What is it with “comfort food”? It seems I can’t open a menu these days without finding it. Macaroni and cheese. Meatloaf. Fried chicken.
I guess, in a moribund economy, nothing sells like nostalgia.
Personally, I’m far from nostalgic about comfort food. I’m unmoved by mac ’n’ cheese, I eschew any meat dish that ends in “loaf,” and I’ve pitied many a restaurant’s attempt to rouse the memory of my grandmother’s fried chicken.
So three months ago, when I was walking my dogs in the Coronado Historic District and passed a new restaurant in the unlikeliest of spots, the hopefulness that welled inside me lasted only until I glimpsed the menu. It read: “Tuck Shop: Neighborhood Comfort Food.”
Still, when an independently owned restaurant opens in your ’hood, you have to give it a chance—especially when that restaurant is as aesthetically appealing as the Tuck Shop.
The Tuck Shop is the creation of a local architect (DJ Fernandes of Construction Zone), and it shows. What was once a nondescript brick building is now a testament to thoughtful modernism. I was instantly enamored by the “reading room,” a waiting area cum lounge with a comfy couch, white candles and a shelving unit carefully cluttered with books and games. Think of the coolest neighbors your family had in 1979: this is their den.
In the front of the restaurant, separating the kitchen from the dining room, is a small bar with architect’s stools. The Tuck Shop stocks about 20 wines and a half-dozen bottled beers, and it serves Four Peaks on tap (including a special brew called Tuck Shop Ale).
But the bar’s real genius lies in its selection of spirits: It has one—and only one—of everything. Order whiskey and you’ll get Wild Turkey Rye. Order vodka and you’ll get Tito’s. Order gin and you’ll get Hendrick’s. The bar’s shelves are also home to such inspired labels as Bruichladdich Scotch and Pimms No. 1.
Basically, the Tuck Shop is to libations what Google Reader is to information. It’s a refreshing concept, and one that alters the matrix for bar patrons who can never seem to decide which fruit-flavored vodka they want to mix with their Red Bull.
Despite the three paragraphs I just devoted to the bar, the Tuck Shop is very much a restaurant first, watering hole second. The intimate dining room is dominated by a beautiful, carved-wood sharing table (I’m told it came from Passport Imports, on Indian School), and every chair that surrounds it—in fact, every chair in the restaurant—is different than its neighbor. The chairs are plucked from old kitchen-table sets, and you’re likely to recognize a model that supported your derriere for a lifetime of Frosted Flake munching and spaghetti slurping.
Finally, the food: As a persnickety meat-and-potatoes guy, I state up front that I’m an unqualified critic of cuisine. For assessments of Tuck Shop by people with more sophisticated palates than mine, I suggest you troll Yelp or check out The Arizona Republic’s recent review (4.5 out of 5 stars). But I can tell you this: Every night at about 7 p.m., my lizard brain flashes to the flavor of the Tuck Shop’s maple-roasted pork tenderloin. And the citrus-brined fried chicken? Better than my grandmom’s.
Two other things you need to know about the Tuck Shop: One, it takes its name from the term commonly given to a commissary at an English private school. (Owner Fernandes attended an English-style boarding school in Rhode Island.) Two, if you’re fond of alt-country bands and singer-songwriters (such as My Morning Jacket, Whiskeytown, Neko Case, Bright Eyes, etc.), you’re going to dig the background music.
Just how comfortble is it? Consider: I live five blocks from the place. I have a couch. I have a little bar. I have an iTouch full of good music. I probably even have a pork loin in the freezer. Yet three nights this week I left my house and walked, trancelike, to this green building on the corner of Oak and 12th streets.
It’s like an opium den opened in my neighborhood. And I can’t stop chasing the dragon.