Musically Delicious

Café Tremolo is like a Tucson version of the Hard Rock Cafe—except the food is actually good

Music and food nerds alike can geek out at the new Café Tremolo at the Foothills Mall.

Paul Blackwell—former chef at the Tohono Chul Park Tea Room and an all-around music lover—opened Café Tremolo in the space once occupied by Gavi, and offers the experience that you wish you could have at other music-themed restaurants (like the Hard Rock Cafe).

The only thing missing from the experience? Other patrons.

Ted and I first checked out the retro-rock-chic café on a weeknight for dinner, and the chef—who was tuning his guitar—greeted us with a warm welcome before seating us. Café Tremolo has a decent selection of beer, wine and liquor (though there are a mere three beers on tap), so we both ordered a Guinness ($7 each); they came out promptly. Tremolo doesn't really offer traditional appetizers—they're more like light entrées—but the avocado and shrimp cocktail with two-tone sauce ($8.95) looked like it would be a nice refreshing start to the meal. Served simply on a small plate, with a spicy red sauce and a creamy horseradish sauce swirled together, were six large, tender shrimp; several slices of avocado fanned out; and some crostini. The flavors melded together beautifully, and the avocado balanced out the spiciness of the sauce.

The café bills its fare as American cuisine, but "American" seems to be a pretty broad category in this instance (though, if pressed, I'm not sure that I could really define "American cuisine"). My prime rib entrée ($13.95 for the smaller 9-ounce English cut), for instance, was served with Yorkshire pudding and Dutch cabbage. The prime rib was tender, a perfect medium-rare, and had a deep, rich, beefy flavor. Ted ordered the pork apricot ($12.95): several medallions of pork sautéed with fresh, sliced apricots and white wine. The portion was generous, and the pork was well-seasoned and perfectly cooked, with just a hint of pink in the center. A beautiful sprinkling of herbs on both entrées gave the presentation and the flavors a touch of elegance.

Dessert is one area where Café Tremolo really shines. All of the desserts are $6.95, and are all made in-house. We were torn between the crème brûlée, the Belgian cheesecake and the cherry cobbler, and ended up sharing the cherry cobbler. The cobbler arrived just moments after ordering, piping-hot in a mini-soufflé dish and accompanied by a huge scoop of rich vanilla ice cream. The crust was nice and crispy, contrasting with the sweet, plump cherries.

On our second visit, the café was thankfully a little busier, and we had time to wander the perimeter of the restaurant and check out Blackwell's impressive collection of guitars and music memorabilia (which you can also see on the website). The café offers live local music several nights a week, and occasionally features open-mic nights as well. Our server, who was really friendly, chatted with us a bit and recommended that we try the fabulous thunderburger ($9.95), so Ted took her advice. I ordered the chicken-and-bacon club sandwich ($10.95) with the dilled potato salad.

Café Tremolo has an open kitchen, and you can watch the chef chopping, slicing, grilling and sautéing away. The sandwiches were out in short order, even though the other four or five tables in the restaurant were seated at approximately the same time as we were—and again, the dishes were presented beautifully. The burger, made with grass-fed beef, was so juicy and flavorful that it didn't need any condiments—though the addition of the gratzilla sauce (a nice spicy mayo) was excellent, on both the burger and the club sandwich. My chicken-and-bacon club had slices of whole, moist, warm chicken breast, and the addition of daikon-radish sprouts gave the sandwich a light, refreshing taste.

Though I'm not sure the location of Café Tremolo is ideal, it's obvious that Blackwell's passion for his food and music is unparalleled. Next time, I'm just hoping to see more customers ... and maybe a local beer on tap, too.