The Garland Has Been Serving Great Food For Nearly Two Decades.The Garland Has Been Serving Great Food For Nearly Two Decades.
By Rebecca Cook
OVER THE LAST 20 years Tucson has seen more than its share of restaurants come and go. Anybody who's lived here for any length of time can be overheard lamenting the passing of some favorite eating establishment, lost forever to the maw of change.
The Garland Restaurant, which has weathered the better part of the last few decades at the same location on East Speedway near Stone Avenue, is the exception to this phenomenon of constant transition. Steadily and quietly going about its business, the restaurant has continued to do what it has done since the very beginning: feature wholesome foods amidst the homespun ambience of wood floors, stained glass and a centrally placed fireplace. That such an unassuming effort has managed to survive all these years is testament to the benefit of perseverance and putting out a consistently good product.
Although The Garland's menu is diverse enough to cover the tastes of everyone, its primary claim to fame has always been its attention to vegetarian cuisine. In return for developing a menu that exceeds the grasp of a few sprouty salads and a token vegetable stir-fry with rice, customers come back again and again to sample the kitchen's wares. If there is a simple explanation as to why The Garland has survived when many other enterprises have faltered, it may be the development of an incredibly loyal following.
Not unlike some of us, The Garland has aged a bit with time. The exterior of the old home in which it resides is a bit weary; chipped paint and torn awnings distinguish the façade, and the grounds could use a thorough weeding. Superficial aesthetics aside, however, The Garland is an exceptionally fine eatery. Apparently the adage about not being able to judge a book by its cover occasionally holds true for restaurants as well.
Although The Garland caters to a more vegetarian sensibility, its menu is also peppered with a variety of meat items. An added benefit for vegans is the option on several dishes to have them made with a total absence of all animal products. In short, it's hard to imagine that everyone wouldn't find something to his or her liking. Perhaps no other restaurant in town combines such disparate preferences so amicably.
Open daily beginning at 8 a.m., it isn't too surprising to discover that breakfast is a very big deal at The Garland. In fact, given the familiarity of several customers with the staff, it's obvious that many people appear to have made the place part of their typical weekend routine.
The morning menu consists of a wide variety of offerings, including the standard bacon and eggs combo and the New Age option of tofu scrambled with vegetables, cheese and seasonings.
The omelettes are first-rate: three eggs mixed, baked until golden and folded with a wide assortment of ingredients. Everyone no doubt has their favorite, but I was particularly fond of the guacamole, tomato and cheese version ($7.50), which blended all the ingredients in a harmonious balance of taste and texture. The guacamole, which has the tendency to be either heavenly or profane, was creamy and full-bodied, still retaining luscious nibbles of avocado, onion and tomato. The chopped, fresh tomatoes cooked down to tender vine-ripened morsels, and the cheese, which was added with a very modest hand, enhanced rather than overwhelmed the whole. With a dash or two of salsa, this was an ideal breakfast dish, especially filling alongside the homefries and large slices of whole-wheat toast that came with it. Although I haven't worked up the nerve for it, I think next time I'll try ordering this same omelette "enchilada style," ($2.25 additional charge) an option available with each omelette order.
Also superb was a concoction known as the "English Channel," ($6.50) two eggs (tofu may be substituted) with spinach, mushrooms, chopped green onions, a fabulous mornay sauce and a combination of Swiss and parmesan cheese served over a toasted English muffin. Move over eggs Benedict, the British have landed! The mushrooms and spinach are both cooked fresh and fully retain their full flavors and the cheesy mornay sauce, which is admittedly a tad on the rich side, is so subtly favored and delicately thickened that it never threatens to disrupt the ensemble. The eggs were cooked sunny side up, nice and runny and mixing coyly with everything else on the plate.
Pancakes, waffles (the chocolate chip with real whipped cream is bound to be a smash with the younger crowd), maple nut coffeecake, fruit cups with yogurt sauce and hot oatmeal are also featured on The Garland's breakfast menu.
Around 11 a.m., the focus turns to lunch, another meal with some surprising twists on traditional themes. Soups (always homemade), salads and sandwiches are of course offered, but so are stir-fried buckwheat soba noodles (with a variety of other ingredients added), quiche, pastas, crepes and a short selection of Mexican food. Although nothing can be said to be served at bargain-basement prices, all portions are quite grand, possibly eliminating the need for dinner later on in the day.
Daily soup specials are always listed on the board near the entrance; be sure to check them out. There are usually two selections, one suitable for the vegetarian and the other more palatable to the meat gnawer. In addition, the vague elevation of temperatures has heralded the return of The Garland's gazpacho.
We tried this icy potage along with a cup of the featured clam chowder and found both to be exceptional, especially the chowder, which was velvety, savory and peppered with plenty of tender-chewy clams and cubes of potato. Rather than the usual creamy white, this clam chowder was a pale copper color, perhaps the result of adding caramelized onions to the potage. The gazpacho was also quite tasty, full of diced tomato, carrot, onions, cucumber, green bell pepper, corn, cauliflower and plenty of fresh parsley. Mild by Southern Arizona standards, the soup benefited enormously from a dash or two of hot sauce.
Although I thought I might be sorely disappointed, I couldn't resist the temptation to order real, honest-to-God crepes, an item seldom seen on most of today's menus. Arriving at the table in a frenzied sizzle, the shrimp and mushroom crepes ($8.50) were a beautiful sight to behold. A mouthful of the crepe revealed it to be chock full of sautéed mushrooms and rosy petite shrimp. A lovely coral sauce draped the two crepes, permeating the dish with the savory splendor of sharp cheese and aromatic garlic. There was nothing at all complicated about the dish, yet it was majestically delicious in all its particulars. The use of outstanding fresh ingredients never fails to impress.
A chicken parmesan sandwich ($6.95), served on a choice of various breads, completed our lunch setting with a messy but mouthwatering flair. The moist, boneless chicken cutlet had been lightly breaded and sautéed, topped with melted mozzarella and smothered in a dark and savory marinara sauce. Delicious.
Desserts vary daily but are always cozy and homemade. A blueberry cobbler ($3.95) topped with whipped cream was a wonderful form of comfort food: a small bowl loaded with warm purple berries and capped by a barely sweet biscuit. A large wedge of fudgy brownie ($2.95) was less successful, being a tad on the dry side for our tastes.
The Garland's dinner menu might be the briefest of the day, but it's by no means paltry. With prices that nudge the brink of high end, items such as blackened mahi mahi ($13.95), Greek-style scampi ($15.95), chipotle chicken ($12.95) and tofu Normandy ($12.50) are featured. Unfortunately, I was never able to sample from this intriguing after-sunset menu, but, if it's in keeping with the quality of the first two meals of the day, it's undoubtedly something special. Close enough to Stone Avenue to make for a quick getaway downtown, The Garland would be a fine place to grab a bite before the theater or symphony.
There's really no mystery to The Garland's longevity. Serving high-quality food that appeals to a diverse audience indicates this is one restaurant that never goes out of style.
The Garland Restaurant. 119 E. Speedway Blvd. 792-4221. Open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Beer and wine. V, MC, AMEX, DC, checks. Menu items: $2.95-$15.95.
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