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Penca, Downtown Tucson

September 8, 2014 , , , ,

Our Sunday brunch today was exciting new and different. We went downtown to Penca, a restaurant we have been wanting to try.  We both loved our experience and want to return very soon and often.  The cuisine is labeled Mexico City style, but it is also a very fine example of fresh combinations and very artful mixology.  Our favorite Mexican restaurant in Tucson burned to the ground a few months ago, so we have been hunting for a new one.  Penca wins for many different reasons.  The decor is post industrial modern with as much of the old building in tact as possible for style.  The design successfully tells you that the place has a unique flavor and point of view.  It is refreshing after so many meals in the corny Mexican restaurant decor with pictures of parrots and Javier Solis. (not that I want to get rid of that forever).  The open kitchen also sends the smells of the kitchen wafting through the space in just the right way to make you hungry.

The restaurant is housed in a building that was once owned by the Graham Truck Company.  The brick openings  still visible on the walls are large enough for vehicles to pass.  The  designer did a great job of keeping the industrial feel with plenty of metal features.  I particularly love the swiveling doors that can create privacy in an area in the back for parties or events.  The mural on the wall is the street view of the building in the past.  They warm up the room and the acoustics by using wood for tables, walls and the bar.  It feels spacious because the ceilings are high.  The exposed duct work becomes a design element and sets a modern tone.

We arrived before the crowd arrived and therefore had very personal service.  The chef dropped by our table to chat, which was fun and informative.  He let me know that the dish I had ordered, the corn cakes with chalula butter and jalapeño syrup with a side of 2 eggs and some black beans, was his favorite on the menu.  He also told me to get a side of Chalula to add to the flavor.  This was the perfect suggestion for me because although the butter had some heat, and the syrup also, the complete sweet and heat balance was brought out by using that extra hot sauce.  I loved the whole thing. Bob had to help me finish after he enjoyed his own pork hash breakfast.

One reason we favor this as our new Mexican restaurant is the creativity at the bar.  When I was first told about the place my friend mentioned the tepache, a pineapple drink with a slight fermentation that is made in house and used in some of the cocktails. I ordered a bourbon and tepache, the preparation of which you can see here below.  The flavors were really intricate, including the bitters sprayed on the top, making it both pretty and giving a distinct bitter note to the first few sips.  They also make their own shrubs, and a pineapple shrub (they refer to it as pineapple vinegar) was used in my drink as well.  Bob reported that the Bloody Mary he had with his has was spicy and went perfectly with his food.  This is a pleasant departure from the usual margaritas and mojitos.  We are planning to go back again soon early on Sunday to repeat this super dining delight.  I want to try the tacos, and Bob wants to have the corncake special.  Compared with places we dine with similar gourmet offerings, the pricing at Penca is generous.  We were pleasantly surprised at the bill and I had to take my beans home because we both were so full.  If you enjoy delicious food and inventive bar service, try Penca.

 

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The corn cakes and pork has looks/sounds amazing. I love your cocktail Pam…… (and clearly you did too!) Ginger tequila…. that sounds totally YUMMY

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Stevie Wilson (@LAStory)

September 14, 2014

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