Gourmet Reinventions

The Abbey's reinterpretations of classic American comfort food are not to be missed

The shopping centers at Sunrise Drive and Kolb Road are rapidly approaching market saturation in the restaurant department, but the most recent addition, The Abbey—the "sister" restaurant to Jax Kitchen on the northwest side—is most welcome.

Dishing up gourmet twists on classic American comfort foods (think a grilled-cheese sandwich, a burger and pot pie), The Abbey offers a modern but welcoming atmosphere.

Our first visit to The Abbey was on a Tuesday night, which is apparently half-price wine-bottle night—helpful info that seems to be missing from The Abbey website. The restaurant was packed to the brim, but the hostess was very gracious about our having to wait, offering us water or cocktails from the bar (which was also packed). After about 20 minutes, two barstools opened up, so we snagged those. Clearly, Tuesday-night reservations are a must-have.

Although the bartender was frantically opening wine bottles, she was also very pleasant and chatty, answering our questions about the menu and wine list. The Paul Hobbs malbec that we selected (normally $46) was a lovely wine, although it was served a bit warm, almost at room temperature. Warm pumpernickel-raisin bread and soft whipped butter appeared quickly while we waited for our appetizer to come out of the busy kitchen.

The mussels and rock shrimp appetizer ($11) didn't take long, especially considering the volume of customers, and it arrived on a screaming-hot plate. The portion was generous—definitely enough for two or more to share—and the flavors were wonderful. Big chunks of ground chorizo topped the sautéed shrimp and mussels, and the lemon added a nice acidity, cutting the fattiness of the chorizo.

Entrées followed quickly, and were equally impressive. I had the burger ($12) with fries, and Ted ordered the cast-iron steak ($22) with onion rings. The burger, though cooked well-done, was still juicy and tender. Following a recent food trend, it is served on an English muffin. I was a bit apprehensive about the description of the bacon "jam" that comes smeared on the muffin, but I found it to be quite tasty, though the texture might be off-putting for some folks.

The fries at The Abbey are insanely good—thin-cut, salty and hot, crispy on the outside and flaky goodness on the inside.

Ted's cast-iron steak was cooked to a perfect medium-rare, as requested, and was seasoned well, but the broccolini was overcooked, tending toward the soggy side, and the onion rings were caked in unpalatable thick breading. However, the bleu-cheese butter saved the day for the dish, adding a mild, creamy tang.

The Abbey doesn't have a regular printed dessert menu, but the offerings our bartender mentioned all sounded equally delicious. We decided on a blueberry cheesecake sundae ($6.50), which was a tantalizing dish of vanilla ice cream on top of a graham-cracker base, smothered in blueberry compote and topped off with sour-cream whipped cream. Each component was interesting and tasty on its own, but one spoonful with all the layers tasted uncannily like blueberry cheesecake.

The meal ended with a serious gaffe: When our bartender poured the last of the wine for us, she emptied the bottle into my glass, turning it nearly upside down. Now, by no means do I fancy myself a wine snob or a connoisseur, but this is one of my pet peeves—because all of the sediment makes its way into the bottom of the glass, and then into my unsuspecting mouth, which is a gross way to end a pretty nice meal.

Our second visit to The Abbey ended on a much nicer note, and the food seemed to be executed with a little more precision, even though it was a busy Saturday evening. We started off with two of their cocktail concoctions—a blackberry mojito ($9.50) and an Abbey margarita ($9.50)—as well as "the board" appetizer ($14) and a rocket and melon salad ($8). We probably could have skipped the entrées, considering the generous portions.

The cocktails were well-balanced and not too sweet, though the price seemed a bit steep for the size. The board had a nice selection of charcuterie, with manchego cheese, cornichons, a house-made soft pretzel, spicy mustard, and a handful of nuts and dried fruits.

The salad was well put-together, with a nice balance of rocket (arugula) and chunks of several types of melon, and lots of shaved Parmesan. The vinaigrette was nearly undetectable, but with the juiciness of the melon, it didn't matter.

Although our entrées took a little while to arrive, they were worth the wait. My lamb pot pie ($18) reminded me more of stew and dumplings than a pot pie, but was scrumptious nonetheless, and was absolutely brimming with a wide array of veggies and tender lamb chunks. Ted's crispy salmon ($18) with whipped parsnips, shaved Brussels sprouts and truffled tomatoes was also appealing. The creamy texture of the parsnips paired well with the crunchy salmon skin, though the "truffled" portion of the tomatoes was indiscernible.

Overall, The Abbey's gourmet interpretations of classic comfort food are appealing, and judging from the wait times for dinner, they are already a hit. A little more precision in preparation would seal The Abbey as a don't-miss addition to Tucson's restaurant scene.

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