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Restaurant Reviews - Dec 2003

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Tubac, AZ and Tosh's                                        

A couple of us on the staff had some business down along the Mexican border recently and on the way home decided to prolong returning to the Old Pueblo and it's careening hordes of insane Christmas shoppers and venture off the freeway to do a little poking around and maybe catch some lunch in the supposed "artsy" community of Tubac, AZ. What we found was a quaint little checkerboard town about the size of a city block with a multitude of shops, galleries, and eateries that, in the end, offered little in the way of things that anyone we know could actually use but much to look at, ponder, and marvel over.

While quaint is definitely one of the words that apply to this small but burgeoning community, located about 45 miles south of Tucson just east of Interstate 19, kitschy is another term you'll want to be familiar with when browsing Tubac's many shoppes since you'll need it in your vocabulary to describe a good amount of the stuff displayed there. Tucked away amongst the adobe and brick store fronts and back alley workshops however, one can also uncover genuine treasures in the form of some pretty cool metal work, assorted quality pottery, decorative tiles, crockery, glassware and carvings that would be hard to come by almost anywhere else in the country. Our initial perception of the Tubac scene was that it was probably comprised of a cluster of retiring, well to do, psuedo artisans using their first husband's money to open cute little, overly scented shops that wouldn't have a prayer of surviving on their own merit. An enclave of fifty something, self congratulating, faux free spirits using en vogue hideaways as excuse to wile away the hours chatting with other rich women with nothing better to do. We would also assume that the group is most likely guilty of exploiting the actual artists by astronomically marking up their wares. And while we have no actual proof of any of this, our visit did nothing particularly to dissuade us from the position either since, for every actual creative confect that might catch your eye, there are about twenty five other hunks of over priced crap on display. On the other hand, there is evidence of enough inspired and original craftsmanship scattered about that one gets a sense that some serious talent is lurking somewhere in the area. And while most of the art and craft for sale are some mutation of those tired gaudy southwestern depictions of the old frontier in the vein of turquoise festooned cow skulls, carvings of defeated weeping Native Americans, sleeping sombrero wearers, multi-colored baying coyotes, and countless examples of the now ubiquitous Kokopelli, there is also an awe inspiring copper fountain maker, some really creative wood and metal work, some decent prices on pots and chimineas, and a couple bookstores along with a museum or two. Mix that in with some good food and historic barrio architecture and it gives the place a definite something for everyone quality. It is a decidedly colorful setting to be sure and strolling through the streets one can't help but get a pleasant relaxed feeling. There is also a scenic walk great for bird watching along the Santa Cruz river bed that winds among the old growth mesquite and pecan trees as well as a state historic park that captures and explains the area's colorful history. The point is then that, despite the inevitable exploitation and, well, kitschy feel that one can be overwhelmed with if they allow themselves to, Tubac still has some pretty cool stuff if you are not too put off to look for it. A line from a Grateful Dead song comes to mind. 

"Don't tell me this town ain't got no heart.
You just gotta poke around."

Enough said.

On the food side of things, the Tubac experience was not a good one this time around. We returned to a place called Tosh's at which we had eaten a fairly good meal and had a decent margarita or two in the past. We were met at the door by Mort the host, who apparently took a moment to size us up and then promptly led us right past the mostly empty front room with the comfortable leather chairs (depicted at right in the painting by Anne Laddon who seems to be one of the more talented artisans featured in the area). Mort took us through the gift shop to a room in the far back with nobody in it where he sat us at a table directly under a speaker blaring pop salsa music. 

A waiter appeared after a moment and nervously took our order only to return immediately to inform us in halting tones that there was no spinach for the spinach enchiladas and to wonder aloud if we just wanted them made without spinach. We were thrown off a bit since we would have thought any enchiladas would have been made beforehand and so we suggested sour cream or something instead but he seemed confused by this and looked down at the menu as if regarding if for the first time and finally said no, just cheese would be better for us. Since we were in something of a hurry by that point, we said cheese was fine rather than opting to take the menu that he held before him and peruse it with him standing by waiting, even though spinach enchiladas without spinach didn't actually sound like much of a treat. 

The other of us had ordered a green chili burro initially but with all the talk about enchiladas decided to switch to something called a Tosh's Special which was supposed to be both a burrito and an enchilada smothered with green chili which assumedly meant the type of hearty green chili that would have been in the burro from the first order. Instead, the plate arrived sporting a small burrito with nothing more than some weak salsa poured over it and with beans inside that were some of the saltiest ever tasted. The enchiladas were acceptable and the back room actually not all that disagreeable but something about the experience rubbed us the wrong way. Not that we blame Mort mind you who did exactly what we would likely have done when faced with the sight of the same two staffers at the start of what could prove to be a busy lunch rush. Nor do we find fault with the jittery waiter since everyone has to start somewhere learning a trade. And we don't want to spend too much time dwelling on it but since we've come this far we might as well break it down quickly. 

We visited Tosh's a couple years ago with a group of attractive, smartly dressed staffers, among them a couple of women who appeared on the outside at least as if they could probably buy and sell the place on a lark if they felt like it. On that occasion we are seated in the colorful front room and waited on by a debonair, silver haired Mexican gentleman who spared no affectation to see that everything was attended to and that we received heaping helpings of delicious succulent repast and attentive service with a constant smile. So now we return a couple years later, just two of us in our work clothes, and are led into the back and dished up some slop beans which someone had apparently dumped a shaker of Lukas into, and waited on by a jumpy trainee not yet familiar with the restaurant business. Which experience are we likely to remember? The former hopefully but the latter of course, and although it may well have been an anomalous isolated incident not even worth mentioning, we could also have fun pondering whether the two experiences offer comment on Tosh's decline or our own. One thing seems certain however which is that, although we haven't tried any other eateries right in the Tubac township, as we've said before in this space, good Mexican food abounds in this area and if those beans were not some fired dishwasher's angry parting gesture, Tosh's will be losing many other return customers as well. 

In any event, Tubac itself is definitely worth a look see if you are passing though the area. There's some cool stuff to look at and if you happen to be a trinket collector from the Midwest traveling the country in an RV, or a rich socialite hoping to furnish a Manhattan penthouse in a southwestern theme, you'll be able to find much to spend your money on. Otherwise, poking down the alleys and strolling the streets isn't a bad way to spend a little time.

Copyright 2003. All Rights Reserved.