Worth the Wait

Cayton's at the Ritz-Carlton exceeds expectations—but isn't a place for a quick bite

When dining out, the price point leads to expectations. If I am paying $15 for a hamburger and french fries, I expect it to be perfectly cooked, piled high with toppings and darn tasty. Luckily, Cayton's at The Ritz-Carlton exceeds these expectations—if you're willing to take the drive and sit down for an hour to two.

I highly recommend their Sunday brunch. At $32 per person, it offers a lovely sampling of Cayton's offerings at a less-expensive rate than lunch or dinner, plus you get to munch on their fluffy, delectable scones and muffin tops. Yes ... only the tops, like on Seinfeld.

Brunch began with coffee, orange juice and a generous assortment of the aforementioned scones and muffin tops—blueberry, poppy seed, chocolate chip, a carrot-cake-ish flavor and others. They were served with a honey butter, which I'm sure would have been delicious had it not been as hard as a rock. We placed our order with the gracious server and enjoyed the modern lodge-like decor and interesting art pieces. There were only a few other tables occupied.

Our first courses arrived promptly. I'm a big fan of breakfast foods, so I chose the waffles with berry compote and Vermont maple syrup for my first course. The four large waffles were airy and light, but still crispy, and dusted with powdered sugar; the berry compote and syrup were warmed and served on the side. It was like biting into a waffle-and-berry-flavored cloud, with just the slightest hint of maple. I paced myself to leave room for course two, but I could have easily filled up on waffles alone.

Ted, not being such a big fan of breakfast, opted for one of the "lunchier" items: the corn and crab chowder with micro cilantro. It was a relatively small serving compared to the waffles, but it turned out to be plenty, because it was intensely creamy and rich, and packed with large, succulent chunks of crab. The corn and crab flavors were expertly blended, and the cilantro gave the soup just a hint of freshness. There are several other first-course offerings, including a few salads and a quesadilla.

While waiting for our main course, we sipped on champagne cocktails (not included in the price of brunch) and admired the view of the desert and golf course. The Toast of Tucson cocktail ($12) was our favorite, featuring a fresh blend of champagne, strawberry, orange juice and Grand Marnier, though the Tucson Sunrise ($11), with champagne and Charbay blood-orange vodka, was also good, though perhaps a bit vodka-heavy.

We finished our cocktails and waited some more. It was 45 minutes before our second course arrived, with nary a peep from our server. Slightly annoyed, I was glad that our entrées were worth the wait.

My CC Benedict—with crab cakes, roasted tomato and poblano hollandaise sauce—was delicious. The flavors balanced perfectly, and the hollandaise didn't overwhelm. Ted's chili-dusted braised beef short ribs with grilled asparagus and green chili and cheddar cheese grits were also great. The boneless ribs fell apart with a touch of the fork, and the fine-ground grits were cooked and seasoned to perfection. The portions were generous, and once we finished, we left full and satisfied, despite the long wait.

Our next trip to Cayton's, for dinner, was absolute perfection. We were seated on the patio and enjoyed a spectacular view of the sunset. Dinner started off with tuna tartare with avocado, corn salsa, pea-sprout salad and crispy frybread ($13). It seemed almost bland at first, but with the second bite, the subtle and delicate flavors began to come out. Our second course was the small marinated watermelon and goat-cheese salad with frisee, toasted pepitas and a champagne vinaigrette ($7 small, $10 large). We ordered it on the recommendation of our attentive, chatty server, who said that most people are a little wary of the combination, but that it is delicious—and it most certainly was. The tartness of the local Black Mesa Ranch goat cheese (something that's always in my fridge) contrasted sharply with the sweetness of the watermelon, and the pepitas broke the texture monotony with a salty crunch. It was amazing.

Cayton's bills their food as "American comfort cuisine with a Southwestern flair." I wouldn't call either of these courses comfort food, but they were definitely delicious, with a Southwestern flair.

Our entreés were the fish tacos ($18) with a side of baked macaroni and cheese, and the CC burger ($15) with french fries. Now these were more fitting with the comfort-food description. Three large burrito-size flour tortillas were stuffed with adobo-seared tilapia, avocado, chipotle aioli and margarita slaw. The tilapia was flaky and still intact in whole fillets, and the chipotle aioli added a nice touch of heat without being spicy. The margarita slaw brought a nice touch of tang. I managed to eat 1 1/2 of the tacos before throwing in the towel.

The macaroni and cheese was another story—I finished it all. Served piping hot in a mini cast-iron pot, it was Southern-style, cheesy goodness, complete with toasted breadcrumbs. It was the best macaroni and cheese, well, ever, down to the very last creamy bite.

The burger was gigantic, sitting atop a melt-in-your-mouth brioche onion bun and generously topped with applewood-smoked bacon, chipotle mayo and pepperjack cheese. Cooked to a perfect medium, it was juicy, tender and flavorful. The fries, served in a little cone with paper, were salty, hot and crunchy, the perfect accompaniment to the New Belgium sunshine wheat ($6 draft) and the locally-brewed Barrio Brewing Company's copperhead pale ale ($6 draft).

I was certain that I couldn't eat another bite.—until I discovered that the dessert menu included bourbon peach cobbler ($6) served with vanilla ice cream. The peaches were fresh; the ice cream was rich; the bourbon added a delicate smokiness; the topping was crumbly and sweet. It was the perfect ending to the evening.

If you're looking for a true dining experience, and not just a quick dinner, take the trek to Cayton's. Their use of local ingredients is refreshing, and the food is elegant and delicious, without pretension.