Feast, a destination point for fine dining in central Tucson, has established itself as a home for unexpected and exciting flavor combinations and food served in a relaxed atmosphere perfect for everything from Sunday brunch to a work luncheon to date night.
Out to grab an early lunch with a friend, I was delighted to discover that Feast begins serving from their happy hour menu the moment they open until 6 p.m. every day. My inner cocktail nerd rejoiced, opting for the Waifs and Strays, a rye whiskey cocktail featuring Grand Hop liqueur ($7.50 happy hour). It successfully integrated the bitter tang of hops with muddled orange and lemon, keeping the drink from becoming overly sweet while also avoiding the realm of IPAs. Chef/owner Doug Levy and his bar staff can be thanked for the variety of culinarily-inclined adult beverages on the menu, though Levy has a sense of humor when it comes to his contributions: “Much to the dismay of the bartenders, I do create a lot of the cocktails, and since I’ve never been a bartender, the cocktails I make are usually more work than a cocktail needs to be.” I’m always on the hunt for non-sweet cocktails, so I was already delighted with my choice, but the complementary pairing of a rich, savory arugula potato pancake topped with crisped pork belly took the experience over the top. Levy points to the happy hour specials as an opportunity to expose to people to something new, with the additional encouragement of a free snack. “You’ll see things that we think you should be drinking, as opposed to the stuff that people customarily order without thinking about it.”
Feast is known for their substantial wine cellar, and the other item we ordered from the happy hour menu was a glass of 2013 German “Messwein,” paired with an asparagus and goat cheese frittata ($8 happy hour). The wine was delicious: dry, with lemon and honey notes, but the frittata is what really shone in this pairing. I have never eaten eggs so fluffy and moist, and when combined with the saltiness of the goat cheese and the tender pieces of asparagus, this little rectangle of flavor was positively sinful in its appeal. I asked Levy what makes the frittata so good. “We beat a little bit of the goat cheese into the cream that we in turn beat into the eggs, [then] bake it in a convection oven, which gives it more lift,” he says. Also important? Quality local ingredients: “We use really good eggs from Zamudio Farm down in Elfrida.”
It’s not easy to pick an entrée from Feast’s menu; everything sounds amazing. We finally settled on two, with help from our server Renee. I ordered the vegetarian-friendly Butternut-Spinach-Niçoise Olive Tart ($17), and my friend ordered the Seared Beeler’s “Heluka” Pork Chop ($25). We were both eager to experience the unusual sounding ingredient combinations in our entrees. Levy points to seasonality of ingredients and balance of both flavor and texture as the driving factors behind Feast’s menu, which changes monthly. He also likes to push his boundaries with unfamiliar ingredients. “I’ll go to an ethnic market and just buy stuff that I have no idea what to do with and see what contribution it can make to a dish, or use herbs and spices I haven’t worked with before to see what we can do with them, or put them in a new context. [For example,] Ajwain might not even be noticeable in Indian or Pakistani food, but it really pops when you use it in a dish that people perceive as Western.”
The pork chop arrived beautifully plated, the bright colors of the broccolini, kumquat marmalade, and tangy pickled beet relish popping off the plate. If you prefer your steak a little on the rarer side, you’d probably enjoy the pork chop cooked similarly. The meat was tender and extra flavorful, thanks to being brined in a mix of sugar, salt, shallot, garlic, peppercorn, and star anise prior to cooking, and had a beautiful caramelized finish. This dish only got better as the meal went on: the crisp bits of pumpernickel toast, while initially valuable for adding a crunchy texture to the meal, began to soak up the flavors from the plate, along with the broccolini, whose firm-to-the-bite saltiness played well against the sweet flavors on the plate.
The tart was a flavor revelation – rich and hearty, with the aggressive flavor of Kalamata olives tempered by the soft sweetness of butternut squash. Flaky pastry encircled the vibrant filling, strong enough to hold its own as we attacked the tart. While it was temping to focus entirely on the tart, the warm sautéed Brussels sprout leaf, lily flower, and walnut salad served on the side was an adventure all on its own, with the sweetness of honey and crunch of walnuts making it as delicious to mix in with a bite of tart as to eat alone.
We finished our meal with Feast’s Shortbread ($8), a layered treat which featured the juxtaposition of a delicate shortbread, a light and fluffy star anise cremeux, and a dense caramel bavarois (a caramel thickened with gelatin), topped by a pear simmered in thin liquid caramel. Served with fresh berries, it was the perfect ending to an elegant and memorable lunch.
3719 E Speedway Blvd
Tucson, AZ 85716