Off the eatin' path
Getting up on Sunday can sometimes be a hassle, but arriving at the Rillito Park farmers market early is one of my favorite things to do here in Tucson. During the summer, this means getting there by 8 a.m. (9 a.m. now during its winter hours). But if I’m going to get the “just plucked” or “still dirty produce” while it’s available, I have to get dressed and do what a grown man who loves farm-fresh goodness has to do.
Honestly, once I am there, have some coffee in me, and start chatting with vendors and running into friends, I’m perfectly okay with being awake that early on my day off. Plus, when I get home I can go back to bed knowing I have done my part to support local farmers and producers while getting some killer arugula, smoked almonds, and a breakfast burrito as well.
One vendor that I always have fun getting to know over the past year or so is Belinda Beeler, chef, owner, and operator of Bella’s Mediterranean. Even when she is slammed, as she usually is, Beeler always has a kind thing to say and an amazing sense of humor.
The food she creates and serves is easily some of my favorites at the farmers market. Her take on Mediterranean cuisine is not just delicious but sincerely unique as well. There is something about the way she handles her seasoning that makes the food so special. Not too heavy, not too spicy, just a fantastic balance of a culture known and renowned for its flavors.
“I am Turkish from my mother’s side and spent the early part of my life between the U.S and Turkey, growing up speaking both languages and attending school in both countries,” said Beeler while I ordered a Chicken Pita Sandwich with a side of her near-magical feta bowtie pasta salad.
“Cooking is a passion that runs in my family, featured in my earliest memories, and was a constant part of my life growing up. It is a large part of my culture and my mother is an amazing cook so I learned much from her. I worked in the food industry for a large part of my life, managing, serving, bartending, and cooking so I am familiar with and comfortable working with food. I was able to develop my own business with some time and decided to start the market venture almost two years ago.”
Well, we can all come together and thank Beelerfor that wise decision a couple of years ago.
The concept of her food is fresh and healthy Mediterranean packed with tons of flavor. It’s very apparent that Beeler takes a lot of pride in the quality of her ingredients and their authenticity. I was very happy to discover that many of the key ingredients are imported directly from Turkey. Although some of her recipes are traditional, Beeler is definitely not afraid to experiment and create unique dishes that are inspired by her culture.
Beeler has been an Heirloom Farmers Market customer since she moved to Tucson 10 years ago and was very interested in having her own booth there. After a lot of research and paperwork, Beeler developed Bella’s Mediterranean Food LLC., named in honor of her mother, Bella, who also plays an active role in the business and helps her with cooking and preparation at their commercial kitchen.
How I became a fan of Bella’s is an easy one — that Beef Kofte Pita Sandwich. According to Beeler, there isn’t another sandwich like it in the world. Now, that is a bold statement but after you taste it, you’ll likely agree.
It’s just a near impeccable handheld flavor flight of fancy. The beef kofte pita is seasoned with Turkish spices and fresh herbs, grilled fresh to order, and served on grilled pita flatbread with a freshly made onion sumac salad, pepperoncini, Kalamata olives, and topped with feta cheese.
Now, if you know me you’re aware that I can’t stand olives — it’s just my thing. Here though, on that sandwich, I don’t mind them at all.
For some odd reasoning of Turkish thaumaturgy, those Kalamata olives blend in divinely and add a well-deserved brine and salt factor. Maybe because of that, this sandwich isn’t like any other in the world. On any other sandwich, those olives would be immediately flicked off. Like I said, it’s just my thing.
“There are always new things being added to my menu or items that are rotated,” said Beeler. “I also make a point to create a new hummus flavor every few months. In the late fall and winter, we will see some more soups added to the takeaway menu to join our current Anatolian Red Lentil Soup which is incredibly popular and vegan as well as gluten-free.”
If you can’t make it to the Heirloom Farmers Market on Saturday or Sunday when Bella’s is set up. the crew also offers catering. With the weather straight up popping with near perfection, having some of the best Mediterranean food waiting for you in large amounts sounds like the best way to spend a day.
I’ve even considered making a grand order and then when Beeler and the Bella’s posse arrive it’s just me and the cat waiting for them.
“The best part of what I do are the people that love my food,” Beeler said while assembling a chicken pita platter for a customer. “It makes my whole weekend when I see my regulars, or when someone reaches out to me via message to reserve specific items for them, or the person that comes every Sunday and buys a sandwich and tells me how they look forward to it all week. Those are the highest compliments and make me feel excited about my work, like I am positively contributing to someone’s life.”
As said earlier, the market begins at 8 a.m. during summer. Now, for me, that’s a bit early for spiced beef sandwiches, Turkish green beans in tomato sauce, pickled red cabbage, and a whole lot of garlicky baba ghanoush. But seeing as it is a new season and the market’s open at 9 a.m., that’s a whole extra hour. It’s nearly lunchtime.
Pile it on Beeler because your food is that good, anytime, any season, and anywhere.
The Heirloom Farmers Market at Rillito Park is located at 4502 N. First Ave. For more information, visit bellasmediterranean.com.