Instead of eating at the hotel, I ventured out every chance I got to learn about the restaurants in the neighborhood. Just down the block from Hotel Congress, I happened upon the coffee bar, Sparkroot. Their coffee was fantastic (strong, yet smooth) and their muffins are made fresh on site daily. I loved both the chocolate chip hazelnut and the strawberry pistachio. There was a great sense of community that I felt while there. People talked with one another, both friends and strangers; a real home away from home. I ended up there every morning, not just for the great food and coffee, but also the happy vibe I felt every time I entered. Sparkroot, like most coffee establishments these days, doubles as a bar in the evening, serving wine, beer, cocktails and nibbles.
On the second night of the trip, I insisted that we try The Coronet, a fairly new restaurant with rave reviews. Billed as an old-world brasserie with rustic cuisine, I immediately fell in love with it as we entered their garden patio. When we walked through the wrought iron arbor, a cool breeze was blowing, a talented gentleman was gently strumming his guitar (singing in both French and English), while the friendly staff greeted us and seated us immediately. We started the meal by sharing a platter of beets with minted chevre, walnut-feta paté, giardiniera and sumac pita chips. We relished every aspect of this plate, and savored the delicious vegetarian paté. For entrée we all tried the Spicy Shrimp en Papillote with green beans, tomatoes, green olives, tamarind-kefir lime broth and rainbow quinoa. This dish was not too spicy with a great balance of flavor. For dessert we opted for the Cookie Plate, a selection of their homebaked cookies; our favorite was the pistachio oatmeal. The Coronet is very eager to help those who follow vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free diets. Added bonus--the Coronet is walking distance from Hotel Congress.
I felt compelled to drop into the local shop Fed by Threads across the street from my son's building. I stumbled across an online article that featured this unusual shop which sells clothing and bags made with sustainable, organic cotton, using low impact dyes, all produced in the USA. Plus, all the workers who make these garments are provided a fair wage and have safe working conditions. Most striking of all, for every garment sold at Fed by Threads, 12 emergency meals are donated to those in need, specifically the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona and Feeding America, a national hunger relief organization with over 200 distribution points across the country. Alok Appadurai and his wife, Jade, opened the store earlier this year in response to the current lack of food security in America. I ended up purchasing a dress for me and a gift for a friend. Their store features products for men, women and small children and they are available online. I can see a store like this thriving in Austin.
For dinner on my last night in town, we walked across the street to Proper, a farm to table restaurant which uses organic, local and regional sources whenever possible. Our helpful server suggested The Ned Sauvignon Blanc 2012 from Marlborough, New Zealand to pair with my dinner. He was right, it was a light white that was a nice match. My son and I split the Proper Salad with macerated strawberries, chevre, honey vin and bee pollen. This salad had it all: crunch from the greens, sweetness from the berries and creamy savoriness from the cheese. The bee pollen added an extra special element as well. For entrée, my son had the Pappardelle Pasta Zucchini with sage, walnuts and spinachRicotta Gnocchi with oyster mushrooms, arugula, crème fraiche and lemon oil . He was very happy with the generous portion and the fresh, quality ingredients in the dish. I had the . This is classified as a small dish on the menu, but I found it to be the perfect size. Every ingredient added a special component and it was a lovely compliment of flavors. For dessert, we split the Dulce de Leche Frita with cajeta. It consisted of three small round donuts that are filled with dulche de leche and a cajeta sauce drizzled on the plate. We both enjoyed this dessert, but my son was having an eyes-in-the-back-of-the-head moment. I think he wanted a second order. A great end to a lovely trip. I am looking forward to a return visit to Tucson to learn more about its outstanding food culture. (Cathy)