Southern Arizona flavors invite sampling at festival

click to enlarge Southern Arizona flavors invite sampling at festival
(Argo Land and Cattle/Submitted)
One of El Corral steakhouse’s specialty is the prickly pear margarita.

At El Corral steakhouse on River Road, the food speaks for itself.

“It’s basically humble and simple; there’s no need to complicate things,” said Casey Wills, president of Argo Land and Cattle, which owns El Corral. “If we choose good ingredients, let’s just not stand in the way.”

Prime rib is the star of this historic restaurant’s show.

“It’s cooked low and slow,” Wills added. “The seasoning that we put on it is minimal: salt, pepper, garlic, onion powder, that kind of thing. The goal of it is to let the beef be the star.”

He, along with kitchen lead Ray Figueroa, will be handing out samples of their tender prime rib at SAVOR, Southern Arizona Food and Wine Festival, Saturday, Jan. 28, at Tucson Botanical Gardens.

Tickets for the Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance event are $100, which allow samples of more than 70 restaurants’ offerings. The area’s best mixologists and bartenders will serve sips from local breweries, wineries and distilleries.

Wills said guests can sample El Corral’s greatest hits at SAVOR, including prime rib, tamale pie and a small side salad with the house honey-Italian dressing. It’s a shortened version of a visit to the restaurant.

click to enlarge Southern Arizona flavors invite sampling at festival
(Argo Land and Cattle/Submitted)
Prime rib is one of El Corral’s most-requested cuts of meat. Get a sample of it at SAVOR, Southern Arizona Food and Wine Festival.

Because SAVOR is a bit of a party, El Corral invites guests to quench their thirst with a prickly pear margarita.

“We’re trying to give people a little taste of what El Corral does, what it’s about and what it’s been doing since, basically, the late ’30s,” he said.

Borderland Spirits will serve a taste of the Wild West—bacanora, to be specific. It’s made from the agave plant.

“It’s a type of mescal,” said Michael Hurley, owner of the company. “It has its own designation of origin so it’s a mescal with its own history and its own culture. Part of that culture comes from Tucson.”

Hurley represents two separate family producers, the Mazot and Batuq families. Their products will be available to be sampled.

Hurley said what he is interested in is the ethical import of these spirits, with no additives. What you see is what you get.

“Let’s compare it with tequila,” Hurley said. “Tequila is more of an industrial production and there’s a lot of manipulation of tequila. There are lots of ingredients added. This is all small-scale, traditional, family (produced).”

click to enlarge Southern Arizona flavors invite sampling at festival
(Borderland Spirits/Submitted)
Michael Hurley is owner of Borderland Spirits, an import company that specializes in bringing a specialty mescal called bacanora to Tucson. He will have samples available to guests at SAVOR, Southern Arizona Food and Wine Festival.

Bacanora comes with an interesting history in Tucson, which can be traced back to at least the very early 1900s.

“It was probably second to whiskey, the primary drink in the bars so there was more bacanora per capita back at the turn of the last century than there is now,” Hurley said.

Due to greed, Hurley said he believes, importing it into the United States was outlawed from 1915 to 1992. That didn’t stop people here from having it, though.

“People had it—especially in the Latino community,” Hurley said. “It’s been in every household and a lot of the hipster communities have their Coke bottles of bacanora. It’s still used in the Latino community for quinceaneras and funerals and weddings and things like that. That’s often how the young people get introduced to it. It’s embedded in everyday life.”

Now, thanks to SAVOR, the public can be introduced to it, too.

SAACA executive director Kate Marquez said this is an opportunity to see why Tucson was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. It shows the diversity of restaurants and libations found here.

“It’s all sampling wineries, breweries, restaurants, food makers like pastry chefs and small businesses that make olive oil and tea, you name it,” she said.

SAVOR was last held in 2020, so participants are eager to show off their skills and products, especially as they’ve been teaching themselves to use heritage foods and foods products that are locally sourced.

“When (guests) support an event like this, they’re also supporting the culinary infrastructure here in Southern Arizona, which has just made so many strides toward international recognition,” Marquez said.

SAVOR, Southern Arizona Food and Wine Festival

WHEN: Noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28

WHERE: Tucson Botanical Gardens, 2150 N. Alvernon Way

COST: $100; proceeds benefit SAACA, Local Arizona Tucson and Tucson Botanical Gardens


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