Fourth Avenue Forever

Don't dine at Delectables if you're in a hurry, but there's a reason they've been around for 40 years

It's 1973. Secretariat wins the Triple Crown, Skylab is launched and Roe v. Wade becomes the law of the land. Monica Lewinsky and Heidi Klum are born. Lyndon Johnson and Bruce Lee die. The nation is mesmerized by some hearings called Watergate on TV. The World Trade Center opens, Laugh-In turns out the lights and the designated hitter becomes part of American League baseball.

And in Tucson, on a sleepy street named Fourth Avenue, Delectables restaurant opens its doors.

The ave wasn't quite the shopping mecca then that it is today. Most shops were run by hippies with great ideas but not a lot of cash. Most of the businesses came and went in a season or two, but due to hard work, good food and the need for a nice sit-down restaurant in the area, Delectables thrived.

The crowd during a recent middle-of-the week visit consisted mostly of people of a certain age; many of them probably ate there in Delectables' early days. They seemed to enjoy the leisurely pace (Delectables is not a good choice for a quick meal) and the great Fourth Avenue people-watching through the big picture windows.

We started our lunch with the Louisiana crab cakes appetizer ($10) and a half-price bottle of pinot Grigio (regularly $22). It took some time for the cakes to get to the table but once there they disappeared quickly. With plenty of crab and very little filler, the cakes were both light and rich. They'd been dipped in a fluffy coating and cooked to a golden brown. The remoulade on the side added a creamy kick. Crab cakes are one of my favorites and these did not disappoint.

The French dip sandwich ($10), which once seemed to be on every menu in America (probably circa 1973), was served on a crusty loaf of bread. The beef was cooked to pinkish in the middle and sliced thin. Tender and tasty, it was enhanced by savory au jus on the side. A definite plus was the generous amount of au jus (there was plenty of sandwich as well; Delectables doesn't skimp on its portions).

Our other entrée was chicken piccata, which consisted of a good-sized boneless chicken breast served atop fluffy rice and alongside a mess of roasted vegetables. The chicken had a coating similar to the crab cakes but it took on a different taste and texture thanks to the oodles of capers and warm slices of lemon. The rice was nice but the vegetables were nicer. Cooked to a perfect firmness, the mix included asparagus, yellow squash, red peppers, green peppers, onions and mushrooms. The veggies alone would have made a nice meal.

The dessert display case was calling our names, so we ordered the Muerte Por Chocolate ($7) cake and a raspberry tart ($6).

The cake consisted of layers of chocolate in all its glory: flourless cake, mousse, ganache, dark, milk and more. The large slab was more than enough for two. In fact, three could share and no one would feel slighted.

The raspberry tart was also sinfully good. A buttery crust was layered with raspberry jam. Every bite was a treat.

A third dessert, the chocolate napoleon ($6), that we tried on a subsequent visit didn't quite meet the standards set by the previous treats, but I think that was because it was cold. Had it been brought to room temp, we probably would have enjoyed it more (not that we didn't finish it).

I don't recall whether Delectables served alcohol back in the day (I seldom ate there because it was beyond my budget at the time). But there's a decent wine list now, along with some creative cocktails, including a good Moscow Mule ($8).

Dinner at Delectables features the same menu and same prices as lunch. The place was filled again with an older crowd that seemed to be enjoying the leisurely pace.

The lasagna of the day ($10) was mushroom, meatball and spinach in the house marinara sauce. Hot out of the oven, the pasta was draped in an overabundance of melting mozzarella. The sauce and the meatballs—tiny and compact—passed muster, although I wouldn't call the dish authentic Italian.

The good-sized house salad ($3) that we added as a starter was fresh, full of all sorts of greens and most satisfying. All dressings are made in-house, and the blue cheese we chose was excellent.

The crepes ($12), which I'm guessing have been on the menu in one form or another since the early days, were a nice change of pace. Paper-thin and flecked with dill, the crepes had been stuffed with tender bites of baby asparagus and Swiss cheese that melted nicely. There was a hint of shallots as well. But there could've been a bit more of the tasty lemon cream sauce that topped the dish.

Our other starter was a cup of creamy tomato soup with Parmesan ($3). A most welcome dish on a chilly evening, the soup at first reminded me of spaghetti sauce but it soon took on its own personality. I liked it, but not enough to order it again.

Forty years of doing anything well is an accomplishment, but 40 years as a successful restaurant is amazing. The people at Delectables have their heads and hearts in the right place. Local art is prominently displayed and the selection rotates often. There's live music on Friday and Saturday, and brunch is served on Saturday and Sunday. The prices are decent, the service is friendly, the vibe is relaxed and—best of all—the food is comforting and well prepared.