It was the evening after New Year’s Day.
A cool drizzle moved across Tucson, the streets were damp, and the ground a bit muddy. The holidays were officially over. That meant a quiet, calm vibe thickened the air. Although, on a food truck stationed at Reid Park, there was anything but calm.
Michael Elefante, who you know as the chef and co-owner of the venerable Mama Louisa’s Italian Restaurant, was frantically trying to get pilot lights lit under his fryers. Friend and sous chef Max Provost was trying to help but he needed to get all the prep done before all of the people who made reservations showed up.
This was the preview night for friends and family for Elefante’snew-ish food truck, Guido-Q. The word ish is utilized because Elefante actually debuted Guido-Q in 2021. It was an offset pop-up through Mama Louisa’s with the help from pal and Gastronomic Union of Tucson (GUT) member Obadiah “Obie” Hindman, longtime executive chef for the Mountain Oyster Club. The reservation-only event was a wild success and thus began the journey for both Elefante and Guido-Q to officially open the truck window for business in 2023.
As with most people during the heyday events of 2020, Elefante needed a hobby. This was also a good time to stretch his chef legs with Mama Louisa’s going dark for a spell.
“I’ve always loved barbecue,” said Elefante, getting his homemade sarsaparilla prepped. “So, during the shutdown, I started playing around with a lot of different recipes and techniques, and through time, we developed an Italian-style barbecue that was not only really tasty but represents what I am about as a chef.”
By the way, that sarsaparilla was really tasty. Light, yet filling.
As the delicious cogs of Mama Louisa’s began to turn again, along with letting his kitchen crew take the reins of dishes that have been a part of Tucson for almost 70 years, Elefante began the process of getting Guido-Q out there as a legitimate barbecue sandwich food truck.
That process wasn’t an easy one, though, even for an established chef like Elefante.
Not only is he in charge of Mama Louisa’s but he is an integral part of the Tucson Knife Fight, the GUT collective, along with being a father and husband as well. To say the least, he is a busy man. He is also a man who is growing out a very proud and unapologetic mullet to go along with the “Guido” aspect of his background and food truck aesthetic.
It was a Monday for the preview, and after a strangely long and tough day, I was so ready to get down with some rough-and-tumble grub courtesy of chef Mike Elefante. The line of invited guests was pretty long so I waited patiently for my order, and once it arrived, I was more than excited to have my arms buckle a bit from the weight of it all.
The first sandwich I delved into was the Gold Standard, featuring slow-smoked pork, kale slaw, onions, and a secret Guido gold sauce on a potato hoagie bun.
The pork was incredibly juicy with a unique flavor that I’ll assume comes from the Italian take on barbecue. But that slaw. Oh man, was that good. It added so much to the richness of the pork by allowing it to be the heavyweight by way of crunch, brightness, and creaminess.
Then came the Ginzo Cowboy. It is packed with maple wood smoked brisket, pepperoncini pickles, three kinds of cheese (asiago, provolone, and white cheddar), and on fresh sourdough.
This one may be the reason Elefante has won so many barbecue competitions. This sandwich made the long day and dreary weather fade away. It was big, bold, beautiful, and belly-warming.
Lastly, I was lucky to eat what Elefante likes to describe as, “the best hot dog you will ever eat.” It’s titled Holla At Chamoy.
This tubular belle is a mix of the east coast, Chicago, and Sonoran living together in total poppy seed bun harmony. He wasn’t lying — the dog was one of the better ones I have had the utmost pleasure to eat. The best part, outside of being a handful, is that it’s really messy. That is how I like my loaded hot dogs.
There aren’t a lot of vegan options, but the Torta Caprese is totally vegetarian offering Stracciatella cheese, roasted tomatoes, and arugula. Elefante is a very talented and accommodating chef so I’m sure he can make up something for vegans. In fact, the Trash Can Waffle Fries, which is a Devils Tower heap of seasoned waffle fries, topped with Italian pico, normally comes with alfredo cheese sauce, and your choice of brisket or pork. It is a deviant sight to behold and devour, and it can be an animal-free goody without meat or cheese.
Guido-Q also has handmade desserts similar to Rice Krispies treats, one made with Fruity Pebbles and the other jammed with Chocolate Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch. Pure childhood magnificence all grown up. If those aren’t your taste, you can take the cannoli.
Be sure to follow Guido-Q on social media as this is the week it debuts and will be coming to a neighborhood near you. The wait has been more than worth it on all platforms and so far 2023 is off to a delicious start.
Grazie chef Elefante and benvenuto Guido-Q!
Mark Whittaker began his journalism career in San Francisco around 1997. It was for a small Northern California music magazine that segued into contributing to numerous magazines, websites, newspapers and weeklies throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s. Mark interviewed bands,...