Tucked in the center of Tucson with a tall wall surrounding it, you’ve probably driven past boutique hotel Lodge in the Desert countless times.
Though the kitchen isn’t visible from Alvernon Way, make the convenient stop in to find some mighty fine refined southwestern cuisine.
Lodge has a rich history dating back to its 1936 opening. When Tucson was mostly a desert landscape, it attracted A-list celebrities such as John Wayne and Bing Crosby, who stayed at Lodge in the Desert.
Fast forward to the present and the scenic desert in the area is sparse. However, the picture-perfect mountains are framed by the bordering walls and the modern yet distinctly southwestern hacienda-style rooms. Walk past the fountain and gorgeous oasis of a courtyard and you’ll find the restaurant, which was a starting point for some of Tucson’s current notable chefs.
Chefs Ryan Clark and Brandon Dillon both spent time cooking at Lodge in the Desert. Andrew Larkin was also part of the impressive kitchen, but left to New York and worked at the Muttontown Club. However, he recently returned to accept the role of Executive Chef at Lodge in the Desert.
Walk into the bar area and you’ll find the happy hour, where appetizers are $2 off the bar menu price, local draft beer is $3, and classic or prickly pear margaritas are $5.
The Prickly Pear Margarita ($5) uses fresh house-squeezed juices, so it’s extra-refreshing. Since the flavors are so well-balanced and not cloying, it’s too easy to get carried away with ordering more. It’s a must if you choose to sit outside.
The Seafood Cocktail ($12) is a shrimp and seasonal fish ceviche with a michelada and saladito base, served with tortilla chips. On our visit, the seasonal fish included flakes of salmon and chunks of tender scallops. The addictive blend of savory, salty, and sour made it worth fighting over.
The Cutting Board ($14) features rotating meats and cheeses, chili-lime cashews, Lodge pickles, marinated olives, and slices of toasted baguette. On our visit, we loved the award-winning Fiore di Capra goat cheese rolled in fresh herbs. The house-made Lodge pickle and pickled fiddlehead ferns were a tart contrast with just a hint of sweetness to balance the acidity. They also managed to keep a fair amount of their innate vegetal crispness.
With all that house-pickling comes pickling brine, but it doesn’t go to waste. Chef Larkin uses it to brine Andrew’s Pickled Hot Wings ($10), which helps tenderize the wings and season them evenly. With Arizona Gunslinger sauce and habanero in the mix, it packs more of a punch than your average hot wing. The sprinkling of salty and creamy cotija cheese and the black pepper blue cheese dressing help temper the heat, however. The usual wing accompaniment of carrots and celery are also present to help, but radish and pepper wedges are also in the fray if you want to get cooler or hotter.
The Whiskey-Glazed Roasted Veal Bone Marrow ($8) is served with tomato jam, wilted kale, and slices of toasted baguette. The marrow is salted just right to highlight the delicate creamy flavor. Even though marrow is mostly fat, the earthy wilted kale and tangy tomato jam make the rich marrow easy to devour without hesitation. The tomato jam amplifies the umami, with a hit of sugar and acidity showing off Chef Larkin’s talent at balancing flavors.
The best part about happy hour at a hotel is you can take a nap in your room. Even if you don’t have a room here, don’t miss out on this fun-yet-elegant menu.
Lodge on the Desert is located at 306 N. Alvernon Way and is open daily. Happy hour runs 4 – 6 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. For more information, visit lodgeonthedesert.com. To keep up with specials, visit Lodge on the Desert on Facebook. For a list of other hot happy hour picks, click here.