I've struggled with weight fluctuation my entire life. The dad side of the family is mostly to all skinny, but the mom side spectrum could be categorized within the "husky" gene aisle. Being a food writer who considers going to the mailbox exercise, I tend to gravitate towards bulky shirts and slightly forgiving pants in hopes of giving off the appearance of a middle aged person that hasn't completely shrugged off the notion of wanting to appear fit.
So when I got wind of a young couple who moved to Tucson from Atlanta in 2017 who set up a healthy meal plan spot near Sabino Canyon—a place where, yes, one could hike a few Sonoran hot dogs off—I made my way out there in hopes of some weight-loss salvation.
In the tight space that used to house a Chinese restaurant called The Hidden Wok, the Hidden Grill is the brain and love child of Allison and Chris McClain, who adopted the paleo lifestyle while living in Atlanta. Chris studied art at St. Augustine College in Chicago before moving to Atlanta to try to make it as an artist. And, like most struggling artists, he ended up working in the service industry. Allison actually hails from Southern California but found herself in Atlanta as well. The two married and had a baby while starting their first installment of paleo-centric meal planning.
"Chris worked in all levels of kitchens when he was 15," says Allison. "Around the time we met, he was cooking for a very respected health-based restaurant and that's when we got the idea to go into business for our own."
Before moving to Tucson, Chris cooked and Allison worked out of a commissary for three years in an attempt to get Atlanta locals excited about the paleo diet, one that utilizes food that we would have eaten over 2 million years ago. No wheat, no rice, no legumes—just meat, fish and fresh vegetables as the crux. It sounds easy enough, but with the cheap availability of packaged meals, fast-food temptations, jarred sauces and pasta, getting people who have been consuming carbs their whole lives to make the switch for simple—yet sound—nutrition has proven both rewarding and daunting.
"We have customers that are afraid to eat a vegetable that they have never heard of," says Chris. "I always have to remind them that I got you. There is no need to worry. Luckily here in Tucson people have been pretty responsive to our cuisine."
You can walk in off the street to order a plate, but for the most part, Hidden Grill operates as a meal-plan business with a current delivery radius of six miles from their Sabino Canyon location. For $62, you get to choose six different meals that will cover you for about three days; for $102, you get ten meals that should last for five days. When you consider the other commercial or "higher end" options, that is a complete steal. After sampling their grilled boneless pork chop with fresh fennel, apricot, grilled carrots and cauliflower; the spicy curry chicken; and salads ranging from tuna on spring greens to cold poached shrimp with braised beets with strawberries and house made lemon poppyseed dressing, I immediately became jealous of anybody living within that six-mile delivery radius. McClain's approach to food is very focused and clean, which is the entire reason their dishes work. Let the quality ingredients do the talking. Because I didn't want to speak. Just eat.
"We have people coming all the way from Oro Valley who also complain that we aren't closer to them," Allison says. "Which makes us feel really good about reaching people in the short time of being in business. One customer calls us 'upscale takeout,' because we aren't like the other take-out places in this area. I'm not too sure what that means, but we like it."
The best part about Hidden Grill is that their menu changes weekly. That is great for us, but a daunting task for Chris, as he is the one-man operation in the kitchen. I really admire that kind of dedication and compassion to keep us Tucsonans happy, curious and feeling good. Because changing a menu once a week takes a certain work ethic that sometimes lacks in modern eateries. Unfortunately, I live midtown so it's going to cost me some serious gas money to get out to Allison and Chris on a regular basis.
But in the end, it is so worth it. I think my gut will concur.