Phat Tuesday

A new university area joint features great appetizers and some interesting daiquiris.

OK, so, I am 28 years old, an age that, according to the standards of most, is pretty darned young.

But when I walked in to Fat Tuesday the other night with my significant other, Garrett, I felt about as old as one of those freakin' California redwoods.

They're certainly going for the young, college-aged crowd (21+) at this new joint, which makes sense considering it's located on University Avenue just off Euclid Avenue. And they're going for it in a big way--Fat Tuesday offers nightly drink specials, and if there's a server or bartender there who is 30 or older, I sure as hell didn't see 'em on either of my recent visits.

Garrett and I walked in around 10:30 p.m. on a recent Friday night looking for some good, late-dinner grub. We were carded on our way in--this is a good thing on many different levels--and were soon overwhelmed by the whoop whoop whoop beat of the DJ's music. We were confused on whether we should seat ourselves or wait to be seated, and after being ignored for a few moments, we decided to go ahead and seat ourselves.

Fat Tuesday, a chain of Cajun/Creole/daiquiri joints making its Tucson debut here, features a polished, bright look. Beads, of course, hang everywhere, and the walls come in one of two colors: bright orange and bright lime green. A full bar takes up most of the west side of the narrow-but-long room, and various daiquiri machines take up most of the counter space behind the bar. On both our recent visits, the TVs were all tuned to sports, except for one that was turned to TBS, which was featuring some gawdawful movie both times.

Our server, an attractive twentysomething woman, came over and took our order, but only before she informed us that dinner was no longer being served since it was after 10 p.m. However, appetizers were available, so we got three: the BBQ shrimp ($6.75), featuring a "special, spicy Louisiana sauce" and French bread; the ruddock dip ($6.25), a concoction with cream cheese, mushrooms and bread that promised to be spicy; and the shrimp remoulade stack, with gulf shrimp and a "tasty, homemade" remoulade salsa layered between three slices of fried green tomatoes. We also decided to indulge in the daiquiris ($5.25 or $6 depending on the size); I got a pirate's pleasure (with frozen fruit punch and Captain Morgan's) while Garrett got an alotta colada (a mix of strawberry, peach and pina colada).

As we waited, we took in the atmosphere. Another server--also twentysomething and attractive--stood behind a beer cart chatting with a blond guy, and all the other folks present seemed to be having a good time.

Our appetizers were delivered promptly, and they ranged from so-so to amazing. The weakest of the bunch was the BBQ shrimp. While the shrimp themselves were perfectly cooked, the greasy sauce lacked pep. The ruddock dip, however, was delicious--creamy, warm and spicy, thanks to some onions and other flavorings--and went wonderfully with the toasted bread that accompanied it. However, Garrett and I both agreed that the remoulade stack was the star of the show--the sauce, which featured a great deal of pep, complemented the shrimp wonderfully. The tomato slices were firm and nicely fried in a tasty batter--although the tomatoes were quite red and nowhere near green.

Go figure.

While we were happy overall with the appetizers, we couldn't say the same about our daiquiris, which are Fat Tuesday's signature. Mine tasted too watery--like Kool-aid after all the ice had melted--and Garrett didn't think the strawberry, peach and coconut combination in his worked. We both left our glasses partially full as we paid our check and left.

We returned the next day to sample the entrée selections for lunch. It was a stark contrast to the night before--other than one other party, nobody was there. The DJ'd music was gone, replaced by tunes on the radio. However, another insanely young, good-looking group of bartenders and servers was present, providing some degree of consistency.

This time around, Garrett and I decided to have one more appetizer, the baked goat cheese ($6.45), along with a bowl of the potato and corn chowder soup ($5.95). For entrées, Garrett went with the shrimp po boy ($7.75) with red beans and rice, while I went with the crawfish ettoufee ($11.95). The menu also offers fare such as burgers, salads, Cajun specialties (jambalaya, catfish, gumbo, etc.), burgers, sandwiches and even desserts: tropical bread pudding, fried banana foster and key lime pie. To pick up the lunch crowd, Fat Tuesday has also just started offering $5.95 lunch specials.

We were debating giving the daiquiris another shot when our server did a wonderful thing: He offered us samples, something our server the night before didn't do. More than 20 daiquiris are on the menu, and he gave us a taste of about a half-dozen of them. The weirdest, by far, was the 190 octane, an orange daiquiri with Everclear. We didn't want to be hammered before 1 p.m., so we steered clear of that. I got a white Russian daiquiri, while Garrett got a piña colada daiquiri. They were both excellent, leading to our lesson for today: taste before you order.

Again, our pre-entrée foods were great. The goat cheese, topped with a jalapeño pesto and pine nuts, was delicious. The cheese was strong, but not too strong, with the pesto adding a different kind of strong flavor that worked nicely. The accompanying thin sesame cracker bread was a fine thing to spread the cheese onto before chowing down. And the soup was amazing--teeming with chunks of potatoes (the chunks were almost too big), corn, green onions and bacon before being topped with cheese--it was more of a stew than a soup. But it was delicious.

Score one for Fat Tuesday: Some chains are afraid of spices and zip in their foods. Fat Tuesday is not.

That theme followed through with Garrett's po boy. Featuring a ton of shrimp and the peppy remoulade sauce we loved so from the night before and served on an 8-inch French roll, it was a winner. Garrett's beans and rice were fine, although they were uncharacteristically bland.

That leaves my ettoufee. And I hate to end on a bad note, but, well, it wasn't very good. Aside from the tasty crawfish chunks, it was a dark-colored, gritty liquid over rice that tasted, well, earthy. In Garrett's words: "It tastes like dirt." While I wouldn't go that far, it certainly wasn't good.

Despite the ettoufee, I recommend Fat Tuesday's. The appetizers rank right up there with Tucson's best, and the daiquiris, when you find one you like, are worth the price. Just avoid the ettoufee, and if you're 28 or older, prepare to feel kind of old.

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