Favorite

Sanctuary Awaits 

The perfectly cloistered Firefly is a dusty road oasis of comfort, food and brambly beauty

click to enlarge firefly1.jpg

Between Green Valley and Tubac is a territory called Amado.

Around 300 people call this place home but there really isn't much to it. Hidden somewhere off I-19, down a winding dirt road, where most would find snakes, rocks and a questionable shed, is a small community surrounded by desert splendor. There is a bed and breakfast, a salon, art spaces and galleries, but most surprising is a charming restaurant called Firefly. This is the kind of culinary treasure hunt one only comes across in food traveler's journals or perhaps a whimsical children's picture book. Literally nothing surrounding the encampment for miles, yet here it stands in Southern Arizona rustic charm.

Before entering Firefly, we took it upon ourselves to walk the property. Brightly hued hummingbirds fluttered in the afternoon heat, dragonflies skimmed a pond where dark green bullfrogs croaked and leaped while a great horned owl swooped down to protect her newborn chicks. Where the heck are we? Some kind of dream?

Once inside, our jaws dropped yet again. Firefly has a verdant appeal that would make any shabby chic fanatic scramble for their phones to tag Martha Stewart in their online post. Rusted sconces sit atop long worn wooden tables among a hearth wrapped in papery thistles and creaky branches. But it is the view from the patio, a sweeping sonnet to our colorfully parched landscape, that made us sigh in slight disbelief.

"Hello and welcome!" came a stout call from behind. This would be Firefly's chef and owner, Gavin Rychener, who opened his doors quietly in late 2016. He informed us that he was a military brat so he was used to traveling and relocating all across the country. When he left Mississippi State University with a degree in architecture, he wound up in Scottsdale to attend culinary school.

"Then after that, boom, just like my childhood, I was off and running," Rychener says. His culinary travels took him from Phoenix to Naples, Florida, before winding up in Massachusetts, then four years in Kentucky before landing a position with Fox Restaurant Concepts that had him going back and forth between California and Arizona on a regular basis.

"I got burned out," says Rychener with a shake of his head. "I was tired of the long hours and the traveling. So when the opportunity came about to open this restaurant I jumped at the chance."

Edging toward 50, Rychener is happy to have his own kitchen where he can cook his own food in his own time. In a comfy nook such as Firefly, there is no rush. In fact, you want it to linger as long as possible.

As we sipped on a tangy Bloody Mary and fruity sangria from a bar that Rychener built himself, our food began to arrive.

First off was a bowl of luminously orange Firefly Shrimp ($10) that was tempura-battered and tossed in a house-made chili sauce, then finished with toasted sesame seeds. Each bite was pure love with crunch, heat and sweetness. This was followed by a Caprese ($9) that can only be described as what sunshine tastes like. The heirloom tomatoes come from Wholesum Farms, which is—no kidding—right across the street with basil from his own garden, drizzled in a balsamic reduction sitting next to a mozzarella burrata that was silky and buttery.

We really liked the playful element of the Crab Cake Benedicts ($14), which was an interesting take on two classic dishes. The crab cakes were flaky yet meaty without a hint of fishiness, while the two perfectly poached eggs covered in a delightful lemony hollandaise brought his time in the northeast to our southwest province.

When we were treated to his Bacon Wrapped Filet ($27), we knew that we had discovered something worth seeking out. The seven-ounce cut was seared and grilled to a perfect medium rare and the thick-cut smoky bacon elevated it to a new height in a double-meat flavor profile. The added element of a house-cured bacon jam served in its center bone mixed with the marrow sent us further into a dreamscape.

Rychener said that he plans on constructing a beer garden and adding on to the already spacious patio by the time summer ends, which sounds even more like an oddly hidden piece of heaven.

Firefly is that hideaway you've been asking about but have yet to find. It is right here, just a short drive away. We told Rychener we will return when the weather is cooler to test out the new additions and to sample his autumn menu. The hummingbirds may have retired for the cooler months but sitting on that patio, drinking cocktails and eating his seasonal food sounds like the stuff that dreams are made of.

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