla diavola – with bread dipped in that snappy red sauce, and then a chilled salad – Insalata di spinaci con caprino alle mandorle – that was kept waiting in the refrigerator.

Cafe Milano has a wonderful wine cellar of choices, but we went instead for an in-house selection of Chianti Classico from the wine cellar at home.

We also discovered that, after a leisurely repast of such rich dishes, a spoonful of dessert will feel absolutely necessary. Compulsively, we had also picked up one serving of Tiramisu, to which we added some freshly brewed stovetop espresso (regular dark roast coffee works great, too).

Trust me, when you order from Chef Fufi at Cafe Milano, all the time spent on these proper preparations will be fully appreciated as the evening progresses.

Back home, unpacking our order from several containers of generous portions, we discovered each one had already been artfully arranged, so transplanting them to a proper plate for dinner was a piece of cake (so to speak). We also found a complimentary basket of rolls, bread and freshly grated Parmesan.

Meanwhile, Pandora's satellite radio provided a tasty program of Italian crooners to fill the background during these preparations.

The mussels did get a quick re-heating in the microwave, opening up flavors both tender and spicy. The deep diablo sauce does live up to its name.

The lightly dressed insalata di spinaci of vibrantly fresh baby spinach also includes red bell peppers, goat cheese, honey almonds, artichoke hearts, red onions and tomatoes with each ingredient pushing the total salad flavor a little higher.

A portion of Spaghetti alla carbonara.

Now with our taste buds fully opened up, primed for sensitivity and eager for something substantial, it was time for the Primi piatti of Spaghetti alla carbonara ...greeted with long sighs of satisfaction and it seems, a little singing (at least in my heart).

Carbonara's extra hearty attitude bolstered by crispy bacon, eggs and Parmesan sauce embraced us like an old friend (which it is, whenever we visit Cafe Milano). Chef Fufi's traditional version has a balance of flavors that always urges me to spin that fork a little faster.

Then it is time for the palate to get serious, for the Chef's most thoughtful cuisine is at hand.

Our dish of  Pollo al Marsala.

Our two entrees, chicken and veal, were similar in being delicate cuts simmered to pinnacles of tenderness, each building expressive flavors differently in the company of compatible vegetables. If you are into sharing, combine bites of each dish for twin peaks of pleasure.

The chicken is served with baby carrots and peas in a luxuriously creamy sauce with a beguiling smile.

Tempting Scaloppine al limone to share.

The veal is equally tender, with a depth that invites more intense pondering. Is it from the tangy lemon or those encouraging hours of candlelight and wine?

By this point in the evening, gracefulness comes easy, so a gentle pause to fill up the espresso machine and spoon out the Tiramisu almost seems to happen by itself.

As three hours have flown by, Italian style, the sweet dessert floats on our memory of the entire evening. The food, the conversation, the escape back into what life should always be about.

And will be again...one day.

One serving of Tiramisu split three ways, with home-brewed espresso and candles.

Chuck Graham taking notes while the Insalata di spinaci con caprino alle mandorle sits patiently.















The Chesi Cantina at Victor and Bernice Chesi's home.

The take-out food we ordered was so delicious, it made me want to visit the restaurant for dining in. We are talking about El Minuto, the proudly traditional cafe flaunting its quaintness from the edge of Old Tucson, literally straight across South Cushing Street from New Tucson's downtown convention center where the future includes a very tall hotel rising nearby from its scaffolding in the center's vast parking lot.

More than 80 years ago (in 1936) El Minuto welcomed its first customers, likely looking much the same as it does today. The official address is 354 S. Main Ave.

Recently the dining room re-opened under some strict COVID-19 restrictions, so check the website (www.elminutotucson.com) for the latest available dining information. Food orders can be placed online or by phone, 882-4145, on Tuesdays-Sundays from 4 p.m.- 8 p.m.

But Bernice and I couldn't wait for science to win the coronavirus war. Her home is already dedicated to the southwestern lifestyle, a perfect match with El Minuto's own dedication to the deep details of Sonoran border cuisine.

The restaurant itself is often noted for its cozy atmosphere and welcoming family feeling. To go along with our special carry-out dinner we tuned in music from the Mexicana channel on the Music Choice satellite service. The playlist was filled with trumpet fanfares and rhythmic melodies.

Crispy chips and nippy salsa (in the red bowl) brightened our entire meal.

Of course, a bowl of El Minuto's crispy chips and nippy salsa came first, along with some very large and home-sourced margaritas.

“These are Cadillac Margaritas,” said Bernice's husband Victor, the watchful bartender. His drinks definitely tasted top-of-the-line.

As for that heat-seeking salsa, its bite was wide and deep. Never mind what your personal comfort level with peppers might be, this salsa gave a bold boost to every dinner item we ordered – from the chips to the tacos, chimichanga and enchilada, all served with rice and beans.

Right now El Minuto's full menu is not available for take-out or dining in. There are still a good number of items to choose from, including the cafe's iconic Topopo salad. But alas, still no cheese crisps or desserts. The rest of the menu will be added back as time goes on.

Our meal did have a happy ending, though, more informally known as “feeling stuffed.” Here's how it went.

The soup course, tortilla (left) and albondigas.

After the chips came bowls of albondigas and tortilla soups. Both held generous helpings of beef and chicken respectively. Albondigas has always been my Mexican soup of choice, but this tortilla soup had chicken broth so delicious you'd be happy if it jumped out of the bowl and sat in your lap. There were also large pieces of chicken so tender and moist, but that broth – oh man!

Then came a round of beef tacos, another chance to introduce the smoldering salsa to a new culinary wake-up challenge. In this setting the cheerful tacos seemed like a good companion to another round of drinks...and maybe cranking up the music a bit.

We also had a huge, crisply edged yet almost flaky flour tortilla folded many times over. Seemed like it could have been three feet in diameter. Tearing it apart by hand had just the right feel.

Plates with a taco, enchilada, rice and beans, while a chimichanga waits in the background.

Then it was time to divide up the entrees, setting each plate with beans and rice, some of the chicken enchilada and shredded beef chimichanga. This was a mix and match fiesta, to be sure. Once again a generous helping of chicken, this time in the enchilada, was lightly seasoned and complexly flavored. How do they do that?

The chimi was road warrior worthy, a macho dish to be sure. Hefty beef had been carefully cooked for enormous amounts of time in a secret blend of seasonings that could be its own brand of science.

Although I went lightly with the sub-atomic salsa on all the dishes, by the end of our dinner there wasn't much salsa left in the bowl. Just saying, the bowl was closest to Victor's plate.

Looking back on this sunny experience, what I remembered most was the variety of flavors. While the ingredients to Sonoran food are elemental, the nuances are kaleidoscopic. A small change here, a little adjustment there, creates a whole new effect. At El Minuto, savoring each bite yields ample rewards.

Bernice Chesi and Chuck Graham toast their sunny meal from El Minuto Cafe.



AT LITTLE ANTHONY'S NEXT TO GASLIGHT THEATRE
Bernice Chesi and Chuck Graham dressed for the 1950s and masked for 2020, toast Little Anthony's Diner with their coffee flavored milk shakes.

Sure the city's usual entertainment venues still have empty stages, but darn it, you need something special to do on a Friday or Saturday night.

What about sitting in your car, ready to doo-wop till you drop, singing along with Elvis, “Don't step on my blue suede shoes?”

Elvis is rocking behind the red velvet rope.

Or maybe a breathy “Hey, Daddy, I want a diamond ring, bracelets, everything...” right along with Marilyn Monroe, flowing with glamorous stage moves straight on through to “Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend.”

Marilyn dreams of her best friend, diamonds.

Even if you became a teenager well after the 1950s were over, everybody is familiar with that Fabulous Bobby Soxer Fifties spirit. Who hasn't seen “Happy Days” on TV.

No one in Tucson is more dedicated to preserving those poodle-skirt years than Tony Terry, the energizer bunny behind all the Gaslight Theatre's entrepreneurial enterprises, including Little Anthony's Diner – where the golden oldies juke box still rules and ordering a chocolate malt is considered very sophisticated.

Determined not to stop his own merry-go-round just because COVID-19 has brought everything else in Tucson to an abrupt halt, Terry and Little Anthony's decided to take their act outdoors, singing and dancing on their new patio stage. People can stay in their cars, order food favorites from their own adolescence, crank up those dashboard speakers and party like its 1957.

Instead of just picking up a sack of burgers and fries to return home, now you have choices. Reaching back in time to the iconic drive-in Car Hop Service tradition, servers (appropriately masked and gloved) will arrive at your window, dressed in snappy car hop attire straight from that decade when everything that was important happened in your car.

The move makes perfect sense. Indoors, Little Anthony's already had the 1950s menu, the music and the entertainers. Now along with offering curbside pickup (daily), the eastside restaurant on Fridays and Saturdays presents, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Elvis and Marilyn stepping out onto a red velvet roped patio stage set up next to the diner's entrance to sing songs that were sock hop favorites back when blackboards were actually black.

But instead of those tinny speakers from the old days, Marilyn and Elvis remind you to tune the car radio to station 101.1 FM. They sing along to pre-recorded music tracks and the broadcast sound quality coming through to your car is pretty good, clear and solid with fat bass tones.

The process of ordering food and getting a reserved parking spot for this time machine experience is all done online before you leave home at www.littleanthonysdiner.com, or by calling 520-296-0456.

There is no extra cover charge for the performance. It's complimentary in the togetherness spirit of surviving the coronavirus quarantine while staying safe.

Even the marked off parking spaces are spread out, so the cars themselves maintain the suggested six feet of social distance. Parking lot attendants are on hand to greet you and make it easy for everyone. Yep, they wear masks, too.

Of course we had to don some 1950s garb to get ourselves into the spirit, loosen up our bodies and remember what it felt like to twist the night away. The evening we were there, one couple turned the bed of their pick-up truck into a dance floor.

After every number, all the cars are encouraged to honk their horns. Getting into the spirit, COVID or no COVID, is pretty easy. 

As for the food, a substantial amount of Little Anthony's regular menu is available, from snacks and sodas to those Blue Plate Specials and Diner Family Deals.

For old times' sake we both ordered milkshakes. They were killer. Extra-wide straws made it so easy to suck up those thick shakes you could get a brain freeze as many times as you wanted. Every shake comes with a baseball-sized mound of whipped cream on top, striped with chocolate sauce and a bright red cherry.


The Cheezie Burger, comes with your choice of cheeses and other toppings, toasted (or untoasted) bun, accompanied by a pile of crispy fries.

Bernice ordered a Cheezie Burger (with several cheese selections) and also appreciated the option to get a toasted bun. I went for the Chicken Fried Chicken, remembering those years when a special night out with a special date would include ordering a full dinner for two at the diner.


Thick slices of onion are inside those crunchy rings.

Going for completeness, we split an order of onion rings, thick slices of onion inside a tasty crunchy coating.

Every bite was filled with all the memories we expected. The portions are generous and everything tastes fresh.

One of the Blue Plate Specials, Chicken Fried Chicken, with fluffy mashed potatoes and home-style green beans. Several other sides are available.

Here's an (adult-sized) tip, though. Bernice brought along two kiddie-type lap trays which were very helpful. Trying to cut up food on a plate sitting on your lap isn't easy. Eating a chicken fried steak with your fingers isn't easy, either.

The best part, really, is how Elvis and Marilyn can make a night at the drive-in seem special. Sitting in your car, seeing them through the windshield while you're sipping on a milkshake, hearing the music up close and real, there is definitely an extra connection going on. A true sense that, indeed, we've already survived a lot in life and we will survive this, too.

(for more restaurant-to-go reviews by Bernice Chesi and Chuck Graham, visit the "theatre" page here on Let The Show Begin)




Bernice and Chuck visit Ghini's French Cafe

The setting brings a special feeling to mussels from Ghini's French Caffe.

 Of course, when life gives you lemons you make lemonade. And when the coronavirus closes all the restaurants, you give your own home a touch of Paris in the afternoon by ordering out from Ghini's French Caffe (on line at ghiniscafe.com, or phone 326-9095).

No doubt you'v already had a cup of French roast coffee and a croissant for breakfast (or maybe a mushroom omelette) but that was hours ago.

Keep the Tricolore flying in your heart with a tasty fresh selection of dishes from Ghini's, where everything is naturally fresh and locally grown, straight from farm to table.

Ordering something special for carry-out calls for more scene-setting than the usual pizza or Chinese. In doing these reviews we quickly learned the benefits of adding a few extra steps to the process, retaining more of each restaurant's special magic as the food slips from those carry-put containers and into your own bowls and plates.

We began our meal with an order of mussels, then for soups we choose two, French onion and vegetable, topped off by a roast beef sandwich and another one of tomato and brie.

Ghini's also offers a remarkably long menu of coffee drinks as well as mimosa variations served in a glass, or go for more with a small or large carafe.

Even though a delivery service is available at Ghini's, it cuts restaurant costs when you pick up the order yourself. So we did, also planning some extra prep time to re-heat the mussels and soups.

For the mussels, the oven was set at 175 degrees just to keep them warm while the soups were gently stirred as they heated.

At the table, those mussels turned out to be happy travelers. They were delicious, not dried out or exhausted, but thriving in their own white wine and garlic setting.

“We should have had two orders,” said Bernice.

That pair of soups turned out to be worthy roadies, as well. The French onion doesn't get the traditional in-restaurant presentation of onion soup topped with baguette and melted Gruyere, but those ingredients are in the bowl all the same, just tossed around a bit. That famous Ghini's French onion soup flavor will still command your attention.

As for the other bowl, with hearty cuts of grilled vegetables served in a herb tomato broth, what can possibly go wrong there. Positively nothing.

Meanwhile, the two cold sandwiches on baguettes were patiently waiting to be enjoyed with a promising glass of wine – your choice of colors.

Simple pleasure defines the brie and tomato sandy enhanced with garlic and vinaigrette. A little sneakier is Le Boeuf, slices of roast beef enhanced with lettuce and onion, extra spicy dijon mustard, mayonnaise and creamy horseradish.

Every sandwich comes with a choice of side dishes (baby greens, hash browns, sliced oranges or a small bag of Kettle Chips). Just for fun we picked the Kettle Chips.

Ghini's also likes to make a special event out of Sunday brunch, and before the coronavirus struck, out of Friday and Saturday evening dinners. As restaurant life returns to normal around the city, keep in touch with your French side by checking into the website, ghiniscafe.com

Bon appetit.

The mussels traveled well, with an assist from the pasta and slices of baguette.

 

A sampling of roast beef beside a cut sandwich of tomato and brie, while a hefty vegetable soup waits in the wings.


presenting

 LET THE FEAST BEGIN
at Anello on East Sixth Street
We chose a trio of gourmet pizza offerings from Anello, downtown on East Sixth Street just west of North Fourth Avenue.
 
A Market Salad from Anello.

A serving of Seasonal Veggies from Anello.

This week we ordered several gourmet dishes from Anello, a secret treasure among Tucson's pizza aficionados. This East Sixth Street place is so well known among our local pie-eyed cognoscenti, it doesn't even need a sign. We were happy to find Anello anyway.

The address is 222, just a few doors west of the Crooked Tooth Brewing Company. Place your order online and it will be all boxed up waiting for you at the door.

The online address is anello.space. Facebook also has a busy page for Anello, with a number of encouraging recommendations from customers. The restaurant opened in 2017 without a sign and, since then, word of mouth has done all the work.

Andi Berlin of the Arizona Daily Star was there on Oct. 12, 2017, to tell the story of this tiny establishment's proud link to the Phoenix pizza guru Chris Bianco. All of which is a long and reassuring introduction to this truly unique Tucson favorite that deserves to survive the coronavirus crisis.

Not only does Anello take pride in its "properly fermented natural sourdough pizza," and its wood-fired oven brought directly from Naples, Italy, but also wants to set locally raised vegetables "whether pickled, grilled or raw" more directly into the dinner table spotlight.

"We need to get back to what makes a great food and make it available to everyone" reads the promise on the website.

The takeout menu is limited to a few different pizzas, a couple of salads, some seasonal veggies,  gelato and cake. Beer and wine selections are also available.

We chose the three original pizza combinations that put Anello on the local gourmet map -- the Marinara ($12), the Margherita ($13) and the Bianca ($14). Representing those vegetables were two Market Salads ($7 each) and two helpings of Seasonal Veggies ($8 each). To drink, we picked a fine Chianti.

The music was, of course, the Frank Sinatra channel on Pandora. Although something from Verdi or Puccini would have been equally appropriate because those flavors on our plates were often exquisite, silencing in their simplicity. A meal to be enjoyed thoughtfully, savored. Pondered, even.

For the full effect on your taste buds, if you must drive more than 10 minutes to return home, it might be important to pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees before leaving to pick up your order.

These pizza crusts are thin, with a crunchy outer edge. Let the toppings get a little bubbly in your own oven so all those rich flavors are chasing after each other.

Each piece is about the size of a large dinner plate, a one-person pizza for sure. The Marinara begins with a robust tomato sauce enhanced with garlic, oregano, basil and olive oil.

The Margherita adds slices of fresh mozzarella. The Bianca is built from fresh mozzarella and ricotta, with garlic, basil, olive oil and chiltepin peppers to get the full orchestral effect.

Eating each slice is kind of like two different experiences. The center is thin, a soft crust holding up all those blushingly fresh ingredients.

As you eat thoughtfully toward the thicker cruncher edge, the bread acquires more character, a heartier personality that ends with a satisfying snap.

Assuming that the actual ingredients in the Market Salad and Seasonal Veggies dishes change from time to time, what is important to report is the freshness, that immediate pop of peak satisfaction.

Both dishes were full of various ingredients, hills and valleys of unexpected harmonies among the taste buds. Totally delightful, and this was just the meal's opening act. 

Ordering pizza from Anello is definitely a candle-worthy opportunity. Just thinking about turning on the TV should get your knuckles smacked with a ruler.

Look, instead, for that special bottle of deep red you've been hiding in a corner of the wine cabinet. Give all five of your senses something to celebrate.
Chuck Graham and Bernice Chesi.




Bernice and Chuck re-create the Coronet on Cushing Street, at home.
Our first adventure.

Each dish comes in its own container, with its own cooking instructions, ready for the oven.

The entrees properly plated along with a chilled bottle of pinot grigio.

Ordinary take-out isn't just for pizza and Asian favorites any more. Wanting to stretch a little, we called the downtown Coronet on Cushing Street to order from its special "Heat & Serve" menu. Each entree is packaged separately, ready to be popped into your own 350 pre-heated degree oven for 20 minutes or so.

That way your thoughtfully prepared dinner goes straight from your own kitchen to your own table, without the anxiety of racing home with a box of hot food, hoping to eat everything before it gets cold.

The Coronet offers delivery service, and you can order online, too. You can also drive to the restaurant and get curbside pickup on the west side of the building. If you pick up the order yourself, you get 20 percent off the bill.

We opted for curbside pickup just to have an excuse to get out of the house. That worked great.

Have the table set and the candles ready before you order. Use the food warm-up time to enjoy a tasty round of adult beverages as the pleasures of being at the Coronet for dinner begin falling into place at home.

The special menu offers a trio of entrees selected for their ability to travel well in this "Heat & Serve" environment. Nothing gets soggy. Nothing dries out.

The entrees are Pork Tenderloin ($18), Top Sirloin Steak ($28) and for a vegetarian entree Roasted Cauliflower ($18). Each dish is served with accompanying vegetables and a separate salad of your choice. 

The salads are: Beet & Dill, Mediterranean Potato, Lentil, Green Bean, and Freekeh Cashew. You can order the salads separately, without an entree, for $7 each.

The Coronet wine cellar is also open. We chose a light pinot grigio.

Just for fun you can also request a Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookie ($3).

Then a quick flip of the Pandora switch for some music, opting for the Miles Davis channel followed by the Dave Brubeck channel.

Now the music is playing, the candles are shimmering, the wine is poured. We get to the best part -- eating.

In the interest of completeness we chose all three entrees and three of the salads: Beet & Dill, Mediterranean Potato and Green Bean. Each was distinctly different.

The Mediterranean was the spiciest, with zippy marinated olives mixed in among whole, unpeeled potatoes about an inch in diameter. Garlic, lemon oil, herbs and shallots complete the combination.

The green beans were slender and crunchy, tossed with pine nuts, crispy shallots, herbs and vinaigrette,

My personal favorite is the Beet & Dill, presenting the beets in hearty chunks, lightly tossed in yogurt. So fresh.

Each cut of steak is cooked medium rare, served with chimichurri sauce on a bed of grilled asparagus. Sliced against the grain, flavorful and tender, eager to be savored.

The pork tenderloin arrives more sweetly prepared with roasted sweet potatoes and a citrus chili honey that smiles instead of bites.

Hungry vegetarians will appreciate the ample portion of roasted cauliflower, cooked through, but still with plenty of heft to its texture. Adding their own flavors are butternut squash and peas served with date molasses.

The longer this quarantine continues, the more special these dinner times will seem. Knowing there won't be any pots and pans to clean up later is sure to extend the afterglow.

To get the latest menu and details on ordering, visit www.coronettucson.com
 
Chuck Graham and Bernice Chesi.