Food on the Mountain

Sawmill Run, in Summerhaven, offers delicious smoked meats and gorgeous views

One of the best parts of Tucson in the summertime isn't even in Tucson.

Escaping to cool Mount Lemmon is a beloved ritual for many desert-dwellers, and during my many years of summer getaways, I always looked forward to a slice of pie from the Mount Lemmon Café. The café closed in May 2009, but now there's a new restaurant in its place: Sawmill Run.

The best thing about Sawmill Run is the view. The restaurant is open and airy, designed with a modern log-cabin feel. There are some great black-and-white photos of Mount Lemmon and a sawmill from the 1940s and '50s, and the restaurant's bar area has a large glass door that reveals beautiful views of the mountain. There is both indoor and patio seating; the patio, which seats about 20, was packed on both of our visits.

But enough about the scenery ... this is about the food, which is pretty darn delicious. However, the folks at Sawmill Run are obviously still tinkering with the menu, because it changed radically from one visit to the next.

On our first visit, for a Saturday-night dinner, the service was awkward: Our server forgot to check on us after our entrées were delivered, didn't refill our water glasses, and was slow with the check at the end of the meal. However, the food was good, with a few exceptions.

I ordered the fish of the day (market price, in this case $19.95), which was a salmon filet with barbecue sauce, fried corn on the cob and blue-cheese coleslaw. I also ordered the grilled Caesar salad ($6.95), which I asked to be served before my entrée, but the waitress apparently misunderstood me and instead brought out a side salad ($4.95) with my meal.

The salmon was moist, flaky and not overdone, although for nearly $20, the portion was small—it looked to be about 4 ounces. The coleslaw portion also was small. The barbecue sauce was tangy and sweet, and meshed well with the blue-cheese slaw, which had a nice acidic bite. The fried corn on the cob consisted of a whole cob and was interesting after adding some salt and pepper.

Ted's smoked-brisket plate ($15.95), with spicy sweet-potato tater tots and macaroni and cheese, fared much better in the portion department. The meat was fall-apart tender, smoky and delicious. The tots and macaroni and cheese were unremarkable, but not bad.

Ted also ordered a spinach salad ($6.95) to precede his meal, and our waitress managed to get that one right. The salad was fresh and light, with red onion, tomato, bacon bits and croutons; the lemony dressing tied it all together nicely.

We finished the meal, as one should on Mount Lemmon, with a piece of cherry pie à la mode ($8.45), which was divine. The tart filling was not too hot, and not too cold—just warm enough to start melting the ice cream.

Our second meal, at lunch, was spot-on. It was a beautiful day on the mountain, and we grabbed two seats at the bar where we could gaze at the blue sky and green trees. The bartender was prompt and friendly, and we started off with two pints of Fat Tire ($6 each).

My green chili and bacon cheeseburger with fries ($12.95) was cooked to order and super-juicy. The bacon slices were peppery and thick, although I would have liked just a touch more green chili for some added heat. The burger was messy, as any good burger should be, and the seasoned shoestring-style fries were absolutely addictive.

On this visit, the menu had changed to feature more smoked and grilled meats, so Ted ordered from the "carving board" selection: a two-meat, two-side plate for $16.95. (A one-meat, one-side portion and a three-meat, three-side portion are also available for $12.95 and $21.95, respectively.) Ted chose the pulled pork and baby-back ribs, and french fries and deep-fried corn. The pulled pork was deeply smoky and moist, without the need for any sauce, and the baby-back ribs were simply splendid—smoked, with a sticky sweet-and-spicy sauce slathered on top.

The restaurant was much busier during our second visit, but the service was smooth, and the staff seemed to have worked out whatever issues they had during our first meal. Although the prices are a bit higher than what you might expect in Tucson, it's not surprising, considering the added transportation costs for delivery.

The friendly service and food make Sawmill Run a worthwhile stop on your next trip up the mountain.

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