Even though summer is technically about a month away, it's not too soon for summer drinks and specials.
Welcome Diner recently updated its menu with warm-weather produce and refreshing, sessionable summer cocktails.
Additionally, all-day happy hour has expanded to Monday through Thursday for $2 off all menu cocktails, $1 off draft beer, and $5 house red and white wine. Menu cocktails range from $8 to $13.
Classic cocktail additions are a bit on the rarer side with inspiration from Charles H. Baker's 1946 book Jigger, Beaker and Glass: Drinking Around the World.
The Red Snow ($8) is essentially sangria on crushed ice with a splash of orange flower water and nutmeg for pop.
Another fun and refreshing option is the Piazza ($8), with cream sherry, soda water, creme de cacao, and lemon.
Welcome Diner's newest cocktails feature both original summer creations and revisions on previous menu cocktails. It also highlights locality with both spirits and produce.
"Erik from Pivot Produce is helping us a ton with these cooler and harder to find ingredients," said Connor Mansager, beverage manager at Welcome Diner.
One of the best showcases of local ingredients is the Levantine Old Fashioned ($13). Cask-strength local Whiskey Del Bac is paired with date syrup from Iskashitaa Refugee Network. To embrace the Levant region even further, Mansager "introduced some cardamom bitters and a garnish of really good olives" for a juxtaposing snack.
The cocktail formerly known as Love and Squalor helped Mansager win the 2017 Arizona Star Bartender at the Devour Phoenix Bartending Competition. Now known as the Squanderlust ($10), it features horseradish vodka made in Scottsdale from O.H.S.O. Brewery + Distillery along with local beets and lemons.
"Fun story about the origin [of the Party Bod, $9] — nobody remembers why we call it that," said Mansager. Quirky name aside, the cocktail is essentially a reverse Vesper with Cocchi Americano, local Three Wells Distilling Company Mt. Lemmon Gin, and Regan's Orange Bitters. As a special touch, Mansager rinses the glass with a tincture he created by steeping huitlacoche (corn smut) in vodka for four months. It provides an earthy, sweet corn fragrance with a subtle chocolate note.
The emphasis on local goes deeper with the Three Sisters Burrito ($9), a vegan option on the breakfast menu.
"It's based on the Three Sisters, squash, corn, and beans, which grow and taste well together," said Clayton Craw, culinary operations director for Welcome Diner. The tempura squash provides crunch, while smoked pecan cheese adds richness. The deep, smoky ranchero salsa and fresh pico de gallo provide additional contrasting flavors and textures.
The Three Sisters inspiration also carries on with the trio of asparagus, strawberry, and rhubarb, unexpectedly paired with smoked trout in the dinner menu via the Smoked Trout Rillette Tartine ($12). The warm, crunchy-yet-still-fluffy-inside break provides a sturdy bed for the creamy asparagus mousse and smoked trout. The strawberry and rhubarb compote provide the balancing acidity with a touch of sweetness. Fresh dill adds the last brightening touch.
Shrimp and Grits ($19) have made their way into the dinner menu with Pima grits, which features corn that was fire-roasted before milling. Kernels of corn are mixed in for bursts of sweet fresh flavor. The roasted tomato and chorizo gravy's umami is deepened further by making use of the shrimp peels and heads. The soft poached egg adds a last layer of creaminess.
The Twice Fried Chicken ($23) has returned due to popular demand. However, add $2 for the Korean Chili Sauce. If you've never experienced Korean fried chicken, then my oh my are you in for a treat.
Welcome Diner is at 902 E. Broadway Blvd. and can be reached at 520-622-5100. For more information, visit welcomediner.net
Jackie Tran is a Tucson-based food writer, photographer, culinary educator, and owner-chef of the food truck Tran's Fats. Although he...