Health Benefits

Delectables' Wholesome Cuisine Encourages Diners To Eat Their Hearts Out.

A TUCSON TRADITION since the mid '70s, Delectables Restaurant & Catering specializes in what some refer to as "wholesome cuisine." It's not exclusively vegetarian, nor does it completely eschew red meat, but the dominant menu theme is one celebrating the glory of whole foods that have been prepared simply but elegantly. With a delightful atmosphere of bohemian calm, Delectables is appropriate for before or after theatre dining, a casual lunch with a friend, or a romantic tête à tête over a bottle of wine. Situated squarely on Fourth Avenue, Delectables diners are treated to sidewalk displays of skateboarding finesse, trolley car treks and an endless parade of the colorful characters that comprise a sizable portion of Tucson's avant-garde.

Given the urbane sophistication of the current operation, it's hard to believe that the building that houses Delectables was once a thriving Harley Davidson motorcycle shop. The former hog showroom is now a roomy dining area, with tables placed a comfortable distance apart. Local artwork dots the terra cotta walls and hanging plants recall the '70s and the era of the fern. Dining at Delectables is a one of a kind experience.

Both lunch and dinner are casual affairs, but the earlier meal seems to be more lighthearted. A glance around the dining room indicates that Delectables is a favorite meeting place for old friends, many celebrating birthdays with presents, a glass of wine and, naturally, cake.

The restaurant is famous for its "board" selections: large wooden platters that consist of various combinations of cheese, bread, vegetables, fruit and hummus. (Those who don't find the menu-board selections appealing are welcome to design their own. In addition, Delectables also fulfills requests for specially prepared children's boards.) The brie, Dijon mustard-marinated artichoke hearts and fresh fruit platter ($8.95) is quite satisfying. The brie, a touch stiff and cold, but ripe and sharp in flavor, is the perfect foil for the briny artichoke hearts. The unadorned, seasonal fresh fruit allows each piece to impress with its inherent sweetness.

A sandwich of turkey breast and havarti cheese ($5.50), served between a sliced buttery croissant, is another winner (French, wheat, pita and foccacia bread are also possibilities). Although uncomplicated with the simple addition of lettuce, tomato and a touch of onion, the profoundly flavorful sandwich is the reward of quality ingredients. The creamy, slightly tangy cheese and tender, thickly sliced turkey are marvelous by themselves, but tucked into a golden croissant they're a noontime masterpiece.

Soups made daily provide additional appeal, with each day featuring a standard favorite. One Monday the special was a vegetarian lentil soup (cup, $2.75; bowl, $4.25) that was so luxuriously thick and full of tomato, it could have passed for chili. The spicing of chili powder and ground cumin further encouraged the likeness.

Like most everything else at Delectables, house salads ($5.95) rise above the ordinary. Dark, leafy green lettuce is tossed with shredded carrot, red cabbage, tomato wedges, cucumber slices, kalamata olives and a sprinkling of feta cheese, and served with choice of homemade red wine vinaigrette, creamy herbal, or olive oil herb salad dressing. Each complements the raw veggies beautifully.

Dinner is a bit more subdued; the lighting is muted and golden, the music has switched from jazz to classical and the patrons are more at leisure. Beginning at 5 p.m. nightly, Delectables offers a short list of dinner entrees. The selection includes a 9-ounce New York strip steak and baked potato, along with several heart-healthy items.

We began the evening by ordering the baked pesto camembert in puff pastry appetizer ($5.95), expecting to nibble it with a glass of wine. However, our server neglected to mention that the hors d'oeuvre takes at least 15 minutes to prepare. When the soup and salad (included with our meals) arrived first, we planned to enjoy the melted cheese and pesto during the interlude preceding the main course. But the appetizer appeared at the table just seconds before the entrees. If Delectables has a flaw, it's the inability to acknowledge that timing is everything.

Nonetheless, the camembert and puff pastry is quite nice, especially with the emerald-green pesto gently coating the cheese. The sliced red apples and water crackers encircling the flaky cheese round make excellent spoons for the gooey contents.

The chicken breast Florentine ($13.95) is an understated classic, rubbed generously with thyme and tarragon and sliced into moist, tender strips atop a sea of sautéed spinach. Sliced carrots and basmati rice complete the dish nicely.

The puttanesca spaghetti -- pasta tossed with capers, garlic, tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and Greek-style olives -- invigorates the palate with a tangy blend of flavors. However, the saltiness of some of the dish's key ingredients may not appeal to every taste. Plenty of French bread is necessary to soak up all the savory juices.

Even for those on a post-holiday diet, it's a crime to visit Delectables and not indulge in some of their extraordinary pies and pastries. Share with a friend if you must; the special desserts are not to be missed.

All desserts are made in Delectables' own kitchen; a tray laden with treats presents the day's selection. I couldn't resist a coconut cake ($5.95), but my companions showed more will power. The sweet potato-pecan pie and double chocolate cake will have to wait until the next visit. The coconut cake is scrumptious -- light layers of golden cake suffused with a creamy vanilla custard frosting and topped with a flurry of snowy white coconut.

Perhaps the secret to Delectables' enviable longevity is its ability to stay the course in a time of drastic change. Diners who've let a significant amount of time lapse since their last visit are likely to find that nothing much has changed. But then, with such a winning formula, why should it?

Delectables Restaurant & Catering. 533 N. Fourth Ave. 884-9289. Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. Beer and wine. V, MC, AMEX, CH. Menu items: $3.75- $15.95.
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