Gallery of Gourmet: Reinvented bodega fulfills even the most esoteric tastes

click to enlarge Gallery of Gourmet: Reinvented bodega fulfills even the most esoteric tastes
Courtesy photo

Gallery of Food is a cornucopia of about 700 food, beverage and personal care products in a relatively small space. There are unusual fruits, vegetables, meats and cheeses, along with specialty coffees, teas, herbs and spices.

Owner Kristine Jensen, 60, moved from Boulder to Tucson in 1984, partly because her husband was an avid rock climber. The Santa Fe native first worked as a bookkeeper, but she had been interested in food since she was a teen.

She started Gallery of Food as a catering business 30 years ago, but the concept has evolved into a specialty shop and most recently, a take-out restaurant.

Its original location at 256 E. Congress Street was last occupied by the now-closed Elvira’s Mexican restaurant.

Her space and evolving concept were born out of the pandemic. Jensen was operating Café Botanica at the Tucson Botanical Gardens, but it closed in March 2020 because of COVID-19. She transformed the Fort Lowell location from a storage and office spot into a bodega, and immediately started delivering food.

“I made an online store in four days flat,” she says.

On August 4, she debuted a take-out menu. The often-changing menu features soups, sandwiches, desserts and entrees. A couple tables are inside the shop, and a recently expanded patio has seating.

A recent sampling of walnut mushroom soup with spruce tips and a side of bread was a flavorful, filling delight. Other regular soups for sale can include Southwestern chicken mole, smoked watermelon gazpacho and beet apricot.

Christopher Baldwin, who formerly helmed Delectables, serves as Gallery of Food’s executive chef.

One of the most popular take-out dishes includes corn pudding from a Frida Kahlo recipe. Jensen featured it on the Café Botanica menu, and it quickly became a favorite.

Though she still has the online store, the inviting shop, which opened to the public last October, is worth exploring in person.

“Many of the things in here you can’t get anywhere else,” Jensen says. “We focus on local, sustainable and artisanal products.”

Though not all her products are local, they share a similar trait.

“Even the far-away stuff still has the farm-to-table mentality,” she says.

Cindy Elliott, a piano teacher who lives in Midtown Tucson, has shopped at Gallery of Food and discovers something new each time.

“I like to go in there and find something I’ve never had,” says Elliott, citing the variety of unusual cheeses, coffees and her favorite, a garlicky baba ghanoush that’s made at the bodega and sold in the refrigerated section. “The shop is a mecca for foodies.”

Other delicacies in the freezers include soups, meatloaf, cinnamon rolls, chicken quarters and pecan bars.

Because of the focus on small purveyors and businesses, the prices can be a bit higher than what you’d find at big-box store.

With its approximate 800 square feet of space, the bodega is cozy but manages to offer variety.

“I had to decide what I was going to have but also what I want,” Jensen says.

Jensen tries to get her products from local farms and purveyors. Almost all the grains, produce and meat are local. There also are local pecans, pistachios, syrup and candy. And the shop sells loaves of Tucson’s Barrio Bread.

As Gallery of Food’s website states: “We are inspired by the culinary traditions of the Sonoran Desert and the abundant food that is indigenous to the surrounding area and the tenacity of the many farmers and ranchers who are trying to make a difference in the community and the quality of our local food.

“We add some contemporary ideas, a little rebelliousness, and come up with what we hope will be some delicious food!” 

Gallery of Food is located at 2522 E. Fort Lowell Road.