Nook’s location is a perfect match for its name. Tucked into the base of a four-story office building in downtown Tucson, the self-described urban kitchen serves breakfast and lunch, and co-owner and executive chef Matt Thompson says they plan to serve dinner in the future.
I started off my meal with a Chai Tea Latte ($3.50) from Nook’s cafe counter, located by the entrance for easy access by the 9-to-5 office crowd. The latte was right on: sweet without being too sweet.
Since Nook’s post- 11 a.m. menu features both breakfast and lunch items, my coworker and I split our attention between dishes belonging to each. Representing breakfast was the very enjoyable Breakfast Tamale Pie, featuring Nook’s house-made sweet masa baked with roasted chiles and cheese, sitting on top of a bed of red Guajillo chile ranchero sauce and topped by two eggs, cheese, and a tangy tomatillo salsa. Thompson says they play up the natural tang of tomatillos in the salsa with fresh lemon juice and vinegar, giving it a big flavor punch. He explains, “I believe an acid is a necessary element for the perfect salsa.” While the masa is quite sweet, with chunks of corn mixed throughout, it’s tempered by the savory ranchero sauce, with the end result being a well-balanced dish whose sauces are as integral to the final flavor as everything else.
The Steak Panzanella ($12) from the lunch menu featured a tender and flavorful locally raised hanger steak, cooked perfectly to the medium side of medium rare. Thompson says the trick is in using the right cut of meat; hanger steaks have a “nice natural marbling,” and all he does to enhance that is add “a little bit of salt and pepper before it hits the grill.” The white balsamic vinaigrette dressing and fresh pesto provided a consistency of flavor that held the plate together, while the fresh green salad, featuring vibrant bursts of tomato, buttery croutons, and mozzarella, was the perfect companion for the steak. Not too light and not too heavy, this salad easily lived up to its role as an entree.
In the name of journalistic duty, we ordered two cocktails: Nook’s take on the Bloody Mary, called the Drunken Tomato ($7), and an elegant pineapple cocktail called the Aloha Tucson ($7). The spicy version of the Drunken Tomato turned out to be a dream come true for a savory cocktail lover like me. Thompson credits his wife and fellow Nook co-owner Nikki Thompson with the drink’s success; he says they taste-tested about 20 versions before settling on the final recipe, which draws on Tabasco to give it kick. The Aloha Tucson, with its rim dipped in Chamoy and tajin, turned out to be a great complement to the tamale pie, with the chile and salt keeping the pineapple juice’s sweetness in check.
When asked to describe their approach to the menu at Nook, Thompson says, “boring, under-seasoned, and dull food is not our thing.” Thompson also points to the role community plays at Nook. The walls are decorated with work by local artists, and Thompson sources ingredients from local producers when possible, notably working with the Best Day Ever Kids Gardening Project, which helps kids engage with both gardening and selling vegetables, all the way from planting seedlings to weighing the harvested produce that is purchased by Nook. Most importantly, Thompson says Nook is a “local restaurant that will go above and beyond for the guest’s experience,” and that he and Nikki “live for a happy guest that leaves wanting to come back and taste more.” If my experience is any indication, I imagine they have plenty of return customers.
1 E Congress St
Tucson, AZ 85701