Kristine Jensen has a long track record of feeding hungry Tucsonans. She opened her first restaurant, Gallery of Foods, on Congress Street 23 years ago in the space that Saint House Rum Bar now calls home. After several restaurant ventures, her business eventually evolved into a thriving catering company of the same name that emphasizes creative and wholesome dishes, custom designed to tickle her clients’ taste buds.
Find yourself at a dinner catered by Gallery of Foods and you’ll be feasting on asiago cheese puffs with sage-lemon pesto, saffron chicken skewers with cabernet cream, chilled salmon steaks with mint chutney and lemon. Jensen’s mouthwatering fare is a mainstay of events at the University of Arizona, the Fox Theatre, and the Arizona Theatre Company, among others.
Alongside her rigorous catering schedule, in October Jensen quietly returned to the restaurant business. Located down the weaving walkways of the Tucson Botanical Gardens, among hummingbird bushes and desert spoons, Café Botanica features foods sourced locally and inspired by the Sonoran Desert. “It’s Sonoran food with a contemporary take,” Jensen says.
The emphasis on local marks a clear diversion from her catering business and past restaurant ventures. “At the café, 95 percent of the food will be from local sources; the remaining five percent that we can’t get locally will be all organic and fair trade,” says Jensen. Even the coffee beans, which don’t grow in Baja Arizona, are roasted in town. She’s long wanted to showcase local crops in her fare, but logistical hurdles deterred her. “The infrastructure for local sourcing is much better now and will hopefully continue to improve. There’s much more interest and awareness about local foods now.”
The menu at her new café won’t change—swing by for lunch and you’ll always have a choice of salads, tacos, tortas (sandwiches), tortitas (savory pancakes smothered by vegetables or meat)—but the ingredients will. During the sweltering summer months, tacos may be filled with squash or peppers; come by a few months later and you’ll be chomping on the winter squashes and hearty greens that flourish when the days are shorter and the air more brisk.
Jensnen believes that, like the hummingbirds and ocotillo that thrive together in the desert, Café Botanica will have a symbiotic relationship with the gardens that surround it. “From an aesthetic perspective, this is an unbelievable backdrop for a café,” she says. “The gardens have a stellar collection of indigenous plants. It’s perfect for showcasing what’s really here.” ✜
Vanessa Barchfield is a freelance journalist and independent radio producer based in Tucson.
Café Botanica is located at the Tucson Botanical Gardens. 2150 N. Alvernon Way. 520.326.9686. TucsonBotanical.org