Located in on the corner of 4th Avenue and 9th Street, this tiny bistro seems a bit out of place. Neighboring businesses include The Shanty and Maloney's. The best dive bar in town, The Buffet, is just down the street. The restaurant is also the cornerstone in a building designated for low income housing. In bigger urban areas that's a pretty common set up; in Tucson it's a sign of something unusual. But unusual is the hallmark of The Coronet and that's a good thing.
I followed the creation of the restaurant on Facebook. It seemed to take a very long time but the results were worth it. The décor could best be called French shabby chic complete with wobbly tables.
Inside there are a mere forty seats, some along the beautiful old bar. The patio is gorgeous and allows for great people watching, although in the heat of summer the patio was empty on both visits.
The Coronet serves food all day with a little bit of overlap on the morning and afternoon menus. The weekend brunch menu is also a combo of the others. And the dinner menu carries over some of the lunch items. Overall, though, the menus are pretty limited in choices. I'm a big fan of small menus but I'm not sure if smaller is better here.
That being said all the dishes we tried were unique and prepared with thought and quality ingredients.
We ordered the stone fruit tartine ($9.50), a baked egg dish called shakshuka ($8.50), iced tea ($3.50) and a cup of coffee (sourced from Café Luce; $2.00) that comes with one free refill.
To tide us over until our food arrived we split an olive oil "cake" ($3.75.) That proved to be a great idea. The cake was flecked with orange peel and laced with a touch of anise; its texture resembled dense cornbread. If I hadn't already ordered breakfast, I would've happily had another.
The tartine had the option of either almond butter—our choice—or chevre, plus a tad of shiso, a drizzle of balsamic and honey and was served on a dense, chewy toast. A watermelon/arugula salad is served on the side. Toasted to a golden brown, each bite held a nice crunch. The thinly sliced peaches and plums enhanced by the almond butter, balsamic, and honey blended together to create a nice little—and by here I mean little—breakfast. The watermelon balls were jewel-toned and so ripe they melted in the mouth. The greens were almost unnecessary. The only objection for me was the price ($9.50 for toast and fruit) seemed a bit over the top especially since the shakshuka was a much heartier meal at a lower price.
The shakshuka was a treat. One egg had been covered in a tomato sauce with a Middle Eastern accent and oodles of chick peas. Then the whole thing was baked in a ramekin and finished off with a sprinkling of feta. The egg was just oozy enough to add substance to the rich, spicy sauce. This is truly another great and decidedly different breakfast dish. The cucumber salad—huge chunks in a vinegary dressing—cooled the heat of the sauce.
For good measure we finished our meal with a chocolate caramel peanut bite ($2.50). This was a most accurate description of this treat. Chocolatey, crunchy with a bit of gooey, we were surprised to find that it was gluten free.
Service was knowledgeable and smart and reflected the overall quirky chicness of the place. This was especially true at dinner.
Dinner was on an early, hot evening. No one was on the patio but we were able to snag a table inside. As the sun set it got a little warm and bright where we sat (shades on the windows would've made our time there more pleasant.) It was also very loud even though the music was muted. The blinds might've helped absorb some of the noise.
Our meal started with an amuse bouche of roasted chickpeas and kale. Unique and tasty.
Then we split the lemon sardines ($5.00) and the beet plate ($13.00).
The beet plate was as flavorful as it was beautiful. Red, glistening beets were topped with minted goat cheese. A house made giardiniera with big bites of peppers, cauliflower, celery and carrots was just the right amount of tangy. A pate made of walnuts and feta that was meant to be spread on thick, crispy pita strips was finger-licking good.
The sardines—two of them—were fat and plump with just a trace of lemon and not at all fishy. They were served with rustic rye crisps. Clever and unusual, more proof that The Coronet is striving to offer Tucson diners something a little different.
We moved on to entrées: the shrimp en papillote ($17.00) and the chilled sirloin ($22.00).
The slightly spicy shrimp was served on a bed of rainbow quinoa tossed with green beans, tomatoes, green olives. There were hints of the lime and tamarind sauce but not so much to overpower all the ingredients.
The steak plate was perfect for summer dinner: sauce verte potatoes, a salad of crisp peas and thinly sliced radishes with a hint of mint and tender, rare slices of beef with a healthy dollop of spicy horseradish cream to take it to another level. The chicly dressed server told us that the beef for this dish is sourced at the U of A Agriculture Department. This dish was a fine balance of savory and piquancy and a pretty presentation.
Endings here are divine.
We sampled chocolate pot au crème ($6.00) that is served in a demitasse cup and brimming with whipped cream. Always one of my favorite desserts, this little bite did not disappoint. The other dessert was rhubarb and apple galette ($8.00). It had been warmed in the oven rendering the crust soft and buttery. A mountain of whipped cream and strawberries accompanied the "pie" making it a double dessert.
I really enjoyed my time at The Coronet but I do have some concerns.
I think the prices are a little steep but more disturbing is what happened while we were there.
Two different couples were considering dinner but changed their minds when they looked at the menu. I honestly believe had there been a few more entrees they might've stayed. They were older, maybe not the crowd The Coronet is going for, but they were ready to spend money. The place was nearly empty and to have customers walk out the door hurts the bottom line.
And then there was a young couple who was at their table before we got there and still there after we left but in all that time didn't order anything more than one round of drinks. In fact, they were drinking water during most of that time. Again, it wasn't very busy but lingering at a table without ordering anything more than a cocktail or two hurts business.
I get the feeling that they're still working on things at The Coronet. They're trying hard to offer something a little different and are doing a pretty good job of it. Time will tell if Tucson is ready for the difference.
The next time I return to The Coronet it will be when the weather cools so I can enjoy their lovely patio. I will also take the trolley because we got a parking ticket (the sign was hidden by a huge SUV.) I don't think that'll be covered by the Weekly.
But I'll be back especially for some more of those divine sweets.
402 E. 9th St.
Open: Tuesday and Wednesday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Pros: Unique offerings; quirky, hipster vibe
Cons: Pricey for what you get