The best thing about summer in Tucson is that our city harnesses a bit of a "locals only" vibe for these long hot months. Sure, we are growing with new occupants and food-curious looky-loos elbowing their way in, what with that UNESCO nod along with resident chefs being featured on food channel challenges, making our weird and slightly irreverent hamlet suddenly culinary relevant. But the intense heat will drive seasonal residents back to their other homes and many of the university students take off, so the city is just home to sun-baked desert rats.
In the center of overpriced student housing rests your new heatwave sanctuary: A low-key yet highly tempting corner market gone fast-casual Mediterranean wrap factory. Now that there's plenty of parking near campus, Wrap 'N Roll deserves your attention.
Owner Omar Elfarmaoui is one of those young entrepreneurs who deserves your admiration but, at the same time, makes you reconsider what you were doing at such an early age. At 20, I'm pretty sure I finally got my fighter/magic user character to 16th level and learned how to successfully launch bottle caps with a snap of my fingers. This guy? Yeah, he opened his own business.
Elfarmaoui said he found the inspiration for his shop during a family trip to Bahrain three summers ago.
"There was this shop in a mall that was using a frozen flattop surface to make ice cream," he remembers. "They would pour the mixture on and scrape and roll the ice cream. It was so unique and so good, and it gave me an idea."
As luck would have it, Omar's mother is friends with the family that run Za'atar restaurant and bakery. When he showed them the blueprints for his unorthodox operation, they decided to help this young man get his dream off the ground. After the former occupant in the space shut down, they surveyed the space and decided that it was a good fit. It may not be on a well-travelled boutique boulevard, but you can't beat that student business, buttressed by well-to-do visiting parents who need a quick nosh and reliable cup of coffee.
The concept of rolled ice cream is slowly catching on in Tucson, and Wrap 'N Roll is one of the early pioneers. The flavor of anti-griddle ice cream has an airy taste compared to the standard scooped variety. Perhaps because of the crepe-thin layer of cream and the constant motion to secure its curly shape, rolled ice cream offers a delightful smoothness on the palate, melting and melding with the various components.
"You can literally get anything you want in your ice cream here," Elfarmaoui says. "Like breakfast cereal, fruit, nuts, candy, brownies, even cheesecake. Anything. And if we don't have what you want we can get it."
So that accounts for the "roll" part of the name, but what about the wrap part? Omar and his talented culinary crew developed a choose-your-own-adventure of savory hand-held Middle Eastern inspired bites that sort of mash up a shawarma and a burrito. You'll know what I'm talking about once you get in here. None of the wraps I was fortunate to sample disappointed, as all the various varietals cohabitated nicely. For $8, it's a decent amount of grub at a reasonable price. If wraps aren't your thing, they have rice bowl and salad options, too. With the heat here for a few more months, I'd advise you to get a taste of Wrap 'N Roll while you can. It'll help you stay cool until the students return and even then, it's still worth the trip.
By the way, don't listen to Google. Wrap 'N Roll is open on Sundays. Omar is looking to fix that glitch so, for now, be one of the few that are in know about those Sunday hours.
And that, as they say, is a wrap!