The seed was likely planted when Travis Peters was a punk-rocking teenager, wearing an Operation Ivy band T-shirt and shredding around the streets of downtown Tucson on his skateboard.
He was a regular fixture on the downtown punk and boarding scene long before he captured the nation’s attention as a multiple award-winning chef and Food Network star. Though he opened his first restaurant on the northwest side a decade ago, The Parish, his connection to downtown remained strong. And just last week, he opened his second restaurant on the same street where he used to shred as a kid.
The Delta, located at 135 S. Sixth Avenue in the re-imagined space that was formerly Janos Wilder’s DOWNTOWN Kitchen & Cocktails, is Peters’ and his business partners’ nod to genuine southern hospitality and “a healthy dose of spirited swagger.”
As Peters points out, both of his restaurants are inspired by southern traditions. But The Delta’s menu is dominated by smaller, tapas-style dishes in a setting that pays tribute to the music culture of America’s big cities.
“Try to imagine The Parish’s punk rock cousin, who grew up in Los Angeles rock clubs, won the lottery, moved to the South, bought an old swanky joint and turned it into a chef-driven bar and grill, that’s The Delta,” he said.
So what does swank look like at the center of the plate? The Big D is Peters’ response, “a most ridiculous sandwich” as he defines it.
The “Big D” comes with a smoked and Dr. Pepper-braised bone-in beef rib on a locally baked baguette, with an andouille sausage aioli, habanero-dill pickles, pickled vegetables, fermented, dehydrated and fried Shitake mushrooms and crispy beef tendons.
This is especially good news to me as you just can’t find decent beef tendons these days.
When the dish is delivered to the table, the server effortlessly pulls the bone from the meat and sets it alongside the plate.
Another salute to the swank is The Delta’s Stuffed Pork Rib Crown, a full rack of brined and smoked pork ribs turned up on its side with the ends fastened together with “meat glue.” Peters stuffs fried tater tots in the middle of the circle of ribs and tops them with pimiento cheese, two kinds of barbecue sauce, crumbled pork rinds, pickled onions and blueberries, and jalapenos that are fried with onions and soy sauce.
Excuse me, but how in the world does a guest even begin to attack this dish?
“This one clearly comes with a steak knife,” he said. “The ribs are standing straight up and down so you can see where you need to cut.”
You can just imagine the accelerating landslide of saucy tots as each rib is eliminated.
But what about those smaller plates that are said to define The Delta’s
Peters has you covered, with nearly 20 dishes ranging from a Giant Chicharron to a Crispy Pig Tail Confit. There’s also a Roasted Forbes Bone Marrow, with an upcharge for the “Bourbon Luge,” of course.
“This is a place for sharing, a place to enjoy food and drinks with the people you love,” he said.
Operation Ivy, that punk band that Peters loved in his youth, recorded a song in 1989 called “Gonna Find You” which promises, “If you can’t find a place it’s gonna find you.”
While Travis Peters wasn’t necessarily looking for The Delta as a kid on a skateboard, I believe that it found him. And now we’ve found a fun new place to get our swank and swagger on.
Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at email@example.com. Russell is also the publisher of OnTheMenuLive.com as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030 AM.