Dante’s Fire’s Ken Foy stoking new flames with fresh menu updates, new partner

Still open late and offering two daily happy hours, guests old and new have fresh reasons to visit the midtown fave.

Dante’s Fire perpetually smolders, nice and warm, on the backburner of Tucsonans’ “where-should-we-eat-dinner-tonight?” minds. Starting this month, the midtown upscale gastropub, with its craft cocktail-forward bar, heats up with a handful of changes. But don’t despair – everything you (most likely) love about Dante’s is remaining.

For starters, Dante’s Fire is still open really, really late. The kitchen serves the full menu of “fine food for everyone” until 2 a.m. every day. Craving post-revelry chicken over arugula noodles, or perhaps a plate of smoked lamb? You got it. Heck, you can even get more booze — perhaps a Moscow Mule or a signature Mojito Diabolique.

They have fabulous daily happy hours. Two, actually. And all day Sunday. The first happens from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and then again from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. In keeping with their “seven” theme, they offer seven items for $7 each. Dante’s Fire is one of the few remaining restaurants in town with such a late happy hour.

Happy hour items include Tomato Burrata (burrata being what happens when fresh ricotta and mozzarella have a baby, according to Foy); Escargot; Chorizo Sliders; Grilled Jalapeño Poppers; Sexy Grilled Cheese (isn’t grilled cheese sexy by default? Yes, but this one has chorizo, red onion jalapeño jam, and is served on Guinness pretzel bread, so it’s way extra); Thai Curry Shrimp; and Baja Fish Tacos.

Pappardelle Diablo at Dante's Fire (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Pappardelle Diablo at Dante’s Fire (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Menu Updates

Some favorite dishes have been on the menu for years and will remain on the new menu that the kitchen is releasing sometime soon. Chef-owner Ken Foy calls some items “sacred cows” — core items like the Stolen Burger, which is one of the best in town, the mussels, and the Pappardelle Diablo, made with pasta from down the street at Fresco Pizzeria and Pasteria.

“We want to make food that people know,” Foy said, “but we want to blow their minds.”

As such, Dante’s Fire flips about 30 percent of the menu every six months or so. New items are inspired by Foy’s own personal interests and his native East Coaster food memories.

The upcoming spring menu includes several new choices:

  • Mushroom Cappuccino, a mushroom bisque infused with Yellow Brick coffee, topped with truffle whip, and adorned with aged cheddar toile
  • Salmon Gravlax with chiles, grapefruit, olives, Mexican Moonshine Anejo vinaigrette, and topped with avocado foam, and accompanied by potato gaufrettes
  • Potato pierogies with caramelized onions and roasted garlic. Like many other dishes this season, it incorporates regional adult beverages — it’s topped with Keeling Shafer apple dijon gastric and braised red cabbage.
  • Pesto Broiled Red Trout, inspired by a dish Foy prepared for the Gastronomic Union of Tucson’s turn-of-the-century Wild West Dinner. The trout, the closest approximation of the indigenous and extinct Apache Trout, features beurre blanc made from Flying Leap vino.

Dante’s Fire’s menu is divided thematically along the circles of hell a la Italian poet Dante’s “Divine Comedy.”
You might think desserts, like Devil’s Chocolate Cake and Adult S’mores, would be categorized under the Gluttony section, but nope. They fall under Treachery.

Grilled Jalapeño Poppers at Dante's Fire (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Grilled Jalapeño Poppers at Dante’s Fire (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Limbo, which is on the lighter side of hell, features items like Foie Gras Pops with caramel sauce and chocolate pork fat.

The rich Greed section features Dante’s Fire’s lush chicken marsala topped with parmesan foam; Atonement features the New York Strip with shallot bourbon sauce, French onion tartlet, and candied bacon Brussels sprouts.

The Pride, Lust, and Heresy menu sections belong to the bar, which according to Foy actively dialogs with the kitchen to concoct cocktails highlighting Arizona wines and spirits.

Weekly Specials

Every day of the week Dante’s Fire features a special, like $5 Monday Mules, and Satur-Date-Night dinner with wine. Burgers are half-off on Tuesdays, while bottles of wine are half-off every Thursday. Wednesday means whiskey flights, and Friday is the chef’s special dinner. Sunday is happy hour all day long.

New Co-owner

Both Fresco and Dante’s have irons in the fire now.

Prior to teaming up with his long-time buddy and co-conspirator Mat Cable, who’s owned Fresco since December 24, 2008, Ken Foy ran the Dante’s Fire show solo. Collaboration is the new keyword: now the bromance is official as Cable has become a quiet, if not silent, co-owner.

“He does all the work; Ken runs the show,” Cable said. There are new backstage operational items that Cable introduced for instant impact “to make it easier for everyone.” These include a new point-of-sale system and replacing the blue carpet.

Foy and Cable have increased the restaurant’s useable space by 60 percent by taking away the stage that had been in the back room for years, and sprucing up the area for busy nights and private parties.

Chefs plating at a Gastronomic Union of Tucson (GUT) dinner at the Carriage House (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Mat Cable (third from right) at a Gastronomic Union of Tucson (GUT) dinner at the Carriage House (Credit: Jackie Tran)

“We’re like an old married couple,” Cable laughed. “It’s a democracy.”

“When we disagree, we fight it out,” Foy added. “There’s not one of us who’s not going to speak our mind. People ask, ‘are you guys fighting?’ and we say we’re just talking it out.”

The collaboration started on the cup-of-sugar neighborly model. “We do a lot of sausage making at Fresco, and he’d borrow some,” said Cable.

“He couldn’t say no when I asked for things,” Foy said.

Foy has helped Cable a lot too over the years, especially with catering. Cable has branched out to catering Z Mansion’s events and for Angelica’s Wedding and Event Center, and “catering is Ken’s forte,” he said.

Dante’s Fire catering has also teamed up with Pop Weds, a local company providing surprisingly inexpensive flat-rate wedding packages for betrothed of all budgets.

Chicken Marsala at Dante's Fire (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Chicken Marsala at Dante’s Fire (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Still Truckin’

On January 20, 2018, Foy licensed his food truck, Culinary Graduate. Foy’s wife Bobbie-Renee, also an amazing cook, helps run the truck.

The truck allows creativity and freedom because it “constantly gets to do specials. It’s an ever-changing menu board,” Cable said. “Whatever he thinks is going to work, he does.”

If you’re wanting to try the truck, check the Culinary Graduate Food Truck Facebook page.

Festivals & Events

Like a grapevine in spring, Dante’s Fire has been actively branching out to accompany the Arizona Winegrowers Association to festivals throughout Southern Arizona, and as far north as Phoenix.

“Events are good for spreading brand awareness,” Cable noted.

Unlike the sampling events Dante’s Fire used to attend, participation in wine festivals, Foy said, has paid dividends and brought a new clientele to the restaurant. It has also stimulated Foy’s bar menu. Dante’s Fire is currently one of the only eateries to try Flying Leap’s grape-based vodka (surprisingly not sweet!).

Dante’s Fire is located at 2526 E. Grant Rd. For hours and menu, visit dantesfireaz.com.

Angela Orlando is an anthropologist who owns Wandering Writers Workshops — retreats that take writers around the world. She’s into all things plant- and animal- and food-related, especially when cheese is somehow involved. She throws pottery and eats from her own handmade plates.

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