What does it take to make a successful restaurant? That is a sincere and well-worn question. You can have a hot spot with people hanging around outside waiting to get in and then—before you know it—there's a locked door decked with a closed sign. Then you get oddball corner slop joints with frequently empty tables that have a plaque celebrating "Happy 50th Year in Business!"
St. Philip's Plaza has been host to many come-and-go restaurant concepts, but two have sustained for many years. Union Public House and Reforma seem to have broken through the preliminary scrutiny of those seeking refuge in higher-end eateries and have just adopted a third partner in the popular courtyard arena.
Proof is the new Italian inspired baby of Grant Kreuger, who just happens to be the proud papa of Union and Reforma as well. After a few concepts failed to live up to their own hype in that recessed corner right behind Union, Kreuger moved in and was finally comfortable opening the Italian restaurant he's always wanted, honoring small Detroit chain Maria's where he worked in as a kid.
"I was 14 and got started washing dishes," says Kreuger. "From there I moved into serving, then managing and before I knew it, I had a career in the restaurant industry. This all led to me opening restaurants here in Tucson and a bunch of farm-to-plate concepts around coastal Mexico."
Kreuger's parents wanted him to attend Michigan State, but he set out for the UA and made Tucson his home. He worked for years alongside Dan Scordato, of Vivace and Scordato's Pizza fame. That experience, mixed with his fond memories of his first restaurant job, inspired Kreuger to open Proof in late 2018.
"When I took over Vivace and turned it into Reforma, I still wanted to honor Dan by opening an Italian concept," Kreuger says. "When Scordato's moved to Stone Avenue, there was another concept in this spot that was doing OK. When they closed, I knew it was the right time to move in and open the restaurant I have been meaning to for quite a while now."
The build out was not an easy one, as Kreuger and his crew had to expand the formerly tight kitchen, adding a pizza dough and pasta nook. He also redid the expansive patio area to make it more inviting.
As important as ambience is, the plates have to wow to make a restaurant a success. Fortunately, the fare does match the drapes. After a tour of the kitchen and watching dough cooks prepare pizza and bread dough and fresh pasta, the dishes I sampled were uncomplicated and enjoyable.
The bruschetta (each around $5) arrives on large slices of that chewy house bread. Two standouts: the roasted eggplant and the burrata, which features a bacon confit finish. If you're hungry and want to carbo-load, I recommend the Green Machine pasta ($16), with house-made basil spaghetti in a pesto cream sauce swirled with local kale and pepitas, then completed with shaved Grana Padano cheese.
All the pizzas were nice, mainly because the dough is so fresh and airy, especially the aptly titled Union variety ($15), decked with a garlic cream base, spinach, red onions, a sunny side egg with bacon and, yes, a drizzle from a bacon-infused vinaigrette. At night, you can enjoy a rustic Pork Osso Bucco ($24), served with herby polenta and this bright pepita mint salsa, or the Delmonico ($29), a beast of a ribeye complimented with broccoli rabe and this Calabrian style chili butter.
The food is all the proof I needed to think this joint is on its way to success.