When Steve Dunn, Bryce Zeagler, and Travis Peters of The Parish, all veterans of Tucson’s dining scene, got together to open a restaurant, they wanted a place that looked like a house of ill repute and served southern fusion food.
It’s been a winning combination for The Parish, which debuted in October 2011.
The ambience might be described as bordello chic. You walk into a sultry, dark space wreathed in crystal chandeliers and satin drapes, a perfect place to sip a Sazerac over an intimate romantic conversation or share good times with friends.
The menu is neither Cajun or Creole, though it shows strong influences of both, as well as flavors that reflect the partners’ culinary histories. Zeagler grew up in Louisiana, Dunn in Texas, and Peters in Arizona.
The gumbo, for example, is Grandmother Zeagler’s recipe. She came to Zeagler’s last restaurant, the New Orleans-inspired French Quarter, to teach him how to make it.
“The Jameson behind the bar is from my family,” jokes Dunn.
It might not have been predicted that three strong personalities in the restaurant industry would work so well as a team, but each partner plays a distinct role. Dunn is the organizer: He books musicians, schedules artists to hang their work, and sets up events. Zeagler takes care of the business side, including the bookkeeping. And Peters is the creative force, the chef who loves to explore different flavors and presentations.
Some dishes will probably always be on the menu, including the hugely popular Drunken Angel. Fine angel hair pasta is cooked in Burgundy; the wine stains the noodles a deep purple and gives them earthy overtones. Then they’re soaked in lobster broth, smothered in saffron red pepper cream, shrimp, and crawfish, and topped with parmesan cheese. Regulars know that there’s no shame in using the crusty bread to sop up any remaining cream sauce and every last morsel of cheese.
The dish tastes like good home cooking because it’s made to order.
“It may take 20-30 minutes to prepare, but it’s going to be right. It’s going to be fresh,” says Dunn.
The Parish is also one of the only places in town to serve frog legs. The Hot Legs Le’Jean are rubbed with black pepper and horseradish, wrapped in crispy bacon, and served with a Creole remoulade for dipping.
Although some menu favorites are likely to remain largely untouched, Peters is always experimenting with flavors. This year he’s been playing with hot sauces, fermenting them in house. The Black & Blue Brussels appetizer features his latest: Brussels sprouts tossed in blackberry and blueberry hot sauce, candied pecans, and cilantro.
And if you like any of the hot sauces you’ve enjoyed on your meal, you can bring some home. They’re all bottled for sale.
A few of the classic southern flavors Peters has played with include Kool-Aid pickles--they’re exactly what they sound like, and colorful too; pickled okra for the Bloody Mary's; and meats brined with Dr. Pepper, a popular Texan technique.
“That’s the beauty of having someone like Travis on our team,” shares Zeagler. “He’s such an artist at heart, and he’s always discovering new things, and challenging himself.”
It's not only food that gets special attention here; the bar shines too. The Parish experiments with infused spirits, from brown butter bourbon and vanilla ginger rum to cucumber tequila and blueberry vodka. These are among the many things that give the cocktail menu added complexity and depth.
One of the current seasonal cocktails and a real favorite is the ahumado fresca, made with anejo sotol, tamarind syrup, mesquite-smoked honey, and a squeeze of fresh lime juice -- all flavors representing the Sonoran desert.
The Parish also offers dry (nonalcoholic) cocktails, which pay as much attention to flavor and detail as any craft cocktail. The pineapple mojito is tart and tropical, bubbling with Sprite, and Sweet Romance is a beautiful frosted lavender color, floral and juicy.
In late September each year, the Parish throws a multi-day "Stormin' the Sazerac" party to celebrate the 1949 opening of the Roosevelt Hotel’s Sazerac Bar in New Orleans--notable for allowing in women, who had previously only been permitted to enter during Mardi Gras. During this extended event, all-female local bands play, women can enjoy specialty cocktails at happy hour prices all day, and Sazeracs run $6 for everyone.
Not surprisingly, The Parish goes all out for Mardi Gras, throwing a huge parking lot party. The centerpiece, a whole roasted alligator, is accompanied by other classic New Orleans-style dishes like red beans and rice, along with hundreds of pounds of crawfish flown in for the occasion.
Ten to 12 bands play at the party, and this is the only time a cover is charged. Some of the proceeds from this and from the food go to support the Lower Nine, a New Orleans ward that was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina.
“We keep ties back home and make sure that is not forgotten,” says Dunn.
Music is another thing The Parish partners have in common. Each was involved in the music industry at one time or another, Peters with a punk band called The Elemenopees.
Zeagler compares Peters’ musical skills with his cooking skills. “There are similarities of Chef being in a band and having a restaurant where he gets to build menus. To me, this is like an album. You have songs people fall in love with, and you can never take that song off” -- maybe a musical version of the Drunken Angel pasta.
Now, they mostly support other local bands by hosting them at The Parish.
In addition, artists can hang their work at The Parish without giving up a percentage of their sales.
With three owners, three circles overlap, each with a distinct influence on the restaurant. The Parish does southern fusion its own way, and it’s personal.
The Parish is located at 6453 N. Oracle Rd. Find hours of operation, full menus and additional contact information at theparishtucson.com.