4 December, 2022, 04:05

Tons of fun flavors at the new fast-casual restaurant, The Lobby

"things so far have been going remarkably well.”

Have you ever bitten into something so tasty that your immediate brain reaction is, “Oh yes, this feels right”? It could feel like a self-satisfying discovery — a song you’ve been waiting to hear or a book you’ve connected to.

After that first bite of the burger at The Lobby, I experienced similar twinges. All I could do is look over at chef and owner Cory Oppold, who then looked back at me with mild hesitation as if he thought I was unimpressed. It was the total opposite.

There is just something bold, brash, and beautiful about everything that goes into and on that burger.

Classic Burger & Pomme Frites at The Lobby (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

Classic Burger & Pomme Frites at The Lobby (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

The burger in question, the Classic, is of a fairly simple composition; pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, Thousand Island dressing, and some quality cheddar cheese. But how those elements all came together with a perfectly medium rare cook on the beef and a toasted bun is what made it all happen. By happening I mean recoiling in rapture as my five, maybe six, senses tingled with a “this feels right” nod. If they could all hypothetically flop into a soft chair with a heady sigh, they would. I almost did.

“Wait. Didn’t you win an episode of ‘Chopped’?”

Chef Oppold smiled and nodded.

“I knew it.”

Oppold grew up and graduated high school in a small farm community in northwest Illinois, but then moved to Phoenix to pursue a career in architecture. About a year and a half later, his interest fell into all things culinary after experiencing a fine dining restaurant for the first time. It was then that Oppold enrolled in the Scottsdale Culinary Institute in 2001.

Local Greens Salad at The Lobby (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

Local Greens Salad at The Lobby (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

Graduating with honors the following year, he staged and studied at the Pointe Hilton in Tapatio Cliffs, learning even more about higher-end ingredients, tasting menus, and the respectful approach to food. He worked his way up from line cook to executive sous chef and then moved on to several restaurants in Arizona including L’Auberge in Sedona, Binkley’s and Tarbell’s in Phoenix, and even teaching for several years at The Le Cordon Bleu.

In 2014, Cory became the executive chef at Atlas Bistro in Scottsdale. However, during the height of COVID in 2020, he left the restaurant and started an in-home dining catering company. Later this year, Oppold plans to segue the company into a brick-and-mortar restaurant named Course in Scottsdale.

When Fat Noodle shut its doors a few months ago, he saw an opportunity that he could not pass up. His higher-end stylings gave way to his lifelong love for burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, and all that ooey-gooey comfort food goodness, knowing that this concept would do extremely well here in Tucson.

So far, that hint has been correct.

Teaming up with chef Kyrie McRoy from Tanque Verde Ranch, the two have concocted an elementary yet elevated view of the things that many want and love to eat. Fanciness set aside, the food served at their venture on First Avenue and Wetmore Road is more of an ode to the culinary duality they both live.

Chef Cory Oppold & Chef Kyrie McRoy (Photo courtesy of The Lobby)

Chef Cory Oppold & Chef Kyrie McRoy (Photo courtesy of The Lobby)

One half is in the stainless arena of tweezered elements set on the finest proteins and vegetation. The other being the clocked-out versions of themselves grubbing on grub from a greasy bag and enjoying on the trunk of their car.

The dichotomy of both lives plays quite nicely and, shall we say, quite tasty together.

“Trying to get Course opened up in Scottsdale along with keeping The Lobby going here in Tucson has proven to be a bit more than I asked for,” said Oppold. “But Kyrie is amazing and things so far have been going remarkably well.”

The duo created The Lobby, named after being the actual lobby for The Seasons apartments above them, with the idea of having something for everyone (and they really do).

Crispy Chicken Tenders & Local Greens Salad (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

Crispy Chicken Tenders & Local Greens Salad (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

No matter how or what you call them, Pomme Frites is just a fancy term for fries — sort of like haricot vert for green beans. It’s the way you treat the product that separates it from a country diner side dish to a country dinner dish served by the Sorgue in France. The Lobby’s Pomme Frites are hand cut, crispy on the outside, tender inside, and accompanied by a spiced tomato aioli that would make Éric Ripert mutter a startled “Mon Dieu!”

The same notion went for the crispy chicken tenders. Now, many food-loving protection services will waver on the side of bone-in being best being one of them. But let’s get factual here; these tenders aren’t the kind served in a spot adorned with several flashing flat screens screaming sports above light beer taps. This is chef Oppold and chef McRoy we are trusting here.

Crispy Chicken Tenders at The Lobby (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

Crispy Chicken Tenders at The Lobby (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

Coated in a chili honey glaze and finished with a peanut crumble, The Lobby chicken tenders will easily change the minds of those who refuse boneless options. Yes, they are better than you think.

Being in Tucson and all, The Lobby also offers Beef Barbacoa and Grilled Chicken Street Tacos, as well as a quesadilla, which are all on equal par with the rest of the menu.

Partially-eaten taco at The Lobby (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

Partially-eaten taco at The Lobby (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

Three current options of grilled cheese sandwiches each delight in their own right, but I will have to admit the tomato bisque served alongside them is a bright delicious star on its own. Do not be timid to dip any or all of those sandwiches in that bisque.

To move events into even further reaches of “big kid, happy time for me” treats, The Lobby has some of the best milkshakes in Tucson. Nostalgia aside from that place you’ve been going to when Bob Barker was still hosting “The Price is Right,” these swirled moments of decadent-induced eye rolls are not kidding around. It took some extra resilience on my part to not grunt like a wild beast while partaking in their S’mores Milkshake. Wait, I think I did let out a hearty growl when I dipped in — I know I did.

S’mores Milkshake at The Lobby (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

S’mores Milkshake at The Lobby (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

It was mainly because of that burnt marshmallow crème, the graham cracker brittle on top, and dense chocolate concentration underneath. The best part was that I didn’t have to struggle to get it traversing through the straw. It moved with grace and without temple strain, hitting the tongue with an instant surge of cheat day frivolity.

Oppold said there will be menu changes soon, along with serving booze, to keep it interesting, to keep with the seasonal bounty, and to keep both guests and his chefs engaged.

The Lobby is a comfortable restaurant offering extremely comforting food. Craving an Italian beef sandwich? They’ve got that. Do you want it on a more elegant aspect? It’s topped with house-cured giardiniera and imported provolone on a locally baked hoagie bun.

Do you see what they are getting at here? Chef Oppold didn’t win an episode of “Chopped” for nothing, you know.

The restaurant is currently open from 11:30 a.m. – 8 p.m. on Wednesday – Sunday and is closed on Monday and Tuesday.

The Lobby is located at 811 E. Wetmore Rd. For more information, visit thelobbytucson.com and follow The Lobby on Instagram

It was a Sonoran hot dog that made Mark switch from music journalism to food writing when he moved to Tucson from San Francisco in 2006. He hasn’t been the same since.