This Cup is Full

Cup Café is one good reason to head downtown.

Food is always something more than what you'd just find on the plate," says a friend who'd joined me for lunch. We were headed for lunch across from the train depot at Hotel Congress, at the apex of the would-be historic downtown.

At Hotel Congress, the residua of the bustling past is constantly, evanescently present, making way for the current moment. Here is energy--zest, zip, and zap. No supercilious grandiosity. At Cup Café, indeed at the whole of Hotel Congress, things are right-sized, scaled to action of a diverse humanity lit by urbane flame.

Taking a table inside Hotel Congress' at Cup Café, our menus were brought to the table by a brightly smiling, tongue-pierced, ex-New Yorker, a contemporary Harvey Woman (not Harvey Girl).

Lunch that day was a half-pound of juicy burger (truly the "Real Thing"), done precisely to order, with a side of crisp fries (gold on the outside, solid and yielding within), zestfully fresh-cut tomato and greens, all served on a toasted bun of texture and sufficient resistance to hold the juice ($7). Another plate at the table held a Gila Monster ($6.50), a sandwich thick with meatloaf studded with onion, garlic, green and red chiles, of firm texture and still juicy, with a melt of jack cheese on grilled rye. I asked for the red onions and green chiles that were to top the beast for zip to be grilled, and the kitchen obliged without hesitation or pout. Looking for an even more zap to taste, I asked for a bit of Dijon mustard.

Our Harvey Woman, looking disconsolate without condescension, told me that the kitchen was out, "But how else can I help?" "Horseradish?" was my query. "In a dash," was her reply. And came to the table a cupful of the sinus-napalm, and a side of mayonnaise, "In case you'd like to tone it down a bit," she added. That's good service.

A lunch side of sweet-onion, Walla Walla Rings ($4.75) were as advertised--paper-thin-crisp, gold-hued, warm, tasty and without grease. During another visit, the same Walla Walla rings served in the lobby took some time to make--enough time to view the lobby colors and decor, and ogle at the latest of local artist Michael Chittock's series of involving and bodacious ta-tas. The onion rings came. "Well, that took some time," I say to my server. "All good things deserve a wait," our server says. This time the rings are more like savory, sweet onion beignets, the flavorsome beer batter still crisp through, and well within the band of consistency good eats require. And still no grease.

The only grease you might find is in hair slicks of the crowd on a late night arrival for dessert. We chose to sit at the sidewalk tables. We passed the dessert carousel ($4.50 each) out to the sidewalk, and chose a butter-flaky-crusted apple pie, shimmering with fresh apples and a simple syrup congeal. "Ice cream with?" my partner asked. "We have none, but how about fresh whipped cream?" With coffee, deep, rich, aromatic--it was perfect.

What seems truly important at Cup Café and Hotel Congress is variety, and not a small amount of wit. The Cup Café may be the only true urban café in Tucson, certainly downtown. And it is a work in progress--constantly. New menus have only recently been released, but dinner (twice, wonderful!) and weekend brunch (Quelle surprise! The kitchen knows what making an omelet "loose" means!) are well-satisfying, and the regularly-changing specials are well worth trying.

Set between the rail station remodel, the soon-coming trolley extension along Fourth Avenue and the renovations along Congress Street, Hotel Congress is a key node in remaking a historic downtown. With the sidewalk café, the Tap Room, Club Congress, the lobby and the Cup Café itself, the whole is an energetic and comfortable place for eating and enjoying. It is not a place to cocoon.

At Cup Café, it's the action that enlivens and entertains, and the offerings, at every of five occasions we note, have been simply wonderful fare. The Cup serves up more than simple, honest food for our jaded times and makes for one of the best reasons for eating downtown.

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