Saturday, February 16, 2013

“Egad! Take a Look at That Line”

So I said (or words to that effect that can’t be repeated here) as we crossed the bridge leading to Shelby’s Bistro in Tubac, AZ. Why aren’t all of these folks eating at one of the many food trucks strategically stationed around the Tubac (AZ) Festival of the Arts? And do they all need to eat lunch now?

I am assuming that, like us, they knew that Shelby’s offers upscale food in a casual and comfortable environment. We had eaten lunch here about two years ago, and to this day Chuck talks about his lunch choice.

Shelby’s Bistro is owned by Anthony Tay who doubles as head chef. “Born in Phoenix and raised in Tucson, the 38-year-old Tay grew up savoring Mediterranean cuisine. ‘Both of my parents were from the Mediterranean coasts—France and Spain—and about two-thirds of the menu at Shelby’s (are) things we enjoyed as kids,’ Tay said.

“After graduating from Canyon Del Oro High School, Tay studied electrical engineering at Oakland University in Rochester, N.Y., but returned to Tucson and the restaurant business. He worked the front of the house at numerous local restaurants…before learning to work the back of the house under the mentoring of numerous local chefs.

“Tay’s sister opened Shelby’s 11 years ago, and he came on a year later and started the dinner business there. His sister retired four years ago, and Tay has been the chef and sole owner since then” (Tom Stauffer at

At Shelby’s you can either dine indoors or on the large—perhaps larger than the inside space—and shaded patio. It would have been a beautiful day to eat outdoors, but when our name was called (finally) it was to an indoor table. When a restaurant is this mobbed it is no time to nitpick about where you are seated.

The walls are hung with colorful prints (No, this older gray haired woman is not me. It is another older gray haired woman. There’s a million of us.)

and a wood carving of San Pasqual presides over the dining room. “San Pasqual is the patron saint of cooks and kitchens. He lived in Spain in the 1500's and worked in a monastery kitchen where his devotion and kindness to the poor made him beloved by all” (
And next to our table stood a wine rack displaying a small but thoughtful selection of wines like this J. Lohr Paso Robles Merlot.

On any other occasion, I would have been tempted by either the Wine Country salad (pecans, sweet dried cherries, grilled portabella mushrooms, and gorgonzola cheese served with a raspberry-walnut vinaigrette on a bed of organic spring mix) or the Grilled Chicken Cobb (tomatoes, red onion, blue cheese, and red onion served on a bed of organic spring mix with bleu cheese dressing). But like Chuck, I fondly remembered our previous lunch—a composed salad with ahi tuna salad and tomato-ginger salsa—and wanted to duplicate the experience.

But, alas, there had been a menu change. Yes, there still was an ahi tuna salad on the menu but it now came with pineapple salsa and was now tossed rather than composed. But remembering how perfectly the tuna was prepared and how fresh the fish was, I went ahead and tried the new version.

Again, the tuna was beautifully rare and had a slight crust from the high heat searing. This sat on a bed of spring mix with crisp tortilla strips and the pineapple-tomato salsa. The sesame ginger vinaigrette was a perfect match for the tuna. But I did miss the “punch” of the ginger in my previous salsa and that little bit of heat that came with each bite.

Chuck has always claimed that the black bean burger he ate here two years ago may have been the best meal he ate that year. So, of course, he had to order it again.
And was it as good? Most definitely yes.

Somehow Shelby’s kitchen gets the most amazing crisp crust on this “burger” that, again, must come from really high heat searing. And while the patty was lightly seasoned with cumin, it didn’t seem to contain the shredded carrots, nuts, and seeds that you so often find in veggie patties. All that it seemed to contain was whole and pureed black beans.

Then we asked our server (who I remember from our previous visit and who may be a manager), and she told us that the secret was—of all things—creamed corn. Just plain old canned creamed corn. Who’d a ‘thunk it?

When we left, the line was as long as when we arrived. Folks certainly know where to eat when in the Tubac area, and again Shelby’s Bistro earns 5.0 Addies—even if I missed the ginger.

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