On the ground floor of a small historic hotel where the bustle of 4th Avenue ends - but before downtown proper begins - is Sally Kane and Gregor Kretschmann's new restaurant, The Coronet.
With a passion for extraordinary and perfectly prepared food, solid, excellent service, and a knack for creating an ambience straight off of the streets of Paris, Sally sat down with Tucson Foodie to discuss her philosophy behind the restaurant, describe some of the menu items, and talk Tucson food.
What made you want to open up a restaurant in this space?
I've wanted to open up a place for a long time. My father owned a restaurant, so I come from a restaurant family. I love hospitality and I love the hospitality business. I've had designs (for The Coronet) for over 10 years and made a strong effort to make this happen in the old Samaniego House, but in the end was not able to secure a lease. After that ordeal, it took a while for me to get my head around another project, but this corner became available, and although it took me a little bit to see what it could be, I suddenly saw the whole picture in my head and we went for it.
Tell me about the concept, the philosophy behind it, the design…
The main inspiration was to create the kind of food that I wasn't able to get out very often - fresh ingredients, items that aren't processed, and everything homemade, for example. I also love simple, Old World, European traditions. I love Pépin, I love the old Time-Life series of cookbooks. I love mustard, I love horseradish, and I like food that plays around with my palate, but isn't derivative of any particular thing.
People keep asking what's the Coronet as a concept and the concept is food that makes us happy. It's a lot of traditional recipes that we're riffing on that have inspired us but with really fresh ingredients. Some things can be over done when it comes to continental cooking and we're bringing a fresh, light perspective to that. At its core, it's just like a cafe you'd find in any major city. I wanted something that felt classic, lived-in, and that I can feel at home in while enjoying a paper, a cup of coffee, and some great food.
Where did the name The Coronet come from?
The Coronet is a small dominion of crown for a lesser noble. Coronado, which is the name of the hotel, means to crown in Spanish. So, there's Coronado and Coronet and we're a small little part of the Coronado.
How did you end up in this location and what do you know about the history of it?
The plan was to originally turn this into an annex for baked goods. It had no infrastructure at all (when we got it). It actually used to be a cafe from the late 1920s to the late 1970s. It was called the Coronado Cafe. And, before the hotel was built - around 1911 - it was called The Royal Bakery, which is a beautiful second reason of why we decided to call it The Coronet. But, there is nothing original in this space other than the shapes of the windows.
Tell me a little more about the food.
In the morning we're serving Shakshouka which is a Middle Eastern, spicy tomato sauce, baked egg dish with little incredible pieces of French feta in there. It's delicious. It's served with a cold cucumber salad. Most of our entree type breakfasts will be served with some type of salad. We'll also feature the Ratatouille during breakfast, but in a baked egg dish with chevre. We just added a Lardon Tartine which comes with an aged, soft, brie-like goat cheese, with seared candied figs, lardons, and red onion jam.
For dinner entrees, we're serving Austrian Lamb Goulash with Knodels; Parchment Fish served on a bed of Beluga Lentils topped with Salsa Verde; a local sausage - both of our sausages are from the Sausage Shop - we're using their Dragoon sausage; and a Rot Kohl, which is a sweet and sour red cabbage with roasted cauliflower mash and brussel sprouts. There's no country of origin here. When we do brunch we do a kimchi that's off the hook so that we can do our own take of a bibimbap.
Are the menu items your creations?
It's actually Erica Bostick, Jake Alpert, and myself. I had in my head what was happening for years and years, so I've always had what I'll fondly refer to as a fake menu. There's a good percentage of the fake menu that's on our menu now, which is now the real menu, but they (Erica and Jake) got it, ran with it, and although it started with that fake menu, it's now more of collaboration.
Tell me about the interior. It's beautiful.
I designed the interior. The architect was Bill Mackey and he helped with the layout. Gregor and I had the idea for the cantilevered windows (along the top of the wall that divides the dining room from the kitchen). The stained glass window is Victorian, the bar was found on Craigslist from New River, a little stage stop town in Northern Arizona. It's from 1906. The Hitchcock chairs we've been collecting for a couple of years, and the floor, which I designed was made in the Dominican Republic.
You designed the floor?
I looked all over the country for different manufacturers and importers of encaustic Mission tile and I found a pattern I liked and designed the colors. It's really cool - you can put the colors in different places and make a totally different pattern. You can leave stuff out or put stuff in, the clover design could have been gone or left. The floor in the bathroom is super cool, too.
Changing subjects, what are some of your favorite restaurants in and out of Tucson?
For the longest time I worked contractor hours, was ravenously hungry by 10am, wanted to stay healthy, and ended up eating a lot of Vietnamese food. When Sparkroot opened, I was super excited. I could get an Americano that was absolutely delicious, really good oatmeal, and be on my way. I also love Casa Vicente. I never want a lot of one thing - I want lots of little things, which is what they specialize in. I love their wine list. He's always there (the owner), his wife is there, I can sit inside or outside, it's vibrant, full of life, and it makes me very, very happy.
How about this downtown resurgence?
All of this new stuff is amazing. We've been working like dogs for at least a couple years to get this going and haven't been able to get out as much as we'd like, though. There are one or two new restaurants we haven't tried, but the entire scene is amazing.
This morning we ate at 5 Points Market, and it's exactly what I've been looking for. Their menu is beautiful, I love the way it looks, along with all of the familiar faces I've known over the years. I love their ethos and their ethics. It's pretty cool. And, they're in my neighborhood.
The entire downtown is amazing. Gio Taco is amazing. It's right around the corner. I love that I can have a bunch of tacos wrapped in lettuce with completely delicious sides. Brian Metzger (owner of Gio Taco, The Abbey, and Poppy Kitchen), came and brought tacos to my entire staff on our first day of the street fair soft opening. He knew we were cranking in here on our first day open. That was very cool of him. He was like the welcome wagon.
Where are you getting your coffee from?
Caffe Luce. I love Luce beans. Their style is a little old school, as opposed to the third wave coffee craze. I like coffee that isn't burnt, but is so close on the edge of it that it's greasy and oily and makes me feel like I'm drinking a cup of coffee.
What do you want people that come here to leave with?
We have an amazing crew. It's very important to me that every single person that works here from the busboy on knows exactly what we're serving here, what's in it, and what's it tastes like, with regards to our wine, alcohol, and our food.
But, I want people to feel - its going to sound cheesy, and I know people say it all the time - but I have intentionally picked every detail of this place so that it truly feels like you're not just at a restaurant, but that you're somewhere that feels more comfortable than that. Like a place that someone can feel at home in.
I hope that our menu is priced in such a way that it makes it acccessible for people to come a couple of times per week, and that this is a place that people want to come back over and over again to. We're going to change the menu seasonally and keep it fresh, not only in terms of ingredients, but the menu as a whole.
Any after The Coronet plans?
I've had two strong ideas that are just crazy. I don't know if they could ever be realities, but I would love to open up a European market hall where there's a fishmonger, a cheesemonger, a butcher, a green grocer, and everyone owns their own shop and it's all under one roof, with some food available ready to eat.
It's been great chatting with you. Anything else you'd like to tell Tucson Foodie readers?
I'm hoping that we've built a place that is not exclusive to any demographic. It was really exciting this weekend (The Coronet opened briefly for the weekend of the street fair for a test run) to see so many different kinds of people here. My dream is to always have a place where lawyers are seated next to artists and musicians and everyone feels equally at home.
The Coronet is located at 409 E. 9th Street on the ground floor of the Coronado Hotel and opens to the public April 13th for brunch. For more information, keep up with them on The Coronet Facebook page, or call (520) 444-2830.
[June 10, 2020 edit: The Coronet is now located at 198 W. Pennington St. For more information, visit coronettucson.com]