Tucson has probably hundreds of little sandwich and salad shops, both locally owned and chain restaurants, yet I always return to my four or five favorite haunts, reluctant to try out anything new, lest it pale in comparison to my good-old standbys.
My experience at Create Café, an eclectic and quaintly cluttered spot at Camp Lowell Drive and Swan Road, has not led me to change my ways just yet.
The most inspired dish Ted and I sampled was the Greek Gothic, prepared as a salad ($7.99). It was hearty and balanced, with generous amounts of feta, sun-dried tomatoes and olives. I say "sampled," because we ordered it intending to have it as a shared appetizer before our dinner entrées—and we managed to eat maybe half of it before throwing in the towel.
All of the salads, sandwiches and wraps are interchangeable—that is, you can have anything on this section of the menu prepared as a sandwich, a salad, or a wrap—which would be a fantastic idea if it wasn't executed so poorly. The Vic Wich ($8.29), ordered to go as a wrap for lunch one afternoon, is intended to mimic an Italian-style sub or antipasti salad. A single, lonely slice of turkey, accompanied by one similarly lonely slice of ham, and two, count 'em, two slices of pepperoni were drowning in the lettuce and tortilla. I actually had to open it up to make sure that there really was cheese in there, somewhere.
A similar execution problem was presented with The Rancher ($7.99), ordered as a sandwich on sourdough bread. On the menu, this sounds like a large, flavorful, tasty sandwich with all-natural roast beef, pepper-jack cheese, red onion, field greens and Russian dressing. I had trouble tasting anything but white bread and romaine lettuce, which I guess could be classified as a field green, but was certainly not what I was expecting. The sandwich was gone in four moderately sized bites, and I was still hungry. Good thing the tri-color chips it was served with were plentiful, crunchy and salty.
The lesson? Order these menu items as salads, apparently.
However, we were both impressed with the "Crushes," blends of organic lemonade, ice, fruit and syrup. Ted had the strawberry lemon crush, and I had the berry belini (sic) crush ($3.79 each). They were fruity, cold and delicious, without being too sweet.
Our dinner trip a week later—the one with the lovely Greek salad—didn't impress, either, though it was slightly improved from the lunch experience. Ted ordered a hamburger with jack cheese and sweet-potato fries for his entrée ($6.99 for the burger, plus 99 cents for the cheese and $1.99 for the fries), and I chose the portobello burger with feta and hand-cut fries (same price). We also split a half-bottle of Santa Margherita pinot grigio ($19). The food was quickly delivered to our table, but then we had to get up and go to the condiment bar across the restaurant for ketchup and mustard.
I had high hopes for the burgers. They were beautifully presented and perfectly sized. One bite, and ... nothing. The hamburger was a sad, limp, overcooked one-third-pound patty. The fresh, crisp lettuce and juicy, ripe tomato were delicious, but the burger had virtually no flavor. The portobello burger was likable at best; the mushroom had been cooked until it was rubbery, although the flavors were OK.
The fries, on the other hand, were delicious. I am exceptionally picky about sweet-potato fries (they're just nasty when they get soggy), and these were hot, fried to perfection and salty; that was also the case with the hand-cut fries.
Unfortunately, I did not get to try any of the breakfast offerings. As for the other two meals of the day, if I have a craving for a big, fresh salad, french fries or sweet-potato fries, washed down with a cold, fruity slush, I might reconsider stopping by Create Café—but I'll stick with my short list for sandwiches and wraps, at least for now.